Intrepid Performance: Heather Massie’s “Hedy! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr”

Hedy Image - Landscape - Color


Here’s a novel way to spend an evening: On an aircraft carrier, the Intrepid, now docked in New York City as part of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, watching an engaging actor, Heather Massie, reveal the complex history of an inventor: Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler Mandl Markey Loder Stauffer Lee Boies. Wait. Stay with me! It’s a fascinating one-woman show, including World War II arms dealers, Bette Davis, and Howard Hughes, among other notables.

If you aren’t recognizing the inventor’s name, you might know her better as Hedy Lamarr, the beautiful star of stage and screen known for romantic and professional pairings on- and off-screen with the likes of musician George Antheil and billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes, the first nude scene in a film (Ecstasy 1933), or perhaps Ann Hathaway’s inspiration for Cat Woman.

As an inventor, Lamarr was actually the mother of key inventions that make our cell phones and numerous other devices possible—frequency hopping and spread spectrum technology. A patriotic immigrant, Lamarr and Antheil gave their invention of radio guidance system for torpedoes to the U.S. Navy during World War II. They didn’t use it then, but we sure do depend on it now.

It was only near the end of her life that Lamarr began to receive the recognition she deserved as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reached out to invite her to receive an award. While Hedy did not receive the credit or the financial rewards her inventions deserved, this one-woman show, written and performed by Massie opens with this tribute, enabling Hedy to review the highlights of her life. It is a demanding show, with Massie playing all of the characters, making seamless transitions among many accents and personalities, with gestures as powerfully simple as raising a hat in the air or adjusting a telephone.

As a former Astrophysics major in college, Heather Massie turned to theater to explore her creative side. Through her art, she wants to encourage young women in the pursuit of science and technology and to spur creative invention. Why the Intrepid? This museum houses a special program, GOALS for Girls, to encourage girls to engage in STEAM disciplines. As I looked around at the audience during the performance, I saw rapt engagement. I was touched by the girls’ responses, and I thought: This is the way we do it—make and tell the stories that will inspire young women to create and invent.

Heather Massie’s play is doing its part, having traveled already from New York City to six other states, and Zimbabwe and Ireland. Where will you catch it next? At least 6 performances are already scheduled in different states and Ireland for 2018. Go to Heather’s website to find out more.

Note: I’ve followed “Hedy!” since its beginning as a solo show, and Heather Massie has been generous in her participation in staged readings of my work. It’s great to see an artist receive the recognition she deserves.