The Only Woman in the Room

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

For those of you who aren’t old movie buffs…why not?! Old black and white movies with all their stylized glamour are one of the best escapes out there. But I digress. If you’re not aware of Hollywood in the 1930s then you won’t recognize the subject of Marie Benedict’s new novel The Only Woman in the Room. It’s Hedy Lamarr, who at the peak of her career, was known as one of the most beautiful women in the world. What was not known was her life story and what a brilliant mind lay beneath her gorgeous façade. As in her previous book The Other Einstein, Benedict takes a woman about whom little is known (even though Lamarr was a star) and brings to life a fuller picture of this multi-faceted woman.

Lamarr was an Austrian Jew who had success acting on the stage in Vienna. At 19 she came to the attention of Friedrich Mendl, an older, powerful arms dealer. It’s the early-1930s—a time when anti-Semitism was on the rise in Austria and Hitler was seeking to reunify Germany and Austria. Fritz offers much to the young Hedy, namely the money and power to protect her and her parents from the increasing persecution of Jews. They marry, but Lamarr soon realizes her new husband is jealous and controlling and a Nazi sympathizer. She escapes to America and when she’s not busy being a successful film star she and a composer friend create a guidance system that keeps the signals directing Allied torpedoes from being jammed by the Germans. Not surprisingly, none of the men in power at the time believed that something coming from a movie star (and a woman at that) would work so it was not approved and put into use until the 1960s.

Lamarr has a life as packed with intrigue and action as any movie and Benedict does an admirable job covering it without writing a 600-page book.  We learn that it is Lamarr’s father who imbued in her a love of science, music, any subject her inquiring young mind turned towards. We see the jumps and skips that same mind made to come up with her invention. Benedict recreates time and place beautifully but, while the facts are all in place, there is a feeling of remove from Lamarr as a person. Her guilt at having escaped what so many of her fellow Jews suffered is clear but the rest of her life still feels somewhat hidden. My sense is that her involvement in the war effort and her invention are the why Benedict wrote The Only Woman in the Room and I understand that. I was just ready for even more about this fascinating woman.
Was this review helpful?
Marie Benedict’s third novel details the life of Hedy Lamarr, famous actress and lesser-known inventor.  In this extensively comprehensive account of her life in and out of the spotlight, Lamarr is finally given the intellectual attention she so deserved during her lifetime. 

I really enjoyed reading this historical novel and learning about the many facades of Hedy Lamarr. She was an incredible woman who serves as an inspiration to all women who have ever been undermined or mistreated by men.  And her determination to help in the war efforts is a testament to her character.
Was this review helpful?
I've just read "The Only Woman in the Room" by Marie Benedict.  I've heard a lot about this book and loved the idea of learning more about Hedy Lamarr.  After finishing, my thoughts are that I liked this book… but I didn’t *love* it.

I really wanted to.  The subject is fascinating, and the many different lives Lamarr lived throughout her time were amazing!  I really enjoyed the first part of the novel, where Hedy met and married Fritz, the transitions through their married life, and her escape.  And the descriptions of old Hollywood were fun.

Once World War II began in earnest and Hedy’s focus shifted, I found the novel less compelling.  Hedy was obviously very intelligent, and there were references to her studying and to her conversations with her father on many subjects.  But it was a bit of a stretch that those scenarios were enough to provide a base for the fact that she nearly single-handedly came up with such brilliant new technology.  Also, it was clear that Hedy had some guilt, but the constant self-berating for not stepping up to contribute to the Nazis’ defeat… well, that part was a little overdone in my opinion.  It seemed to demand too much of the book’s focus to the exclusion of other things (like the adoption of her son and subsequent custody battle, her marriages, even how her mother finally managed to get visas into other countries).

The idea that Hedy (alongside her friend George) came up with this military technology is awesome, but I’m sure that the implication of the military rejecting the invention largely on the basis that it was developed by a woman is far from the whole story.  And honestly, I could have done with less in-depth detail on the technical aspects of her designs.  I’m sure some people found the explanations fascinating, but I felt like they distracted me from the flow of the story, and I ended up skimming over them.

