Posts Tagged ‘Hedy Lamarr’


88 minutes | No MPAA rating

The tragedy of Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) is that of a brilliant intellect trapped in a gorgeous body.  “People never got past her face,” laments one of her children.

That’s the premise, anyway, of “Bombshell,” a documentary biography by first-time director Alexandra Dean that explores Lamarr’s dual careers:  She was a big star but a crappy actress who became the inspiration for Disney’s Snow White and D.C. Comics’ Cat Woman; behind the scenes she was an inventor whose pioneering work led to today’s cellular age.

Along the way she became an enigma, a woman of so many different aspects, according to her son, “that even I couldn’t understand her.”

Even as a child the former Hedy Kiesler went her own way.  Her  parents treated her to the intellectual and artistic riches of their native Vienna. But she was no young deb…at age 16 she was posing for nude photographs;  at 19 she starred in the film “Ecstasy,” shocking and titillating moviegoers with a naked swimming scene and what appeared to be an on-screen orgasm.  (Hitler banned the film, not for the sex but because the actress was Jewish).

Young Hedy quickly married one of Austria’s richest men, a fascist-friendly and extremely jealous munitions magnate, then fled in a maid’s uniform to London where she was discovered by Louis B. Mayer, the American movie producer who was signing up talent eager to escape the Nazis.

Renamed Hedy Lamarr, she proved fantastically popular with American moviegoers, not for her limited range but for her gob-smacking gorgeousness.

She appears to have been indifferent to the whole business of acting — it was just a way to earn a living — reserving her real passion for tinkering (as a child she dismantled and reassembled a wind-up music box).  With the advent of World War II she decided to do something for the Allied cause.

Teaming up with composer George Antheil, she developed a method for steering a torpedo via radio waves.  To avoid jamming by the Germans, she and Anthill came up with “frequency hopping,” a system in which the torpedo and its remote operators were synced to an ever-changing series of radio frequencies.

Lamarr received a patent for the system, which she urged the military to consider.  But the Navy wasn’t impressed…though there is considerable evidence that years later, after the patent had expired, the Pentagon exploited it. Eventually frequency shifting became an essential element in the creation of cellphones, GPS, wifi and military satellites.


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