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BOMBSHELL:THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

It’s no longer news that 1940s Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr invented the technology we use in cellular phones and other wireless communications. But the story behind that seeming anomaly is still fascinating, and Alexandra Dean has told it well in her entertaining documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. How a legendary beauty devised this groundbreaking concept and never received recognition—let alone a dime—for it is at the heart of this chronicle.

Born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna to Jewish parents, the constant in Hedy’s life seems to have been notoriety. She embarked on an acting career in her teens and caused a sensation in Gustav Machaty’s Ecstasy (1933) where she not only appeared naked but simulated an orgasm. She married a wealthy munitions manufacturer who was extremely jealous and attempted to buy up all the prints of Ecstasy, to no avail. Trapped in an unhappy marriage and surrounded by Nazis, she decided to flee from her husband and her homeland. She managed to meet Louis B. Mayer, who was visiting Europe. He signed her to a contract with MGM and changed her name.

The key to this movie is Hedy’s own voice, as heard in a lucid, amusing 1990 telephone interview with a reporter for Forbes magazine, and an equally interesting appearance with talk-show host Merv Griffin. Lamarr’s son Anthony Loder is also a valuable resource, along with other informative interviewees (from Mel Brooks to film scholar Jeanine Basinger).

Apparently, Lamarr always had a knack for inventing things: the revolutionary process she and her partner, composer George Antheil, called “frequency hopping,” was just one of many brainchildren.

I don’t want to reveal any more and spoil the fun of discovering Hedy Lamarr’s remarkable saga. Dean obviously wants to paint a positive portrait and downplays some of the star’s latter-day problems with shoplifting and drugs. My only real objection is that she never acknowledges Lamarr’s talent. Her beauty obliterated all other considerations during her lifetime and that still seems to be the case in evaluating her career: she was a good actress, as films like Algiers, Comrade X and especially H.M. Pulham, Esq. prove.

But if Bombshell inspires people to seek out her movies, it will have achieved two goals: giving her the belated credit she deserves for a critical invention, and laying the groundwork to rebuild her reputation as an actress. Her beauty speaks for itself.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is currently playing in New York City at the IFC Center www.ifccenter.com and JCC Manhattan www.jccmanhattan.org. It will open in Los Angeles at the Nuart on December 8.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight.

He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies.

His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia.

He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?)

He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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