I could have overlooked a lot of this, but then the book ended so abruptly.  It left me wanting more, and not in a good way.  I guess I was just looking for something different in this title. Still, I’m giving it three solid stars for the depiction of a legend.

The author is well respected and it’s obvious she put in a lot of research for this book…. I see from other reviews that not everyone had the same issues with it that I did, so if you’re a historical fiction fan, or interested in Hedy Lamarr, it’s definitely worth picking up to explore for yourself!
Was this review helpful?
The Only Woman in the Room is a remarkable, well-researched (yet fictionalized) account of Hedy Lamarr's life by author Marie Benedict.

Although a stunningly, beautiful actress, Hedy wanted to be seen for something other than her beauty – fortunate for us – she possessed the intellectual goods to back it up.  After giving up her budding acting career to marry Friedrich Mandl (an influential arms dealer) at 19 and then experiencing a tumultuous marriage, Hedy escapes her husband’s rule to immigrate to America.  

Upon her arrival to America, Hedy worked diligently to re-make a name for herself as an actress, but she couldn’t help but to feel guilty about those left behind in Austria.  After hearing about the many injustices and atrocities in Austria at Hitler’s hand, Hedy decided to use some of the information that she’d gained while married to Friedrich Mandl to invent military arms for America to use against Germany.  Her genius was not fully recognized by the armed forces however, her invention was patented and contributes greatly to today’s technology.  

As a huge fan of historical fiction, I absolutely loved this book.  The author did a great job with the pace of the story as well as the plot development.  It was one I didn’t want to put down and read in 24 hours.  I highly recommend this book.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley for my honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Synopsis from the Publisher/
She possessed a stunning beauty. She also possessed a stunning mind. Could the world handle both?

Her beauty almost certainly saved her from the rising Nazi party and led to marriage with an Austrian arms dealer. Underestimated in everything else, she overheard the Third Reich's plans while at her husband's side, understanding more than anyone would guess. She devised a plan to flee in disguise from their castle, and the whirlwind escape landed her in Hollywood. She became Hedy Lamarr, screen star.

But she kept a secret more shocking than her heritage or her marriage: she was a scientist. And she knew a few secrets about the enemy. She had an idea that might help the country fight the Nazis...if anyone would listen to her.

A powerful novel based on the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist whose groundbreaking invention revolutionized modern communication, The Only Woman in the Room is a masterpiece.
Was this review helpful?
This well researched, fictionalized account of Hedy Lamarr's calculated marriage to an Austrian arms dealer, her daring escape from Austria just before Hitler invaded and her parallel lives as a one of Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies and an inventor who spent her evenings inventing a wireless steering mechanism for torpedos. Her life as an actress and a scientist is told in this captivating historical novel. Highly recommended
Was this review helpful?
This is more of a 3.5, personally, but not enough to push it to a 4.

Mostly, I liked it. I think I just wanted... more. More what, I don't know. But I enjoyed it while it lasted, which is really all you can ask for in a book.

I have come away with wanting to know much more about Hedy Lamarr in general, though, so that's something.
Was this review helpful?
This book is about the fascinating life of Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, at first, before she made it to Hollywood. The first half of the book details her romance with arms dealer Friedrich Mandl who had ties/dealings with the likes of Hitler and Mussolini. It was steeped in the politics of that time and their effect on Austria. It also illustrated Mandl's control over Lamarr which was so frustratingly painful. The second half of the book describes Lamarr's entrance into acting in Hollywood and then her invention of a varied-frequency device to help the military guide torpedoes agains enemy warfare while defeating jammed signals which would cause the torpedoes to fail. I admit, I enjoyed the second half of the book much more than the first. I didn't want this to end! 
I rated it 3 out of 5 stars because I wasn't convinced that Lamarr escaped from Mandl completely and without and recourse, given his apparent power and control. Secondly, she tended to balk at people seeing her only as a woman but she seized upon that to advance her cause (raising money for the war effort when her invention was not accepted by the military). The contradiction or oxymoron of this was a bit much for me but it might have been the way of the world at that time (and may still be in today's world, hopefully to a lesser degree).

Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Marie Benedict is enchanting. There are no other ways orowordsofor describing all her books and her writing-style, delicate, penetrating and psychologically engaging.  You are cuddled by her words and the fascinating atmosphere she creates every time. 

Her previous books, Carnegie's Maid and The Other Einstein revealed us the characters of two stunning women like she does also in this latest novel, The Only Woman in the Room. In this one, there is a stunning reconstruction of the suffering years that preceeded the beginning of the horror that was the Last Second World War Conflict and not only. The book is divided in two parts as the life of the protagonist has been.

I didn't know anything of Hedy Lamarr before reading this book, a character who can't be forgotten with simplicity.

It happened not just to Lamarr, Austrian, to ending in the hands of someone in the other part of the barricade before that the Second World War would started: victims and torturers.

Jewish, and proud to be a Jewish, Hedwig Kiesler of Dobling Austria,  at 18 years made a movie, censored,  and she was the protagonist of Sissi at the theater of Wien. She starts to be courted by an influential, rich man of a certain age, Fritz, Friedrich Mandl. Mandl created and sold munitions to people of extreme right: he had direct contacts with Mussolini and the rest of the fascists and nazists borning establishment in the various European States, Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany.
Substantially he was in contact with dictators.

Fritz appears terribly romantic with this girl presenting her wagons of roses every day after the show of Sissy and going directly to speak with the parents of the girl asking for the hand of their daughter.
Worries were many and this choice was made by the parents of Hedwig "opportunistically", thinking that maybe their daughter and family and village would have escaped the horror that the dad of Hedwig was imagining in a few years.
The sensation that something horrible would have happened to them in case of a no was too big.

At the same time, the girl falls fascinated in the while by this man; she eats with him in plates that are made by real gold and in stunning places, so she is both surprised and pleased by these wonderful attentions.

She says at some point: "The success in Sissy, my burgeoning relationship with Fritz, they felt too perfect to be real. Unearned, Mama would say."

The marriage will be celebrated in a catholic church and the girl constricted also to become christian.

After the wedding as sometimes happens, the groom is not anymore the peaceful and nice man known before and Fritz is part of this gang. Oh, the honeymoon appeared to be so romantic; Italy, France, the most stunning localities that a newly wed couple can dream of, but what this girl will tell us, the book is written in first person, is that Fritz at some point will start to be "different." Yes, she covered the girl of attentions, but what he wanted was someone beauty to be displayed during their numerous lunches and events.
His mantra was that "The power of money always prevail."

We will see that Fritz gave hospitality to Mussolini, that he personally knew and many other esponents of right while, the girl started always more that these events continued to going on and hatred against Jewish more strong and dangerous, to be worried.

Situation deteriorates in particular during the vision of the movie where the girl is protagonist.

Fritz thinks that she shouldn't go out anymore closing her in his estates. Like a bird in a cage.

The girl decides to going away, but how to do that? She tries several times and then she does it.

She affords to London and then to Los Angeles, where she starts a new life with a new last name, Lamarr.

Considering what she knew and heard during conversations, meetings, lunches, dinners of her husband with the dictators of the moment, Hedy will be helpful during the second world war.

A consideration of the protagonist of this book: "My personal history and every path I could have chosen in my past had shaped my present", says.

That's why she had to acting, believing in someone for doing it.

A wonderful book this one, intense as the previous ones written by Marie Benedict. She is one of my favorite writers and so I want to read immediately her works, they are stunning and there is a great sensibility and description are paradisiacally beauty, there is a richness of interiority that this author is in grade to transmit to her readers while she becomes her characters giving them a strong voice. 

I want, just before to close this review to open a parenthesys regarding Sissi.
I read various biographies of Sissi, and in this sense I didn't know at all that she  lived secluded because of her husband.
Francis Joseph found, helped by Sissi a lover in an actress of theater, now I forgot the name of this girl, while Sissi continued to live her own life, yes, devastated by the loss of his son Rudolph and the death, never clarified of his beloved cousin Ludwig; I din't know at all that the emperor kept her secluded; considering her character it wouldn't never been possible. At the end the ladies chosen for staying close to Sissi were not anymore "picked up" for the importance that they had at court, but because healthy and with a strong constitution. Sissi loved to walk per kilometers also during the night and it requested ability, a good and energetic body. I didn't know of this role played by Francis Joseph. 

