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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Guldner

Hedy Lamarr: The Complex Duality of a Reluctant Beauty

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

" I have been everything but me"- Hedy Lamarr

Born in Vienna, Austria November 9, 1914, Hedy had been curious about how things worked from the age of 5 years old. Her little musical wind up toy that played Vienna waltzes had been taken apart and put back together when she was just a child. Her father would point out things to Hedy and explain how trains and other innovations worked. She was a curious and brilliant child. What would ultimately hold her back was her beauty and gender. Had Hedy been born under different circumstances, different times, and had been taken seriously as an inventor her potential could have been limitless. Despite all the hardships Hedy endured she contributed to this world in a massive way. As the co-inventor of Frequency Hopping, Hedy and George Antheil were pioneers in wireless communication. Because of them, we have Secure WIFI, GPS navigation,  and other wireless communication systems such as cell phones and faxes. 

Hedy never was paid for her invention Frequency Hopping which is now estimated to be worth $30 Billion Dollars. 

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story(2017) Directed by Alexandra Dean and produced by Susan Sarandon tells Hedy's tragic and riveting story through beautiful imagery, extensive interviews by her children, and people who worked with Hedy. Her first film would cement her fate in Hollywood forever. Ecstasy(1933) directed by Gustar Machaty would push the envelope of films during the 1930s because of sexually provocative scenes and nudity.  Hedy would eventually land a contract under MGM Studios, but because of  Ecstasy, Louis B. Mayer would always think of Hedy as a woman who could not be respected. It was said that Mayer had put actresses in two camps, Madonna or whore. Mayer always thought of Hedy as the latter.

During the 1930s and 40s MGM starlets where enslaved to the studio factory system. Contracts lasted 7 years, and actresses were expected to work grueling hours, 6 days a week. In order to keep their "products" functioning properly, Hedy among other MGM actors were treated under the notorious Dr. Feelgood a.k.a Dr. Max Jacobson. He would administer 40mg shots of methamphetamines disguised as vitamin b elixirs. It would only take 3 shots for Hedy to become addicted to speed. In time through abusive marriages, the ups and downs of movie stardom, and financial desperation, Hedy suffered a nervous breakdown.

Sexism played the ultimate role In Hedy's inability to be taken seriously as the astute genius that she was. When her invention of Frequency Hopping had become patent and given to the Navy, it was turned down and kept secret for many years. Hedy was told to sell war bonds and use her beauty to contribute to the war. That meant entertaining the troops and being featured in demeaning films such as White Cargo(1942). Hedy was expected to use her sex appeal in films to entertain soldiers.

Eventually, Hedy would retreat to seclusion, as excessive plastic surgery, poverty, and loneliness took a toll on her spirit.  Bombshell is a revelation, Alexandra Dean gives the audience the chance to marvel and reflect on the toll sexism and lack of support can do to women in a patriarchal society. Hedy was a single mother who loved her children, a brilliant woman who if given the chance to have freedom and support would have been able to become a scientist and so much more. After viewing this documentary, I walked away in awe and filled with enormous respect for Hedy. The indelible impact she made on the world continues to influence our society today.

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