Cover Image: The Only Woman in the Room

The Only Woman in the Room

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I enjoyed the book and learned some interesting history about a fascinating, strong woman. Historical fiction is not my favorite genre, but I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys WWII fiction. Thank you for the ARC!
Was this review helpful?
An interesting piece of history about a woman who has worn many hats in her life.  It was a compelling read.
Was this review helpful?
I read this book on a whim. I saw it advertised at Barnes and Noble and thought it was interesting. I enjoyed the characters, the plot development and overall tone of the book. I would recommend to others.
Was this review helpful?
Are you looking for insight into Heddy Lamar, the famous actress from the 1930's and 1940's? I was which is why the premise of this book intrigued me. Heddy Lamar first caught my attention through her role in Blazing Saddles, a Mel Brooks comedy. Then she got mentioned in the past few years for her breakthrough achievement in frequency hopping of radio waves which makes cell phones and other devices possible. So when I read about The Only Woman in the Room, I was interested in seeing what Marie Benedict did with the story. The problem I have with this novelization over a straight biography is the need to express a message. I get the concept how guilty Heddy Lamar felt for not doing more to warn Austrian Jews easily, and then there is the whole issue of her invention not getting attention because she was a woman. But writing an issue novel always seems to be heavy handed and the ending of this book is just that. And unfortunately, nothing after 1942 is important to the story. So I will need to go out an find myself a biography to fill in all the gaps. Which I was likely to do anyway. Not a badly told tale, just not as good a tale as I hoped.
Was this review helpful?
Marie Benedict's The Only Woman in the Room is the story of Hedy Lamarr, a woman best known for her roles on the silver screen. Ms. Benedict looks deeper into Hedy's life, bringing us an engrossing tale of a woman who is both brilliant and beautiful.

Hedy Kieseler is a Jewish woman married to an Austrian arms dealer. She's well-known for her beauty, and manages to land a starring role in a feature film. Her fame, coupled with her husband's military connections, are enough to keep Hedy safe as anti-semitism sweeps across Europe.

Unfortunately, Hedy's marriage is not a happy one. Her husband is prone to fits of rage, and she is usually the target of these fits. She does her best to hide her abuse from the world, but she's desperate to find a way out. Slowly, she begins to devise a plan, and in 1937, she manages to flee to the United States.

Once she's out from under her husband's control, Hedy starts a new life for herself in Hollywood. She changes her name to Hedy Lamarr, and it doesn't take her long to become Hollywood's golden girl. She's finally safe, but what about the Jews she left behind?

What the world doesn't know is that Hedy was much more than a pretty face, and that behind her dazzling smile lurked a brilliant mind. Hedy had always been fascinated by science, and she decided to turn this fascination into a way to aid the war effort. She began developing a weapon powerful enough to stop Hitler's rise to power.

I don't know much about science, and my knowledge of how weapons are made is practically non-existent, so I wasn't sure this would be a book I'd enjoy. I was afraid it would be full of scientific details, but Ms. Benedict managed to keep me thoroughly engaged. We do learn a bit about the weapon Hedy develops, but the narrative isn't at all dry or boring. This is definitely a book that will appeal to science buffs, but it will be equally enjoyable to those who are more interested in Hedy Lamarr as a whole person rather than simply for her contribution to the field of science.

The story is broken up into two very distinct parts. The first half of the book focuses on Hedy's life in Austria, while the second illuminates her Hollywood successes and scientific study. Stories about World War II are of particular interest to me, as are books that are set in 1940's Hollywood, so I enjoyed both sections of the story equally. The author does a great job bringing the people and places she writes about to life for the reader, making this a book that was hard for me to put down.

It's clear Ms. Benedict did a great deal of research into Hedy's life before beginning to write her story. Not much seems to be known about Hedy's life in Austria, but the story the author tells here feels completely plausible. She remains true to Hedy's character, never creating situations or conflict that feel contrived.

