About the Holiday
Are you an artist, a writer, a decorator, a chef? How about a floral arranger, a woodworker, a fashion designer, or a gardener? Inside almost every heart lies a desire to create. Whether you use your ingenuity in your job or as an escape from the routine, this month celebrates all that is innovative. Sometimes this comes not only in making something you can see or touch but in a new thought or a novel way of solving a problem—as seen in today’s book!
I received a copy of Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor
Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Katy Wu
In 1938 people were lining up to see Hedy Lamarr in her first English-language movie Algiers. Hedy was the talk of Hollywood, and journalists and photographers captured her every move—almost. What movie-goers and the press didn’t know was that Hedy Lamarr was also a brilliant inventor. Instead of attending fancy celebrity parties, after a long day on the set, “Hedy hurried home to work on her latest invention. Her brain overflowed with idea after idea for useful inventions.” While she never tried to sell her ideas—like the collar to help find lost pets or the “flavor cube that changed plain water into soda”—she designed and redesigned them to perfection.
But how did Hedy get her start? She was born in Austria and as a child took apart mechanical objects just to see how they worked. Hedy’s father also loved science, and he encouraged his daughter to hold onto her dreams. In addition to science, Hedy loved movies and would use her dolls to reenact the scenes she saw.
When she got older, Hedy got a job as a script girl and then worked as an extra in a movie. She loved acting and once said, “‘I acted all the time…. I was a little living copybook. I wrote people down on me.’” While playing the lead in a stage play, the Hollywood producer Louis B. Mayer saw her and offered her movie contract. Hedy moved to America. It only took her six months to land a starring role in Algiers. After that she starred in many movies with some of the most famous actors and actresses.
By now, the world was at war. One day, Hedy met George Antheil, a former weapons inspector who now composed music. Hedy remembered a “discussion she had overheard back in Europe about a problem with the guidance system for torpedoes. The guidance system couldn’t prevent the enemy from jamming the weapon’s radio signals” and sending it off course. She learned from George Antheil that the US Navy had the same problem.
They decided to team up to see if they could figure out a solution. Hedy was also an accomplished pianist, and she and George often played musical games on the piano. Once, while they played the same song in different octaves, Hedy had a brainstorm for building “a secure torpedo guidance system.” At the time, torpedo guidance systems only worked if the ship launching a torpedo and the torpedo were on the same frequency.
Hedy thought that if the ship and the torpedo could switch between a series of different frequencies, the enemy would be foiled. “Hedy called her discovery ‘the hopping of frequencies.” Working together, she and George devised a way to implement Hedy’s idea. When they presented their idea to the National Inventors Council, they were told the “idea had ‘great potential value.’”
There were still some issues to overcome to make the system automated, but Hedy and George answered those too. They applied for a patent, and a year later on August 11, 1942 it was granted. When they gave the idea to the United States Navy, “Hedy was proud her frequency-hopping idea might help America win the war.” But embroiled in the middle of the conflict, the Navy didn’t have “the time or money to implement a new system….”
Hedy, who still wanted to help America defeat the Nazis, was undaunted. She helped raise 25 million dollars by selling war bonds and volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen, where servicemen soon to be deployed gathered. Hedy went on to make more than twenty movies and continued to work on her inventions.
In the 1980s, the US Navy declassified Hedy’s frequency-hopping technology, meaning anyone could use it. Because the patent had long-ago expired, no one needed to give Hedy and George credit for the idea. “Companies raced to include frequency hopping in their own devices.” In 1997, Hedy and George were finally recognized when they “received the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their significant contribution to computers.”
A timeline of Hedy Lamarr’s life, a description of how Hedy and George’s frequency-hopping technology worked, additional resources for further reading, and a list of Hedy’s movies follow the text.
Laurie Wallmark knows how to weave a riveting tale that draws readers in to the lives of fascinating and scientifically minded women throughout history. Her detailed biography of Hedy Lamarr will wow kids with the twists and turns of how a vital feature of the electronics they use every day came to be. A history not only of this famous woman but of the times and policies that denied Hedy Lamarr the recognition and profits she deserved, the story is sure to spark plenty of discussion. The inclusion of a few of Hedy’s ingenious ideas as well as quotes on acting, inventing, and her views on life give children a glimpse into the mind of this unique woman.
Katy Wu takes readers back to the 1940s with her stylish illustrations reminiscent of magazine images of the time that depict both Hedy’s glamourous and inventive sides. Even as Hedy steps out of a limo to the glare of flashbulbs, acts under stage lights, and watches movies thrown by a projector’s beam, she’s dreaming of going home to work on her inventions in the light of a desk lamp. When the story turns to Hedy’s frequency-hopping idea, Wu clearly portrays the problems with the torpedo guidance system and the way single-frequency and multiple-frequency communications work. The way player pianos were controlled and how Hedy and George Antheil used this idea is also well portrayed. The final images of people using Hedy’s technology today lets kids fully understand the impact that Hedy Lamarr has had on their lives.
An important story about an extraordinary woman, Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor will inspire children to follow and accomplish all of their dreams. The book will spur creative thought across subject matter and would be a motivational addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.
Ages 5 and up
Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454926917
Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and her books on her website.
To learn more about Katy Wu, and view a gallery of her book and art, visit her tumblr.
International Creativity Month Activity
National Archives Coloring Book of Patents
The people at the National Archives of the United States in Washington DC chose some of their favorite patents from the past to share with you as a coloring book. As you have fun coloring these pages full of ideas, let yours fly too!
Click here to get your printable National Archives Coloring Book of Patents
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Picture Book Review