Hedy Lemarr 1913-2000/George Antheil 1900-1959: What’s It All About, Hedy?

Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World
Richard Rhodes, Knopf, 2012.

Of course we are not supposed to judge a book by its cover,  but honestly, what are we to make of a Come Hither Hedy sliding down a golden torpedo?  Is this supposed to encourage the sexy girls to bone up on calculus? Or the smart girls to reach for the feather boas?  Work those propellers, baby!  And what exactly are these inventions in the subtitle? I mean, judging from that golden torpedo, well, a guy could get the wrong idea. Or the right idea. Or, or….*

Okay, Americans love an underdog and what better scoop than the Hollywood starlet coming up with a high tech solution to a serious wartime need?   The story’s been kicking around in one form or another since 1942, and for the short version, the details scarcely mattered, not when put next to the glam (hence the cover shot).  Kind of disrespectful of the promised story of intellectual achievement, I would say.  Kind of disrespectful of her lab partner George Antheil, too, which, along with the zing zing picture, may say something about the convoluted state of current sexual politics.

What’s it all about, Hedy? Let’s start at the beginning.

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Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed, 1860-1934: Our Lady of the Alps

Last time it was Victorian hero Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, as much a man as ever was.  Died a picturesque if not wholly surprising death while fighting the Fuzzy Wuzzies.  The nation mourned. I mentioned he had been married.

What sort of woman would marry such a man?

Elizabeth nee Hawkins-Whitshed, who, daughter of Captain Sir St. Vincent Hawkins-Whitshed (an  English baronet with a large estate in County Wicklow, Ireland,) was more than up to snuff.

Not at first, however.  She was one of those frail and sickly children, all croup and consumption, that you read about in Victorian writings. But like Teddy Roosevelt, she determined that this was no way to go through life.  If England and Ireland were unhealthy, how about Algiers?  No? Italy perhaps? Better.  The Tyrol?  Better still.  Finally, to Switzerland, where she found her life’s inspiration in mountains.

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