The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
Hedwig Kiesler is finally having her moment. On opening night on stage in Vienna she is playing the role of Empress Elizabeth and receiving a standing ovation when her life changes, but not as she had thought it would change. She thought this was the first step in an acclaimed acting career but as the dozens and dozens of roses are carried up the aisles and laid at her feet her new role begins to form. She is being courted by Franz Mandl, an Austrian arms dealer known as the Merchant of Death. She thinks of rebuffing his advances but her father encourages her to marry him, Mr. Mandl will be able to protect her and her family since they are all Jewish and they are hearing rumors of Anti-Semitism from their neighboring Germany. What follows is the role of Hedwig’s life and the story of how she becomes Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood icon and aspiring scientist.
I had heard that Hedy Lamarr was an inventor but I had no idea how brilliant she was or the abuse she experienced during her early years in Vienna at the hands of her controlling husband. This is a woman who can inhabit a role fully and reinvent herself, sometimes to save her life. This is a slim fictional biography that will have you turning the pages to find out what happens next; detailing her flight from Austria and the guilt she feels that inspires her invention. Readers will be dismayed when her invention is shelved (and why it is overlooked) yet heartened reading the afterward to find out how Ms. Lamarr’s ideas have been given new life and transformed our everyday existence.