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"Hedy's Folly": The movie star behind your cellphone - What to Read -

Sunday, Nov 27, 2011 8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time

“Hedy’s Folly”: The movie star behind your cellphone

How Hedy Lamarr, the most beautiful woman in the world, invented a technology we use every day

Hedy Lamar

Hedy Lamar

In the summer of 1940, George Antheil, an avant-garde composer trying to make it in Hollywood, was invited to a dinner party at the request of the most beautiful woman in the world. She, a movie star, wanted to talk to him about her breasts: Did he think they could they be made any larger? She sought out this improbable consultation on the authority of several articles Antheil had written for Esquire magazine applying his supposed knowledge of endocrinology to such questions as whether one’s wife had been unfaithful and “which girls will and which girls won’t.”

Antheil was properly dazzled by the introduction. He later wrote that his “eyeballs sizzled” upon meeting Hedy Lamarr and that she was even better-looking in real life than on film. The question of the actress’ breasts seems to have been dropped shortly thereafter, but the two did wind up collaborating on an unlikely project meant to support the Allied war effort: inventing a process by which remote-controlled torpedoes could evade signal-jamming attempts by the enemy. This process, which was patented, is essential to much of the wireless and cellular communications technology we use today.

Laura Miller

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" and has a Web site, More Laura Miller

"Hedy's Folly": The movie star behind your cellphone - What to Read -