With Hitler's military rampage across Europe and Japan's subsequent bombing of Pearl Harbor, Americans flocked to enlistment offices across the country in unprecedented numbers. Though some had been alive, or had fought in, only to become disillusioned with WWI, the guarantee of much-needed employment caused Americans to once again turn their sights to continents far beyond their own whilst clutching the barrel of a gun between their hands that longed to clutch stacks of rectangular paper stamped with the faces of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton.
Although the film industry was one of few businesses that managed to shield itself from the worst effects of the Great Depression, Hollywood's economic stability, and boom in a decade defined by an excess of busts, by no means proved to be roadblock from withholding its influence to help curb the advances of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Prominent names and figures from Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, to Edward G. Robinson, departed the movie sets, setting aside their stardom in exchange for a badge of stars fixed upon a blue field pushed to the top left corner by a cage of white and red stripes sown upon a military uniform. Marching up the banks of Normandy and Iwo Jima, sharing the same line of fire with a former butcher who had lost his deli when the stock market crash had deprived all his customers of the money they needed to by meat, with a college boy who had left the warmth and seclusion of his dorm room insulated by books hoping to earn enough to return for another semester, the famed celebrities were once again the everyman. The average Joe they walked passed in the street on their way to grab coffee and pick up a copy of the daily newspaper. The ordinary person that might survive, and perhaps long enough to accomplish something extraordinary. A narrative all the films they had acted in, the dreams they helped create, had made a chore, if not a profit, of immortalizing.
In a time when conflict seems perpetual, struggle overwhelming, there always arises an unlikely hero. An individual who's unlikely strength drawn from an equally unlikely place is harnessed to vanquish a foe all too familiar as he is all too powerful -- or so he seems. As it concerns the winning of wars, there has been many a victor in this arena that has been deprived of the roar of the crowd all for the sake of wielding not a sharper, but a shorter sword. Beneath the context of Hollywood coupled with unsung heroes in WWII, examples in recent memory include "The Imitation Game", a story recounting the harrowed genius of British mathematician Alan Turing, who's deciphering and breaking of the Nazi Enigma Code ultimately spelt the beginning of the end of Germany's ambitions for global dominance, or most significantly, Steven Spielberg's magnum opus "Schindler's List", an epic retelling of the efforts of German businessman Oscar Schindler, who's shrewd employment tactics spared the lives of 1200 Jews from the firing squads, mass graves, gas chambers, and other heinous, inhuman fates that awaited them during such a time.
As many as there are heroes who remain unsung, there are far more today, who have yet to receive the courtesy of a single word. And if the movie industry and that which concerns the business of war have one thing in common, it is recognizing the accomplishments of women beyond the dignity prescribed to her ability to appear desirable in a dress or to just appear desirable. Recruited by studios primarily for their beauty, very few of even the most renowned actresses during this time escaped the superficial demands of Hollywood's star machine, as hopes and dreams were taken and manufactured into a line of viewable products. Products studio executives hoped audiences would dream of seeing again. As much as they would be seen in many dreams.
Among these regiments of constructed starlets that continue to manifest behind a curtain of closed eyes surrounding a world as dark as a movie theater was Hedy Lamarr. Originally born and raised in Austria, Hedy Lamarr, or Hedwig Eva Maria Kiessler (yes Harry Potter fans, Hedwig) as she was known before changing her name to the former when she signed with MGM, broke into the movie scene in 1938 when she appeared alongside Charles Boyer in the American Drama "Algiers". Cast and billed as an unknown, the young Lamarr immediately captivated audiences worldwide from her very first appearance on the silver screen and instantly became a national sensation along with the film. Alluring spectators beneath the subtle boast of her Siamese Cat-like gaze, a gaze so beguiling that those who stared back were seldom able to make not of her ever slight lazy eye, the name Hedy Lamarr became synonymous with the seductress shrouded beneath a maddening aura of oriental ecstasy -- a role she was typecast for in her most successful movies such as "Boom Town" and White Cargo", and forever immortalized for. Constantly empathized in her films for her beauty and sensuality, she was afforded very little dialogue. As little as the dialogue afforded to her off-screen life as an inventor.
Although academics, film critics, and those with an affinity for movies produced in the Golden Age of American Cinema have never wasted time raving about Hedy Lamarr's accomplishments on the big screen, where their voices may begin to exhaust and waste into silence, is when the conversation becomes redirected towards her technological innovations that revolutionized and modernized American warfare. And by revolutionized, I mean just about on the level of Einstein and Oppenheimer -- who's conception of the Atom Bomb not only forced Japan's surrender but has since become a major deterrent and pawn in today's arena of international relations and foreign policy. Unlike her pedagogically accomplished peers, Hedy Lamarr never attended Berkeley, or Cal Tech, nor did she ever receive a PhD, but if history has been able to prove one thing if not the verity of its existence and occurrence, it is that one does not need to attend a prestigious university, let alone attain a degree, to prove they are indeed a person in possession of a capable, far superior intellect. And Hedy Lamarr certainly possessed one. One of a time she ushered the future of American Science and Technology into. Partnering with composer George Antheil, the actress drafted designs for and patented a radio guidance system for Allied Torpedoes. Utilizing spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology, they were equipped with the capacity of nullifying and abrogating the threat of jamming on the part of Axis powers. Unfortunately, Lamarr's brainchild was difficult to implement as it was to manufacture during the 1940s, and the U.S. Navy during this era, was at best, lukewarm when it came to considering inventions from outside their circle of martial prowess. Especially when the blueprints were drawn up by an actress. A polymathic, but unschooled women.
Though her innovations were never put to use or realized during WWII, Lamarr's efforts were not in vain. The navy finally adopted the actresses radio guidance system in the 1960s at the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and today, the principles that lead to such discovery have become one of the core foundations in the conception of Blue Tooth Technology, and Wi-Fi (so next time you step into a local Starbucks, be sure to thank Lamarr for the free internet access). For these vital advancements, the actress was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
Still, Lamarr's prowess in science which transcends that of the unparalleled fails to garner as much as the hush of a whisper against a title wave roaring with the praise of how she once silenced people while standing before a camera. Confining into silence, the beauty of her intrinsic genius behind another beauty. A beauty wrought from a desire to invoke desire. A desire to be seen, but masked. To mask what one knows but continues to guess at. To guess even as the answer stares back. Through the blemish of her lazy eye hands clutching stacks of paper bearing the faces of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton did not fight a war to see.
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