Riveting Riffs Logo One  Alexandra Dean and Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Alexandra Dean Photo One

While in conversation with film director / producer and co-founder of Reframed Pictures Alexandra Dean it becomes immediately apparent that you are talking to one of the industry’s top documentary filmmakers. Partnering with producer Adam Haggiag and Academy Award winning actor and producer Susan Sarandon, Dean explains their self-made mandate, “Reframed Pictures is called Reframed Pictures, because we wanted to reframe the conversation around various topics. For me first and foremost it was the questions of gender and what does it mean to be a woman in America today? For my brother Adam Haggiag who is a producer it was about the environment, the most pressing issue of our time. I agree with him and we have to find new ways to tell the story of the environment in a way that is entertaining, brings in the crowds, but also delivers the message. We want to talk about human rights in general. All three of those needed to be reframed we felt and brought back into the conversation in a way that feels fresh and exciting to people. Also it needs to make people go to the ballot box and vote differently.”

Alexandra Dean Photo TwoIt is therefore an easy step to understand what attracted Reframed Pictures and in particular Emmy Award winner Alexandra Dean to make the film Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, a film about an iconic actress and an astounding inventor.

“There were two reasons (I was drawn to Hedy), I was interested in inventors. I was doing the series with Bloomberg and I was looking at all the inventors who created and shaped our world today and seeing the obstacles that they faced. I found out that those who didn’t look like Thomas Edison felt they were at a disadvantage when it came to getting funding in Silicon Valley. I wanted to find somebody who would shatter our tidy notion of who would invent. I found that person in Hedy. Secondly, as a woman I was very interested in somebody who was not constrained by any of the boundaries laid out by the culture of her time. She was completely unaware of those boundaries and she transcended them with the force of her personality and her bravery. She forged her own path completely. At the same time she seemed to have all of the blessings that all of us wish to be born with, the brilliant mind, the beautiful face, the bold nature. All of that attracts me as a woman to read about this almost superhero of a woman forging her way through the world. At the same time I saw her fall from grace. At the end of her life she seems to turn against everything that she stood for before,” says Dean.

She continues, “I was really interested in this woman whose trajectory was like a superhero and who had this burning fuel to get up into the stratosphere until she turned against herself. She decided that even though her whole ethos and her whole life had been that she was more than this beautiful face. She was more than this gorgeous actress, because she had this incredible mind and she was going to change the world.

Then when the world repeatedly tells her no, she is really only valuable for her face she resisted that up unto the point where she starts to lose her looks. Suddenly she falls like Icarus from the sky. She decides at exactly the wrong moment that her power was in her looks and she tries to shore them up and to fight back by inventing this new plastic surgery. It actually ends up maiming her and making her into a recluse. It is a byproduct of her being on the cutting edge and again with that inventive mind that she was willing to experiment on herself with something that wasn’t totally known yet.

I think that story is a parable for all women. It is about not giving up the fight to be recognized for more than how you appear or somebody’s stereotype of you as a woman and trying to be the person that you can be and to be recognized for that. She teaches us to have faith in that and not to give in. In the end she will be recognized. It will be an incredible moment, but because she had given in and because she maimed herself in this way, she wasn’t able to step forward and to receive the recognition she deserved.

There is a vitriol that happens when women lose their looks as well. What we see in Hedy’s story is this viciousness in the press when she starts to lose her looks. She is not on this pedestal anymore and she is not this superbeing.  Now she is being blamed for losing her looks, as though it was her choice. They really, really slander her and ridicule her to the point where a two headed goat is named Hedy and Lamarr in the national tabloids, because it is so grotesque like her. At that point she really hasn’t had the bad plastic surgery yet. They were just talking about her aging. Can you imagine how devastating that is for someone’s psyche?”

Being Jewish in Europe during the Second World War was definitely not a good thing and Hedy Lamarr escaped to America. Her story has several striking similarities to Alexandra Dean’s own grandfather.

“My grandfather wasn’t escaping Austria, he was escaping North Africa, but he was living in Italy. He was working in oil distribution. He had all of his assets frozen, just as every Jewish citizen of Italy did. He had to figure out how to escape and he couldn’t figure out how to escape. He was dating this girl who was a model and she believed everything that her psychic told her would come true. Every Wednesday they would meet in the Gran Caffe and she would sit down and tell my very amused grandfather what the psychic said. One Wednesday she sat down with him and she cried. She told him you are going to leave me and in twenty-four hours I am never going to see you again. My grandfather said that is ridiculous. If I had any papers or any assets I would get on a ship to America. I would love to escape, because I think it is very dangerous right now. How can I do that? I don’t have anything. Everything has been frozen. A man sitting next to him leaned his chair back and said keep your voice down, because there are Gestapo in here. It turned out the Gestapo did turn up for my grandfather twenty-four hours later.

The man who had told him about the Gestapo said I’m from the American consulate and I think you came to me on an oil trip to the U.S. to see Sinclair Oil and I can probably get that visa renewed. Can you come right after this lunch? He went straight to the American consulate and they reopened that visa. They got him back under the auspices of a business trip and they managed to spirit him out of Italy. He left within twenty-four hours on that ship.

