Hedy Lamarr's Double Life

Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor

By Laurie Wallmark (Author), Katy Wu (Illustrator)

Series People Who Shaped Our World


Pub Date 2/5/2019

ISBN 9781454926917

Format Hardcover Picture Book



Hedy Lamarr's Double Life

Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor

by Laurie Wallmark, Katy Wu
“Revelatory to young audiences in more ways than one.” —Kirkus

“Many STEM-for-girls biographies fan excitement over women’s achievements, but this title actually brings the central scientific concept within middle-grade reach.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Selected for the New York Public Library Best of 2019 List

Movie star by day, ace inventor at night: learn about the hidden life of actress Hedy Lamarr!
To her adoring public, Hedy Lamarr was a glamorous movie star, widely considered the most beautiful woman in the world. But in private, she was something more: a brilliant inventor. And for many years only her closest friends knew her secret. Now Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu, who collaborated on Sterling’s critically acclaimed picture-book biography Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, tell the inspiring story of how, during World War Two, Lamarr developed a groundbreaking communications system that still remains essential to the security of today’s technology.

Selected for the 2020 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 list, compiled by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC).

“Brilliance unrecognized. Bombshell actress Hedy Lamarr was worshipped for her beauty and elegance, but what the public didn't know was that she was an inventor. Interspersing descriptions of her various inventions and Lamarr's own words, the straightforward text and appealing, appropriately retro-feeling illustrations present a wide-eyed Lamarr as a multifaceted talent and portray both her life as a Hollywood star and her inquisitiveness and intellectual creativity, from her childhood in Austria through her acting heyday to her recognition as an inventor in her 80s. In this clear, appealing tale of an unsung heroine, Wallmark does not explicitly discuss the second-class status of female scientists but instead focuses on her subject's personality and achievements. The process of invention and inspiration are explained in a succinct and inspiring way, as is Lamarr's working partnership with composer and inventor George Antheil; their invention is relevant and used frequently in technology today. Fifty years later, Lamar is recognized, and her response forms the book's conclusion: ‘It's about time.’ Wu's illustrations focus on the book's white principals but include secondary characters of color, neatly shifting mode to help illustrate the technological principles under discussion. The extensive backmatter includes a timeline, bibliography, further reading—and, emblematic of the subject, a description of Lamarr's invention and a list of her films. Revelatory to young audiences in more ways than one.” —Kirkus

“Even readers who don't know Hedy Lamarr, ‘the world’s most beautiful woman,’ will become fans after learning how she balanced her fame as a 1930s movie star with a passion for science and inventing. Growing up in Austria, Lamarr acted in plays and explored mechanics before making it big in Hollywood. Both her artistic and scientific processes, success, and challenges are shown as the book focuses on her creation of a secure torpedo guidance system using ‘frequency-hopping,’ a technology that, though ignored during its initial inception, is found in many personal electronics today. Strong digital art, spread across colorful pages with varied layouts, is both dignified and fun, with diagrams of scientific principles placed near portraits of Lamarr's famous costars (Clark Gable, Judy Garland). Consistent in style and substance with the duo's previous Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017), this includes helpful back matter and featured quotes that offer insight into Lamarr’s perspective: in her unique life, she never failed to ‘do good . . . think big . . . [and] build.’” —Booklist

“For Austrian-born actress Hedy Lamarr, promoted during her Hollywood Golden Age reign as ‘the world’s most beautiful woman,’ making movies was a day job. A childhood passion for tinkering blossomed into the impulse for serious invention, and when she was off set, Lamarr retreated to her workshop. This picture book biography focuses on her acclaimed work with composer George Antheil to design and patent a ‘frequency hopping’ device that would undermine an enemy’s ability to redirect torpedoes and thus give the Allies an advantage in World War II. The patent was approved, but ‘the Navy had neither the time nor the money to implement a new system during wartime. . . . Even worse, they classified the technology SECRET. This prevented anyone, including the inventors, from using it.’ After the design was declassified and the patent expired, a new generation of inventors scooped up the idea and applied it to wireless communication technology, but Lamarr and Antheil never made a penny from it, and they waited decades to receive acknowledgment of their innovation. Wallmark and Wu do a laudable job of breaking the development of ‘frequency hopping’ into understandable steps, with Wallmark explaining how communication between a ship and its launched torpedo could be intercepted, and Wu demonstrating through simple visuals how shifting rapidly among frequencies is key to securing it. Many STEM-for-girls biographies fan excitement over women’s achievements, but this title actually brings the central scientific concept within middle-grade reach. A closing note, a bibliography, timeline, filmography, and list for further reading are included.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This picture book biography introduces young readers to the Hollywood legend famous for her beauty and the many hit movies in which she starred throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and her passion for science and technology. Lamarr’s zeal is conveyed superbly. Growing up in Austria in the 1920s, she wanted to understand how things worked. She took apart her toys to study their mechanisms and, during long walks with her father, explored subjects ranging from streetcars to the night sky. She also reenacted her favorite scenes from movies on a stage she built beneath her father’s desk. Wallmark brings Lamarr to life by including quotes from her subject. During World War II, Lamarr worked with another inventor on technology called frequency hopping, which is still in use today and allows users to send and receive secure cell phone messages and protect computers from hackers. The back matter includes a spread detailing frequency hopping in more depth. Vibrant digital artwork expands upon the text by showcasing a handful of Lamarr’s other inventions and using period details to convey the golden era of Hollywood. VERDICT A must for both school and public libraries, especially where collections are looking to increase their STEM holdings and round out biography collections with women working in science.” —School Library Journal

“Laurie Wallmark’s lively biography also explains Lamarr’s most brilliant idea (conceived with the composer George Antheil), which improved the guidance system for torpedoes and led to today’s wireless communications. Katy Wu’s digitally created illustrations add cartoonish energy and color.” —Washington Post

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Laurie Wallmark has degrees in Biochemistry from Princeton University, Information Systems from Goddard College, and Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books), received four starred reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal), praise in The New York Times, and numerous awards. Laurie lives in NJ. Twitter: @lauriewallmark.
With a BFA in Illustration and Entertainment Arts from Pasadena Art Center College of Design in 2007, Katy Wu has worked for Google, Laika, Pixar, CinderBiter, and Simon & Schuster. Grace Hopper was her first picture book; her second was Dumpling Dreams, written by Carrie Clickard (Simon and Schuster). She has also worked on such projects as the feature film Coraline. She lives in New York City. Follow her online at katycwwu.tumblr.com.

Title Details

Pages 48 pages, all in color

Trim 8.5 x 10.8 x 0 Inches

Territories World

Category History & Biography | Picture Books

Age Range 5 and up

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