Do you find yourself looking at your cellphone multiple times a day? Enjoy access to Wi-Fi, GPS, or Bluetooth? Would it surprise you to know that these inventions that we take for granted everyday were made possible by a woman?
This woman didn’t get the recognition that she deserved until the 1990s for something she created during WWII. A woman that the majority of the US wrote off as nothing more than a pretty face. She is the Hollywood actress, Hedy Lamarr. But Hedy was more than just a pretty face, she also had a deep interest in science and a personal history that made her determined to find a way to to defeat Germany in WWII.
The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict, who’s also written Carnegie’s Maid, tends to write historical fiction about lesser known women or women who historically were standing in their husband’s shadows. However, in the case of Hedy Lamarr, you cannot exactly say she’s lesser known or standing in her husband’s shadow. In Hedy’s case it’s simply being overlooked as just a pretty face. Hollywood and history saw her as an actress and a pretty face because, gasp, at the time many believed that a woman couldn’t be both beautiful and smart.
The novel focuses on the years 1933 to 1942. It may only be a brief period of time but Hedy had a heck of life in those nine years. It shows what life in prewar Vienna was like for a Jewish woman hiding in plain sight. We see how Hedy went from the darling of the Vienna stage to the wife of an arms dealer to Hollywood’s it girl.
I do have to say the first few chapters aren’t the most exciting to read, but they do have you turning the page wanting to know what happens next. The book picks up the pace once she marries Friedrich Mandl and Hedy comes into her own. Though trapped in a dangerous marriage she used both her beauty and brains to escape. And once Hedy did escape, she knew she had to speak out, had to do more if possible.
“I had stared the leaders of our enemies in the eyes and turned my ear to their voices, and I knew the terror they meant to wreak upon our world.” (The Only Woman in the Room)
Benedict was able to take this amazing woman off the screen and out of Hollywood legend, highlighting her brains instead of her beauty. I love that Benedict shows readers that these aren’t mutually exclusive qualities. The book made me want to find out more about Hedy so I’ve also picked up a few of the biographies the library has in the system, such as Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes, and Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film by Ruth Barton.
– Reviewed by Carissa, Main Library