Tuesday, September 8, 2015

More than a pretty face

Hedy's Folly has a terrific title, a terrific cover illustration and terrific subject matter, the contributions to science, technology and the U.S. military by glamorous actress Hedy Lamarr. Unfortunately, the book itself, by veteran author Richard Rhodes, fails to be terrific. It is, at best, so-so.

Partly this is because, while this may seem to be a Hedy Lamarr book, there isn't as much about the actress as one expects. In truth, Rhodes is only being fair. Lamarr's inventions became military secrets and were hidden for many years. When they did become public knowledge, Lamarr received most of the attention even though George Antheil, one of America's most significant composers of the 20th century, played an equal role in these discoveries. According to Rhodes, Lamarr came up with the ideas, while Antheil provided most of technological expertise. He had earlier experience synchronizing player pianos, and from there he moved on to synchronizing torpedoes and guidance systems. So, yes, Antheil deserves as much attention as he gets in this book. Even so, it's a little like going to a Hedy Lamarr movie and discovering that it mostly stars Victor Mature.

Then there's all the technical detail in the book. I discussed Hedy's Folly last week with my last surviving uncle, a retired NASA engineer. He is someone who would probably love all this detail. Most of us, however, want more Hedy stuff, and less heady stuff.

Hedy Lamarr was an inventor for most of her life, much longer than she was an actress. Rhodes says she worked on ideas for a new design of the Concorde airliner, for a fluorescent dog collar and for a device for helping disabled people get in and out of the bathtub. Not bad for someone who quit school when she was 16

No comments:

Post a Comment