on knowing your worth
“HEDY HAD BEAUTY AND BRAINS. SHE VALUED THE LATTER MORE BECAUSE ‘ANY GIRL CAN BE GLAMOROUS’”
Regarded in her 1940s heyday as the most beautiful woman in the world, Austrian-born screen siren Hedy Lamarr was also one of the smartest – though it took the world a while to wake up to this genius wrapped in the guise of a goddess. With knowledge gleaned from her fascist, arms-dealing ex-husband (who failed to realise that she was soaking up all manner of intel whenever the Third Reich top brass came to supper), she moved to the US where she worked with pianist George Anthiel to come up with a device to help radio-controlled missiles break through German blocking frequencies.
They gave their patent to the US Navy for free in 1942, but it wasn’t exploited until later, contributing to the technology we now use every day in our mobile phones, wifi and GPS. Hedy loved inventing things and during the war applied to join the National Inventors Council, but was rebuffed and told that she should use her celebrity to raise money for the war effort instead. So she raised more than $7 million in one go, but carried on creating new designs for things such as traffic lights and tissue boxes.
She died aged 86 in 2000, still primarily lauded for her pulchritude rather than her scientific prowess. Smart-talking, smart-thinking, always curious and engaged in the world around her, Hedy was so much more than a pretty face. These days it’s possible for people to conceive of a woman being capable of both beauty and brains. The important thing is to make the most of what you’ve got, be wise to society’s prejudices and, like Hedy, be clear on where you attribute you own value: ‘Any girl can be glamorous; all you have to do is stand still and look stupid.’