He ended up with nothing, but his suitcase and he couldn’t take any of his assets with him. With the money he had left he bought himself some beautiful suits and a seat at the captain’s table. Like Hedy he knew he only had the duration of that trip to make the connections that he needed to make, to make it in Hollywood, which is what he wanted to do. He met someone from Samuel Goldwyn’s company. He ended up making a distribution deal with him. That was the beginning of a long career in Hollywood. He had a very parallel flight and also this brilliant ability to reinvent himself. I always grew up wondering what a woman would have done in his place. When I saw and read Hedy’s story it was oh my God there it is. There’s the woman. She’s brilliant,” she says, while lightly laughing.  

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story was the second attempt that Alexandra Dean made at making this film and she talks about why the project took this circuitous route, “I was making the film reluctantly around this autobiography that Hedy had disowned, because she had never told her story to anyone on the record that we knew of. All we had of her account was this autobiography. She said in numerous press articles that this was a ghost written autobiography and she disowned it. She hated it and she sued the writer. It was a terrible source to lean on. Some of it sounded like her voice, but some of it sounded fabricated. Worse than that there was no mention of her inventions. That was a good signal that she hadn’t had much to do with it. I was struggling to make that film for six months. Hedy Lamarr Photo Three

We also found great letters from Germany that she had written, as a kid and letters that she had written to her mother during the Second World War. It (provided) little glimpses of her and not really the whole picture. It was one of those things when I was up at night thinking I have to find some record of Hedy telling her own story, but I don’t know how to do it. As a team we really tackled it like investigative journalism and we went after everybody who could have possibly had the record and we decided to assume that it existed. We had faith and we started calling anyone who might have a scrap of paper or anything. We went down the list and we didn’t have any luck.

Again, I went into this spiral of introspection, as I tried to figure out how to move forward. I ended up coming back to the team and saying we are going to do it again. Reluctantly, everybody went down the list and started again. The second time we realized that we had the wrong email for Fleming Meeks, the reporter who had talked to Hedy in 1990. We knew he had actually talked to her, because he directly quoted her a few times in this article from twenty-five years ago. That was such a rare thing.  It meant that he was a really precious source. We tracked him down, we emailed him and he called me back. He said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to call me for twenty-five years,’ as if I was to blame for not picking up the phone (said in jest and not in a serious vein). That meant I would have been calling him when I was ten years old (she laughs). We can blame that partly on my aunt, because they knew each other, which was kind of a spectacular thing to discover. He was out having drinks with my aunt every Friday night. That was an amazing coincidence. It is a tiny world.”

Among the other sources that Alexandra Dean and her team utilized in bringing Hedy Lamarr to life once again, were Lamarr’s son Anthony Loder, her daughter, Denise Loder and Hedy Lamarr’s close friend, actor Robert Osborne.  

“Some days I feel that Hedy is so close that I could have a whole conversation with her and other days she recedes into an enigma. She wanted to be an enigma and she shrouded herself in mystery and it was partly because she felt no one was going to understand her anyway. I think seeing her through a modern lens we do understand her and we do relate to her in a way that she never imagined people would. Sometimes I think we just see this person who got lost and who was lost in time. She would totally have made sense in today’s world, but she was way before her time.

She was out of step for her time. It’s almost like with some of these inventors that they seem like time travelers. Look at Leonardo Da Vinci he foresaw helicopters. How could that man not have felt completely ahead of his time? Tesla was like that too. Hedy on the tapes says to Fleming Meeks at the end of their conversation just don’t make me look crazy, because I sure am ahead of time. She knew. She absolutely knew that she was ahead of her time. I wish sometimes that she could have seen today’s world and I wonder if she would have liked it and what she would have thought. I wonder what she would have done,” says Alexandra Dean.  

Our conversation turns to the part of Hedy Lamarr’s life that for many people still is unknown, unless of course you have watched Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (and yes we just made a shameless, unsolicited plug for Alexandra Dean and Reframed Pictures, because we believe in them and this film!) that being Hedy, as an inventor. Lamarr’s friendship with Howard Hughes played a role in that.

Dean explains, “Hedy told a friend that Howard Hughes liked to take all of his starlets to his airplane hangar where his inventors and engineers were working on the fastest airplane to go around the world. He would offer these starlets a completely empty promise, that being, you can talk to any of these people. They are all at your disposal. It was like he was making a grand gesture. Hedy decided that she would take him up on it. They ended up working together and she had two engineers / chemists at her disposal to work on this new soda cube for the troops (Editor’s note: It added fizz to the soda). She turned the tables on Howard Hughes.”

Hedy Lamarr’s flair for invention was just beginning to bubble under the surface with the new soda cube. There were far more impressive discoveries on the horizon.

