…by Karna Small Bodman
All this week we are talking about how we created the characters in the thrillers we write, and if there were any particular “real” people who were the inspiration for them. The answer is yes, there certainly was one very famous, very brilliant woman who inspired me to create my first heroine — but the question is: When I tell you about her background, will you be able to figure out who she was?
|…with President Reagan|
For my international thriller, Checkmate, I wanted to write about missile defense, or “Star Wars” as it was dubbed by some columnists when President Reagan announced the program back in the 80’s. I was working in the West Wing at the time and was really intrigued with the concept. We were in the Cold War stance with the Soviet Union, and our “defense policy” was known as Mutual Assured Destruction (we called it the “MAD Doctrine”) which said in effect that if the Soviets (or anyone else) lobbed a missile our way, even by mistake, it would kill millions of innocent Americans, and all we could do in retaliation (if it had a return address) was to launch one back at them, killing millions of innocent Russians.
President Reagan said there must be a better way, and in his famous speech announcing this new initiative he asked our best scientific minds, our best technology people to try to invent a system that would stop a missile – before anybody dies. And his great line was, “Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than avenge lives?”
So, in my story, my heroine is a brilliant scientist, Dr. Cameron Talbot. Working for a defense contractor, she invents a new technology as a defense against cruise missiles. The key is frequencies. She uses fast-acting algorithms to figure out the frequency that the villains are using to guide the missile. Her computer program is able to use the same frequency and invade the missile, take control of it (much like a virus invades your computer) and turn it around on the heads of the bad guys. My husband and I actually came up with that scheme over breakfast one day — but the whole idea of using frequencies started with my fascination with another brilliant woman who was born way back in 1914 in Vienna.
When she was only 18, she married Friedrich Mandl, said to be the third richest man in Austria. He was an arms merchant and munitions manufacturer who sold his wares to Hitler and Moussolini. In fact, those men attended lavish parties at the Mandl home. This woman was extremely attractive and her husband liked to show her off, so he had her accompany him to business meetings with scientists and others who worked on various aspects of military technology. She watched, listened and learned — a lot!
However, she never liked those Axis leaders; she didn’t like her jealous and controlling husband either. So one night she disguised herself as a maid and, taking her jewelry with her, fled to Paris and eventually made her way to America.
Do you know who she is – yet?
During WW II she was distressed to see that the Nazis were figuring out the frequencies our ships were using to communicate — thus learning their location and sending torpedoes to kill our men. She started to work with a famous pianist, George Antheil, and they thought about old piano rolls with little slots in them where the music “hops around.” They figured that if they could get a frequency to hop around in short bursts among 88 frequencies (like the 88 keys on a piano) — the enemy would never be able to follow or decipher how we were communicating. They called their idea “Spread Spectrum.” They got a patent, and though the military didn’t use it at the time, they did use it on our Navy ships in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. And later, their technology was part of the basis for cell phones, Bluetooth and WiFi. Years later, they both were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Do you know who she is — yet?
Okay, now a few more clues. When she first fled to Paris, she met Louis B. Mayer who was scouting for talent in Europe. He hired her, brought her to Hollywood, changed her name (from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) to one I’m sure you will recognize, and he began promoting her as “the world’s most beautiful woman.” So while she was starring in some 29 films such as Comrade X, Tortilla Flat, The Conspirators, and My Favorite Spy, she was also working on her life-changing technologies.
Do you know who she is — yet?
I’m sure many of you do — of course she is the brilliant woman whose inventions helped our military while she also traveled and entertained them at bases around the world. She not only inspired them to fight, but she inspired me to write. Certainly now you know: It was HEDY LAMARR
Now, please tell us about some of the people who have been inspirations in your lives. We’d love to know. Just leave a comment below.
Karna Small Bodman