Rampant with Memory

The resurrection of Hedy Lamarr


This is the story of a Hollywood actress, defined by her appearance, who was secretly a brilliant inventor and helped change the course of history. Until recently, Hedy Lamarr has laid in an unmarked grave in the Vienna Central Cemetery.

Susan Sarandon

This recent tweet from one fine, film star refers to another fine, film star who pleased the screen several decades ago. Ms. Sarandon praised Hedy Lamarr’s remarkable life while commenting on her marker-less grave; in so doing, she put Hollywood to shame. A hammered-down secret: Ms. Lamarr was a genius; she was one of the brains behind the invention of the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell phone networks.

Each time we lift our phones to our lips we ought to whisper: “Hedy.”

But due to film-set starlet-branding Hedy Lamar was nothing more than a pretty face in a halo of hair coquettishly leaning up against Clark Gable’s grinning hulk. And until very recently Ms. Lamarr lay without a name in a Viennese cemetery.

Thanks to Ms. Sarandon’s insistence, we acknowledge the many talents of this woman. Sixteen years after her death, a memorial has finally been installed, .


“It incorporates 88 steel rods representing the 88 frequencies in Lamarr’s patented frequency hopping technology,” tweets Ms. Sarandon. These rods, when viewed from the right angle, generate an illusion of Lamarr’s face.


I remember Hedy but not for the right reasons. I remember tacking her photo above my bed beside one of Vivien Leigh. Not because I’m from that era but because I was in love with beautiful women and Heddy resembled Scarlet O’Hara. Heddy also knew Rhett Butler.

As an adolescent I was in love with all things Gone with the Wind; for so many obvious reasons, this is an embarrassing confession.

But now, like Susan Sarandon, I am provided with an opportunity to tear off the illusion and thank her for the head behind the halo and celebrate, every day, her invention. One day I’d like to visit Vienna, with a stop among the cherubs and alabaster angels, and raise a toast to Hedy Lamarr.




I live and work, think and write, within spitting distance of TIFF’s excitedly unfurling red carpets and splashes of sparkling entourages. My home and office is in Toronto’s film district, 20 minutes by bicycle from the yawning, yapping rush-seat crowds.

It’s that time of year again but the most I experience of TIFF are hyberbolic news flashes, racy chatter at cafes, breathless name-dropping, and the odd stretch limo parked at Price Choppers, with drivers presumably awaiting a pick-up request from some star or other.

These limos could fit ten Keira Knightlies, even in full Anna Karenina regalia.

TIFF 2012. Used to be I refused to use this acronym, so faintly pretentious. I called it “the film festival.” But alas I have succumbed. Now I even blog about it.

And yet, it is altogether so not important to me.

This is what is important to me: the stories in the everyday; tales of the everywoman or everyman. Today I’m writing an obituary for the Globe and Mail. The subject of this article, the she who nestles deep inside my thoughts today, is Jacqueline McClintock.

As it happens, Jacqueline coached over a thousand Canadian actors. She taught three actors who appeared in Barney’s Version, a 2010 TIFF cause celebre. Along with Paul Giametti, these three touched down on the noteworthy red Toronto rug.*

But more about Jacqueline: how the ordinary, the fiction of life, makes such great art.

In 1957, Jacqueline was born into a family of nine children in rural Quebec. Her father, a lumberjack, died in a car accident when she was 18 months old. Her mother fell apart; the baby was sent off to live with in-laws–a couple who had recently lost their own child.

Jacqueline was placed in this dead daughter’s crib, beside the baby’s picture; she was a de facto replacement.

Jacqueline’s friend and colleague, Gavin Drummond,  said she spent her earliest years quite urgently trying to satisfy the template, to be a good girl just like the deceased daughter would have been.

“It’s like something in a Dickens,” he said. “This was the seed to her becoming so incredible at reading human behaviour.”

Jacqueline called herself an orphan; she named her Montreal studio L’Atelier Orphanspace. Meanwhile, she had nearly a dozen siblings, all of whom identify as rural francophone. Jacqueline was through-and-through anglophone, raised by the Irish-Canadian side of the family. She spent much of her time in Germany, Holland, Spain, Manhattan.

Not sure how much of these details will make it into the published obituary but they stun me with their particular and peculiar subtlety and beauty. Being on the borders of TIFF, recognizing these gifts of people’s lives, is precisely where I want to remain. Meanwhile, thank you Jacqueline for coaching many of our finest talents.

*Anna Hopkins, Scott Speedman, Rachelle Lefevre

George Clooney steadied my step

Kind of a rough day, the one before the last one, so I fled to the cinema. It’s often like this. Not anything overwhelmingly terrible about the day, oh no not that, but I craved the chance to slide over the edge into someone else’s imaginings–the lives of 20-foot characters leaning down at me while I merely sit chewing buttery popcorn for a couple hours, sucking the husk and forgetting what drove me to the theatre in the first place.

I went to see George Clooney pretend he descended from Hawaiian royalty and scream at his comatose wife, whom he dearly loved, while his make-believe daughters waited outside the hospital room. The movie was The Descendents and it was about death.

His wife, Elizabeth, crashed her speed boat 22 days earlier, leaving him alone with the newness of this grief and the task of pulling the plug and raising the girls on his own. Grim and riveting; I’m glad I saw it. But why?

It was that fine line, I think. The one separating me from my silly little left-behind day–and the one that could potentially separate us from one another, in the skid of a motor boat or slip of a step. It’s never a bad thing to be reminded of this.

Clooney (Matt?) tore into her for leaving him and so did her daughters–the 17 and 10-year-old whose names I forget and whom I’ll probably see, over the years, pop up in other films. The emotions were spectacularly believable and I like that in a film. Maybe because it’s rare.

The movie will drift from memory soon, they always do, but maybe it impacted me once I returned to those trivial annoyances that sent me there in the first place. Maybe it steadied–or unsteadied–my step.

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