Sprightly and humorous, Heather Massie’s one-woman show documents the life of Austrian Hollywood and inventor Hedy Lamarr (1914 – 2000). After having appeared at the Galway Fringe Festival previously, the international production was staged again in Galway in the Town Hall Theatre on the 29th May 2018 at 8pm with a Q & A at the end. It is part of a planned trilogy by Massie highlighting women in science.
It opens with an exposition of video footage of Hedy and the show features a recording of her voice. She is presented as reappearing from the dead to tell her story which has often been misrepresented or forgotten. This is all done with gracious, affectionate address to the audience without a hint of bitterness. She often comes directly into the crowd to interact with them as herself, although at other times Massie switches to impersonate different characters in the story. The props are simply two tables, some chairs, an old-fashioned telephone. A version of the flip cell phone she helped create makes an appearance. It’s all decked out elegantly, much like Hedy herself in a bejeweled dress.
Hedy fostered a self-taught interest in applied science, first encountered while growing up with her parents, although her mother encouraged her to learn music and performance as a young lady. After marriage, she came up with the idea to change the squarish shape of aeroplanes for efficiency. Her joint patented idea of The Secret Communications System with composer George Antheil to evade the threat of torpedoes being jammed in the Allied effort during WWII could have saved many lives if taken on board by the US Navy against the Nazis. After initially rejecting the idea from an actress, the US Navy used it during the Cuban Missile Crises. Her intellectual ingenuity is boasted of via comic responses to award recognition her invention finally gets. Also referred to as Frequency Hopping or Spread Spectrum Technology, her invention is used today in cell phones, WiFi, CDMA, GPS, Bluetooth and other wireless systems. She continued to doodle inventions into her later life.
Massie captures the style of a bygone era in manner and voice, telling the story of the ugly duckling who would be later dubbed The Most Beautiful Woman in the World and inspire the creation of Snow White and Catwoman, as well as many woman who copied her look with dark hair parted in the middle. This notoriety did her no favours, however, when it came to being taken seriously. One man admired her beautiful mouth which he said prevented him from listening to a word she was saying.
The behaviour towards women in the film industry during the 1930’s – 50’s is outlined with ironic light-heardedness. While Lamarr is known for acting in many films such as her role in Samson and Delilah in 1949 and produced a few films herself, she featured in the controversial film Ecstasy in which she was duped into being filmed nude from afar without being aware of the high-power telephoto lenses. The film was banned in America for being overly sexual, and by the Nazis because of Lamarr’s Jewish origins just after her escape from mainland Europe from a stifling husband who tried to buy the film outright out of jealousy. Hypocritical American producers critically evaluated the actress’s body behind the facade of family-friendly censored film standards.
This theatrical biopic deserves the acclaim it has been awarded at various festivals around the world. It brings to life this intriguing lady and the individuals she engaged with, including her three children and some of her six husbands. It positively highlights her achievements as well the ups and downs of her life; a celebration of her scientific prowess without renouncning her graceful charm and arts background.