“Her son Anthony kept bringing up a story when we talked about the main invention that Hedy is known for the frequency hopping (Editor’s note: which became the technology upon which cell phones, GPS and WIFI were developed). Anthony said my mother took me up to the attic when I was seven years old and she showed me all of these papers from her inventing days. In the same breath that he would say she showed me frequency hopping he would say she would show me these papers for the swept wings for airplanes (that she invented to increase speed). He would always twin the two. He would mention them at the same time. When I first did the interviews I would be thinking what are you talking about? It wasn’t until we had the tapes that we heard her explain it and it was all within the context of working with Howard Hughes. It all came into focus. The first thing that I did when I heard it on the tapes was to call up Anthony and I said oh I know why she said to you that she came up with something for airplanes. I got to play that for him, which was really great,” explains Alexandra Dean.

Hedy Lamarr’s curiosity and penchant for invention was cultivated at an early age, “Hedy and her father shared this love for invention. He would take her around the streets as a child and he would show her how a streetcar worked and how the electricity came from the factory. They would take things apart and put them back together. She took apart her music box as a child and put it back together.  She shattered a light bulb and tried to put it back together.  She was relentlessly curious and that was encouraged by this wonderful father,” she says.

Alexandra Dean Photo FourDean also talks about the ski resort that Hedy Lamarr designed in Aspen, Colorado, before there really were any other ones there, “She saw Aspen when it was just a little town in the mountains when she met a friend there from Austria who was skiing. They had this conversation that it could be this amazing ski town, so she built a ski resort called Villa Lamarr. It was a summer and winter resort and it was all based on Austria and the town that she had known as a child. It was chalet shaped and designed.”

It is fitting that it took Alexandra Dean to suss out a lot of the elements of Hedy Lamarr’s life that were not as well-known in the past. She won her Emmy Award while working on NOW, an investigative news show for PBS.

“We would go from state to state and investigate. We covered the housing crisis, before the whole thing imploded. We covered student loans before they were on people’s radars, because we were just going from state to state and trying to find the issues. We had to turn around the documentaries within three months, so it was like a boot camp for documentaries. I got to do that for five years and I count those among the luckiest in my life,” she says.

Following her time at PBS, Dean became the producer of the Bloomberg television series, Innovators, Adventures and Pursuits and when Bloomberg purchased Businessweek magazine she wrote about inventions.  

“Inventors have this unbelievable super power. They change our world in a way that we all experience every day. It’s invisible, but they have made it something else. That really fascinates me and I thought how did these people come up with these things? It is almost like they can tap into this divine inspiration. There is this sense that the invention comes out of thin air and I wanted to learn how they experienced it.  It is such a mystery to me. What I discovered is more often than not they are very interested in taking two dissimilar things and smashing them together to see what comes out of that interaction. I am fascinated by that and I am not an inventive mind, but I just love those minds. Creativity is invention in itself, but I am not somebody who actually invents things,” says Alexandra Dean.  

Hedy Lamarr continues to inspire women today and one of those women is Alexandra Dean.

“Her boldness always inspires me. At the end of the movie is this message that she left on the answering machine for her son and she left it a couple of times. It was a message about the end of her life. It was the wisdom that she gleaned from her life. It was a poem by Kent M Keith called the Paradoxical Commandments. In it she distilled the wisdom as the world may kick you in the teeth and you may never feel recognized for your greatest achievements, which for sure (applies to) Hedy’s achievements. For her it was her inventions or whatever it was that you were trying to do to change the world, to make your mark on the world. It is in the doing that you will find the meaning. That was the message that I took from making the film that it was all about trying to do something and changing the world. Don’t worry about the applause. That doesn’t matter. The recognition doesn’t matter, but changing the world does,” says Alexandra Dean.

One of the places that the world needs to change is in the area of opportunities presented to women film directors.

Alexandra Dean shares with us what Riveting Riffs Magazine considers to be one of the most tragic and frustrating statistics in the entertainment world, “(Only) 4% of directors are women (she repeats the statistic with more emphasis) and then that horrible statistic that only 20% get to direct again. It is one thing that we don’t acknowledge the women who create our work, but what about the storytellers? We have always been storytellers. Women have always carried the narrative of their cultures forward. It is that power thing that we are exploring all of the way through Bombshell. Why is it difficult for women to take the reins of power? What is it about our culture that shies away from that? It is very powerful to tell the stories of our culture.”

Alexandra Dean is working on a new project, titled Beautiful Minds and she says, “This will be based on the Hedy Lamarrs of today, who we do not give any credit or recognition to, but who are shaping our world as we speak.”

To which we would add Alexandra Dean is one of those women who is shaping our world as we speak. She may not be an inventor, but she is a prolific storyteller and as long as she and her partners at Reframed Pictures keep shaping the dialogue, a little bit at a time they will play a role in reshaping our world, presenting women with more opportunities and recognizing them more often for their significant contributions, not just in the entertainment industry, but in all facets of life.  

Please take time to visit the website for Reframed Pictures   You can also watch the trailer for the film Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story here.         Return to Our Front Page

Top and bottom photos are of Alexandra Dean and the two middle photos are of Hedy Lamarr.

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This interview by Joe Montague  published February 17th, 2018 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos and artwork are the the property of  Alexandra Dean and Reframed Pictures unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved