Actress Hedy Lamarr is best known for starring in the likes of 1938’s Algiers and 1949’s Samson and Delilah, as well as being referenced in Mel Brooks’ comedy classic Blazing Saddles. But the just-released documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story details how the Austrian-born Hollywood icon was also an inventor, whose patent for a remote-controlled torpedo, though never used by the military during World War II, would ultimately help revolutionize modern communication.
“When I started working on this, I did not think we would be sitting here saying, ‘Hedy Lamarr was actually a genius,'” says Bombshell director Alexandra Dean. “I thought maybe she was a pretty smart cookie and she worked extremely well with this other couple of inventors. It wasn’t the case. Hedy Lamarr was actually a genius. She would have these flashes of inspiration. She loved inventing from when she was a small child. She invented her whole life. But during the war years, her mother was stuck in England, and she had to come over these treacherous waters to come to the United States, and kids were getting blown up on those waters, and Hedy had enough. And she used this genius to come up with a secret communications system that would be this ultimate weapon for the Allies. And that secret communications system is in our GPS, and Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi today.”
Bombshell is executive-produced by actress Susan Sarandon, who allowed Dean to use her New York home as the production’s headquarters.
“Luckily, my kids are grown and out,” says the Bad Moms Christmas star. “I just loved the project. It was an enormous amount of research, and so the group got bigger and bigger, and as the editing came, there’d be kids there ’til 10 o’clock at night sometimes, taking care of my dogs and editing. [Laughs] I knew that Hedy Lamarr was in that first, really risqué film (1933’s Ecstasy) and that she was absolutely gorgeous, and that she died a recluse and unappreciated. But I didn’t have the middle. But, aside from even if she hadn’t been a scientist, this idea that, if you’re beautiful you have to play dumb, it still exists in a lot of ways, and people are always so shocked that a woman can put two words together, or that she writes a decent book.”
Dean hopes that, like the recent Hidden Figures, her film will help alter people’s perceptions of just who is capable of making scientific breakthroughs.
“I had been producing this series for Bloomberg Television called Innovators about small business and one for Business Week magazine,” says the director. “Suffice it to say, I was on the beat of covering inventors for two years, which gave me the time to do a deep dive, and talk to a lot of people in the world of invention. The story that I kept getting from inventors with diverse backgrounds was that it was a little difficult to get funding, to get taken seriously by Silicon Valley, because they didn’t fit whatever the idea was in the funders’ heads of what an inventor should be. So, that really planted a question in my mind of, Why do we think the world was created by one kind of person? Hidden Figures hadn’t come out. That obviously started to change the conversation, which was exciting. I hope this is adding to that as well, advancing it perhaps a little bit. It’s not the same as Hidden Figures, but it’s just as surprising in some ways.”
Watch the film’s trailer, above.