Hedy Lamarr was a fascinating woman I knew almost nothing about before picking up this book. I'm so glad Ms. Benedict chose to tell her story, bringing her to the attention of today's readers. The world needs more stories like this one.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo
Visit our Amazon Storefront
Was this review helpful?
Everyone knows that Hedy Lamarr was one of Hollywood’s most glamorous movie stars. Yet, Hedy Lamarr was more than just a pretty face. She was a brilliant woman whose greatest contribution was the invention of the spread spectrum technology. She was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The Only Woman in the Room shows the difficulties Heady struggled with becoming a serious actress and an accomplished inventor in her own right. However, because of her beauty and that she is a woman, she is not taken seriously. Heady soon feels that she will never be recognized for her works and  will always face the stigma of being a dazzling movie star.

    I have heard of Hedy Lamarr. However, I did not know much about her life. I found Hedy’s story to be very fascinating. She was a woman ahead of her times. She made a contribution that we use today like Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Yet, throughout her life she never got the recognition and respect that she deserved. Her first husband controlled her every move. She got movie roles based on her looks rather than her talent and her invention was rejected by the US navy because of her gender. I also admired her compassion to save millions in WWII.  Hedy was a very sympathetic figure, and I wanted her to find her happiness.

    Overall, this novel is about a misunderstood woman who yearns to find her own freedom in life. Besides Hedy, I thought the other characters were very trite and clichéd. Most of the men in the novel were male chauvinists. Half of the novel was spent on Hedy’s relationship to her abusive and controlling husband that I thought sometimes dragged the plot. The writing was choppy and disrupted the flow of the novel. Despite these flaws, I thought this novel did an exemplary job in showing Hedy’s achievements. The Only Woman in the Room proves that Hedy’s tale is an inspiration for women. It encourages them not to give up on their dreams despite the obstacles.
Was this review helpful?
4.0 - watching Bombshell made me want to learn more; even though this was fictionalized, I still found it quite illuminating and added to her depth of character. This is the first Marie Benedict book that I’ve read, and now I want to go back and read her others.
Was this review helpful?
Hedy Lamarr—when you hear this name you think of the glamorous actress who commanded the silver screen. But she was much more than a pretty face or a talented actress. Raised by a father who appreciated her intelligence and encouraged her in all things, married to a man who was in bed with the Third Reich, and refugee from Austria right before her home country is taken over by Hitler, she had an incredible past that forged her future; helping her accomplish her greatest achievement of all.

