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01/09/2001

Hedy Lamarr, Ecstasy and Frequency Hopping

At year''s end, I watch Charles Osgood''s "Sunday Morning" and
its annual celebration of the lives of some of those who died
during the past year. Two of my all time favorites, Victor Borge,
and Jason Robards, were among those on the list. I''ve had the
good fortune to see both of them perform in person. I had met
two others whose passing was noted. One was Milt Hinton, the
personable bass player, who played in a jazz program at our local
art center, where I also met the sculptor George Segal. His
plastering of real people resulted in works ranging from a
passenger sitting in a bus terminal to the Franklin D. Roosevelt
monument in Washington. I had not met one of the departed,
whose legacy is today in use all over the world.

Yet, Charles Osgood made only the briefest mention of Hedwig
Eva Maria Kiesler, who passed away last January. Actually, he
referred to her as Hedy Lamarr, thought by many to be the most
beautiful woman in Hollywood, some even said the world, in my
younger days. (I was shocked to find that the young lady who
does some housework for us had never heard of Hedy. When I
showed her a picture of Hedy she said, "She''s gorgeous!") Hedy
was born in 1914 in Vienna and, after acting school in Berlin,
made quite a splash in 1933, swimming and gamboling about in
the altogether in the European movie "Ecstasy". This was many
decades before nudity became a staple in American films. A
rather heavily edited version of the film was shown in the U.S.
and Louis B. Mayer brought her to Hollywood and MGM in
1937. It was Mayer who gave her the name Hedy Lamarr.

Why, in a column nominally devoted to science and technology,
am I dwelling on the death of a movie star? This gal had more
than a beautiful face and figure. She had a brain and also six
husbands. These two factors are not unrelated. Her first husband
was a fellow named Fritz Mandl. It was probably no coincidence
that they were married in 1933, the year of the Ecstasy film. Fritz
was into shells and grenades and in the 1930s manufactured
military airplanes. He also did some research on control
systems. Well, the beauteous Mrs. Mandl, our Hedy, was quite a
hit in Viennese society and charmed all kinds of important folks,
such as Hitler and Mussolini. However, she apparently wasn''t at
all happy with Mandl''s selling of munitions to the Nazis and left
him (escaped might be a better term) to go to London, where she
met Mayer and thence to Hollywood.

Let''s leave Hedy for the moment to consider another man in her
life. George Antheil was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1900.
His parents were from East Prussia and he also spent time in
Berlin, intending to be a concert pianist. However, after settling
in Paris, he became a leading avant-garde composer. The best
known example of his rather odd musical creations was his
"Ballet Mecanique". Although he intended this piece to be
performed utilizing 16 player pianos, xylophones and percussion,
the work debuted with a single player piano, electric bells, a siren
and airplane propellers! Not your everyday piece of music! In
1933, the year of the Ecstasy movie, George returned to the
United States to write for Esquire magazine, where his endeavors
included an advice-to-the-lovelorn column. He must have been
an early Ann Landers. In 1939, he wrote a prophetic article in
which he predicted Germany''s invasion of Poland, its attack on
Russia and the entry of the United States into the war. An
eclectic sort, he also wrote articles and even a book dealing with
glandular endocrinology.

It was in 1940 that George and Hedy crossed paths as neighbors
in Hollywood. Hedy, learning of his glandular interests, had a
question for Antheil related to glands that she thought he could
perhaps handle. Again, being somewhat ahead of the times, she
wanted George''s advice on breast enlargement! It was only
natural that the topic of conversation would turn from breasts to
weapons. (I have no idea whether (a) Antheil had any response
to Lamarr''s original question or (b) not having seen Ecstasy,
whether Hedy really would have benefited significantly from
glandular enhancement.)

