The Girls In The Picture by Melanie Benjamin – 368 pages
ARC courtesy of Delacorte Press
Hollywood, 1914. Frances Marion, a young writer desperate for a break, meets “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford, already making a name for herself both on and off the screen with her golden curls and lively spirit. Together, these two women will take the movie business by storm. Mary Pickford becomes known as the “Queen of the Movies”—the first actor to have her name on a movie marquee, and the first to become a truly international celebrity. Mary and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, were America’s first Royal Couple, living in a home more famous that Buckingham Palace. Mary won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Talkie and was the first to put her hand and footprints in Grauman’s theater sidewalk. Her annual salary in 1919 was $625,000—at a time when women’s salaries peaked at $10 a week. Frances Marion is widely considered one of the most important female screenwriters of the 20th century, and was the first writer to win multiple Academy Awards. The close personal friendship between the two stars was closely linked to their professional collaboration and success.
My Review: 4 stars
The Girls In The Picture is yet another addition to Melanie Benjamin’s novels that explores women of all types throughout history. Until now, I thought The Aviator’s Wife was her best to date, but this one comes in as a close tie. Before reading this book, what I knew about America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford, was rudimentary at best and what I knew about her best friend and famous screenwriter, Frances Marion, was even less. Honestly, I knew little about the early days of Hollywood either. This novel offers a good introduction to the silent movies, the first talkies and the founding of the major film studios. This book was engrossing, educational, phenomenally written, and although a little on the long side, an exceptional historical fiction novel.
The heart of this book is about two strong women in the early days of Hollywood. Both Mary & Frances were fully developed and well-crafted characters. They were well ahead of their time in their thinking and attitude. I was reminded of the struggle and the sacrifice of women, then or now, have had to make in order to rise in their professions.
I think this novel works so well because it was written through multiple lenses, which all complimented each other. It’s the story of Mary & Frances as individuals who experience incredible professional growth in the founding of Hollywood; it’s the story of finding love in an oftentimes lonely world; it’s the exploration of their friendship, which although tumultuous at times, was a rock for both women filled with respect and admiration; it’s the story of the most influential architects of the movie industry.
I can’t imagine how much time Melanie devoted to researching these two women before writing this book because the details were intimate and added an air of authenticity to this bio-epic tale. By the end of this story, I felt like I’d really followed these two through decades of their lives and careers. There were parts of their lives that were left out (as acknowledged by the author) – such as Pickford’s third marriage in which she adopts two children – but I don’t think they were necessary to include. Please note: the story of the place these girls were adopted from is told in Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours. It’s another fabulous read!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it – especially if you’re a history buff. Melanie did a wonderful job of adding conversation and motivation to the historical facts, so that the story flowed seamlessly.
Quotes I liked:
Tonight, all I want to do is dream of that movie. Is that bad? That I’d rather dream of a movie than of a man? Even my own husband?”
-“No, this was the career I wanted; a writer could be employed for as long as she could hold a pencil; for as long as her mind still held out. But an actress—even an actress like Mary—had a fleeting shelf life.”