I thank NetGalley and Sourcebooks for this ebook.
Was this review helpful?
The Only Woman In The Room is a very well told and eye opening historical novel.  The narration is fantastic. I felt as though I was walking right next to Hedy throughout the entire story, seeing the world and the war as she did. Feeling the pain and guilt that she endured for not speaking up about what she overheard which prompted her to flee Austria. I would have loved for the story to continue, as it was very well written.
Was this review helpful?
Hedy Lamarr- she was beautiful, she had brains and most importantly, she had courage. Once her family convinced her to marry one of the most powerful men in Austria, she was stuck in a violent and controlling relationship. Surviving and escaping this marriage could have been her biggest accomplishment. But Hedy knew she had to help others. So while she was making a bunch of movies she tried to improve torpedo efficiency. And adopted a war refugee. And raised money for the war effort. Such an amazing woman!
Was this review helpful?
A fictionalized account of Hedy Lamaar's life.  While performing in a play in Austria, Hedy Lamaar catches the attention of a wealthy weapons dealer with strong ties to Hitler.  To keep herself and her Jewish family safe she marries despite all the scandalous stories about the weapons dealer.  Her life is turned upside down when he no longer allows her to act or to go pretty much anywhere without him.  So finds a way to escape her horrible marriage and eventually makes her way to Hollywood where she has a number of failed relationships.  Hedy feels a strong pull to do something to help those still in trouble because of the war, as she feels responsible in part because of her first husband.  She develops a radio guided torpedo system with a music composer, but because she is a woman no one takes her invention seriously.
Was this review helpful?
3.5 stars Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for allowing me to read and review this ARC. Published Jan 8, 2019

I put off reading this book because I could not bring myself to read another WWII Nazi book. I kept waiting to be 'in the mood' to read this one. Finally, three days after publication, I started the book.

Even with my reluctance to read this book, I thought it started off at a pretty good pace. I knew that I liked the author and her style of writing, so I gave myself over to the story. It did not take me long to get absorbed into the characters and flow of the story. After the first half dozen chapters I realized that I was enjoying it and settled right into the cadence.

Having not reread the synopsis of the book since choosing it, which is my preference, I had forgotten the detail it gave. So blindly plunging into this story I was met with some nice surprises.

Being introduced to Hedy Kiesler, a young woman married off to a much older man, Freidrich Mandl, an arms dealer, for the safety and surety of both herself and her Jewish parents, as Hitler knocked on the door of Austria. Having made the decision to be an actress, this marriage was a life altering event for Hedy, for she now became hostess to the most powerful man in Austria. Expected to be only that 'hostess', to the most important men in Europe, Hedy overheard some of the most detailed plans of WWII and Hitlers regime, while quickly getting bored of not only her lifestyle, but of her marriage. Taking her secrets with her, Hedy devised a plan to escape her marriage and her homeland for a free future in America.

Not only was this story based on a prevalent 1950's elite actress, but the Afterword gave greater detail about her life and her contributions to our lives, over and above her acting ability. As I said, by not rereading the synopsis I was delighted by the surprises I came upon in this book, enjoyed the story, and ended up happy I read it.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed reading about a beautiful, brilliant and talented women who was able to contribute so much to helping others yet is not taken seriously because of her gender and beauty..It makes me question if such practices still exist today or have we evolved as a society to appreciate everyone for the gifts they have to offer.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoy reading Historical Fiction, especially on people/topics I'm familiar with but know very little. Always end up googling for more info, and clarification. Boy, did I burn up the internet on this one!
The author, Marie Benedict certainly did her research also. Unfortunately, Hedy Lamar, while a very public person, was also very hidden. A recluse in her later years. As the author points out, she wore many "masks", a part of her acting techniques, but also keeping her hidden, from the public and herself I believe. She was a complicated, beautiful, private and intelligent woman.
I found the book interesting, annoying at times, and informative. 
I received an ARC from NetGalley and publisher Sourcebboks, Inc. In exchange for my honest opinion.
Was this review helpful?
The Only Woman in the Room

