7 celebrities who hold their own as inventing geniuses

Ideas born from artistic inspiration

Michael Jackson performing in 2002.
Micahel Caulfield | Getty Images

Art can lead to amazing inventions. Think Leonardo da Vinci drawing technologies to fly and reach the ocean depths long before the plane and submarine existed.

"It's not just a very narrow scientific look at things. It's really where we live our everyday lives ... and for an artist or performer, that can be a very unique place," said Rini Paiva, executive director of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Les Paul started playing at local drive-in restaurants as a teenager but realized that if more people could hear his guitar, he'd get more tips. "[He] started shoving socks and rags in his acoustic guitar," said Alaina Rutledge, director of educational programs for Camp Invention. Soon the electric guitar would be born.

Here are seven celebrity inventors whose creativity resulted in ingenious patents. Most have not become billion-dollar game-changers, but one did, in fact, help win World War II and develop an idea that led to the Wi-Fi era.

—Posted 19 August 2015
By Lauren Flick, producer, CNBC.com

Julie Newmar's 'cheeky derriere'

Getty Images | US Patent Office

Known by millions of fans as the sexy feline felon Catwoman on the hit '60s TV series "Batman," Julie Newmar held her own against the dynamic duo—and ultimately held a patent on skintight leggings.

Newmar began by modifying her own curvaceous costume. Then, in the '70s, she noticed everyone was wearing pantyhose, which compressed the midsection. Newmar designed a product that would help all women better display their, shall we say, assets. In 1974 she patented the "cheeky derriere."

"The present invention provides pantyhose of a semi-elastic fabric, which enhance the natural shape of a wearer's derriere, giving it cheeky relief rather than boardlike flatness," the patent stated. A better explanation is in a 1977 interview with People magazine. She said the purpose of her invention was to "make your derriere look like an apple instead of a ham sandwich."

Steve McQueen and the bucket seat

US Patent Office | Getty Images

Steve McQueen also often had his own backside on his mind, but for reasons of comfort. On a motorcycle or in a car, he was an action star always on the move. So it makes sense that McQueen's invention was for a set of wheels—specifically, a Ford Mustang. In 1970, McQueen was awarded a patent for his design of bucket seats used in the 1968 movie "Bullitt."

McQueen found the original seats for the film incredibly uncomfortable and "designed an alternative which followed the contours of the human back," according to the book "Origin of Everyday Things."

In an interview with Sports Illustrated in August 1966, McQueen said, "To me there are cars, and then there is transportation. I don't have a lot of interest in cars that won't go fast and stop well and corner a little. I'd rather sink my fanny into a bucket seat than park it on a bench."

Jim Henson and his 'proto-Muppets'

Getty Images | US Patent Office

When you think Jim Henson, you think Kermit the Frog, "Sesame Street" or "The Muppet Show," but do you ever think of the Swedish Chef making instant coffee? Or Animal drinking too much of it? From 1957 to 1961, Henson created 179 commercials for Wilkins Coffee and enlisted newly patented puppets to persuade America to perk up without a percolator.

Puppets in the 1950s were made primarily of cloth and wood, with faces that didn't allow for much nuance. Henson used foam rubber covered in fabric to gain flexibility and allow the characters to express much more emotion.

Henson created two "proto-Muppets" to star in Wilkins' ads: The cheerful Wilkins, who liked the coffee, and a grouchy character called Wontkins, who did not like the coffee and was punished. These commercials were such a hit that vinyl dolls of the puppets became mail-order items.

Bill Nye the Science Guy's ballet shoe

Getty Images | US Patent Office

Bill Nye the Science Guy is known for his wacky approach to educating children about science. A Cornell-educated mechanical engineer, Nye never tiptoes around technical problems in need of a practical solution.

While shooting a show on bones and muscles at the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Nye noticed the dancers had bloody shoes. He learned that several of the dancers had already experienced multiple surgeries because of the pain and pressure placed on the toes. Nye thought there had to be a better way.

He created a shoe with support that received a patent in 2005. The support system includes a "longitudinal support member, a foot encirculating tubular sleeve, and/or a toe ridge," the patent states, all engineered around the daily wear and tear on a dancer's foot.

Nye updated a shoe that hadn't changed in more than a century. Bravo!

Paula Abdul's dynamic mike stand

US Patent Office | Getty Images

Nye wasn't the only one innovating for dancers. The 80s pop sensation behind "Straight Up" and "Opposites Attract" and later a television fixture as "American Idol" judge, Paula Abdul was a dancer and choreographer before her music career took off. She found that the microphone stands restricted her movement. They were heavy, hard to move and had cables that got tangled easily.

Abdul designed a "Dynamic Microphone Support Apparatus," which was awarded a patent in 2009. The patent describes "an apparatus has a base that has a concave-shaped bottom portion that is positional on a surface. In addition, the apparatus has a base cover that is positioned over the base and covers the compartment such that weight of a user positioned on the base cover applied in a direction causes the base to tilt with respect to the surface in the direction."

Or to give it to you straight up, the performer can stand on the concave base and shift their weight whichever way she wants.

Michael Jackson's gravity-defying shoes

Source: US Patent Office | YouTube

Michael Jackson might be known for his iconic moonwalking dance moves and music video innovations during MTV's early days, but some of his moves in those classic videos had a little mechanical help.

In 1988, Jackson was shooting the video for his song "Smooth Criminal" and co-patented a shoe that would allow the wearer to lean forward far beyond his center of gravity. The video opened with this gravity-defying move, and the patent was awarded six years later.

To accomplish this move, Jackson and two of his costumers designed a hitching mechanism that was built both into the floor of the stage and the performer's shoes. A system of pegs rise from the stage and attaches to the specially designed shoes, which have cutouts in the heels. These slots can slide over the pegs, temporarily attaching the performer to the stage. Once firmly secured, the performer can lean without fear of falling and, most importantly, while looking incredibly cool, as cool as this King of Pop.

Hedy Lamarr, Wi-Fi pioneer

Kevin Winter | Getty Images

Once known as "the most beautiful woman in the world" and star of Cecil B. DeMille's "Samson and Delilah," actress Hedy Lamarr has contributed to the connected world we now live in.

An émigré from Austria, Lamarr was asked to sell war bonds, but she wanted to do more for the U.S. She met composer George Antheil at a dinner party, where they conversed about Allied subs wasting torpedoes. Lamarr had once been married to a munitions manufacturer and knew various weapons technologies, including torpedo control.

The two devised a radio-controlled torpedo but thought the enemy could easily jam the signals, so they added an idea called "frequency-hopping." A sequencer randomly jumped through 88 frequencies, based on the 88 keys of a piano, making it virtually impossible for the Axis to follow. In 1942 they were awarded a patent for their "Secret Communication System" and gave it to the Navy.

Lamarr's invention is the precursor of several wireless technologies, including cellular networks, GPS and Bluetooth. Lamarr and Antheil were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

Tune in to "Make Me a Millionaire Inventor" on CNBC on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.