Forbes

"I guess they just take and forget about a person." (actress Hedy Lamarr was also an inventor, includes biographical article)

THE SCENE: a dinner party at the Hollywood home of actress Janet Gaynor. The year: 1940. Viennese actress Hedy Lamaff, one of the great sex symbols of all time, is making small talk with American film-score composer George Antheil. At the end of the evening, she exits quickly, scrawling her phone number in lipstick across the windshield of his car. The next day, he calls and she invites him to an intimate dinner at her Benedict Canyon retreat.

The prelude to a steamy Hollywood affair? Sorry, this is a business magazine. The pair talked about technology. That night, over dinner, Lamarr and Antheil discussed the Nazi domination of Europe. Lamarr spoke from firsthand knowledge. Three years earlier she had fled Austria, largely out of dislike of her wealthy munitions tycoon husband, Friedrich Fritz) Mandl. But as an intelligent, sensitive person she also disliked the Nazis and all they stood for, and was glad to put an ocean between herself and Hitler.

As the evening wore on, Lamarr began outlining her idea for a sophisticated anti-jamming device for use in radio-controlled torpedoes. If this seems out of character for a 26-year-old film beauty, the fact is that not only did Lamarr possess a first-class mind but she also had listened to her husband's dinner-table business discussions with customers for his armaments. After all, Fritz Mandl's Hirtenberger Patronen-Fabrik had supplied much of the equipment Benito Mussolini used when his troops invaded Ethiopia in 1935.

As Lamarr spoke that evening, Antheil lay sprawled out on her living room floor diagramming her ideas in a spiral notebook. Two years later Lamarr and Antheil were awarded a U.S. patent for a "secret communication system."

The system devised by Lamarr and Antheil-known as frequency hopping-is now in extensive use in military communications. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.