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Hollywood Flashback: How Hedy Lamarr Helped Invent Wi-Fi

Joining forces with composer George Antheil, the actress helped patent a device that made radio frequencies jump around — technology used today in GPS and Wi-Fi — though "she didn't make a dime off it," says director Alexandra Dean, whose 'Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story' airs Friday on PBS.

History and Hollywood conspired to make Hedy Lamarr’s life a bit too interesting. She was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler to Viennese Jewish parents in 1913. She became internationally famous as the nude actress in the 1933 Czech film Ecstasy and wed the third-richest man in Austria, a fascist arms maker 30 years her senior (Mussolini once came to dinner). She eventually fled her husband and sailed from England to America on a ship with MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, who gave her a seven-year, $500-a-week contract ($8,600 today) along with a new glam name and the title the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.
Within a year of arriving in Culver City — and still just 24 — Lamarr made Algiers in 1938 with Charles Boyer. THR said “she had more sex, more rare beauty than the screen has seen for many days” and predicted she was “destined to reach great heights if given the proper material.” That didn’t happen, but other successes did.
Most curious is that she and composer George Antheil patented a device that made radio frequencies jump around — technology used today in GPS and Wi-Fi.
“Unfortunately, she didn’t make a dime off it,” says Alexandra Dean, director of Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, which airs May 18 on PBS.
Lamarr’s last good film was 1949’s Samson and Delilah (“The wine of parting is bitter, Samson,” is one of her lines). She married five more times; sued Mel Brooks for naming the Harvey Korman character in Blazing Saddles Hedley Lamarr (“She did it for the money, she was broke,” says Dean. “And Mel loved her, so he paid her”); and had her last big splash in the press when she was arrested in 1966 for shoplifting $86 in merchandise from May Co. department store (soon to be the Academy museum).