A conversation with Limor “ladyada” Fried & Alexandra Dean, Director, Bombshell, the Hedy Lamarr Story, opens in Los Angeles at the Nuart Theater on Friday 12/8/2017 (Facebook page). Tickets for the LA show HERE and tickets for the NYC shows HERE (NOW PLAYING).
Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr was called the world’s most beautiful woman—but her hidden legacy as an inventor who helped revolutionize modern communications is even more stunning.
LADYADA: Hey everybody! It’s Ladyada! I’m interviewing Alexandra Dean, the director of a new film that just came out, Bombshell. I saw the movie, it was amazing. Thank you Alexandra!
ALEXANDRA DEAN: Thank you even more. This is a special, special treat for me. I interviewed you 6 years ago. And it was part of what inspired me to make this film.
That’s so cool. It must be so amazing to see this film out. It’s out! It’s done!
It is. It really is. We have a joke in my family: I didn’t have a daughter, I had two sons. And everyone calls Hedy my daughter. I’m like, go on, Hedy, walk.
Daughter of your heart. I watched this movie yesterday at the IFC and it really struck me in a personal sense. Because I feel myself as an inventor, an engineer, and also a woman. And I think that in a sense, she’s this predecessor to what’s happening now, which is this wonderful growth of female innovators and inventors getting more attention.
Who are some other female underrepresented innovators or inventors or engineers that you think we should spotlight some more, that maybe you’ll do your next film about.
There’s so many that it’s hard even to start to list them. In fact, the woman who wrote “Hidden Figures” the book has said she has 44 more hidden figures to reveal. That’s kind of been my experience as well. And I’m working on a series about women today. Because there are so many amazing scientists and inventors and innovators working today on things that are changing our world as we’re living in it. And we are not giving them exposure and the applause, in my mind, that we should. Because they’re so exciting. And to me, you are one of them (Limor).
The great tragedy in the movie is that she was not respected and understood in her time. It was that that was the thread of this movie. And so I’m hoping that we do a better job of celebrating the people that are around us. What can we do as a country, as a community, as a society to avoid the missteps that we made with Hedy Lamarr — not respecting or understanding her brilliance, and the patent that she gave to the US Navy that was tossed in a bin and ignored for 15 years. What can we do so that doesn’t happen again?
We really have to take complicated women very seriously. And the problem with our culture so far is, we’ve been very reluctant to allow women in media to be three-dimensional. A woman can be beautiful and brilliant and difficult and lovely. Most women we know are all of these things in one unholy package. And that’s just our lived experience.
When you think about somebody on television or in a film, almost always, they fit one side of that — the good girl, the pretty girl, the nerd. Why do we do that to women? And when we do it to women in the media, what happens is we expect that in real life, too. And it’s just totally false.
We need to celebrate women for everything they are. And we need to hold up the women today that are doing incredible things. I mean, I’m thinking everybody should know the name Parisa Tabriz. She’s the Google “Security Princess.” That’s what she calls herself on purpose. She is the woman who is responsible for almost everybody’s security on the internet right now.
That’s just one example. Why don’t we all know that name? She’s incredible. She didn’t even touch a computer until she was 19 years old.
I grew up in Boston, which is an intensely technological city. And looking back, it’s very interesting and difficult how women have to navigate this very narrow path of “you can’t be too beautiful, you can’t be too un-beautiful, you can’t be too well dressed, you can’t be too un-well dressed, you can’t be too talkative… “
It’s a very narrow path. And I think for Hedy, because she was so beautiful, I think it was hard for her. She was trying to get herself back on this path, and people just kept shoving her off, and saying, no, you are the most beautiful woman in the world. Shut up.
They kept handing her this massive power for being beautiful. Everybody would shut up and listen to her because she was beautiful. But then they weren’t really taking in her words.
They weren’t listening. They were just looking.
They were just looking! She was a thing, not a person. She was a thing with enormous power. So other people tried to use her all the time. And her life is about her realizing that. But first, she’s intoxicated by this power of being so beautiful. And then she sort of realizes, this is useless, because I’m a beautiful object. I’m a powerful object. That doesn’t help me.
And she was brilliant. She decided to use her mind, tried to make the same impact with her mind. And that was so difficult.
