Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Hedy Lamarr was Ahead of Her Time

By Ed Malin

I very much enjoyed the United Solo Festival extended run of HEDY – The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr.  Heather Massie plays this remarkable star of the silver screen.  In this piece, Hedy tells us about her film career in Europe and the US from the 1920s onward, and her inventions that saved the country from invasion and inspired cell phone technology.  Amazing words indeed come from the mouth of this glittery performer (costumed by Cat Fisher) with the striking eyebrows.  She starts with the secret of being beautiful on film: stand there quietly and look stupid.  Yet, Hedy, born Jewish in Austria, knew how to hide who she was and to make the Hollywood studios give her what she wanted.  Director Joan Kane keeps Hedy cool under fire while she tells a string of amazing stories from her long life.
Hedy’s performing arts career began in Berlin with her introduction to director Max Reinhardt.  Soon, she had a small but powerful role in Gustav Machatý’s 1933 film “Ecstasy”, where she is seen swimming nude and, in a closeup showing only her face, has the privilege of acting the first female orgasm in a legitimate film.  Hedy’s friends and family are scandalized, but not long afterwards the 18 year-old married munitions manufacturer Friedrich Mandl.  The marriage was a great opportunity for Hedy to learn about technology, but eventually she fled to Paris, where she adopted the name Lamarr.
photo by Al Foote III
There is so much to say about Hedy’s life, which included six husbands and one rejected fiancé who committed suicide.  In Paris, she gained the attention of MGM’s Louis Mayer, who brought her to Hollywood.  She eventually got her family out of an increasingly fascist Europe.  Hedy starred opposite Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Judy Garland and many more famous actors of the day.  Pressured by the film industry to consider enlarging her breasts, she found herself asking leading endocrinologist and composer George Antheil for advice.  However, both Hedy and George were more interested in torpedoes (which her first husband had manufactured) and the math behind frequency hopping, which would prevent a radio-controlled projectile from being jammed.  They patented their idea, and by the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this technology helped the US prevail.
Down through her role in the film “Samson and Delilah”, Hedy was unflappable.  Even being a mother and a film star under contract was something she managed to negotiate. She lived into the twenty-first century and received accolades for her inventions.  What’s really remarkable to me is how her mathematical skills have given us Bluetooth and multichannel cell phone technology, which she developed when she was only “supposed” to be a wife (to a husband who had Hitler over for dinner parties!) or a starlet (where brains were not as valuable as bust).  She and George had many interests, which they worked on passionately, no matter what was expected of them.  Despite the many ways the system tried to relegate Hedy, she won.  I congratulate chameleon Heather Massie for condensing Hedy’s achievements into a very potent hour. Hedy will receive an additional performance on November 15th at 9pm.