only woman in the room

THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM


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.

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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.

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  • Sourcebooks
  • Hardcover
  • January 2019
  • 272 Pages
  • 9781492666868

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$25.99

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About Marie Benedict

marie benedictOnce a New York City lawyer, Marie Benedict had long dreamed about a fantastical job unraveling the larger mysteries of the past as an archaeologist or historian — before she tried her hand at writing. While drafting her first book, she realized that she could excavate the possible truths lurking in history through fiction, and has done so in THE OTHER EINSTEIN, the story of Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife and a physicist herself, and CARNEGIE’S MAID, the story of a brilliant woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie toward philanthropy. Her latest novel is THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM. She is a graduate of Boston College and the Boston University School of Law, and lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Author Website

Praise

“Benedict paints a shining portrait of a complicated woman…Readers will be enthralled.”Publishers Weekly

“Once again, Benedict shines a literary spotlight on a historical figure whose talents and achievements have been overlooked, with sparkling results. The Only Woman in the Room is page-turning tapestry of intrigue and glamour about a woman who refuses to be taken for granted. Spell-binding and timely.”Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Masterpiece

Discussion Questions

1. As The Only Woman in the Room opens, Hedy’s father expresses concern for his daughter’s welfare—for all Jewish people, really—in the wake of Hitler’s desire to annex their home country, Austria, to the overtly anti-Semitic Germany. Hedy views this as a problem faced by the Ostjuden, the nonconforming Eastern Jewish people, but not the fully assimilated Viennese Jews like her and her family. Did her initial reaction surprise you, and if so, do you think modern-day readers would find her response disconcerting thanks to the benefit of hindsight? How do you think you might have acted in this time period?

2. As a very young woman, Hedy marries one of the richest men in Austria, the munitions manufacturer Fritz Mandl. How did you feel about her encounters with high-ranking Austrian, Italian, and even Nazi political figures as Mrs. Mandl? How did her beauty make her both noticed by these men and invisible to them? What impact do these experiences have on her later life?

3. When Hedy finally escapes from her troubling marriage to weapons manufacturer Fritz Mandl, she flees to London, where she secures an introduction to Louis B. Mayer of MGM
Studios, who is in Europe, in part, to scout European Jewish actors, writers, and directors who can no longer work due to the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. Although her circumstances
are somewhat different, Hedy gets swept up in the wave of Louis B. Mayer’s recruits, and she sails for Hollywood. Were you surprised at the large number of European refugees, many
of them Jewish, who became prominent Hollywood figures (although they were never permitted to admit their heritage)? What did you think about the process by which they assimilated
into American society?

4. Despite their conflicted relationship, Hedy struggles to bring her mother from war-torn
Austria to America and only finds success because of the connections garnered by her fame. What was your reaction to Hedy’s mother’s initial resistance to leaving? How knowledgeable were you about America’s immigration policies during World War II, and what are your views on them?

5. The book explores the inspiration behind Hedy’s invention, as well as the moment when the ideas converged to fashion the “secret communication system.” Please discuss the various events that may have served as catalysts for her invention. Has Hedy’s story caused you to wonder about the process of creation and the stories behind other innovations, particularly the roles that women may have played?

6. Would you be surprised to learn that Hedy’s groundbreaking invention became the basis, in part, for the creation of Wi-Fi technology? Please discuss the fact that her contribution to this world-changing innovation was largely lost—or ignored—for decades.

7. The title of the novel is subject to several interpretations. What meanings can you glean from the title, and how did your understanding of the meaning of The Only Woman in the Room?

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

May 17, 1933

Vienna, Austria

My lids fluttered open, but the floodlights blinded me for a moment. Placing a discreet, steadying hand on my costar’s arm, I willed a confident smile upon my lips while I waited for my vision to clear. The applause thundered, and I swayed in the cacophony of sound and light. The mask I’d firmly affixed to myself for the performance slipped away for a moment, and I was no longer nineteenth-century Bavarian Empress Elizabeth, but simply young Hedy Kiesler.

I couldn’t allow the theatergoers of the famed Theater an der Wien to see me falter in my portrayal of the city’s beloved empress. Not even in the curtain call. She had been the emblem of the once-glorious Habsburg Austria, an empire that ruled for nearly four hundred years, and the people had clung to her image in these humiliating days after the Great War.

Closing my eyes for a split second, I reached deep within myself, putting aside Hedy Kiesler with all her small worries and comparatively petty aspirations. I summoned my power and assumed the mantle of the empress once again, her necessary steeliness and her heavy responsibilities.
Then I opened my eyes and stared out at my subjects.

The audience materialized before me. I realized that they weren’t clapping from the comfort of their plush, red-velvet theater seats. They had leaped to their feet in a standing ovation, an honor my fellow Viennese doled out sparingly. As the empress, this was my due, but as Hedy, I wondered whether this applause could truly be for me and not one of the other actors of Sissy. The actor who played Emperor Franz Josef to my Empress Elizabeth, Hans Jaray, was, after all, a legendary Theater an der Wien fixture. I waited for my costars to take their bows. While they awarded solid applause for the other actors, the theatergoers became wild when I took center stage for my bow. This was indeed my moment.

How I wished Papa could have watched my performance tonight. If Mama hadn’t feigned illness in an obvious ploy to take attention away from my important evening, Papa could have seen my Theater an der Wien debut. I know he would have reveled in this reaction, and if he had witnessed this adulation firsthand, it might have washed away the stain of my risqué performance in the film Ecstasy. A portrayal I desperately wished I could forget.

The sound of clapping started to grow fainter, and a chord of disquiet descended upon the audience as a procession of theater ushers paraded down the center aisle, arms laden with flowers. This grandiose gesture, with its inappropriate, very public timing, unsettled the otherwise
reserved Viennese. I could almost hear them wonder who would have dared disrupt opening night at the Theater an der Wien with this audacious display. Only the overzealousness of a parent could have excused it, but I knew my cautious parents would have never dared the gesture. Was it one of my fellow actors’ families who’d made this misstep?

As the ushers proceeded closer to the stage, I saw that their arms brimmed not with ordinary flowers but with exquisite hothouse roses. Perhaps a dozen bouquets. How much would this abundance of rare red blooms cost? I wondered who could afford the decadence at a time like this.

The ushers mounted the stairs, and I understood that they’d been instructed to deliver these bouquets to their intended recipient in full view of the audience. Uncertain how to manage this breach of decorum, I glanced at the other actors, who looked equally perplexed. The stage manager gesticulated to the ushers to halt this display, but they must have been well paid, because they ignored him and lined up in front of me.

One by one, they handed me the bouquets until my arms could no longer hold them all, at which time the ushers laid them at my feet. Up and down my spine, I felt the disapproving glances of my castmates. My stage career could rise or fall upon the whims of these venerable actors; they could dislodge me from this pinnacle with a few well-placed words and replace me with any one of the number of young actresses clamoring for this role. I felt compelled to refuse the bouquets, until a thought struck me.

The giver could be anyone. He could be a prominent member of one of the feuding government parties—either a conservative Christian Social Party member or a socialist Social Democrat. Or worse, my benefactor could sympathize with the National Socialist Party and long for the unification of Austria with Germany and its newly named chancellor, Adolf Hitler. The pendulum of power seemed to sway with each passing day, and no one could afford to take chances. Least of all me.

The audience had stopped clapping. In the uncomfortable silence, they settled back into their seats. All except one man. There, in the center of the third row, the most prized seat in the theater, stood a barrel-chested and square-jawed gentleman. Alone among all the patrons of the Theater an der Wien, he remained standing.

Staring at me.