The ONly Woman in the Romm
by Marie Benedict


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site!
Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.


1. Hedy was only nineteen when she met and soon married the Merchant of Death, Friedrich “Fritz” Mandl, but was already an experienced woman in both theater and romance. How did her upbringing contribute to her being a more mature woman at such an early age?

2. Hedy’s quote: “I am not ashamed to say that no man I ever met was my father's equal, and I never loved any other man as much.” How did this love help or hinder her future? How did her mother’s?

3. Discuss how Hedy and Fritz avoided punishment under the Nuremberg Race Laws that consisted of the “Reich Citizenship Law” and the “Protection of German Blood and German Honour” Law. The first stating only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens and thereby the sole bearer of full political rights in accordance with the law. While the second forbade marriages and extramarital intercourse between Jews and Germans and the employment of German females under 45 in Jewish households that if violated sent the individual(s) to prison with hard labor, plus other penalties.

4. Only Hitler maintained the right to determine whether or not someone was granted the title “Honorary Aryan.” And since Fritz, not Hedy, was granted that status on the night of Hitler’s visit to their home, how do you think Hedy would have fared had she been unable to escape? Do you think Fritz would have protected her or Hitler would have given her an Honorary Aryan status?

5. The name “Lamarr” reminded Hedy of Le Mer, meaning The Sea, which became her escape route. It’s also borrowed from Barbara La Marr, a German silent film actress and writer in the early 1920s, at the suggestion of Louis B. Mayer’s wife Margaret, but what do you know of this woman since their paths never crossed? She was reported to have been married five times even though the last marriage is questionable before her death by heroin overdose at age 29. Hedy was married six times over her 85 years. Both were extraordinarily talented and gorgeous woman with Barbara La Marr dubbed as the “Girl Who Is Too Beautiful.”

6. In what ways did the sinking of the evacuation ship, the SS City of Benares with 90 children onboard, enflame Hedy’s guilt over leaving Austria, its people, and her mother behind? What avenues did she explore in order to address it?

7. Where you surprised to learn the military classified her Patent 2,292,387 as top secret, but later in the 1950s gave it to a contractor for the construction of a sonobuoy that could detect submarines in the water and transmit that information to an airplane?

8. Where you surprised to learn her advancements were relatively unknown until the 1990s, when she received a few awards for her invention and given proper recognition?

9. Where you later surprised to learn that through her radio frequency work she also thereby contributed to today’s blue-tooth technology?

Publisher’s Reading Group Guide

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 change from the beginning of the novel to the end, if at all?

8. How might Hedy have symbolic importance in our time? Do you think it is important to uncover the voices and stories of historical women, and if so, why?

Questions compiled by:
Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
Sept. 2019