Actress Hedy Lamarr was a Viennese Jew who fled the Nazis in the late 1930’s and became an instant Hollywood star thanks to her stunning beauty. But a documentary called ‘Bombshell’ explores another side to the actress: Lamarr was an inventor, who, with her friend, composer George Antheil, came up with a secret means of communication known as frequency hopping. The idea was to help steer torpedos towards their targets. Years later, the invention is still used in technology like Bluetooth and WiFi. Documentary director Alexandra Dean tells us about making her film ‘Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.’
FROM THIS EPISODE
- The Washington Post has released a new investigation on Charlie Rose, and found his inappropriate behavior was widespread, and that several managers at CBS were aware of allegations about his misconduct.
- Meanwhile at NBC, the network is conducting internal investigations of Tom Brokaw and Matt Lauer. However, if it’s anything like its Ryan Seacrest investigation, it may be underwhelming because in that case, NBC decided not to interview outside witnesses.
The actress Hedy Lamarr made her Hollywood debut in the 1938 drama ‘Algiers’--playing the love interest of a French jewel thief played by Charles Boyer. At the time, Lamarr had recently fled her home country of Austria, and barely spoke English. She had made herself a star, and snagged a lucrative contract from Louis B. Mayer by booking herself on the same boat to America. That’s just one moment in the tumultuous life explored in the documentary ‘Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story’ directed by Alexandra Dean.
In addition to her work on screen, Lamarr was also an inventor, spurred to action by WWII. When Lamarr learned that Allied torpedoes were missing their marks because the Germans were jamming the radio signals that guided them, she came up with a kind of secret communication called frequency hopping.
In 1942, Lamarr was awarded a patent for a device that would send out the unjammable signals. She and her inventing partner George Antheil offered their ideas to the Navy, but were dismissed. Lamarr was only beginning to get some measure of recognition for her inventions before she died in 2000.
When Dean set out to make her film about the actress, at first could she find almost nothing about Lamarr’s life told in the star’s own words. That changed when she learned about some audio tapes from 1990, and in ‘Bombshell,’ we hear a 76-year-old Lamarr reflect on her life, clearly thrilled to be talking about her interest in science.
‘Bombshell’ is Dean’s directorial debut. Before forming her own production company, she worked for PBS news programs, as well as Bloomberg, where she produced a TV series about inventors. Learning about today’s young inventors flocking to Silicon Valley, where women inventors were being passed over for funding in favor of male inventors, first got her thinking about overlooked female inventors from the past.
‘Bombshell’ will air on the PBS series ‘American Masters’ on May 18th.
Hedy Lamarr in "Ziegfeld Girl," 1941. Credit: Everett Collection
'Bombshell' director Alexandra Dean, courtesy of WNET
More From The Business
Tentative TV writer no more: Showrunner Tanya Saracho on ‘Vida’ Soon after Tanya Saracho got the green light to write a pilot for her first TV series, she contracted a dangerous spinal infection that left her stuck in bed for months. But Saracho rallied and her show 'Vida' has just premiered on Starz. A former Chicago-based playwright, Saracho tells us about her tough first experiences as a TV writer and how she ended up running the first all Latinx writers room in cable.
Justin Simien on ‘Dear White People’ and fighting impostor syndrome As the series ‘Dear White People’ launches its second season on Netflix, the show about black students grappling with life at a fictional Ivy League university maintains a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Creator Justin Simien tells us about writing things satirically and then watching them become reality. And he explains why for many years, he didn’t believe he could be a part of creating pop culture.
Content chief Susanne Daniels on growing YouTube Red and 'Cobra Kai' Susanne Daniels has run the entertainment divisions of The WB, Lifetime and MTV. In those days, she sometimes faced a challenge of convincing big names to come to her network. Now, she oversees original content at YouTube, and she says getting talent is not a problem. She tells us about making the transition from traditional TV to streaming, and how YouTube Red is evolving with projects like ‘Cobra Kai.’
Director Chloé Zhao & star Brady Jandreau on ‘The Rider’ When director Chloé Zhao met horse trainer Brady Jandreau on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, she knew she wanted to put him in her next project. Then, Jandreau--a rising rodeo star--suffered a devastating riding accident, and Zhao knew she had the starting point of her new film. Zhao and Jandreau tell us how they made ‘The Rider’ on location in South Dakota on a shoestring budget with first-time actors.
LATEST BLOG POSTS
Calif. Governor’s race: Travis Allen interview Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen represents Huntington Beach. Allen missed out on President Trump’s endorsement, but he says he still supports him and his agenda. Allen talks to us about immigration, his support for a border wall, and… Read More
The most competitive races and measures on the Santa Barbara and Ventura primary ballot It’s primary season! Voter materials have already arrived for those with vote-by-mail ballots, and election day is quickly approaching on Tuesday, June 5. Santa Barbara June primaries Here’s a look at… Read More