The Only Woman in the Room
“You’ll be kicked in the teeth.”
The phrase comes from a poem Hedy Lamarr left on an answering machine to one of her kids: “Give the world the best you have. And you’ll be kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.” It’s a summation of how the beautiful movie star must have felt about her life, when her keen mind struggled to be recognized behind her beautiful face. It also expresses the insight Benedict gives in this absorbing novel about the complex life of Austrian-born Hedy Keisler – wife of a high-level Nazi sympathizer, anxious Jewish daughter, Hollywood superstar, scientific inventor. Benedict captures a voice for Lamarr that’s distinct, desperate, intelligent.
Told against the backdrop of WWII’s mounting tension, the book shows Lamarr caught between Hollywood’s indifferent glamor and her nagging need to take action. Her scientific mind saw the opportunity to solve a persistent problem with torpedoes. She did it, only to face frustrating opposition. In a documentary Lamarr said,“The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think. People have had the idea that I’m sort of a stupid thing.” This is a compelling, surprising story. I’m grateful Benedict gives Lamarr her due.