The Only Woman in the Room is a wonderful story that depicts just how intelligent and inventive she was. She was a strong woman who stood up to movie executives most people feared and the U.S. military that rejected her ideas because she was a woman. The author knows her history well and mixes Hedy’s story amidst the outbreak of World War II, keeping the reader entertained and informed throughout. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical biographical fiction.
Was this review helpful?
This fictional account of the famous Heddy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) packs a hefty punch and makes you want to know more about the woman behind the movies and the science.  A stage actress in 1933 Vienna, Austria she is noticed by an Austrian arms dealer during a masterful performance.  Her parents agree that she can court him out of fear of the growing Nazi control in Austria, and in hopes that this man may be able to keep her safe.  The couple is soon married and unfortunately, once married there is little to keep her safe from her husband except escape.  After several years she does escape not only her abusive marriage but also Hitler’s growing power.  She makes her way to Hollywood where she becomes a famous actress and at the same time engages her brilliant scientific mind.  Together with composer George Antheil she develops a radio guidance system, known today as spread spectrum technology, that she hopes will aid the Allies during WWII.   Benedict’s ability to bring this historical figure to life will leave readers breathless and begging for more.  The tension as Lamarr, then Kiesler, navigates the dangers of her abusive marriage and the coming turmoil of WWII is palpable as is the relief felt when she finally makes her way to safety.  Then, there’s the outrage on her behalf as she navigates the common discrimination against women of that era.  An absolutely stunning book!
Was this review helpful?
Hedy Lamarr was a famous actress born in Austria who came to America and was a Hollywood sensation. Her famous movies were Samson and Delilah, Algiers, Lady of the Tropics (1939), Boom Town (1940), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), and White Cargo (1942). However, beneath her extremely attractive looks and actress facade, is an intelligent scientist who, along with her composer George Antheil, designed and invented a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes that used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers.  Although the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s,  the principles of their work are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of CDMA and Wi-Fi-eventually became the foundation for the modern cell phone. This work led to their induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. Unfortunately, in the 1940s, although World War Two presented a lot of employment opportunities to women in the defence industries etc., women were still not respected as they were viewed as unintelligent and that science was a field reserved only for men. No one took Hedy seriously at the time because of her profession, her gender and looks.  People thought women's place was in the home where they should concern themselves with trivial and inane activities like entertaining. Hedy escaped from Nazi controlled Austria as well as her abusive first marriage to wealthy arms dealer Friedrich Mandl, who was a very shady character from the start. He was too obsessive by sending Hedy dozens of rose varieties and expensive dates. Mandl was an Austrian military arms merchant and munitions manufacturer who was reputedly the third-richest man in Austria. She fell for his charming and fascinating personality, partly due to his immense financial wealth.  Her parents, both of Jewish descent, did not approve, due to Mandl's ties to Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, and later, German Führer Adolf Hitler, but they could not stop the headstrong Lamarr. Hedy was infamously known in her role in the steamy film Ecstasy which was highly controversial at the time, because graphic sexuality wasn't openly discussed at the time, and she was trying to reclaim her falling acting position by successfully portraying Empress Elisabeth of Austria to the Viennese audience. Mandl had close social and business ties to the Italian government, selling munitions to the country, and although like Hedy, his own father was Jewish, had ties to the Nazi regime of Germany, as well. Lamarr wrote that the dictators of both countries attended lavish parties at the Mandl home. Lamarr accompanied Mandl to business meetings, where he conferred with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. These conferences were her introduction to the field of applied science and nurtured her latent talent in science. Hedy escaped to England where she met Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, who was scouting for talent in Europe.  Then Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler became the legendary Hedy Lamarr, American film sensation. During World War Two, Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but was reportedly told by NIC member Charles F. Kettering and others that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell war bonds. She participated in a war bond-selling campaign with a sailor named Eddie Rhodes. Rhodes was in the crowd at each Lamarr appearance, and she would call him up on stage. She would briefly flirt with him before asking the audience if she should give him a kiss. The crowd would say yes, to which Hedy would reply that she would if enough people bought war bonds. After enough bonds were purchased, she would kiss Rhodes and he would head back into the audience. Then they would head off to the next war bond rally. Unfortunately, National Inventors Council didn't take Lamarr's invention seriously at the time and it was technologically difficult to implement, and at that time the U.S. Navy was not receptive to considering inventions coming from outside the military. In 1962, (at the time of the Cuban missile crisis), an updated version of their design at last appeared on Navy ships.  I liked the ending quotations: "Time buckled and then folded back onto itself, back to the night that changed everything. That night set me on the path I stood upon today, one fraught with overwhelming guilt, the pursuit of redemption, and occasionally, unexpected joy. How many masks had I worn on my path, I wondered. Had I ever lowered one of my facades fully and braved my bare skin to the world? The closest I'd come was during my work with George, work that I'd been told was unacceptably "unfeminine". Work to which I'd refused to return after the navy's rejection, even when George begged me; I simply couldn't make myself that vulnerable again. Otherwise, I'd midwifed myself through multiple rebirths, donning a fresh persona with every new iteration, only to return to my original veneer again and again. Had I, in the end, become who they already thought I was? To everyone else, I was Hedy Lamarr, only a beautiful face and lissome body. I was never Hedy Kiesler, aspiring inventor, curious thinker, and Jew. Never the self I really was underneath the many role I'd played on-screen and off-screen.  Or had I used the world's perception of me as a disguise, a sort of smoke screen to distract them while I achieved my ends? Had I taken the persona to which I'd been relegated and made myself into a weapon against the Third Reich after all, just not the instrument of destruction I'd intended? I wondered if it even mattered what-or who-they thought I was, if I'd gotten my revenge against the European suppressors by funding the Allies tonight and perhaps, along with it, the redemption I'd sought. I had always been alone under my mask, the only woman in the room." Even after Hedy fled and lived safely in America, she felt guilty that she was safe and sound and that there are millions of people who'd perished by Nazi hands. Overall, this was a good novel. From the Author's note, "Perhaps if Hedy's society had viewed her not simply as a blindingly beautiful creature, but as a human being with a sharp mind capable of significant contributions, they might have learned that her interior life was more interesting and fruitful than her exterior. Her invention might have been accepted by the navy when she offered it, and who knows what impact that might have had on the war. If only people had been willing to look behind "the only woman in the room" to examine the person she was beneath, they might have seen a woman capable of greatness, and not only on the screen."
Was this review helpful?
I received a link to this title from my friends at Sourcebooks after its publication while emailing about a developing partnership. I look forward to reading this book and sharing a review on my various platforms when I read it, although I did not commit to reading and reviewing it in advance.
Was this review helpful?
Hedy Lamarr was best known for her beauty as a Hollywood actress. Yet, after reading this book, she should have been known for her genius.  She was born in Vienna, Austria, prior to World War II and led a very privileged indulged childhood.  Her first husband was a munitions dealer with ties to the Nazis and, eventually, she escaped from her unhealthy life there.
Upon entry to the US, she became a Hollywood actress, dependent on Louie Mayer, but never quite achieving full stardom.  Yet, as the book informs the reader, her genius in creating what was termed "frequency hopping" to prevent American torpedo detection was amazing.  Because of her being female, she was never given the recognition she deserved.
Benedict did a superb job of bringing Lamarr to life.  Her depiction of the events of Lamarr's life was done in such a detailed but fascinating manner.  When the book concluded, I was immediately drawn to find out even more.
Great historical fiction!
Was this review helpful?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Was this review helpful?
I have become a fan of Marie Benedict’s books. She introduces us to women who have been forgotten by history and their fabulous, and unacknowledged, contributions to modern life.

Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Kiestler) came of age in Austria as an actress in the early days of Adolf Hitler. As the only daughter of a Jewish family she was encouraged to marry Friedrich Mandl, the ‘Merchant of Death’ (he sold weapons to the Nazis) and one of Austria’s richest men. He was charming until they married but became abusive and controlling afterwards and she decided to escape Austria and her marriage while learning all she could about his business.

She found refuge in America, became a well-known actress and decided to invent sonar detectors to avoid German submarines. Her inventions live on today in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology. Although she was granted a patent in 1942, she and her co-inventor  George Antheil received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award until 1997 and were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and NetGalley for sending me the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
The Only Woman in the Room tells the story of Hedy Kiesler and her journey from Austria to the United States where she becomes film star Hedy Lamarr.  

Hedy's story is a complicated one as a Jewish woman in Austria who faces uncertain fate as the Nazis come ever closer to her country.  She marries an arms dealer to help insure her safety as well as that of her parents.  That marriage may provide safety or it may not be the safe haven she hoped for.  Without giving out too many details or spoilers, Hedy will eventually travel to America and re-invent herself as Hedy Lamarr.  

This book provided me with many insights into the career of Hedy Lamarr and her contributions to the war effort.  It also gave glimpses into the Hollywood scene at that time, as well as details of Austria during World War II.  

I did not find myself really drawn into the storyline and felt that it jumped forward at points, although trying to tell the story of someone's life does call for that at times.  Fans of historical fiction should still be satisfied with this portrayal of Hedy Lamarr.  

