Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (film discussion)

Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, with a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern NY, presents the Zoom panel discussion of Bombshell:  The Hedy Lamarr Story on December 6, 2020, at 7 PM.

Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna to Jewish parents in 1914, the late screen siren, known as Hedy Lamarr, immigrated to the United States and Hollywood where she appeared in such sexually charged films as White Cargo and Samson and Delilah. However, less known is that she helped to invent a secure, radio-controlled torpedo guidance system (sonar), known as “frequency-hopping,” that would form the basis of WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and cellphone technologies.

In addition to her sex appeal, six marriages, and multiple boyfriends, Lamarr’s gifts included obvious intellect and a quality of self-deprecating goofiness.  Although she had no formal training and was primarily self-taught, she worked in her spare time on various hobbies and inventions, which included an improved traffic stoplight and a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink.

Her frequency-hopping transmission technology, if successfully implemented, might have thwarted Nazi U-boats’ efforts to jam the frequency of enemy ships. It did not come to pass during the war. Even though Lamarr raised a stunning $25 million in war bonds, the U.S. government seized her patent as the suspect work of an “alien” (she was not yet a citizen). Lamarr was in her 80s and at the end of her life when one of the pioneers of Wi-Fi, upon realizing that Lamarr had never been recognized for her contribution to communications, called her up. “Well, it’s about time,” came the response.

Bombshell director Alexandra Dean discovered that Lamarr’s erasure did not happen by accident. Several historians and scientists simply refused to accept that Lamarr might have been responsible for the frequency-hopping idea. Perhaps, they suggested, she stole her extraordinary invention from the engineers employed by her first husband, Fritz Mandl, who manufactured torpedoes for Hitler and Mussolini. Historically, however, there are no references to frequency-hopping before her notebooks from the early 1940s.

Actress Susan Sarandon thinks she knows why Lamarr’s time had come. “She was a scientist who wasn’t taken seriously because she was so beautiful, challenging the traditional thinking that beauty and brains can’t coexist. Time’s up on that notion. The time has come to encourage our young girls to open their minds and follow their passions into science, coding, entrepreneurship, and inventing. We need the female contribution in our world now, more than ever.”

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story rights a grievous wrong in the life, career, reputation, and memory of a superstar,” says Saratoga Jewish Community Arts Coordinator, Phyllis Wang.  “It fascinates both as film history and as a sobering reminder of how little credit a woman like Lamarr received, even at the peak of her popularity.”

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story will be discussed on December 6 at 7 PM.

Registration required at email address  sjca.sjcf@gmail.com

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