“Full of Old Hollywood glamour and true details about the pair’s historic careers . . . a captivating ode to a legendary bond.”—Real Simple
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY REAL SIMPLE
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 earned her the title “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 by both 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 brilliantly captures the dawn of a glittering new era—its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.
“A boffo production . . . Inspiration is a rare and unexpected gift in a book filled with the fluff of Hollywood, but Benjamin provides it with The Girls in the Picture.”—NPR
“Profoundly resonant, The Girls in the Picture is at its core, an empowering and fascinating tale of sisterhood.”—Bryce Dallas Howard
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“Mary? Hey, Mary, here’s that girl artist I was telling you about.”
Owen Moore thumped on the door, cocked his head, listening. He held up a finger. “Hold on, she’s cutting,” he informed me dismissively. “Wait here. She’ll yell when she’s ready.”
“Are you sure this is a good time?” I patted my long skirt, sneezing as reddish-brown California dust came flying out of it, and touched my head to make sure my cartwheel hat was still pinned into place. Oh, if only I could have brought my sketches! But the Santa Anas had been too fierce this morning. They would have blown my sketch folder right out of my hands, and of course I didn’t own a car, so I’d had to take the trolley, and I had no idea what number to telephone to postpone the appointment—and I wouldn’t have done so anyway, not for the world.
So I’d had to leave my sketches behind, and I felt as if I’d misplaced a baby, so used was I to having something in my hands—a sketchpad, a diary, a book, knitting. Restless hands, Mother had always scolded. Daughter, you have restless hands to match your restless mind.
“Sure, sure, it’s a good time.” Owen could barely contain his impatience; I knew he’d regretted setting up the meeting the moment he suggested it. “Mary?” Owen hollered again. “Hurry up!”
Still no sound from behind the closed door, until gradually I became aware of a whirring, clicking, mechanical noise. Owen Moore—Mary Pickford’s devilishly handsome husband—patted his smooth, rosy cheek. On his delicate white hand, a ruby ring twinkled from his pinkie. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. What a ridiculous dandy!
“My wife thinks she’s God’s gift to movies.” He rolled his eyes nearly to the heavens; a movie actor’s exaggerated body language. A bad movie actor’s, at that. “She’s merely a pretty Irish girl with an adequate little talent—hardly cerebral, if you ask me.”
“I didn’t, actually. Ask.” Shifting my feet, I tried to find a stance that showed my disapproval but didn’t offend him. I couldn’t stand Owen Moore from the moment he’d sidled up to me at the party, flashing that ruby ring, and I loathed him even more now. To talk that way about his own wife! He was just another small man afraid of an intelligent woman—the world was full of such fools. Yet my future was held in this particular fool’s overmanicured hands.
“Well, it’s the truth.”
“I think she’s a major talent.” I couldn’t hold it in any longer. “I’ve always loved her movies, even before I knew she had a name. Even when she was only The Biograph Girl, Little Goldilocks.”
“You would,” Owen said with a sneer; he had not liked it when I turned down his advances at the party, but still, he’d managed to get me the invitation I coveted. With one last exaggerated grimace of disgust, he turned. “I’m wanted on set, so you’ll excuse me.” Then he stalked off toward the “set”—whatever that was.
Left alone, I had to pinch myself; I’d never been in a movie studio before. Studio. That was quite a fancy word for what was really a collection of flimsy barns and sheds, so obviously hastily built I was surprised they were still standing in the force of today’s winds. When I’d arrived, I’d given my name to a disinterested man, makeup visible behind his ears, who served as a sort of a gatekeeper. After consulting a list, he told me to go inside the largest of the sheds to wait for Owen.
This shed was a maze of rooms partitioned so haphazardly that there seemed to be no real hallway. From one corner of the cavernous building I could hear hammers assaulting nails and saws chewing through wood; from another, violins scratching out “Hearts and Flowers.” Bare lightbulbs swung from long, fraying cords. Shouts rang out from every corner; cries to “Watch that flat!” or “Are the damn Indians shooting craps again?” or “Is Sylvia wearing that costume we need for Lita’s dream sequence?” Outside, through windows and open doors that let in enough dust to coat every surface a quarter-inch thick, I glimpsed a row of tall cubicles, each with three walls but, oddly, no ceiling save a gauzy sheer fabric draped over some ropes, like a canopy. Each was done up in a different fashion—a living room, a bedroom, a western saloon, a Victorian dining room. In front of some of these cubicles, where the fourth wall should have been, clusters of people huddled around a man diligently cranking one single camera. Next to the camera, men or women clutching megaphones bellowed directions as people with ghostly painted faces—pale, almost white skin tinged with an undercurrent of yellow, but dark, dark eyes and mouths—moved about stiffly in the odd ceilingless rooms illuminated only by the reliable California sun. Owen had headed out a door toward one of the cubicles; could that be the “set”?
“Hey, are you an outsider?” A man, barely taller than me, poked me on the shoulder.
“I—yes, I suppose I am!”
“What are you here for?” He narrowed his eyes, and I blushed as if I’d been caught trespassing. Were normal people not allowed in movie studios? Had Owen been toying with me? