The Girls in the Picture

The Girls in the Picture

by Melanie Benjamin

Overview: It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone’s lips these days is “flickers”—the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you’ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have given her the title of America’s Sweetheart. The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.

But their ambitions are challenged both by the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world’s highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.

With cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, The Girls in the Picture is, at its heart, a story of friendship and forgiveness. Melanie Benjamin perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era—its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.

Deanna Boe (06/27/18): I guess this is what you can call a “summer/beach read.” It is an easy book to read, not all that challenging. Although the era that is being discussed could be of more interest, the way it is presented is somewhat pedestrian. It is true I knew an insignificant amount about either of the women being discussed, one a silent screen star and the other a script writer, but I wasn’t left feeling all that enlightened about their lives or the era in which they reigned.

First and foremost there is the silent screen star Mary Pickford. I knew very little about her or her life, but I could remember she had been married to Douglas Fairbanks. Mary Pickford was known as America’s Sweetheart. This was because she played the untainted role of a young girl with beautiful blond curls. Pickford was especially successful as a silent screen star, but did manage to make the change to “talkies” as they came to be called. It did tell how her Mother pushed her into the entertainment business and how close they always remained. Pickford not only supported her Mother, but also her brother and sister, all of their lives. Too bad more wasn’t included about their lives since the book seemed to ramble much too much about Pickford and her dear friend, Frances Marion.

Who is Frances Marion? It is a name I had never heard before. Pickford and Marion became fast friends and it was because of Pickford that Marion found her way into the movie industry as a screen writer. Both ladies won the early Oscars that evidently Pickford helped to create. The talk of their friendship went on a little too much and their fall out takes forever to be explained. It is a friendship that is hard to define with a sad ending. The author does toss in the names of Charlie Chaplin (who evidently was a close friend of Douglas Fairbanks), Rudolph Valentino, Lillian Gish, Cecile DeMille ….probably in hopes of bringing more glamour to her book about this era of the dawning of motion pictures. In short, if you want to learn more about the silent picture era I don’t feel this is the book that will do it.
Rating: ***-

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