The International Writers
Hedy Lamarr was an
extraordinary woman. During the 1940s, she was a huge Hollywood movie
star and was regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world. But, unlike
her contemporaries, there was more to her than met the eye, a lot more.
You may not know it, but her legacy is everywhere in India today. In fact,
it has probably become part and parcel of your everyday life.
India: The Hollywood Connection
talks to Anthony Loder, son of Hedy Lamarr described as the most
beautiful woman in the world. But not many know that she was also
The inspirational Austrian-born, Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr, is the inventor
of the spread spectrum, the technology that underpins the workings of
mobile phones and WiFi Internet connections. Back in the 1940s, when she
was at the peak of her movie career fame, she was also busy inventing
the technology that would lay the basis for modern communications. So
the next time you pick up your mobile, you may like to give at least a
passing thought to Austrias finest export: the talented and intellectually
astute Ms Lamarr.
Hedy Lamarr had learned about the latest in weapons technology at her
first husband Fritz Mandels munitions plants in Austria. Later,
in 1940, she met composer George Antheil in the US and shared with him
what she knew about the design of remote-controlled torpedoes, which were
vulnerable to detection and jamming.
Hedy came up with the frequency hopping concept and they developed a system,
which enabled both the transmitting and receiving stations of a remote-control
torpedo to change at intervals, only to have it rejected by the short-sighted
Department of the Navy, who did not see the value of their efforts at
the time. Antheil later credited the invention of the technology to Lamarr.
If Lamarrs legacy as a movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood
is huge then her impact as an inventor is even greater. Over the past
few years, mobile phones have taken India by storm. Many of these new
mobile citizens live in poorer and more rural areas with scarce
infrastructure and facilities.
However, according to a recent study by the Bangalore-based Center for
Knowledge Societies, mobile communication is helping transform economic
and social life in rural India, creating greater access to social services
and potentially impacting on transport, micro-commerce, healthcare, governance
A similar trend can be seen in the WiFi Internet market. The laptop market
will double over the next two years. Over 200 rural villages in Maharashtra
have already formed a wireless Internet co-operative, establishing 50
WiFi hotspots in their communities. The co-op has managed
to raise more than $400,000 (Rs 20 million) to expand the reach of wireless
Internet locally. The WiFi market is predicted to grow from the current
$41.57 million to exceed $744 million by 2012.
Hedy Lamarrs son, Anthony Loder, recently granted me a rare interview.
Speaking to me from his home in Los Angeles, I asked him how he feels
about the massive impact his mother's technology is having, particularly
its influence in India, and whether he feels she has received due recognition
CT:How do you think the American public perceive Hedy Lamarr?
A: Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people are aware of Hedy
at all in the US now. She has given the world so much but I guess we live
on an ungrateful planet. She, like a lot of other creative people, had
put in so much work. We live in an upside down world where celebrities
get all the attention. But what they do is short term. And eventually,
they will be forgotten about. Its very sad. Its a comment
on the society we live in. It has been a struggle all along to receive
recognition for what Hedy achieved as an inventor. Even on a small scale.
I am very proud of the technology that Hedy invented, more so than the
film star part of her life, which in many ways ruined her life.
CT: She received an Electronic Frontier Foundation Award in 1997 and you
collected it on her behalf.
A:The EFFA was a very prestigious award to receive. Many high level people
from the scientific community recognizing Hedy in that way was a very
great tribute. It was a big accolade and to me it was a great honour.
Hedy felt that people gave out awards to make them feel better. But its
not always like that. Its a two way street.
CT:How do you feel that Austria, Germany and Switzerland hold Inventors
Day on November 9 to coincide with her birth anniversary?
A:I was not aware that those countries hold Inventors Day on Hedys
birthday in honour of her. However, when I was in Austria I met with the
minister of culture and asked why they had a monument to Gutenberg who
invented the printing press and not for Hedy. In a way they were honouring
the written word and I couldnt really understand why they were not
paying tribute to Hedy in a similar way considering what she has done
for the spoken word in terms of modern communications technology. But
at least they now have an award in schools for the most promising student
the Hedy Lamarr Award.
CT: Before she died in 2000, was she aware of the impact that her invention
was having in the world?
A: Hedy appreciated that her technology finally caught on. It was first
implemented in the Cuban Missile Crisis. In that respect, it was 20 years
ahead of its time. She certainly knew that the military were using it
to very good effect.
In fact, she received the Milstar award from the US Military for frequency
hopping. Her technology underpins the basis of the US governments
defense communications system. Three 28 billion dollar satellites now
orbit our planet and allow the military to communicate and that stems
from my mothers simple yet profound technology. However, she could
not appreciate what the technology has done since her death and could
not foresee the impact of WiFi.
Hedy felt good that her invention had contributed something useful, lasting
and profound. Creativity can be profound and she liked the fact she was
appreciated for her brains. She was very aware that beauty is fleeting.
Unfortunately, beauty is a short term value and modern society worships
that kind of thing. People dont think of Tesla when they switch
on a light, but creativity is profound and its source and effort largely
ignored and unappreciated.
CT: By the end of 2008, three quarters of Indias population will
be covered by a mobile network. Communities, both rural and urban, across
India have also begun to embrace WiFi. This is a result of your mothers
invention. How does that make you feel?
A: I have always been attracted by India, its people and philosophies
and would like to visit one day. Seeing India rise to a sound economic
force is good for the world and good for India. I know for instance that
telephones have previously been rare in parts of the world and in India,
but Hedy has essentially succeeded in connecting the planet. Its
great. Anything that raises the standard of living has got to be good.
CT: I notice that there are two official Internet sites for Hedy Lamarr.
I was particularly drawn to the hedylamarr.org
site. I found it quite moving and very inspiring. How did that site come
A: Yes there is the hedylamarr.com site, mainly run by my sister, but
I set up the hedylamarr.org site sometime ago because I thought that if
people are taking the trouble to try to find out about Hedy, they should
be given suitable information. I suppose it was part of my mission to
have her remembered. In a way thats why we made the film Calling
Hedy Lamarr in 2004 with the director Georg Misch. We made it so my
mother would not be forgotten. It unpeels the layers behind the persona
created by the film industry. In a way it is partly about her son trying
to make sense of his mothers life. Ten million people have seen
that film and it would be really great if people in India had an opportunity
to see it on TV. And in terms of her old films, I think Come Live With
Me (1941) is the closest we get to the real Hedy, her true Austrian
CT: Thats were my interview with Anthony Loder ended. Hedy Lamarr
once said that films have a certain place in a certain time period, but
technology is forever. Her son is acutely aware of that.
I began this article by stating that Hedy Lamarr was an extraordinary
woman. But I do not think she should be talked about in the past tense.
Her legacy is all around us in our everyday lives. Quite simply, Hedy
Colin Todhunter July 2007
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