There is a highly probable chance that you are reading this while on Wi-Fi. Or perhaps on your cell phone’s data. Either method owes its initial idea to one person, that being actress and model for the 1930s to 1960s, Hedy Lamarr. Yes, a woman that rose to fame based on her beauty also had an extremely inventive brain that came up with the patented idea for modulating frequencies that laid the groundwork for wireless communication we are so reliant upon today. And all this and more is covered in the new documentary BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY out in cinemas November 24th, 2017.
Starting out acting in Germany post WWI, Hedy Kiesler, a young Jewish girl from Austria, drew International notoriety when she was in EKSTASE in 1933. While tame by today’s standard, the film was considered scandalous as it contained numerous nude scenes, and a simulated orgasm. This led to her marriage to a prominent Fascist munitions manufacturer.
Quickly finding herself in a suffocating marriage in a country that was turning against her people, she snuck away to London and met Louis B. Mayer, who quickly hired her on despite her lack of English and her infamy from EKSTASE. The actress came to America, where she quickly learned English, and continued acting in roles, mostly of women from exotic locales, culminating in the star-making role of Tondelayo in WHITE CARGO.
While raising a family, starring in scattered pictures, she also took to working on inventions, with the ultimate goal of stopping the Nazis in WWII. She worked with a partner to come up with a way to remotely control torpedoes in a way that was encrypted using a player piano roll. By changing up the frequencies used and programming them via the roll, it allowed a way for Allied forces to fire and not have to worry about signal jamming. Sadly, the Navy didn’t go for the idea and shelved the project, until it was picked up later on by an engineer years later who would utilize the idea of the modulating frequencies in sonic buoys to detect submarines. That technology led to further proliferation of wireless communication into the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth we use.
BOMBSHELL is a wonderfully told documentary with full cooperation from Lamarr’s family, which adds more credence to all of the stories told, unlike the recent MANSFIELD 66/67. Yes, we get interviews from people that worked with her, historians, and even hear from a manicurist that she helped defect from Nazi Germany. The editing keeps the whole story moving along without dragging, and as we hear more and more, it is hard not to become invested. Ultimately, this film left me uplifted by her story and the impact she made, yet sad in how things turned out for her.
Lamarr’s story is an extremely valuable one. While lauded and praised for her beauty, she still strove to make the world a better place through inventions. And while she didn’t get credit for these truly groundbreaking works until it was near the end of her life, she continued forward. Yes, she did battle with addiction and obsessed with plastic surgery to stay looking young, but no one person is perfect. And if this inspires one girl to pursue a career in the STEM fields, then this world is better off.
BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY opens theatrically in LA on November 24th from Zeitgeist Films, in association with Kino Lorber. You can see additional playdates here.