Radio Cade

Hedy Lamarr and Frequency Hopping

October 02, 2019 Anthony Loder Season 1 Episode 47
Radio Cade
Hedy Lamarr and Frequency Hopping
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Radio Cade
Hedy Lamarr and Frequency Hopping
Oct 02, 2019 Season 1 Episode 47
Anthony Loder

Once known as the “most beautiful woman in the world,” film star Hedy Lamarr also received a patent in 1942 for a “secret communications system” to safeguard U.S. torpedos from German radio jamming. The technology was the forerunner of “spread spectrum" which is now used in GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi. She was recently inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame, an award accepted by her son Anthony Loder, who talks about her life’s triumphs and sorrows.  

Show Notes Transcript

Once known as the “most beautiful woman in the world,” film star Hedy Lamarr also received a patent in 1942 for a “secret communications system” to safeguard U.S. torpedos from German radio jamming. The technology was the forerunner of “spread spectrum" which is now used in GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi. She was recently inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame, an award accepted by her son Anthony Loder, who talks about her life’s triumphs and sorrows.  

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade a podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida, the museum is named after James Robert Cade , who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

What do Hollywood, the German Navy, And the Cuban missile crisis have to do with each other? Turns out they're all linked by one person. Hedy Lamarr known in the 1930s and 1940s as the world's most beautiful woman and recently inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame. Welcome to Radio Cade, I'm your host Richard Miles today. My guest is Anthony Loder , the son of Hedy Lamarr. Welcome to the show, Anthony, and congratulations.

Anthony Loder:

Thank you very much.

Richard Miles:

So Anthony, your mother was both a famous actress and an inventor, and I'd like to talk about the actress part, but I'd like to begin actually with the scientist part, many people do not know, although recently it's become more public through books and movies and documentaries that she was a scientist and an inventor. So why don't we start and talk about what her invention was or what her patent was and what it's been used for and so on.

Anthony Loder:

So Hitler invaded, Austria Hedy's Homeland, and she grew up very happy there. And she had to flee because of all the negativity that was surrounding her. So she actually dressed up like the maid, escaped her possessive husband and left Vienna for Paris and then Paris for London. And then she bought a ticket on the Normandy to go to New York where she met Louis B. Mayer , who was in Europe, looking for fresh talent, fresh meat, for his stables, for his race horses back in Hollywood. And Hedy became a race horse, and she had to run fast in order to keep on board. And when she started, her look started to fade, they kind of threw her out. But early on when she was there, World War II was raging. And she always knew about munitions and problems with radio guided torpedoes because she was with her husband who sold munitions to the Germans. And she always knew about this problem about radio guided torpedoes, and it always stuck with her. And she always wanted to help defeat Hitler and help the allies and United States win the war. She was very patriotic. She loved America. She loved being safe. She loved being in tropical Hollywood and she wanted to pay back. So she always thought about what can I do to help win this war? And then she at home and she probably thought of frequency hopping because she had one of these Philco magic radios where you turn the dial on your Philco magic dialer. And it changed the radio station on the radio in the next room. So she , well look, I'm changing radio frequencies constantly here. What if we send a signal to a torpedo and not send it on one frequency, but send it on multiple frequencies in sync with each other. So only the transmitter and the receiver will know the pattern, frequency hopping it's called and the enemy can only touch one frequency at a time and they won't get the whole message of just bits and pieces. And all these frequencies jumping around will be secret. And so she thought of frequency hopping and she got a patent in 1942 for a secret communications system. She came up with a way to do radio transmissions secretively.

Richard Miles:

So the U.S. Navy during world war II, did they use this technology?

Anthony Loder:

No, no. Hettie asked her friend George Antile, who was a musician who sinked 16 player pianos on a symphony. And he was Hungarian and spoke German, and my mother did, and his brother was shot out of the skies by the Germans and he too wanted to help win the war. So she went to him at a party and she said, look, can you help me figure this out? I have an idea, but I don't know how to put it into realistic terms. So he said, well, I can help you. Let's transmit the radio frequencies. And let's use player piano rolls to hop around in sync with each other.