The weapon that Hedy and George discussed was a radio-
controlled torpedo, not a subject you would expect to be
broached by a reigning sex symbol. However, Hedy must have
paid attention to first husband Fritz''s weapons work and his work
on control systems. Actually, the idea for a radio-controlled
torpedo was not new, but Hedy''s contribution was. She proposed
the concept known as "frequency hopping". When you change
your radio station or TV channel, you are actually frequency
hopping. I can illustrate Hedy''s contribution with my cordless
phone. Suppose I''m discussing a delicate financial matter with
my broker and fear that someone could be eavesdropping on the
conversation. I have a channel button on my handset and can
switch from the channel, or frequency, that I''m using to any one
of nine other channels. Any eavesdropper will have to switch
immediately to the new frequency to continue listening to my
conversation. His chances of hitting the right channel are only
one in nine. If I keep changing channels randomly, his chances
of getting a coherent eavesdrop of my conversation are pretty
small. I have used frequency hopping to make my conversation
more secure.

Hedy''s idea was to keep an enemy from intercepting and perhaps
changing the instructions to the torpedo by using frequency
hopping to transmit the instructions. This was a great idea but
where did George come in? Remember his Ballet Mecanique?
He had to coordinate 16 player pianos and, in those pre-silicon
chip days, what better way to coordinate the changing of
frequencies in transmission than to use rolls of paper with slots in
them just like in a player piano. And why not use 88 different
frequencies, corresponding to the 88 keys on a piano? With the
encouragement of Charles Kettering, research director at General
Motors, and help from a professor at Cal Tech they worked up
the idea and patent number 2,292,387 on their "Secret
Communications System" was granted in August of 1942. You
won''t find the name Lamarr on the patent, Hedy having taken the
name of Markey, after another of her husbands. I''m not sure
which one.

Unfortunately for Antheil and Lamarr, they were not successful
in getting the Navy to adopt their idea. Part of the problem may
have been that Antheil made the mistake of trying to explain
their concept in terms of the player piano mechanism. Antheil
suspected that the Navy brass didn''t think piano-based hardware
could fit in a torpedo. However, he was sure that the whole
mechanism could be miniaturized. Hedy toyed with the idea of
quitting acting to promote the idea in order to help the fight
against the Nazis. Although she decided against that idea, she
certainly contributed to the war effort by using her acting talent
and beauty to sell war bonds, raising $7 million in one evening.
In those days, a million dollars was real money! Lamarr and
Antheil never profited from their patent, which expired in 1959.
But the Navy had not forgotten the idea. In 1962, during the
Cuban missile crisis, it used an electronic version of frequency
hopping for communications on the ships blockading Cuba.

During the 1960s, the concept of frequency hopping started to
catch on and gave birth to a broad field of communications
known as "spread spectrum". Spread spectrum is simply the
spreading of a communication over a range of frequencies.
Today, frequency hopping and other forms of spread spectrum
communications are used not only for secure military
communications but also for your cellular phones, faxes and
various wireless applications. The number of frequencies is
controlled by the Federal Communications Commission, which
for some applications mandates that 75 or so different
frequencies be used. That''s not too far from Antheil''s 88
frequencies!

And Antheil''s musical work is still hanging around. Apparently,
early performances of his works were so controversial that riots
would ensue! In surfing the Web, I came across a site devoted to
the Ballet Mecanique and as recently as April, 2000, the work
was performed at Carnegie Hall in New York. One review by
Gabe Della Fave, published in the Mechanical Music Digest,
described the performance as "dull and boring" and decried the
use of electronic keyboards in place of the player pianos that
Antheil intended. However, for you music lovers, he described
the acoustics in Carnegie Hall as "..perfect and not to be missed"!

The information for this column came primarily from various
Web sites including invention .org, the site of the Inventors
Assistance League, or inventionconvention.com, site of the
Invention Services International Corporation. The latter
organization sponsors the "Bulbie" award, an invention award
given to Hedy Lamarr in 1997. This Bulbie award has also been
given to, among others, Paul MacCready, famed for his
contributions to human-powered and very light weight aircraft.

Perhaps I should mention that, in spite of "Ecstasy", not one of
the Web sites I logged on to had a nude photograph of Hedy
Lamarr.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-01/09/2001-      
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Dr. Bortrum

01/09/2001

Hedy Lamarr, Ecstasy and Frequency Hopping

At year''s end, I watch Charles Osgood''s "Sunday Morning" and
its annual celebration of the lives of some of those who died
during the past year. Two of my all time favorites, Victor Borge,
and Jason Robards, were among those on the list. I''ve had the
good fortune to see both of them perform in person. I had met
two others whose passing was noted. One was Milt Hinton, the
personable bass player, who played in a jazz program at our local
art center, where I also met the sculptor George Segal. His
plastering of real people resulted in works ranging from a
passenger sitting in a bus terminal to the Franklin D. Roosevelt
monument in Washington. I had not met one of the departed,
whose legacy is today in use all over the world.

Yet, Charles Osgood made only the briefest mention of Hedwig
Eva Maria Kiesler, who passed away last January. Actually, he
referred to her as Hedy Lamarr, thought by many to be the most
beautiful woman in Hollywood, some even said the world, in my
younger days. (I was shocked to find that the young lady who
does some housework for us had never heard of Hedy. When I
showed her a picture of Hedy she said, "She''s gorgeous!") Hedy
was born in 1914 in Vienna and, after acting school in Berlin,
made quite a splash in 1933, swimming and gamboling about in
the altogether in the European movie "Ecstasy". This was many
decades before nudity became a staple in American films. A
rather heavily edited version of the film was shown in the U.S.
and Louis B. Mayer brought her to Hollywood and MGM in
1937. It was Mayer who gave her the name Hedy Lamarr.

Why, in a column nominally devoted to science and technology,
am I dwelling on the death of a movie star? This gal had more
than a beautiful face and figure. She had a brain and also six
husbands. These two factors are not unrelated. Her first husband
was a fellow named Fritz Mandl. It was probably no coincidence
that they were married in 1933, the year of the Ecstasy film. Fritz
was into shells and grenades and in the 1930s manufactured
military airplanes. He also did some research on control
systems. Well, the beauteous Mrs. Mandl, our Hedy, was quite a
hit in Viennese society and charmed all kinds of important folks,
such as Hitler and Mussolini. However, she apparently wasn''t at
all happy with Mandl''s selling of munitions to the Nazis and left
him (escaped might be a better term) to go to London, where she
met Mayer and thence to Hollywood.

Let''s leave Hedy for the moment to consider another man in her
life. George Antheil was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1900.
His parents were from East Prussia and he also spent time in
Berlin, intending to be a concert pianist. However, after settling
in Paris, he became a leading avant-garde composer. The best
known example of his rather odd musical creations was his
"Ballet Mecanique". Although he intended this piece to be
performed utilizing 16 player pianos, xylophones and percussion,
the work debuted with a single player piano, electric bells, a siren
and airplane propellers! Not your everyday piece of music! In
1933, the year of the Ecstasy movie, George returned to the
United States to write for Esquire magazine, where his endeavors
included an advice-to-the-lovelorn column. He must have been
an early Ann Landers. In 1939, he wrote a prophetic article in
which he predicted Germany''s invasion of Poland, its attack on
Russia and the entry of the United States into the war. An
eclectic sort, he also wrote articles and even a book dealing with
glandular endocrinology.

It was in 1940 that George and Hedy crossed paths as neighbors
in Hollywood. Hedy, learning of his glandular interests, had a
question for Antheil related to glands that she thought he could
perhaps handle. Again, being somewhat ahead of the times, she
wanted George''s advice on breast enlargement! It was only
natural that the topic of conversation would turn from breasts to
weapons. (I have no idea whether (a) Antheil had any response
to Lamarr''s original question or (b) not having seen Ecstasy,
whether Hedy really would have benefited significantly from
glandular enhancement.)