This is a movie about history. Many of the events happened quite a long time ago. But of course, it reverberates into the present. What do you think is the relevance of this movie, which is about this glamorous movie star from the 1940’s and 50’s? What could this possibly have to do with the engineering and the technology that’s happening right now in America and the world? What relevance does this movie have for women and men right now in the technology industry, or that use technology?
We have to ask ourselves very seriously: What happens when only a certain type of person gets funding and recognition in Silicon Valley? Because right now, we have this very powerful place — Silicon Valley — which decides who gets the funding to invent their world — their ideas. And then they shape who we become as a world, right? And we see huge numbers of women, of diverse candidates not being taken very seriously in Silicon Valley.
It’s not a million miles away from the Navy laughing at Hedy Lamarr, so people are being unintentionally silenced. And their contribution is erased when that happens. What do we lose as society when we erase and silence those people? We lose a whole other dimension of what we could be. We’re such an innovative society. What if we lose the inventions that we’re supposed to have to save the future — the invention that helps people with global warming.
It’s not a million miles off. Women are incredible out-of-the-box thinkers, in my experience. And in fact, we should be raising them up, not silencing them.
Some people say, “oh, we’re not raising women the right way to be engineers”. I’m like, I don’t think that’s the problem. Before I did computer science, I really loved to sew. And sewing is an engineering skill. But it’s not recognized as an engineering skill. It is manipulating two-dimensional into three-dimensional fabrics, and dealing with drape, and how the fits work. It’s a very technical subject. It’s not acknowledged as an engineering skill.
We have so far to go with recognizing what is engineering, what is innovation. Especially in the movie — spoiler alert — she didn’t have an engineering background.
No. She got out of school at 15.
Even now, it’s challenging. People who don’t go to school for engineering — their ideas are not taken as seriously. “Well, you know, he doesn’t have a physics background, or she doesn’t know anything about chemistry.” It’s like, “well, you know … you may not need to.”
That was really illuminating doing this documentary. I realized that the act of invention is really the act of being able to think about a problem differently — being able to almost rotate it in your mind into this new place. And Hedy used to say on the tapes, look, it’s about finding the simplest line between two points. She got great joy from taking a complicated problem and streamlining it — distilling it to the main issue, and then finding a solution for that.
She didn’t need an engineering degree for that. She just needed a problem-solving and a curiosity. But she had both.
When I am interviewed — and asked… “how do you get your ideas?”, a lot of it is – you have one puzzle piece, which is this problem, and then you have these other puzzle pieces, which are solutions that are in the world. You just interact with the world. And then – you fit them. Does it fit? No. OK. Next. Fit? And then eventually: Click. And it fits.
The movie demonstrated that very well — how she came up (and you’ll have to watch the movie to find out) how she was inspired to come up with frequency hopping.
I think you, Limor, would understand her mind more than most people. And the fact that it resonated with you means a tremendous amount to me.
I thought it was interesting… to the people who say,“well, she didn’t -really- invent it”, it’s pretty clear to me she did. I don’t want to say it’s obvious, because of course, it’s not. It’s only obvious after the fact. That what makes it such a great idea. Every good idea is obvious after the fact. And I think that’s the power of a really good idea is that you never think, well, how would I have done it before? There’s no other way.
You’re now revelling in this success of distribution, and people watching this movie. And so you’re getting, now, this feedback. You’ve brought this thing into the world. What are the reactions that you’re getting from people? Are you getting different actions from engineers, not engineers, from men, from women?
It’s not what I expected. There’s a wonderful group of feminist men reaching out and saying “I love this.” This is making me think in a new way. We need more stories like this. And it’s made me have a new appreciation for the allies out there in this fight to get women more recognized. We have incredible allies. I’ve started to think that feminism is not a gendered thing: It’s a human rights thing. People who are on board with the human rights movement — of bringing women the full rights that a man has — can be any gender. And that’s been very illuminating for me.
Also, just to speak to who’s reacted to the film strongly, it’s had many audiences. And that’s one of the most interesting things about taking it into the world. Not only engineers, but people who love classic movies, women, and people in the LGBTQ community all resonate very strongly, because she was an icon to them. The Jewish community has been hugely supportive of the movie, because it’s about this woman who had to amputate her Jewish identity, and what did that mean? And so that’s been really exciting, to see it seen through all these different lenses, and different questions from each group. It’s been illuminating for me as a filmmaker.