Richard Miles:

He was a musician. He was not a scientist.

Anthony Loder:

No and she was an actress, not a scientist. So a musician and an actress got together and they came up with this patent and he drew his part according to piano rolls . And by the time they got it to the Navy brass, they thought it was a joke player, piano rolls, and a torpedo and a submarine . Good luck. Just go back to Hollywood, make movies, sell war bonds. She was already a very well-known actress at this point, famous movie star 39 Algiers came out and all of a sudden, overnight she was a huge star, but all that movie stuff didn't really satisfy her. She was kind of bored when everyone said , Oh, you're so beautiful. You're so beautiful. Oh , ms . Lamar, it's so beautiful. It was all about the way she looked. And she had nothing to do with that. She was born with that face, but she did like the challenge of being creative and inventive. And she actually wanted to leave the movie business, go to Washington D.C., work at the inventor's council and look at all the patents that came across their desk and try to enhance it or improve it. She said, well, let me look at these patents. Maybe I can make them better and Oh no. Oh no. You go back to Hollywood and be a nice actress and inspire the troops that way.

Richard Miles:

So she got the patent, the Navy sat on the technology and it eventually was used, but not until like 20 years later, right? During the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Anthony Loder:

Yeah. They shelved the idea. They actually did give the patent to the Sauna Boy Project, which was in the sixties. And actually it was used, but nobody knew that it was used and Hedy should have been paid, but she wasn't paid. I mean, we're $30 billion that idea. But at least now with people watching the movie bombshell, which is on Netflix and a wonderful film, very well-made film about her life. If you haven't seen it yet, you should watch it. It's very impressive.

Richard Miles:

And just one more question about the technology, Anthony. So the Spread Spectrum, This kind of became the basis for a lot of technologies that we all use today. Everything from what wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, I mean really fundamental.

Anthony Loder:

Right? It's part of your smartphone . You break up all the radio frequencies and a little bits and pieces. Just your device has that pattern. So everyone's sharing the same limited radio frequencies because they're all cut up. Cause they're all moved around, moving around and different patterns from the source to the phone or the computer basically. And this frequency hopping is widely used in all military wireless things. Like I put on a helmet, 150 miles away, someone else is wearing the helmet. And we're just talking like we're talking now and we're listening to each other, like we're sitting on the porch having a conversation. So weapons have it. Laser guided bombs use it. Cordless phones use it. Wifi uses GPS use smartphones use it. It's everywhere. So had at the very least deserves gratitude thought now, and then thank you, Heidi, for coming up with this idea so we can have all of this.

Richard Miles:

So I read somewhere that her patent has been cited in at least 62 other patent applications as sort of a preceding or predicate technology. So just shows you how important this insight was as a building block, to all these other things. If we could go back to your mother and her upbringing, did she ever talk about later in life? Did she want to be a scientist as a young girl? She was raised in a fairly well to do family, right?

Anthony Loder:

President of a big bank. Oh , I never knew about this, but it turns out that Hedy's family was, or is Jewish. I've seen the family tree go back a few hundred years. There's Moses the tailor and Isaac, the banker and things like that. So we are Jewish and had Hedy's very bright and she always comes up with solutions and inventors come up with solutions there's problems and they find solutions and Hedy had a problem. There's a war going on and what can I do to help the allies win this war? And she knew that there was a problem with radio guided torpedoes. She stuck on that. She said, if we break up all these frequencies, then no one can latch onto a frequency and jam it or interfere with the direction of the torpedo. So I'm going to do frequency hopping. That'll solve that problem down. We'll make it a secret communication system. So 20 years later, when the integrated circuit was invented, things can downsize and become small enough where they could incorporate that idea. And they did incorporate Hetty's idea on torpedoes and radio communications. And 20 years after the patent was invented, the patent was 1942. 1962 was the Cuban missile crisis. And us warships had had his invention on their radios during the Cuban missile crisis. I don't know whether they used it, but it was on board warships. And now it's on board. Every ship, every plane, every computer it's like $30 billion worth of invention is floating around. And Hedy actually never got any money nor credit. But with this movie coming out with you and I talking like this there's ears that'll pick it up. And they'll know that this most beautiful woman in the world that she was known as, and all the accolades came from the way she looked. And she used to say my beauty is my curse because I can't sustain it as a teenager. And in my twenties, that's when I peak out. And then it's all down here from there. And she had nothing else to latch on to for accolades or for attention. But there's other things she thought of. She wanted to devote her life to invention. And she asked permission to leave the movie business and just focus on being an inventor. And they said, no, no, no, go back. Do movies, do what you know how to do. She didn't have a close friend or a partner or someone to guide her and to encourage her to feed that wolf on her shoulder, that intellectual smart, quick minded solution-oriented person, she was Dayjah said, be pretty look good, being the movies, be superficial.

