Movie Inventors (1) – Oddballs

Movies are the most technically advanced art form, so it’s no surprise that a lot of movie people are inventors.  Unlike the Beautiful Inventors, Political Inventors, and Criminal Inventors that I described in earlier posts, their main business is deeply embedded in technology.   There are a lot of people to describe here, so let me break this post into several parts.  In this first one let me list some surprising people who got patents, and in later ones I’ll describe some people who made quite substantial advances, like Kevin Costner and Bing Crosby.

So here’s a list of movie people, what they’re known for, and what US patents they’ve been granted:

Herbert “Zeppo” Marx – the fourth, straight-man Marx brother – 3473526 “Cardiac pulse-rate monitor” (1969)

Patent US3473526 Cardiac pulse-rate monitor Herbert Marx

This is a watch that can set off an alarm if one’s pulse rate gets too high.  Marx was 66 when he filed for this, and apparently a smoker since he died of lung cancer a few years later, so heart problems were probably on his mind.   He had run a manufacturing company, Marman Products, ever since the late 30s, when he left his more famous brothers behind, and it did very well selling a novel kind of clamp used for fuel lines.  His older brother Gummo, who was never in the act, also had a patent for a laundry box that used less cardboard than the standard design.

Steve McQueen – laconic action star and race-car driver – D219584 “Improved Bucket Seat” (1970)


It’s hard to tell what’s novel about this, but as a design patent instead of a patent patent, it doesn’t have to be.   Maybe this just fit him better than ordinary bucket seats.

Christie Brinkley – model and actress – 4,998,883 “Educational Toy” (1991)

Educational Toy - Christie Brinkley

The idea here is to build up letters using varying-shaped magnetic strips, each of which has a colored dot for a code.  The colors act as an extra mnemonic.   This seems harder than just drawing letters directly, but perhaps it’s better for children before they develop fine motor control.  She filed for this when her first daughter was 4 and she was married to Billy Joel.

Gary Burghoff – actor in “M.A.S.H.” – 5,235,774 “Enhanced fish attractor device” (1993)

US5235774 - Enhanced fish attractor device - Gary Burghoff

This is a float with lights and sound generators that holds a cage full of bait below it.  It was sold as “Chum Magic” for a while, but looks on the complicated side.  Burghoff also received design patents for a fishing rod and handle for lifting toilet seats.  He left the role of Radar O’Reilly in M.A.S.H. in 1977, and had a tough time finding work thereafter.  Yet he seems to have enjoyed fishing, and has also been a jazz drummer and a wildlife painter.  As a stamp collector he was a spokesman for the USPS.   That’s not bad for a guy with only one good role.

Richard Dreyfuss – actor in “American Graffiti” and “Jaws” –7,601,904  “Interactive tool and appertaining method for creating a graphical music display” (2009)

US7601904 - Interactive tool and appertaining method for creating a graph - Richard Dreyfuss et al

This represents musical notes as graphical blobs whose size, shape, and color correspond to the pitch and loudness envelope of the notes themselves.   Dreyfuss doesn’t appear to be musical, but perhaps his two co-inventors are.  He filed this at a down time in his performing career when he was also between marriages.

Steven Spielberg – the world’s leading movie director –  8091028 “Method and Apparatus for Annotating a Line-Based Document” (2012)


This lets one add links between an audio file and the lines in a screenplay, which sounds quite handy for structuring the music in a movie.   In Spielberg’s acceptance speech for the Thalberg Award at the Oscars in 1987 he talked about how screenplays were the foundation of everything else in a movie.  No wonder, then, that he wanted to tie all the audio to individual lines.  I don’t know if Spielberg uses storyboards to compose shots, but that would be a logical extension.


Like almost all patents, none of these sound like they’re worth much.  Still, it takes significant effort to get a patent, and these inventors took time from their busy schedules to do it.  Their movie works might be forgotten, but the USPTO will remember them.

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2 Responses to Movie Inventors (1) – Oddballs

  1. Pingback: Plug For “Let’s See This Work – An Engineer At the Movies” | A Niche in the Library of Babel

  2. Pingback: SF Inventors | A Niche in the Library of Babel

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