More interest in Lamarr (as inventor), Hughes finds

       As an outspoken, active citizen, Dave Hughes winds up in the news fairly often. At other times the news just seems to find him.

After lunch together last week in Old Colorado City, Westsider Dave Hughes is flanked by Italian journalist Eduardo Segani (left) and UCLA computer science professor Pau Giovanni. They came to talk to Hughes about Hedy Lamarr's World War II invention.
Westside Pioneer photo

Hedy Lamarr

       For example, during a roughly two-week span in late August, the long-time Westside resident, retired Army colonel and internationally known computer innovator has been contacted for interviews by the prospective authors of two books and the director of a movie.
       Coincidentally, all three contacts are related to the same topic. It's one that Hughes has worked on in the past, and which gives him a particular delight. It concerns the person who was admittedly “the love of my life at age 13.”
       That would be Hedy Lamarr, who is still remembered as a movie bombshell from the 1930s and '40s. But that wasn't why Hughes, now 82, found her interesting later in his life. It was for her co-discovery of a technical principle (patented in 1941) that the Austrian native had hoped could be used to defeat the Nazis during World War II by allowing radio-controlled torpedoes. That did not happen, but in later years the discovery - colloquially known as “frequency hopping” - has been used in military communications and helped make modern cellphone technology possible. Unfortunately for Lamarr (and co-inventor George Antheil), this occurred after their patent had expired.
       Hughes was so moved by the story that in 1997 his nomination led to a Pioneer Award for Lamarr and Anthiel (3 years before her death and 38 years after his) from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
       “The story of Hedy, improbable, stunningly beautiful actress, inventing a scheme that would help defeat Hitler, is a classic story in itself,” Hughes commented recently. “You can't make this stuff up.”
       The first of the interviews was last week, when Pau Giovanni, a UCLA computer science professor, and Eduardo Segani, a newspaper writer from Italy, came to Old Colorado City to meet Hughes. “It's interesting to me how a Hollywood actress with basically limited technical training could have come up with this,” Giovanni said.
       Lamarr's hatred of the Nazis was no secret. Known at the time as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” she once raised $7 million for the American war effort in a single night by selling “war kisses,” Segani related.
       Another part of the story that Hughes finds fascinating is that Anthiel (a composer who used player pianos) and Lamarr hit on the idea while playing piano together. They determined that “synchronizing a series of split-second hops between radio frequencies would be no more difficult than synchronizing player pianos,” states a 1990 article in Forbes magazine. “Together, but apart,” as Hughes put it.
       Visiting Hughes later this month will be Richard Rhodes, who won a Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction in 1988 (“The Making of the Atomic Bomb”). He plans a “short biography” on Lamarr as part of “a series on 20th century inventors and innovators,” he told Hughes in an introductory e-mail.
       The film, focusing on the frequency-hopping discovery, will be titled “Face Value.” Hughes is a technical advisor. Rachel Weisz will play Lamarr, Hughes said. Filming is scheduled to start in October or November, according to an Aug. 16 e-mail to Hughes from screenwriter Gretchen Somerfeld. The e-mail also asks Hughes to communicate with the “Face Value” director, Uli Edel, using Skype (a free Internet phone functionality).

Westside Pioneer article