by Marie Benedict

We meet Hedy Kiesler as a young actress in Vienna, Austria, in 1933 just as munitions manufacturer Friedrich (Fritz) Mandl begins courting her. Europe is on the cusp of war, and Hitler has started his attack on Jews. Under other circumstances, Hedy’s parents might have refused permission for the courtship, but they could see the benefit of a marriage to the rich, powerful, and well connected man.

Unfortunately, Mandl’s character changes after their marriage, and he becomes abusive and controlling. Hedy’s father had encouraged her as a child in studying many subjects, especially the sciences. Hedy teams her interest in science with her position as an ornament at dinner parties to listen in on the conversations of dangerous and powerful guests in the Mandl home. Later, after escaping from Fritz, she tries to use that knowledge to save lives as Hitler continues his military advances.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Hedy, her marriage, and the entrance of the United States into the war. The second focuses on her two careers after her escape from Fritz: one as the famous Hedy Lamarr (her new, non-German sounding, stage name) and the other as an inventor. Her talents as an actress and her incredible beauty outweigh her potential contributions to the war effort in the eyes of the men in power at that time.

In The Only Woman in the Room, Marie Benedict has created a historical novel about a very complex woman living in times that were difficult for everyone, but especially for women. It is important to remember that even though the book is well researched, Benedict is basically filling in the skeleton of a plot with details, some of which are true and others that only  might have occurred. In this book Hedy is overcome with guilt over hearing Hitler’s plans but not doing anything about them. She doesn’t believe in God, but she is dogged by a fear that she has not done enough to make up for her silence and inaction. Of course, as she finds out later, as a woman there was little she could contribute that would be valued. During the last part of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder whose scales she was concerned about—her own sense of morality, public opinion, or judgement by a higher being. That was never clarified and yet it appeared to be a driving force for her.

I liked this book but not as much as Benedict’s two prior books, The Other Einstein and Carnegie’s Maid. All three novels address the hidden contributions of women. All three ladies are women of talent and intellect operating under difficult circumstances. All deserve respect, but I think I can empathize more with Mileva, Einstein’s first wife, and with Clara, a lady’s maid in Andrew Carnegie’s household. Hedy was born into privilege and by virtue of her beauty moved in important social circles. Although perhaps it shouldn’t, that background erects a barrier for me.

The Only Woman in the Room is a well-written and well-researched historical novel. Benedict specializes in drawing out the stories of women whose intellectual abilities have been overlooked. It will be interesting to see whose story she will discover and share in her next historical novel.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 8, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

I’d become like one of the Rembrandts on the wall or the antique Meissen porcelain on the sideboard. Simply another priceless, inanimate decoration for Fritz to display, a symbol of his wealth and prowess.

It seemed that my best chance of undermining the Third Reich—and ensuring that a German submarine or ship never again harmed a ship full of refugee children—might be to somehow use the knowledge I’d gathered to capitalize on the weakness in the German torpedo systems.

