Reading this on WiFi? Ever swallowed an effervescent pill or looked out of a plane and wondered how those wings were designed? You have Hedy Lamarr to thank, inventor and sex icon after she also revolutionalised female sexuality on screen.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story charts the fascinating story of an incredible life and career and is screening this Sunday 11 March at The Gate Cinema with Q&A from Mia Bays – Oscar-winning producer who runs the agency for change Birds Eye View, and Harriet Hall, author of the new book She: A Celebration of Renegade Women which features a chapter on Hedy. Harriet will be doing a book signing after the event.
We caught up with them both ahead of the big day to discover what Hedy meant to them.
Harriet Hall, author:
Talk to us about what inspired your book, and why you included Hedy?
I’ve always been driven by the women who came before us, but I’d always been inspired by ones that most people already know – the likes of Virginia Woolf and Frida Kahlo. To me, this book was an opportunity to celebrate the stories of these women but also to cement in history the stories of the lesser-known women – the ones who have long been unrecognised for their achievements.
When I was writing the book, I was determined to include women about whom most people didn’t know. Or women about whom people thought they knew – but didn’t really. One of these was, of course, Hedy Lamarr.
Most people will know of her as a 1930s Hollywood siren who simulated the first on-screen orgasm, they won’t know that she was also an inventor who designed effervescent pills, adapted aeroplane wings and drew up plans for what would eventually become Wi-Fi. And, what’s more, that the latter long went unappreciated because it was dismissed as the dabbling of a socialite.
Judged on her looks and even limited by them in a sense, Lamarr proved everyone wrong. The sad fact about her story is that it’s not actually uncommon for women in history to have been underestimated and rejected in this way. It’s time to change that.
What did you find surprising about her story/the film?
I don’t find it surprising that Hedy Lamarr was an inventor, as many people do. What I find surprising is that she managed to carry on in a world that kept rejecting her. What is fascinating about her story is society’s inability to accept that a woman was capable of these things, and would be worthy of recognition for them.
Much like women in Hollywood today, Lamarr was chewed up and spat out by the industry – coerced into performing an orgasm on screen then relegated to the sex icon roles when she was desperate to be taken seriously. Of course, the really surprising thing about Hedy’s story is how little things have changed for women since. Luckily we’re seeing that change more and more today.
Mia Bays, Birds Eye View:
I just loved Bombshell. I was aware, through an artist I know, of Hedy’s inventions, but only recently did I know the extent of her work and the impact still felt today. I thought the film was terrific, because it frames Hedy’s incredible life in a really punchy and compelling way, and we get a sense of a really rounded complex brilliant woman whose story we really should all know and appreciate. The list of inventions is startling.
What films like this do is, as Harriet says, are they offer us a vital chance to reappraise the lives of women who have been overlooked by history because it has been written in a reductive way before, by those interested only in one gender’s perspectives and achievements.
So many inconvenient truths have been whitewashed away. But now we have a shot at reframing our own stories and celebrating the full spectrum of woman’s experience anew. I’m excited to share this with the audience and experience the wonderment again. We are going to have so much to discuss.Book Now For Sunday’s Event
#RenegadeWomen. Follow Harriet on Twitter: @Harri_Grace or for Instagram @Harri.Grace. Follow Mia Bays and Bird’s Eye View @birdseyeviewff @miafilms.