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Posted September 2, 2009
Florence, We Hardly Knew Ya...
A friend of mine and I were in L.A. on vacation and decided to take one of the cheesy Hollywood movie star tours just for kicks. It was cheesy, but also insightful on rare occasions. It was here that we first learned of the forgotten Florence Lawrence, the "first movie star."Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
After returning from that trip, I decided to seek out information about Florence Lawrence, as I was curious to read her history...and also loved the rhyming of her name. Lo and behold, I discovered William J. Mann's THE BIOGRAPH GIRL. The book arrived in the mail, and what a book it was: 450 pages long. That's got to be some detailed biography, I thought. As I began reading it, though, I suddenly realized that it wasn't a biography of the Biograph Girl at all, but a "what if?" scenario. What if Florence Lawrence didn't die when she was young and lived to the ripe old age of 107 and was living in a retirement home, hiding her identity all these years? Huh. I kept reading, figuring the author had done his homework on Lawrence, so it would at least be historically accurate.
The more I read, though, the less I learned about Lawrence. Mann focused the book on the story -- and not a great one at that -- of two brothers, one a gay writer and one a straight wannabe film-maker, and was using people's interest in Florence Lawrence to lure in readers to his mediocre story. I'm guessing his first draft of the story about two brothers didn't go over well with his editor and publisher, so he incorporated this made-up story of Florence Lawrence just to appease them. How very sad. It reminded me of two books that I absolutely hated: "A Boy I Once Knew: What a Teacher Learned from her Student" and "My Little Blue Dress." The first ended up being about the author and not about the boy whose diaries she was given. The latter was written from the perspective of this old woman who...well...it's hard to explain because the book didn't make a bit of sense. Needless to say, I didn't enjoy either one.
Furthermore, although the chapters alternated between the past and present, the first person viewpoint within each chapter kept changing, which made it very difficult to read. The basic skills of writing were practically ignored.
William J. Mann is not a bad writer. He can certainly write. And he can certainly write a lot of words, but he seems to have trouble focusing on one story. There was Florence as a girl, Florence as a young woman, Florence as an old woman, the brothers as young boys, the brothers as men, the brothers with their respective partners and careers, etc. At 150 pages into the single-spaced 450-page book, I wasn't sure what the real main story was supposed to be and wasn't interested in any of the characters, young or old, so I gave up. Life is too short to read bad literature (unless you're the made-up 107-year-old Florence Lawrence!).
Here's hoping someone else one day provives a better, realistic biography for the "The First Movie Star."
Posted April 24, 2002
good at parts, surprising ending
this is a semi-interesting book. it never captured my full attention though. chapters labelled, 'the present' are dull half of the time, but the past is done very well. the ending was very unexpected and made up for all of the its flawsWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.