In 2018, thankfully, we champion the accomplishments of women. Our children, and the generations that follow, will only know of a world where men and women contributed to the society we exist in today.
However, in targeted efforts to mute the achievements of women, an uglier truth buries itself within our history. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story rewrites the life of Hedy Lamarr; a sultry, beautiful woman who became a Hollywood icon and an inventor of technology that paved the way for Wifi and Bluetooth devices. The latter success, tragically, was rarely acknowledged. Indeed, the US military failed to appreciate her vital role in the introduction of frequency hopping, despite her passionate support of the military during World War II.
Born in Vienna, Austria, Hedy Kiesler was the daughter of a banker. Her father, passionate about engineering, would explain how the trams would work and give Hedy the tools to build and construct designs of her own. Her beauty, on the other hand, had other plans as she found an unexpected skill in controlling men in her teens. Progressing to acting, she revealed herself entirely in Ecstasy– an explicit film that was banned by Hitler himself. Naturally, this caught the attention of Hollywood and Louis B. Mayer who signed her up to MGM. Acting was not her only skill and, when she left the studio, she would invent. She toyed with ideas and believed that these came to her naturally. As World War II became underway, and in a desperate effort to help, she figured out an innovative way to use radio frequencies. Her multiple marriages, obsession with plastic surgery and shaky career in Hollywood are all weaved into this inspiring story, but it is her designs and inventions that truly made a difference – and it was decades before it was celebrated.
Akin to Stevan Riley’s Listen to Me Marlon, a documentary using recordings Marlon Brando left behind, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story uses a wealth of dialogue from Lamarr herself. Interviewing Lamarr in 1990, Fleming Meeks, of Forbes magazine, had a small stack of cassette tapes stacked behind a bin. We are lucky enough to ear wig into their conversation and, with the support of her family, friends and those she inspired (Inglourious Basterds actor Diane Kruger is clearly in awe of the woman), we hear details that may have been forgotten. Director Alexandra Dean utilises a broad range of sources to inform us from a position of authority. Mel Brooks, a terrific catch for the filmmaker, somehow manages to be the most uninteresting, with little knowledge of Lamarr other than her good looks.
Samson and Delilah, at the time of its release, became the third highest grossing film ever. Only Gone with the Wind and The Best Year of Our Lives surpassed it. Hedy Lamarr, who played Delilah, was an icon. Her centre parting became the de rigueur look for young female actors in the 1930’s. But when we see her in her twilight years, there is such tragedy in her obsession with maintaining her beauty. I suspect that there are generations who, missing the period Lamarr mesmerised the world with her arresting eyes and seductive gaze, only knew her from the pages of gossip columnists and tabloid junk. Illuminating and inspiring, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story corrects the course of history, and realises what truly separated Lamarr from the Hollywood darlings – and her beauty had nothing to do with it.
This was originally published for Culturefly in April 2018