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Hedy Lamarr was a famous Hollywood star and the first woman to appear naked on film. George Antheil was a piano player and composer. So just how did these two come to invent the latest technology used by the mobile phone? She was labelled "the most beautiful girl in the world" and he "the bad boy of music" yet way back in 1942 they took out a patent covering the vital radio technique that we now call spread spectrum.

Spread Spectrum: Hedy Lamarr and the mobile phone

    Fritz Mandl sits at the head of the table, well aware of the appreciative glances that his bejewelled wife attracts from all of the men at the table, and particularly from Mussolini who stares openly and admiringly at her. The Italian dictator smiles as she sips her soup, he smiles as she carefully dabs her lips with her napkin, he smiles for all the world as if he regards these as astounding feats for such a beautiful young woman to perform. Hedy ignores the glances and the stares. She sits regally and demurely beside her husband, listening to the talk around the table but taking little part in it unless she is directly addressed. She is easily the youngest at the table and sometimes has the look of a child who is doing its duty but would rather be elsewhere. She glances occasionally at the handsome artist, Kirsta, but he is always looking elsewhere or is being cosseted by his wife.

    The conversation is light, general. Any attempt to sway things towards business is cleverly and urbanely deflected by Fritz right up until the moment when the brandy is served and cigars lit. At this point the women, the more junior officers, and the guests from the entertainment, artistic and aristocratic worlds, make their way towards the lounge. Hedy begins to rise to join them, but the heavy hand of Fritz Mandl is placed lightly on her arm and she sinks grudgingly back into her seat. Hitler rants about the need to ship more arms into Germany; Fritz is sympathetic and placatory. He then ostentatiously barks out orders to his fellow board members about changes to be made at the factory which will improve the efficiency of shipments. There is talk of the price and effectiveness of various machine gun models and of the destructive power of torpedoes. Mandl himself launches into a critique of the ridiculous and outdated restrictions imposed by the League of Nations, and how they can be by-passed. Hitler belittles the organisation calling it a lion with the claws of a lamb. Mussolini continues to make eyes at Hedy - who ignores him. Fritz talks about the new weapons that they are developing and his board members provide more details.

    Smoke fills the room, more brandy is ordered. Hedy looks very tired. Mussolini, ever attentive, suggests through his interpreter that since Madam is tired he might escort her to her room. Fritz refuses this kind offer, politely but very definitely, smiling adoringly at his wife whilst once again resting that heavy hand on her slim arm. At last the evening is at an end. Hedy smiles tiredly as the guests say their goodbyes. Adolf posturingly kisses her hand and snaps himself to attention. Pompous Mussolini kisses each of her cheeks, "Italian style" and is then led unwillingly away by his delegation. Another successful night's entertainment by a very successful arms dealer and his delightful wife is complete. The wheels of the arms trade have been oiled. The customer is happy, he has been granted an audience at the court of King Mandl and his Queen, the orders will flow and the arms will be delivered, war is brought that little bit closer.

     Did Hitler actually visit Mandl's home? Did Mussolini? I cannot be entirely sure - but Hedy certainly claims to have entertained them - though not together. How much did she understand of what was discussed? Was it the duty of an arms supplier's wife to know at least something about his business, or was Hedy simply a decoration, detained in the room so that Mandl could keep an eye on her? We shall never know. It is quite likely that details of arms deals and plans for future developments were discussed whilst she was there. Probably no one at these meeting thought her presence important. After all, what could a pretty young actress understand of these things? How wrong could they be, Hedy was not just a pretty face.


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