A life uninterrupted by Nigel Roth


In 1929, a groundbreaking erotic film was made in Czechoslovakia.

It was a silent melodrama called Erotikon, based on a screenplay by the Czech avant garde writer Vítězslav Nezval. It was directed by Augustin ‘Gustav’ Otokar Jan Machaty, and so well that he followed up with a second film called Ecstasy.

This second movie was even more successful, and was co-written by Jacques Koerpel, Frantisek and Robert Horky, and by Gustav Machaty himself.

It was filmed in three language versions, reflecting the geolinguistic apex at which Machaty found himself in 1933 - in Czech, in French, and in German.

It’s the story of a woman who leaves an older husband for the virility and passion of a young engineer, and is thought to be the first non-pornographic movie to feature sexual intercourse and female orgasm, and caused a sensation as a result.

There were three main actors in this movie. Aribert Mog, a member of the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization, who died fighting on the Eastern Front in 1940, the astonishingly-versatile Croatian Zvonimir Rogoz, who acted in German, Croatian, Slovenian, Czech or Slovakian, over a staggering eighty-one-year career, and an actor called Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, who later changed her name to Hedy Lamarr.

And, if you're reading this on a device connected by WiFi or Bluetooth, you really should tip your tirolerhut to Lamarr.

As a Viennese actor and producer, Lamarr was well-known and loved. As an inventor she was somewhat overlooked. Lamarr created a dissolvable soft drink ‘tablet’, worked on improving traffic lights, and redesigned airplane wings for her partner at the time, Howard Hughes.

But her most important invention was of a radio signal that could not be tracked or interfered with, what she and her co-developer, George Antheil, called a frequency-hopping signal, and what we today know as spread-spectrum techniques.

The concept is based on splitting the signal over many different frequencies, and changing the carrier continuously, so that any signal ‘jamming’ is only momentary and not enough to set a radio-controlled torpedo off toward Miami Beach instead of das boot.

Together, the two created a working device by synchronizing a player-piano mechanism with outgoing radio signals, in a bid to help the Navy’s radio-controlled missiles stay on course during the Second World War.

Their invention was patented in 1942, but because the US navy wouldn’t consider inventions coming from outside the US military (except sailing, sailors, ships, rudders, keels, marine engines, compasses, sextants, hardtack, stuff like that), it was not taken up for twenty years, when the Cuban Missile Crisis changed the US navy’s thinking, if they ever did any.

Lamarr’s idea is as relevant today as ever. Spread-spectrum methods are used in WiFi and Bluetooth technologies to ensure a continual and uninterrupted connection to your treasured handheld. It took fifty-five years before she finally received some compensation for a share in her patent, from a Canadian company that commercializes innovative technologies. In that same year, 1997, WiFi was launched.

After many decades of family feuds, failed marriages (six in total), estrangements, and lawsuits, Lamarr became as reclusive as Howard Hughes, who she didn’t marry.

Towards the end of her life, Lamarr rarely saw any other human, relying almost exclusively on the telephone, and talking to friends and relatives, and actors as old as her, for hours every day.

Uninterrupted, we hope.

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