Not many know the name Hedy Lamarr today, but in the 1930s and 40s she was heralded as the most beautiful film star. Her career includes films such as Algiers, Boom Town, My Favourite Spy, and Ecstasy which first brought her into the spotlight. She was the first woman to appear nude onscreen in 1933, and Disney’s cartoon Snow White was modelled on her.
However, Hedy Lamarr should be a household name for her inventions. Her intellect was ignored in her life when she was coming up with solutions during World War II. Allies’ radio-controlled torpedoes were being thrown off course by enemies jamming the frequencies transmitted to them. Teaming up with pianist George Antheil (she left her number on his car in lipstick after they met at a party), she adapted the mechanism of player pianos to make a system that would skip from one frequency to another. This design is now part of almost all modern wireless communications technology and is only one out of many inventions she came up with during her lifetime.
Not only was she not celebrated for her genius, the navy initially dismissed her idea – only to end up using it later without informing or crediting her. She faced further rejection from Hollywood once she started to age past 30. After undergoing numerous plastic surgery operations, the stage which had once proclaimed her the most beautiful woman now sidelined her.
Hedy’s life had always been turbulent. She suffered through six failed marriages. Her first marriage was to Fritz Mandl, an Austrian who became a weapons dealer for the Nazis. Born Jewish, Hedy had to endure hosting the likes of Hitler and Stalin in her marital home. There are reports that she was akin to a prisoner, locked up in this house against her will. Finally having enough, she fled Mandl’s residence in the middle of the night, having drugged the maid with sleeping pills. She escaped to America with nothing to her name but the clothes she was wearing. It is a great shame that, even in the land of the free, her potential was not recognised.
Undervalued by society, Hedy grew reclusive. With her brain dismissed and her looks no longer enough to keep her in favour, she became virtually forgotten. She grew bored of her life, discontented with being exploited. In 1966, and then again in 1991, she was arrested for shoplifting.
It is time for Hollywood to place more value on women than their looks, and it is well past time that we grant Hedy the recognition she deserves. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story aims to do just that. Exploring previously unheard phone interviews from the 1990s, Lamarr herself tells us what she thought of her life. This documentary grants us access inside the mind of not just the actress or wife, but the inventor and woman.
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