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Bombshell’ Reveals The Genius Of Hedy Lamarr

New documentary finds the complex woman behind the glamorous Hollywood star

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Zeitgeist Films

Actress Hedy Lamarr is the subject of a new documentary, "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story."

Companion viewing

"Algiers" (1938)

"Boom Town" (1940)

"The Strange Woman" (1946, which she also produced)

Actress Hedy Lamarr was known for her beauty in the 1930s and '40s. The new documentary “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” explores the woman behind the Hollywood star.

In 1933 Hedy Lamarr, then known as Hedy Kiesler, shocked audiences by depicting an orgasm onscreen and appearing nude in the German film “Ecstasy.” Five years later she was onscreen with romantic icon Charles Boyer in “Algiers,” and by 1939 was a star in MGM’s illustrious cinematic heaven. Her beauty also is cited as the inspiration for both Disney’s Snow White and DC Comics’ Cat Woman.

But Alexandra Dean’s new documentary “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” reveals how Hollywood only scratched her glamorous façade and refused to see her as anything but an exotic screen beauty. Because of her role in “Ecstasy,” Louis B. Mayer typecast her as the “other woman,” foreign and seductive.

But Lamarr’s son, Anthony Loder, reveals that his mother was a life-long inventor who gained a patent for frequency hopping during World War II.

Loder reads from an article in the film: “In this article Hedy says, ‘I got this idea for my invention when I tried to think of a way to even the balance for the British, a radio controlled torpedo I thought would do it.”

Although Lamarr filed for a patent, there were some who could not accept or believe that this gorgeous Hollywood star could invent something. One engineer even suggested she stole or plagiarized the idea. Lamarr seemed to be cursed by her beauty, which seemed to make it impossible for many to take her seriously.

It didn’t help that her ghostwritten autobiography, “Ecstasy and Me,” focused on her sexual exploits and made no mention of her inventions. She later sued the publisher over the book. Richard Rhodes told a different story in his biography “Hedy’s Folly,” which highlighted her work in frequency hopping with composer George Antheil.

Dean had a hard time trying to find the truth between these two radically different views of Lamarr’s life, and she couldn’t consult with the late actresses to verify facts. All Dean could do was try to interview friends and family, and then find old archive interviews that provided insights into who Lamarr really was.

Then she got an amazing break. She found Fleming Meeks who had interviewed Lamarr in 1990 for a Forbes magazine story. When Dean contacted him, he told her, “I’ve been waiting 25 years for you to call me.”

His interview tapes allow Lamarr to tell her own story and to reveal her wit, intelligence, love for invention and frustrations with not being taken seriously and not being recognized for her innovative ideas. The documentary suggests that things like WiFi and GPS as well as cell phones and Bluetooth owe a debt to Lamarr’s ideas.

Dean doesn’t break new ground in terms of the documentary format but she proves to be a dogged researcher who uncovers some great archived material about Lamarr. Using Meeks’ audio-taped interview as the foundation for her film, Dean proceeds to piece together Lamarr’s story from her early years as an Austrian Jewish émigré to her Hollywood career and attempts to take control of it outside the studio system to her groundbreaking, but uncredited, inventions to her reclusive final years.

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” (unrated) recounts a fascinating and sometimes infuriating story about a woman who seemed to constantly challenge what was expected of her. It also pays long overdue tribute to Lamarr for being more than just a flawless beauty.

Actress Hedy Lamarr was known for her beauty in the 1930s and '40s. The new documentary “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” explores the woman behind the Hollywood star.

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