Richard Miles:

And Anthony, let me interrupt for our younger listeners who may not be aware of your mom. I'm trying to think of a comparison in today's terms. I mean, she, wasn't just a pretty woman for a time. She was the top of the A list in Hollywood. She was probably one of the most recognizable faces in the world. She's today's equivalent, Nicole Kidman or Angelina, Jolie , uh , you know, very, very recognizable. What's fascinating to me is if you look at the subset of people who are inventors, very, very small subset of people who are famous Hollywood actors, very, very small to have them combined in one person. I mean, she's gotta be a subset of one or two. I don't think I've no of any other story like hers. And as you said more than once that she felt like in some ways the beauty was a curse because you were in the movie business for a while , right? Your actor and a producer, your father was also an actor. What was it like growing up in that environment? I'm sure. From day one, right? You had to get used to having a famous mother. How did she want you to grow up? Did she want you to set aside fame and glory? What do you think her takeaway from her own life was in terms of how she wanted you to grow up?

Anthony Loder:

Being a little boy with this movie star I didn't know she was a movie star. She was just my mother. So my life was normal the way it was, but it was extremely abnormal. I mean, nothing was normal about it.

Richard Miles:

At what point did you realize that you had a famous mother? How old were you?

Anthony Loder:

Somewhere and people stopped her on the street map your autograph. And when we went somewhere for ice cream at Will Wrights in Beverly Hills, like 10 people used to come up to the table as for her autograph always being interrupted. I knew that all of these equities , my mom didn't really care about all that. It was kind of like a nuisance. You know, she spoke seven languages fluently. She could join in on any conversation about anything.

Richard Miles:

She's sounds like she was a brilliant woman.

Anthony Loder:

She loved playing charades. She was on the movie making, movie star path and it kind of bored her. She didn't really want to be a movie star and,

Richard Miles:

She started very young, like 15 or something?

Anthony Loder:

Yeah. She started for young , uh , in Sasha studios and in Vienna , Austria . And she started as a script girl and then got a little part here, a little part there. And then she made Ecstasy the famous Czech movie where she was naked and romp naked. And she was like the first woman in the movies to have an orgasm on screen.

Richard Miles:

That movie was banned in the United States?

Anthony Loder:

Yeah it was. So it was and made her a household name overnight. And she kind of had to hide all that from the United States audiences who were kind of prudish.

Richard Miles:

Anthony, what point did you realize the invention side of your mom? When did you know about the patent and their scientific?

Anthony Loder:

They're married , uh, oil man and we moved to Texas and we lived in River Oaks and Houston and , and big old mansion that Howard Lee built for Hedy actually. And we were living in a house in Beverly Hills when I was born. My mother divorced John Loder, who was an actor. That was my father, right when I was born. So I never met him. And we moved into the Beverly Hills Hotel. And then we moved down to Mexico where she married the man who she met on her honeymoon, seven years prior, Teddy Stauffer, who owned the Laverday and La Gila, which was this bar on the hillside where divers dive off the mountains into the water below. And we lived there for two years. And then we went back to the United States and we went off to boarding school at that time when I was young. So we cried and missed our mom. And we went from boarding school to summer camp, to boarding school, to summer camp. So she never really had the patience to be a mom anymore because the movies were actually giving her uppers and downers and Dr. Feelgood. So she became erratic and impatient and short-tempered, and we were actually scared of our mother. So she went through a lot of transformation. I feel sorry for her because she was a single mom trying to earn her way, taking care of us, taking care of a career that wasn't on track because they were used to gold, but they didn't have porcelain. And Hedy was specials . She stood out and they didn't know what to do with her. They didn't write special parts for her like they did for Betty Davis , for example. So she kind of was, well, we need a pretty girl for this movie, so well let's use Hedy, let's put her in. So they didn't really care about her film career. They didn't nourish her nurture good parts for her. So she wasn't really a huge superstar.