There was an interesting article I read a long time ago. In the 1920’s and ’30’s, the Viennese Jewish community did an insane amount of science and engineering. And it’s interesting. If it wasn’t for the diaspora of the Viennese Jewish community, it’s like, we don’t even know what we missed out. But if you look at all the physics and science and chemistry that was coming out in the mid-century, it was disproportionately coming from Vienna.
It was. That time period has become kind of a obsession for me — that Vienna in that moment was so exciting. What was happening for engineers, for psychologists, for artists, was just unbelievable. And it was also very free time, sexually. That’s why Hedy was able to do The movie Ecstasy, nudity wasn’t a big deal. Women were kind of empowered to go out there. And there was a lot of amazing photographers taking nude pictures of women that were Jewish and lesbian — I mean, just a totally different time than you would expect it to be.
People who came out of that time period seem to have this gift, especially for science and engineering. And much of what we see today in our modern science has its crown — its beginning — in that place.
Hedy invented as a hobby. It was something that came out of her spontaneously. She almost couldn’t stop inventing, it was like a wellspring. And it was because she came from a place where inventing was like your Netflix on the weekend. You would invent and chill, you know? That’s what she did with her dad on her off time. We have so much to learn from that time.
It was heartbreaking to hear her constantly talk about that time in Vienna. She missed Vienna. And it wasn’t just the physical place. I think she missed this jewel of, like, this beautiful place and time that was destroyed by evil. And on one hand, it’s tragic to have this jewel — like, Vienna will never be what it was this 10, 20 years.
Very selfishly, I’m really happy a lot of them came to America. And I think that it was terrible for it to break apart. But the shards came to America. And they were planted, and they became something beautiful in this country, and in London, and in other parts of Europe.
It affected the world. A lot of our invention actually comes out of there, too.
Her story is a story of all of us in this century, as we’re waking up from this horror. I think that’s why it resonates so well with everybody. Everybody should go see this movie. It’s a lot more than just, the most beautiful woman in the world comes up with an idea. But that’s a lot of it.
It speaks to the “#metoo” moment, because there’s a sense that this woman was playing with a full deck. She had the beauty. She had the brains. She had the courage — unbelievable bravery. And yet, she could not navigate this system that Hollywood built around her. And I think seeing her struggle against that system makes us realize the blind spots that are still in place in the structure around this today.
It is extremely relevant to today. We’re still learning, what are the consequences of the entertainment that we love to consume? What’s on the other side? What other women did not get to reach their full potential?
Exactly. In every field.
In every field.
Everybody, check out this movie, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, playing in many theaters. And I’m sure it’ll be in even more locations and film events around the world. I think this is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in my life.
Thank you, it’ll be in LA on Friday, and I’ll be there Friday and Saturday. If anyone wants to come out to LA Friday or Saturday, I’m going to do a Q&A, and I’d love to meet you.
Bombshell ends with a reading from Hedy’s audio taped interview…
“People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, alternative motives. Do good anyway.
The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. Give the world the best you have and you’ll be kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”
Hedy Lamarr was called the “most beautiful woman in the world” in her day. But what most don’t know is that she had the brains to match her beauty. Lee Cowan reports – CBS.
Alexandra Dean, Anthony Loder, Jennifer Hom Q&A | Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story – SFJFF37.
From Fund Dreamer – “A Memorial to Hollywood Star Hedy Lamarr, a Founding Mother of Modern Tech”
It’s one of the greatest untold stories of Women in Tech. During MGM’s Golden Age in the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was one of the most beautiful actresses in the world. She was also one of the smartest. Instead of attending parties with famous co-stars like Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable, the 28-year-old Hedy spent her evenings at home inventing a completely new, innovative form of technology that she hoped would help the U.S. win World War II. What Lamarr invented (with the help of composer George Antheil) was a secret communication system known as frequency hopping, a revolutionary form of technology that would make it impossible for radio transmissions to be “listened to” or “jammed” by the enemy. The invention would allow, for the first time, wireless transmissions by the U.S military to be completely secret.