|Vintage Pulp||Mar 12 2012|
This National Enquirer published today in 1967 features cover star Hedy Lemarr promoting her 1967 autobiography Ecstasy and Me: My Life As a Woman. The title is taken from the 1933 Austrian film Ekstase, in which she appeared nude, shocking audiences of the time. Enquirer describes her book as shocking, as well, and indeed there are some surprising revelations. An example: while still living in her native Austria, she ran away from her husband and hid in an empty room in a brothel. A man came into the room and she had sex with him rather than let her husband find her. Lamarr claims to have had hundreds of lovers, male and female, and depicts herself variously as both a nymphomaniac and a kleptomaniac. But all of this comes with a caveat—her ghostwriter, the notorious Leo Guild, wrote various celeb biographies that played fast and loose with the truth. That said, even Guild was not imaginative enough to have fabricated everything in Ecstasy and Me.
As a side note, we should mention that Lamarr, along with George Anthiel, invented and patented an advanced frequency switching system that they envisioned for usage guiding torpedoes (the constant switching of frequencies would make them difficult to jam, thus more likely to reach their targets). Now, if you read other websites, most of them praise Lamarr as a military genius, and it’s true she had a highly developed technical mind, but the system she helped pioneer actually grew out of an idea to remotely control player pianos. In fact, the guidance system used eighty-eight frequencies, which is of course the number of keys on a standard piano. We think knowing that she applied a musical idea to military usage gives a somewhat fuller appreciation of how ingenious she actually was, rather than just picturing her as some kind of Oppenheimer type.
Ingenious or not, the U.S. Navy declined to purchase Lamarr and Anthiel’s system, but the moment the patent expired two decades later the military was all over it. We can’t discern with our limited resources whether this sudden decision to use the technology was coincidental or not, but certainly the result was that Lamarr got screwed out of probably millions of dollars. Or perhaps even more, when you consider that her and Anthiel’s frequency switching is closely related to that used today for global positioning systems and Bluetooth. Since Lamarr claimed in her book to have blown through more than thirty million dollars in her life, the fun and creative ways she might have spent a massive military windfall makes the mind boggle. We’ll get back to Hedy Lamarr a bit later, because she certainly deserves a more detailed treatment.