Richard Miles:

So even as an actress. She didn't really get to develop her talent in the acting. The beauty was just sort of overwhelmed everything.

Anthony Loder:

So she was disappointed and bored and , and let down by the parts that she had. And this one thing kept sticking in her mind. She wanted to be an inventor. She wanted full time. Let me think of things to improve society. And she came up with little cubes that you put in a water glass and it turned into fizzy Coca-Cola, but there was different types of acid water and this and that. So the water wasn't the same. So that didn't work out at one point Hedy even dated Howard Hughes though. He was the worst partner she had. He was the best partner she had intellectually because he did loan out his scientist that helped her develop that Coca-Cola cube. And she encouraged him to make faster airplanes. She bought a book on fish. She bought a book on birds and she found the fastest bird and the fastest fish. She merged the two together. She said, look, Howard, your airplane, wings, go straight out. Why don't we bend them back and see what happens? I think the plane will go faster. She said, you're a genius. And he started doing swept wings. So Hedy actually came up with that idea as well. So she was a smart cookie and I would've loved to been with her as a scientist mom, instead of as a cookie movie star mom who had no platform to stand on. I mean, the better you look, the more we're going to love you that nothing to do with science and the science and the inventive nature is what's real. And what's important. What people can really hang their hats on. And Howard Hughes hung his hat on Hedy and Hedy helped Howard and Howard help Hedy and,

Richard Miles:

That's a great story.

Anthony Loder:

There's a lot of little stories like that in their life. So she didn't have a friend to encourage her to go down the path of a scientist as inventor. So she kind of let it go. And she was resigned to be a famous movie star. And the fame part of it was she was known as the most beautiful woman in the world. And how long can that last, when gravity is pulling your beauty, making wrinkles and becoming not a young firm, pretty beautiful actress anymore. I mean, her life was kind of sad in a way that she didn't have anyone to encourage her bright mindedness. And she was very inventive and she didn't know how to add two plus two, really, but she was very bright minded and she knew of the problem. There's a problem though . Torpedo gets interfered with, by the enemy, it's a radio guided torpedo, but the enemy takes over the signal and changes the direction or jams your transmission controller. How can I fix that ?

Richard Miles:

You know , Anthony, that almost captured perfectly the essence of a true inventor, this intellectual curiosity in which you're wanting to know the answers to questions or wanting to find solutions to problems that don't even directly concern you. I mean, she was an actress. This was not really in her orbit, but yet she had that intellectual curiosity. And I was struck by something you said earlier, Anthony, in which you said, if all my mother was, was just a beautiful woman and a famous actress, no one would really remember her past a generation, right? Cause actors and actresses come and go depending on the generation. But because of this, the invention part of her, her reputation and her memory is going to live much, much longer. That's why we're talking about her. Now. We wouldn't really be talking about her, except for she had this inventive part of her mind.

Anthony Loder:

When she was alive and active in the forties. All everyone clamored about, Oh, you're so beautiful. And it was a short term superficial thing that everyone focused on and raised her up on a platform of superficiality. And now the science part of her is a long term , significant, not a shallow, but a deep understanding where it reaches out to millions of people helping improve their lives. So Hedy, without people knowing it is touching most everybody's life on the planet. And in ways we don't even know of that,

Richard Miles:

Like that time we pick up our cell phone, right?

