The Only Woman in the Room
Marie Benedict likens herself to an archaeologist digging up facts about women whose life achievements have been minimalized. Such is the case with THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM.
Here, she tells the story of Hedy Lamarr, an actress born in Austria, coming into her own through the turbulent 1930s and ’40s there, then the ’40s and ’50s in America. I grew up knowing her name, but I never knew that she was Jewish. Much of the world did not, and by design. At that time (sadly, now too, in some places), Jewish was a dangerous thing to be. Even in Hollywood, far from Hitler’s reach, Jewish actors, actresses, and directors who had fled their homelands for the safety of America were secretive about their roots.
Hedy Lamarr’s heritage and the extent to which her family went to keep her safe is only half of the heart of this book. The other half is the role women were relegated to playing in those days – from the trophy wife who was expected to be silent and smile to the on-screen actress whose face and body mattered far more than her lines.
But what about her mind? Hedy Lamarr was an inventor, creating not only torpedo-related technology that would eventually be adopted by the US Navy but also technology that would become the basis of cell phone mechanics.
Did you know that? Nope. Me, neither. I only knew Hedy Lamarr as a beautiful face. Marie Benedict corrects that misperception in this book. She also makes Ms. Lamarr’s achievements personal, redemptive for someone who felt that she hadn’t done enough for the millions of Jews in Austria who died at Nazi hands.
I wasn’t wild about the reader of the Audible version. She did multiple roles well, but was overly dramatic, I thought. Also, there was a bit more internal dialogue (as in CARNEGIE’S MAID) than I thought warranted.
Still, the feminist in me gives this book a high rating.