Hedy Lamarr was one of the most glamorous Hollywood film stars of the 30s and 40s. She was born in Vienna, Austria, and rose to fame as one of MGM’s most well-known actresses, starring alongside actors like Spencer Tracy, Robert Taylor, Charles Boyer, Spencer Tracy, and Clark Gable, as well as other leading males. But few people knew that this stunning raven-haired woman with emerald eyes was the creator of frequency hopping, a forerunner to Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and other wireless technologies. She had invented this technology along with her friend, avant-garde composer George Antheil, during the height of WWII. Frequency hopping made it possible for submarines to fire radio-controlled torpedoes without worrying about the enemy jamming or interfering with their trajectory. Hedy was therefore not only gorgeous, but also highly intelligent.
During the early 80s, I was living in Miami Beach in a three-island community comprising North Bay Island, Harbor Island, and Treasure Island. Our apartment complex, The Treasure House, was located on Treasure Island, just down the road from where I used to attend elementary school.
One weekend morning, my mom’s good friend, Sandra Champion, had called to ask if she could help run some errands for a woman she was caring for who lived nearby on Harbor Island. Sandra was held up elsewhere and couldn’t get there herself. So, my mom stepped in and asked me to accompany her on her short drive. She said it would be a quick errand and wouldn’t take long. I really didn’t care to go, as I preferred to stay home and play my guitar. But my mom insisted, and off we went.
While on our way, I asked my mom who we were going to see, and she said that it was a famous Hollywood actress that Sandra was taking care of. I said, “Who is that?” And mom replied, “Hedy Lamarr. You know her, don’t you?” I said, “You mean the one from all of those Bob Hope films?” “No, that’s Dorothy Lamour,” mom replied. Scratching my head, I said, “Hmmm, I don’t think I know her.” I wasn’t too off, though, with my Bob Hope reference, as Hedy had starred in at least one Bob Hope film called My Favorite Spy.
When we arrived, I noticed that our glamorous star was living in a very modest 2-story apartment building. She was on its first floor and as we approached, I noticed her door was ajar. I had gathered she was probably expecting us and had cracked the door open. As my mom entered, she started calling Hedy’s name, as she was nowhere in sight. ”Hedy, Hedy, it’s Ida,” my mom called out. We heard and saw nothing. So, I decided to search for Hedy myself.
While moving around her apartment, which was not more than a 1-bedroom place, I came upon a small room and noticed that the door was left wide open. As I came closer, I peered in, and there she was—in all her vivid splendor—sitting on the toilet and taking a crap. She noticed me, and startled, screamed at the top of her lungs. I jumped back and ran into the living room where my mom was. I told my mom what had happened, and she said, “I’ll take care of it.”
When Hedy had finished her business, she came into the living room and was visibly perturbed. And with her heavy Austrian accent, she scolded me for intruding where I shouldn’t have. My mom told her it was an accident, and I meant no harm. We were simply trying to find her, as we had called her several times without a reply.
A few years later, Hedy moved away from North Bay Village to Orlando, where she was later arrested for shoplifting. She had fallen on hard times and lived modestly. She had never bothered to patent her frequency-hopping technology, which could have provided her with a very comfortable retirement many times over. Gone were the glamorous days of Hollywood where she was the toast of the town.
In 2000, Hedy Lamarr died. But her legacy lives on, for, without her pioneering efforts, you probably wouldn’t be able to read this post over Wi-Fi.
Former restauranteur, musician, concert promoter, producer, publisher, manager, and impresario, Charles Carlini has synthesized these roles to become a dynamic force in the music industry–noted for his ability to bring diverse talent together to create innovative concerts and recordings that reach and move music-lovers everywhere.