I received this book courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I was really excited to read this, having just recently learned about Hedy Lamarr's scientific contributions. The book is broken into two sections, the first detailing her marriage to an Austrian arms dealer on the eve of WWII, Fritz Mandel. She is still Hedy Keisler, Mandl sweeps her off her feet, and with the blessing (and cautions) of her father, marries him after only a few months. It doesn't take long to realize this won't end well for Austria, when dinner party after dinner party take place with an increasing political edge. Hedy eventually escapes to London, and the second part of the book, which find her in Hollywood, under contract with Louis B. Mayer. She eventually teams up with composer George Antheil and they do patent their wave type technology, but it goes no where with the war effort, which Is what she was hoping all along. The book just wasn't fleshed out enough, it felt really short, more like a list of accomplishments.
Was this review helpful?
An amazing book about an amazing woman and her accomplishments. I loved reading this and will definitely read it again.
Was this review helpful?
There are a lot of interesting women in history. Often we do not even know the role they played in important situations as their parts were obfuscated and men were put in as key player. Marie Benedict has made it her goal to put these women in front and she is doing that very well.
If you love old movies you have probably seen Hedy Lamarr at some point (and with old movies I mean those of the 1940's and early 1950's). What I was not aware of was that she also came up with the base for an invention we still use today.
We enter her life when she is about to meet Fritz Mandl in 1933 in Vienna. Though this part has interesting storylines it felt the story was focussing on how Hedy was one day going to move away from Fritz and how she would be able to do it with as much information as possible that could hurt him. The few things that showed her actual intelligence was the mention that she was able to keep up with the technical discussions at the table and was reading technical books in her free time (or time she spend imprisoned at the house). I made a note at page 190 that I missed the science part as it was specifically mentioned in the book summary.
When she arrives in Hollywood we get to read about the movies from that period and a lot of guys she was dating. Eventually we get introduced to George Antheil and the development of her invention is beginning. There is only a small chapter, when the 'Eureka' moment happens that we get a bit more on how the invention is supposed to work and how she came to that.
What we do see is a headstrong woman, a smart woman and a woman who has been fighting to be recognized. I did enjoy that part of the story a lot.
Was this review helpful?
I was not as enthralled by the book as I expected - and in fact at first I didn't realize it was based on a real story, so at some point I got sucked in the Wikipedia articles and wasn't nearly as interested in the book anymore. While it started great, I wasn't too keen on how long it spent on Hedy's abusive marriage... I kept waiting for things to actually happen. Unfortunately not a book for me, but I learned a lot from it and from my research on her life.
Was this review helpful?
Let’s get the niggles out of the way so I can go on to discuss what I loved about this book. The biggest problem I had here was that the novel felt a bit slow in the beginning. While I understand that Benedict wanted to give a side of Hedy that others authors might overlook (which is a good thing), I think she could have cut just a bit of that down. That said, the short period that Hedy was in London seemed to be totally neglected, and my thoughts were that she skipped ahead just a bit too quickly there. Finally, I would have liked just a touch more lead-in to Hedy’s interests in science, since it felt just a touch too sudden. I think she could have heightened Hedy’s interest and talent for science in her youth. This might sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t. See, the whole science and invention part was what I wanted to know the most about, so even though the whole bad marriage and escape from Vienna was good (if not excellent), maybe I was just had slightly different expectations.

This isn’t to say that the book isn’t consistently good, because it really is fascinating from beginning to end. Here’s a woman whose beauty and acting talent were what helped her rise above all the other “wannabes” but who also had so much more inside her than what we saw on screen. This dilemma, Hedy’s inner struggle, being forced into play acting for the public, while underneath she’s so much more – even painfully so, is something on which Benedict really focuses. Undeniably, this is what makes this novel not just a biographical piece of fiction, but also a strong statement about the price to both society and women in general, when they are subjected to recurring and constant misogyny. Everything else almost takes a back seat to this theme, and if you ask me, rightly so. The tragedy of Hedy Lamarr was not her fall from Hollywood’s limelight, her bad marriages, or even her feelings of helplessness in the face of the oncoming world war. No, her real tragedy was that her genius went unrecognized for such a long time, simply because she was a woman.

Usually, this is the part in my review where I talk about the writing style and other aspects of the novel such as character development. As for the latter, there is no question in my mind that Benedict put her heart and soul into successfully molding her fictional version of Lamarr into a living, breathing, believable woman, that perfectly matches (and yet also enormously challenges) the picture we have of Hedy in our minds from her photos and movies. It would therefore only follow that her writing style lent perfect credence to both Hedy and the action included in this story. I already appreciated Benedict’s even-handed use of language from her previous novel “Carnegie’s Maid,” so I was not surprised to find a similar touch with this novel. Mind you, Benedict seemed to add more emotion behind her prose in this novel, possibly because the theme here of the systematic marginalization of women was even closer to her heart than the previous book’s theme of class disparity and the socio-economic gaps between them. So, despite what might have felt like a slightly slow beginning, Benedict’s narrative soon builds dramatically to where we can’t stop reading until the end. Add to this that Benedict brought me to tears at one scene, not because it depicted any amazing success or heartbreaking failure, but because the event epitomized Hedy’s helplessness to gain recognition for who she really was and not what she portrayed to the public, and I was hooked.

The question then is, did what Benedict so effectively achieve here outweigh my above noted niggles enough to earn from me a coveted full five stars? To be absolutely truthful, the more I think about this book – and the fact that I can’t stop thinking about it, even though I’m already well involved in another book already – the more I believe that this novel is almost perfect. If I rated on a 10-star scale, I’d probably want to give it nine and a half stars. Since I don’t have a ¾ star available, I think that I’ll just have to round it up and give her full marks, because I will be warmly recommending this book to as many people as I can.
Was this review helpful?