3 Things We Learn About Hollywood Icon Hedy Lamarr the PBS Doc ‘Bombshell’

Film actress Hedy Lamarr (1914 - 2000) by the swimming pool of her Beverly Hills hotel, California, circa 1955. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hedy Lamarr was first known for flashing her nude form in the 1933 Eurofilm Ecstasy. Then the U.S. fell for her face: The Austrian’s visage inspired Disney’s Snow White and DC’s Catwoman.

Lamarr’s acting (in movies like 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl) earned props too—but the fact that she was a genius inventor never truly made news. Enter this surprising American Masters bio, which offers several bombshells about her brain (and, OK, her bod), including these:

1. Lamarr rocked chemistry but loved studying machinery, like the streetcars near her Vienna home. At age 5, she disassembled a music box and rebuilt it herself.

2. Horrified by an account of a WWII Nazi U-boat torpedoing a ship carrying 83 schoolchildren, Lamarr designed a frequency-hopping communications system that could avoid enemy detection and interference. It still inspires technology we use today, like Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth.

3. In the 1940s, a survey of plastic surgeons revealed that Lamarr was the starlet most women wanted to look like. Their specific request: her profile. If only someone had gone for her brain!

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, Documentary Premiere 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)