Hollywood's Underestimated Woman

Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved the glamor and drama of old Hollywood. It probably started with To Have and Have Not. I watched it when I was around 12. There was something about Lauren Bacall, all smolder and vulnerability, with her beautiful hair and deep voice. I wanted some of her grown-up sophistication for myself, and so I snapped up as many of her movies as I could find. The Big Sleep, Key Largo, Dark Passage, How to Marry a Millionaire.

From there I discovered Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews in Laura. (One of my favorite movies.) The list goes on and on and on.

As I got older, I began to learn more about the other side of Hollywood that is often sordid and sometimes tragic. I've listened to most of You Must Remember This, an excellent podcast about the film industry, Los Angeles (where I grew up), and the people who created the movie myths we still believe today. However, I only knew bits and pieces of one of its most extraordinary women.

Hedy Lamarr was widely recognized as one of the most beautiful women in the world during her heyday in the 1930s and 1940s. An Austrian actress, she was scandalous and alluring. She was also an almost unrecognized genius, but the documentary Bombshell is trying to change that.

Lamarr was an inventor with an inquisitive mind. During World War II, she came up with a technique called frequency hopping that would allow the navy to deploy torpedos that couldn't be jammed by German submarines. Her invention, largely neglected at the time, has become the basis for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and military technology being used today.

Her fascinating, sometimes deeply sad story, is told through interviews with Hedy, her family, and others. You get a picture of a woman who was pigeon-holed into being just a beautiful face because, to paraphrase one interviewee, you don't get to be Hedy Lamarr and be smart. She was difficult and complex and funny and so many things, and now the movie-going audience who loved her films is getting a chance to see a more complete version of her.