The Only Woman in the Room

Hedy Lamarr is famous as the glamorous Hollywood movie star of the 1940s. But few know of the Hedy behind the scenes: her life as an acclaimed actress on the Viennese stage, then wife of a notorious Nazi-connected arms manufacturer and, after her Hollywood fame, a scientist. As she did in her earlier historical novel, Einstein's Wife, in The Only Woman in the Room, Marie Benedict reveals a woman whose depth was lost to history.

Following her performances as the beloved Bavarian Empress Elizabeth, Hedy Kiesler dutifully returns to her family's home in a Jewish neighborhood in Vienna. That she marries Friedrich Mandl, an arms dealer known as "The Merchant of Death," seems uncharacteristic, but at 19 she's taken with his charm. She also heeds her father's prediction that as Mandl's wife she might protect all of them from Hitler's creeping power. Initially she savors the opulence of Mandl's lavish lifestyle, but as the only woman in the room, she also listens intently when her husband entertains politicians, including Hitler. When the Führer assures Mandl he'll name them "Honorary Aryans," she plots her escape to London and, soon after, to California.

Her Hollywood years bring fame, relationships and adoption of a war orphan; following the German sinking of a "mercy ship," she commits to repaying the good fortune of her escape. Combining what she overheard about weaponry at the Mandl dinners with diligent study, she joins with scientist George Antheil to invent a revolutionary radio-guided torpedo system using unjammable frequencies. But will the Navy listen to a movie star? Benedict's compelling novel illuminates a fascinating woman. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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