“I must admit it would be hard for us to sell our soldiers and sailors on a weapons system created by a woman. And we’re not going to try.”
Was this review helpful?
If they gave 1/2 stars, this book would be 3 and 1/2 stars! This was a fascinating story that left me wanting more! “The Only Women in the Room” is the story of Hedy Lemarr and her daring escape from Nazi German, her rise to Hollywood stardom and her laser focus on contributing to the Allies’ war success. And while it is both beautifully written and researched I found myself left with wanting more of the story. Interestingly it seems that the intriguing story of Hedy Lemarr does, in fact, continue beyond the events of the book.  I believe including more of her story in the novel would have been a good thing! Hedy Lemarr was a well-known beauty of the 1940s who was so much more then Hollywood wanted us to know. And while the story “The Only Woman in the Room” covers is fascinating I can only think the book could have been much more if it dove a little deeper and continued exploring this amazing character. There is no doubt though that this book will hold your interest and quite possibly lead you to research more about this woman full of contradictions. And, this is exactly what I hope for in historical fiction and why the book is well worth the read! I was honored to receive a free advance copy of the book from NetGalley and the Publisher, Source Books Landmark in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
The Only Woman in the Room is Marie Benedict’s third novel featuring a powerful woman overlooked by history — in this case, a female actress popular in the 1930s and 1940s named Hedwig Kiesler, who you might know by her stage name Hedy Lamarr.  All I knew about her was that she was an actress but I had never seen any of her movies.  There is so much more to learn about this extraordinary woman that I am sure The Only Woman in the Room will be a fascinating and engrossing read for many.  Furthermore, the story is very topical and relevant for current times because it deals head-on with misogyny.  

Hedy Lamarr was a beautiful and accomplished actress who also happened to be extremely smart, strong, clever, and determined. I felt like I got to know her through these pages and found her very likable while rooting for her all along her journey. Ms. Benedict does an outstanding job bringing Hedy Lamarr to life via words on the page.  It is well-written and it is clear that a vast amount of research went into this story,  making it a compelling read.  At its core, this is a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance with a lot of historical significance along the way.

Ms. Lamarr was Austrian and Jewish though she was not religious (not that the Nazis ever cared about such a distinction). In order to keep herself and her family safe, she married Fritz Mandl, the richest man in Austria who sold weapons to anyone and everyone, earning him the nickname the “Merchant of Death.” He forced her to make many sacrifices, including her acting career and her heritage. After they were married, Heddy learned quickly that he was an extremely controlling man.  He dictated her clothing choices and told her which shade of lipstick to wear.  But these were small things — ultimately, he became much worse.  She was confined behind seven locks on the door and was unable to go anywhere without his permission. The numerous servants made sure she obeyed his wishes.

“There were only rules and locks and fury.  By imprisoning me, it seemed, he hoped to cage the rampant virus that was Hitler.  I became the unspoken emblem of the evil within and without whenever he needed a place to vent his anger.”

During her time married to this monster, she listened and learned everything she could about his business as well as his dealings with Mussolini and Hitler. She had a scientific bent and her curiosity prompted her to invent things, which came in handy later as she invented signal frequency hopping technology, earning her a patent, which would have vastly improved the accuracy of torpedoes during WWII. However, her invention was discounted simply because she was a WOMAN!  The war would’ve ended sooner and lives would have been saved if gender didn’t get in the way of evaluating this new technolology.  They told her she would be more effective if instead of trying to invent things, she sold War Bonds.  While she was confident she was much more than a pretty face, she conceded and in the course of one night, she sold $2,250,000 in war bonds! 

Thank you to Sourcebooks Landmark and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Historical fiction is hard to read in one sitting---you are reading about someone or some place real and you want to absorb it all.  But this book, although filled with great information, was a story that I couldn't stop reading.  I loved this from page one --- the images of the roses and the theater, the feeling of lust and admiration coupled with fear.  Hedy from the very beginning was a woman of her own ideas and thoughts but knew her duty.  I cried and laughed and cheered.  Absolutely loved this novel and cant wait to read this author's other books
Was this review helpful?
A little bit disappointing - I very much enjoyed The Other Einstein, but found this tale of Hedy Lamarr a little cold and staid. It really read just like a series of facts, rather than truths woven into a compelling narrative. I can see it working well as a longer, richer novel.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed this book tremendously.  It was very interesting to know about the early life of Hedy Lamarr before she became famous.  The fact that she was able to get away from Austria and her first husband was pretty amazing. She went on to become a movie star in Hollywood but she never forgot the country and the people she left behind. She had a very high intellect and wanted desperately to help with the war effort.
She and a friend of hers invented and patented a device that would direct torpedoes by using radio waves. The Navy, however, refused to switch over to this.  After this Hedy still continued to help with the war effort in other ways.

I received this sec in exchange for my honest review.  Thank you..
Was this review helpful?