On February 11, just three days before Valentine's Day, comes a more cerebral holiday—National Inventors Day. To mark the occasion, here are 13 stars who stepped out of the spotlight and came up with clever inventions of their own.
Steve McQueen — Bucket Seat for Racecars
The King of Cool was an avid racecar driver and motorcyclist whose distinctive style extended all the way to his butt. In 1969—a year after his high-speed chase in "Bullitt" and two years before he hit the track in "Le Mans"—McQueen developed a practical but sleek bucket seat for racers. The patent was granted in 1970.
Prince — Portable Keytar
His Purple Majesty reigned supreme over a custom-designed keyboard-guitar that he christened the Purpleaxxe. The "portable electronic keyboard musical instrument" looked like an electric guitar but allowed a piano player to stroll the stage like a guitarist instead of being anchored by his fingertips to a baby grand.
Paul Winchell — Artificial Heart
The ventriloquist famous for breathing life into dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff in the 1950s and '60s performed an even more impressive service when he designed, built and patented the first mechanical heart. Working with Dr. Henry Heimlich, who would later develop the Heimlich Maneuver, Winchell connected an exterior battery-operated motor to a bag inside the chest. The contraption replicated the heart's pumping action and was awarded a patent in 1963. With more than 30 medical patents to his name, Winchell was obviously no dummy.
Jamie Lee Curtis — Diaper Pocket
The "Halloween" scream queen no doubt wanted to keep it down while changing diapers. She was awarded a 1988 patent for designing a disposable "infant garment" that features a moisture-proof pocket on the outside—the perfect size and hiding spot for a baby wipe. Just one catch: Curtis insisted that the product be biodegradable. Manufacturers wouldn't accept that condition, and the patent expired in 2007. Since then, Jamie Lee's invention has been in the public domain.
Marlon Brando: Drum AutoTuner
The horror, the horror ... of an out-of-tune conga drum. The legendary actor and amateur drummer demonstrated his innovative chops late in life with a "drumhead tensioning device and method." Patented in 2002, Brando's "simple and inexpensive" device helps a percussionist "quickly and reliably tune the drum either manually, by operating a motor, or automatically by way of a tuning circuit." The beat goes on…
Neil Young — Model Train Controller
When he isn't rocking in the free world, Young can often be found playing with his extensive, expensive collection of model trains. In 1999, he created a wireless controller that could be used by his son, Ben, who has cerebral palsy.
Julie Newmar — Booty-Popping Pantyhose
The original Catwoman didn't pussyfoot around when she decided to fill out her catsuit in the mid-'60s on "Batman," ABC's camp classic. The actress developed an undergarment that flattened her tummy and expanded her butt, courtesy of an elastic band that blossoms in the back. Newmar's cheekily titled "pantyhose with shaping band for cheeky derriere relief" was patented in 1974.
Gary Burghoff — Toilet Seat Handle
The "M*A*S*H" actor has long dabbled as a jazz drummer, stamp collector and inventor. In addition to assorted fishing-related devices, he devised an item in 1987 for even murkier waters: toilet bowls. His "toilet seat lifting handle" helps diminish the ick factor by allowing the user to elevate a toilet seat without touching it. No word yet on what you're supposed to do if you don't want to touch the handle that's touching a dirty toilet seat.
Christie Brinkley — Educational Toy
In 1989, Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" put together a play kit to help kids learn their ABCs by building letters from a selection of geometric shapes. An arc, for example, is a C. Two arcs pressed against a straight line form a B. What a model mom.
Eddie Van Halen — Guitar Support
Like the old-school Yellow Pages, guitarist Eddie Van Halen likes to let his fingers do the walking—all 10 of them. But on stage he had to find a way to hold up his axe while he tapped on the fret board with both hands. So, in 1985, he invented a support bar that unfolded from the back of his guitar and could be stabilized perpendicular against his body. The end result: "total freedom for the musician's hands to play the instrument in a completely new way."
Francis Ford Coppola: Scratch Master Shirt
If you've got an itch to play a variation of Twister and Battleship on your back, the "Godfather" director has the shirt for you. The turtle diagram on the back of his "Garment for Identifying Location on Body of the Garment Wearer" is divided into quadrants that allow you to tell a potential backscratcher the exact location of that impossible-to-reach itch. Instead of saying, "left shoulder blade ... lower ... to the right ... up a little bit," you'd just peek down at the replica diagram on your waist and tell your designated scratcher, "T-4." Ahhh.
Michael Jackson: Gravity-Defying Shoes
Four years after blowing minds with his moonwalk, the King of Pop came up with another dance illusion. This one involved shoes that anchored into place when the heels locked into a hidden hitch onstage, allowing a dancer to bend way beyond his or her center of gravity. Jackson introduced the trick in the video for "Smooth Criminal," the sixth Top 10 single from his 1987 album "Bad." The so-called "method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion" was patented in 1993.
Hedy Lamarr — Secret Communications System
The Hollywood starlet dubbed "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World" in the 1940s proved her bombshell status in more ways than one. In 1942, she and composer George Antheil patented a precursor of wireless technology that changed the frequencies of radio-controlled torpedoes, thwarting enemy attempts to jam those signals. The invention was classified top secret by the U.S. Navy, but never developed—apparently, the military was loathe to pursue ideas suggested by outsiders. Lamarr's patent eventually lapsed, but a variation of her invention has since surfaced in such modern fare as GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
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