The Only Woman in the Room
Author: Marie Benedict
Some of you may have read Carnegie’s Maid, or perhaps The Other Einstein, or maybe Lady Clementine (about Winston Churchill’s wife), all by the author Marie Benedict, who also writes under the name Heather Benedict Terrell. Her 2019 novel, The Only Woman in the Room, is about Hedy Lamarr, the 1940s Hollywood film star. Ms. Benedict seems to focus on women in history who had significant accomplishments but were overshadowed by the famous and/or powerful men in their lives. Fortunately for the author, there are many women who led interesting but unrecognized lives and who make for good reading. And Hedy Lamarr in The Only Woman in the Room is the perfect subject.
Ms. Benedict, who worked as a corporate lawyer in New York, was often literally the only woman in the room. So, it makes sense that she would use her personal experience to write about what life is like when you are curious and smart, and in a situation where your contributions may not be appreciated and may even be overlooked.
This story of Hedwig (Hedy) Kiesler Lamarr begins in Austria in 1933 when the beautiful Hedy was starring in a play in Vienna. Hedy was noticed and virtually stalked by a wealthy arms dealer. As a Jew in Austria in the 1930s, Hedy decided the best way to ensure safety for her parents and herself, in what appeared to be turbulent times ahead, was to agree to marry her wealthy suitor.
The curious and intelligent Hedy was whisked away into a life where she still performed but only as a beautiful trophy wife. At times no more than a captive, she was required to wear specific clothes chosen by her husband and to host dinners for wealthy and important men in Europe. Hedy quietly paid attention to even the most technical discussions and learned secrets no one could possibly imagine she would grasp.
As the political tides in Austria and Germany shifted when Hitler rose to power, Hedy’s life changed dramatically. How she eventually became a film star in Hollywood is an amazing and true story. But the more astounding part is the role Hedy was able to play in inventing communications devices that would help the U.S. and the Allies defeat the Nazis.
I found this book easy to read, and the story was compelling enough that I was able to finish it in a few days. The historical facts are there, but the fictional conversations and interactions transform what would otherwise be a black-and-white, non-fiction account into a dramatic story in full living color. The Only Woman in the Room is a New York Times bestseller, the January 2019 Barnes and Noble book club selection, and also gets just under four stars on Goodreads and just over four stars at Barnes and Noble. Happy Reading!