The next time you use GPS for navigation or secure Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet, you'll find a connection to a comedy film and a gorgeous movie star born in Vienna. Let's begin with the movie.
The comedy hit is "Blazing Saddles" directed by and starring one of Hollywood's funniest filmmakers, Mel Brooks. If, by some chance, you have never seen this 1974 film it's one of the most outlandish spoofs of Western movies you'll ever see.
It stars Cleavon Little as "Bart," the new sheriff in the town of Rock Ridge; Gene Wilder as a washed up gunslinger known as "TheWaco Kid;" Harvey Korman as an-all around bad guy businessman named Hedley Lamar; and Mel Brooks as the gullible governor William J. Le Petomane.
One of the supporting actors in the cast was David Huddleston who played Olson Johnson. In typical Mel Brooks style, everyone in Rock Ridge had the same last name of Johnson.
Huddleston came to Montgomery for the George Lindsey celebrity golf tournament a couple years after the film was released. At the mayor's reception for all the special guests in town, I had a chance to talk with Huddleston about making the movie. I was surprised, to say the least, when Huddleston told me that the majority of the movie was ad libbed.
Before a scene was shot, he said, Mel Brooks would get the actors together to talk about the scene and to give them some ideas of what their characters might say. Then they just winged it from there. I was never sure whether he was pulling my leg.
Would you believe that this outlandishly funny movie would land Mel Brooks in a lawsuit? Throughout the film, Brooks' character regularly referred to Harvey Korman's character as Hedy Lamar only to be corrected by Korman who kept telling the governor his name was Hedley Lamar.
That brings us to the real Hedy Lamarr — a stunning actress whose career started way back in 1933 — 41 years before the release of "Blazing Saddles." Apparently, the real Miss Lamarr took umbrage at the repeated use of her name in the movie, claiming it infringed on her right to privacy. She sued Warner Bros. and eventually settled out of court for a small amount of money and an apology. After the settlement, Brooks said, "She never got the joke."
There was plenty of money to go around after the film was made and distributed. It grossed $119.5 million here in the states. It was only the 10th movie at that time to pass the $100 million mark. Not bad for a movie about a small Western town filled with quirky characters.
So now that we have made the connection between the film and Hedy Lamarr, how does all this tie in with high-tech electronic devices mentioned at the start of today's conversation?
Not only was Hedy Lamarr beautiful, she was brilliant. In researching Hollywood starlets rarely are they referred to as "an actress and inventor."
By the time World War II broke out, Hedy Lamarr was already a star in Hollywood, but she was a star with great deal of patriotism for her new home in the United States. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the war she and composer George Antheil developed a radio-guided system for communicating with torpedoes to keep them on track and avoid having their communications jammed by the Axis powers. It was called frequency hopping.
Not to complicate the matter, let's just say Miss Lamarr got the idea by looking at the way player pianos read the notes off holes cut in the moving roll of paper. It sounds a little outlandish, but it worked, and she had a patent to prove it.
She took the idea to the Navy, but they weren't interested. One officer scoffed at the idea of player pianos somehow communicating with a torpedo to keep it on target with anti-communications jamming technology.
Later, in the 1960s, the Navy used her idea of spread-spectrum, but it was too late for Lamarr and Antheil's patent to be applied. Since then, the U.S. military has publicly acknowledged her frequency-hopping patent and her serious contributions to technology.
Today, frequency hopping is found in a variety of applications. For instance, if you're into radio controlled aircraft, model cars, airplanes and drones they very well may utilize a variation of this type of technology. The same goes for satellite navigation, cell phones and Bluetooth.
You can thank the lovely and talented Miss Lamarr for discovering the basis for safe communication with these devices.
And yes, in her role as a glamorous movie star, Hedy Lamarr is quoted as saying, "Any girl can look glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."
Obviously she didn't take her own advice.
(If you'd like to know more about Miss Lamarr, check out "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" on Netflix.)