Last week, Agent Carter gave glimpses into the background of both Peggy Carter and this season’s villain, Whitney Frost.
Peggy’s story involved a milquetoast former fiance named Fred and a heroic wartime sacrifice by her brother that ultimately inspired Peggy to lead the life of adventure as a secret agent.
Whitney Frost’s background was just as tragic, but the scientific genius turned movie star narrative did ring a few bells for some astute commenters, because it does parallel the biography of Hedy Lamarr.
Modern film fans may only know Lamarr from the play on her name with Harvey Korman’s character in Blazing Saddles.
But Lamarr was a big box office draw performing with some of the biggest stars of their day. She starred in the adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel Tortilla Flat and is best known for being the lead in the Cecil B. DeMille epic Sampson and Delilah. She earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, when such an honor actually meant something.
For most people, that would be a life well-lived. Hedy Lamarr was not most people, because her genius still touches our lives today.
Lamarr (real name Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was born in Austria a few years before the outbreak of World War I. At age 17 she starred in her first film and would soon sign a contract with MGM.
Born into a Jewish family, Lamarr had no love for the Nazis when World War II broke out. Instead of being the power behind an evil organization like Whitney Frost, Lamarr would use the knowledge gleaned from her arms merchant first husband (can’t make this stuff up) to aid the allied war effort instead.
Lamarr had dabbled with inventing during her adult life, to varying degrees of success. She knew that the radio-guided torpedoes in use by the Navy could be jammed easily. So, she called film composer and fellow immigrant, George Antheil. Together they developed and patented a frequency hopping system in 1942 that would be difficult to impossible to jam.
Unfortunately, this invention was so far ahead of its time that it wasn’t implemented until after the war and the widespread use of the transistor revolutionized electronics. The invention did find military application in the early 1960s.
Now, you may ask, what do WWII torpedoes and life in 2016 have in common? The core concepts behind Lamarr’s invention are vital components in cell phones, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth technology - you know, the backbone of the Information Age.
Just imagine, if Angelina Jolie decided the world needed a better battery, she calls Danny Elfman and together they create a technology that would still be vital in 2090. That is exactly what Lamarr did.
So as you watch Agent Carter this week to catch up on the evil machinations of Whitney Frost, on your wireless device with Bluetooth headphones, give a small salute to the ass-kicking Austrian actress who made it possible, Hedy Lamarr.