Anthony Loder:

Right, like in the future, you're going to walk into a store and the store is going to recognize you with your electronic cell phone device as being, Oh, this person's still lives at the same place. Their credit is good. They're welcome to the store, and they go and take everything they want put it in a bag and they walk out of the store. And immediately everything you took is charged to your cell phone because of the little transmitters that are in all the products for inventory control, for charging people. So there's a whole bunch of stuff that's not even happening yet. That will happen with this idea. Most all military wireless things have it . The satellites have at TRW, Lockheed Martin they sends signals to satellites that are frequency hopping. So nobody can listen to it or jam it or interfere with it. And it's controlling the communications with the onboard computers on these $38 billion satellites that are going on around the planet.

Richard Miles:

And this is truly a revolutionary idea. And it's reminds me of the phrase, beauty fades, but ideas lasts forever.

Anthony Loder:

That's a good point.

Richard Miles:

I got to say of all the guests I've interviewed. I think this story really captures the imagination because again, you just sort of see this pure intellectual pure inventiveness coming out, but yet from a woman who was so gifted in other ways, and maybe didn't get to capture that talent in many different aspects.

Anthony Loder:

She, she was living in a time where women weren't taking seriously. They were just pieces of meat. They were just like a human adornments that men had and men ran the world and women were just put in the background, but how do you have to fight to be heard and had to fight to get good parts and at the fight to be taken seriously. And she wasn't, and she didn't have anyone on board on her side when she was going through all that, to respect her or to give her the encouragement she needed to keep going down that path. So the hot end people, the inventors who come up with the ideas, it seems that the flow of ideas go in one direction to the marketing people and the developers into the people who buy the product and the money comes back upstream and it stops to the inventor. But if we fed the inventor, the inventor might come up with more ideas. So we have to encourage inventors and support inventors and pay inventors to do more. We have to like include the hot end in the gratitude payments and into the monetary payments. We have to be grateful to all of these people who enhance our lives, Steve Jobs, Isaac Newton, Howard Hughes, whoever it is, we need to wake up in the morning and be grateful to all these individuals who helped enhance our lives. Because without all this stuff, we would be horrible. Imagine not being able to flush a toilet or do the basics. So many people thought of so many things to make our life better. We better be grateful human beings, because if we're not grateful, we can't be happy. One of the formulas to be grateful is to enjoy what you're doing. Look forward to doing something that you'll enjoy in the future.

Richard Miles:

That is a great way to sum up this episode, Anthony, thank you so much for joining me this morning, telling your story.

Anthony Loder:

There's so much more to say,

Richard Miles:

We could go on for quite a long time.

Anthony Loder:

Hopefully people get a chance to see Bombshell, The Hedy Lamarr Story.

Richard Miles:

Right, Bombshell it's on Netflix. Bombshell, The Hedy Lamarr story, Netflix, encourage listeners to look that up.

Anthony Loder:

And your website's important too, because you basically are making a platform for inventors to stay alive and for people to understand what inventors went through, to bring their idea to market and your museum and your idea of promoting invention and inventors and keeping that whole stream alive with youngsters that come and see you. I'm just very touched by what you're doing to keep the ball moving.

Richard Miles:

Well, thank you very much. Anthony, I think we're going to put you on the Cade Museum marketing team because And we encourage listeners to come visit the Cade Museum in Gainesville. What's that website it's cademuseum.org.

Anthony Loder:

How do you spell that ?

Richard Miles:

C A D E museum.org. And in fact, we do feature an exhibit on Hedy Lamarr, an audio tour on your mom. So I think people will enjoy seeing that. Thank you very much.

Anthony Loder:

Thank you, it's been fun. I mean, there's so much more to say and we had such little time, but I hope you got something out of this.

Richard Miles:

Absolutely. Thank you very much.

Anthony Loder:

Thank you, Richard.

Richard Miles:

I'm Richard Miles.

Outro:

Radio Cade would like to thank the following people for their help and support Liz Gist of the Cade Museum for coordinating and vendor interviews. Bob McPeak of Heartwood Soundstage in downtown Gainesville, Florida for recording, editing and production of the podcasts and music theme. Tracy Collins for the composition and performance of the Radio Cade theme song, featuring violinist, Jacob Lawson and special thanks to the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida.