Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hedy Lamarr, A Woman who Changed the World

I finished the first painting of the series of Women Who changed the World. I started with what I thought might be the most challenging, because she is so beautiful. Young, gorgeous women are not as much fun to paint, but I do like challenges.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr

Athough better known for her Silver Screen exploits, Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) also became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States. The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a "Secret Communications System" to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.

Lamarr and Anthiel received a patent in 1941, but the enormous significance of their invention was not realized until decades later. It was first implemented on naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequently emerged in numerous military applications. But most importantly, the "spread spectrum" technology that Lamarr helped to invent would galvanize the digital communications boom, forming the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless operations possible.

As is the case with many of the famous women inventors, Lamarr received very little recognition of her innovative talent at the time, but recently she has been showered with praise for her groundbreaking invention. In 1997, she and George Anthiel were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. And later in the same year, Lamarr became the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, a prestigious lifetime accomplishment prize for inventors that is dubbed "The Oscar™ of Inventing."

Proving she was much more than just another pretty face, Lamarr shattered stereotypes and earned a place among the 20th century's most important women inventors. She truly was a visionary whose technological acumen was far ahead of its time.

When I posted this painting on FaceBook, several people thought it was Ava Gardner. That is understandable, since the publicity shots were retouced by hand, long before photo shop, and the flat makeup and strong black eyebrows, heavy false eyelashes and red lips looked pretty much the same. Ava's eyes were brown and Hedy's were green, but the makeup looked similar.

Ava Gardner