Hedy Lamarr’s scientific inventions topic of film, talk

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

What: Science on Tap: “Inventive Connections: Movie Stars, Math, & Marine Mammals.”

When: Doors open at 6 p.m. program begins at 7 p.m., Jan. 10.

Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.

Cost: Suggested donation of $9 advance, $10 at the door.

On the web: www.viaproductions.org

What: “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story”

When: Jan. 12-18 (check website for daily screen times).

Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.

Tickets: $7 advance, $10 at the door.

On the web: kigginstheatre.com

We’ve inherited this idea that the species known as “inventor” is easily identified by markings like a white lab coat, furrowed brow, bottle-thick glasses and, of course, male-pattern baldness.

In which case, where does Hedy Lamarr fit in? Today, the self-taught scientist and inventor is credited (along with an equally unlikely collaborator, music composer George Antheil) with the visionary thinking, and tinkering, that resulted in military “radio-skipping” technology, aimed at blocking Axis powers from intercepting and jamming signals from radio-controlled Allied missiles during World War II.

It’s debatable whether the Navy ignored this invention because it was too far ahead of its time to be practical — or because Hedy Lamarr was already prohibitively famous as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Lamarr’s films have largely faded away, but in the 1940s she was a major Hollywood star. Her biggest and longest-lasting triumph was probably “Samson and Delilah” (1949), also starring Victor Mature.

Unless, that is, her biggest and longest-lasting triumphs are the futuristic radio technologies that finally got adopted by the military in the 1960s, and by the rest of the world decades later. Without the forward-thinking brain cells of the most beautiful woman in the world, we wouldn’t be enjoying everyday telecommunications conveniences like GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi today.

“She and many other women have contributed to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but have been dismissed or deliberately forgotten by virtue of their gender,” said Leslie New, an assistant professor of statistics at Washington State University Vancouver.

But Lamarr’s contributions are forgotten no longer. For one thing, New will discuss Lamarr’s life and accomplishments during the next “Science on Tap” lecture, combining learning and quaffing, at the Kiggins Theatre. That’s set for 7 p.m. Jan. 10. She will also describe how Lamarr’s groundbreaking work on wireless technologies, originally intended for the Navy, now helps New study efforts to manage marine populations such as whales and dolphins in designated Marine Protected Areas.

New’s talk isn’t all. A Lamarr renaissance is currently underway, with the news of her scientific achievements winning her (and her collaborator, George Antheil) an Electronic Freedom Foundation Award in 1997. In 2014 she and Antheil were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

And, there’s a new documentary film exploring her youth in Austria and Czechoslovakia, her exit to Paris and then America, her acting career, her brilliant innovations — and her significant personal frustration at falling out of favor with a fickle public. Not to mention, of course, being a great brain submerged below a breathtaking exterior.

The film, which opened in November to great reviews, is called “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.” Its run at the Kiggins Jan. 12 to 18. Screen times weren’t firm as of press time; check www.kigginstheatre.com for daily details.

Buy your “Bombshell” tickets at “Science on Tap,” or bring your “Science on Tap” ticket stub to the Kiggins box office, for $3 off the movie screening.