The weapon that Hedy and George discussed was a radio-
controlled torpedo, not a subject you would expect to be
broached by a reigning sex symbol. However, Hedy must have
paid attention to first husband Fritz''s weapons work and his work
on control systems. Actually, the idea for a radio-controlled
torpedo was not new, but Hedy''s contribution was. She proposed
the concept known as "frequency hopping". When you change
your radio station or TV channel, you are actually frequency
hopping. I can illustrate Hedy''s contribution with my cordless
phone. Suppose I''m discussing a delicate financial matter with
my broker and fear that someone could be eavesdropping on the
conversation. I have a channel button on my handset and can
switch from the channel, or frequency, that I''m using to any one
of nine other channels. Any eavesdropper will have to switch
immediately to the new frequency to continue listening to my
conversation. His chances of hitting the right channel are only
one in nine. If I keep changing channels randomly, his chances
of getting a coherent eavesdrop of my conversation are pretty
small. I have used frequency hopping to make my conversation
more secure.

Hedy''s idea was to keep an enemy from intercepting and perhaps
changing the instructions to the torpedo by using frequency
hopping to transmit the instructions. This was a great idea but
where did George come in? Remember his Ballet Mecanique?
He had to coordinate 16 player pianos and, in those pre-silicon
chip days, what better way to coordinate the changing of
frequencies in transmission than to use rolls of paper with slots in
them just like in a player piano. And why not use 88 different
frequencies, corresponding to the 88 keys on a piano? With the
encouragement of Charles Kettering, research director at General
Motors, and help from a professor at Cal Tech they worked up
the idea and patent number 2,292,387 on their "Secret
Communications System" was granted in August of 1942. You
won''t find the name Lamarr on the patent, Hedy having taken the
name of Markey, after another of her husbands. I''m not sure
which one.

Unfortunately for Antheil and Lamarr, they were not successful
in getting the Navy to adopt their idea. Part of the problem may
have been that Antheil made the mistake of trying to explain
their concept in terms of the player piano mechanism. Antheil
suspected that the Navy brass didn''t think piano-based hardware
could fit in a torpedo. However, he was sure that the whole
mechanism could be miniaturized. Hedy toyed with the idea of
quitting acting to promote the idea in order to help the fight
against the Nazis. Although she decided against that idea, she
certainly contributed to the war effort by using her acting talent
and beauty to sell war bonds, raising $7 million in one evening.
In those days, a million dollars was real money! Lamarr and
Antheil never profited from their patent, which expired in 1959.
But the Navy had not forgotten the idea. In 1962, during the
Cuban missile crisis, it used an electronic version of frequency
hopping for communications on the ships blockading Cuba.

During the 1960s, the concept of frequency hopping started to
catch on and gave birth to a broad field of communications
known as "spread spectrum". Spread spectrum is simply the
spreading of a communication over a range of frequencies.
Today, frequency hopping and other forms of spread spectrum
communications are used not only for secure military
communications but also for your cellular phones, faxes and
various wireless applications. The number of frequencies is
controlled by the Federal Communications Commission, which
for some applications mandates that 75 or so different
frequencies be used. That''s not too far from Antheil''s 88
frequencies!

And Antheil''s musical work is still hanging around. Apparently,
early performances of his works were so controversial that riots
would ensue! In surfing the Web, I came across a site devoted to
the Ballet Mecanique and as recently as April, 2000, the work
was performed at Carnegie Hall in New York. One review by
Gabe Della Fave, published in the Mechanical Music Digest,
described the performance as "dull and boring" and decried the
use of electronic keyboards in place of the player pianos that
Antheil intended. However, for you music lovers, he described
the acoustics in Carnegie Hall as "..perfect and not to be missed"!

The information for this column came primarily from various
Web sites including invention .org, the site of the Inventors
Assistance League, or inventionconvention.com, site of the
Invention Services International Corporation. The latter
organization sponsors the "Bulbie" award, an invention award
given to Hedy Lamarr in 1997. This Bulbie award has also been
given to, among others, Paul MacCready, famed for his
contributions to human-powered and very light weight aircraft.

Perhaps I should mention that, in spite of "Ecstasy", not one of
the Web sites I logged on to had a nude photograph of Hedy
Lamarr.

Allen F. Bortrum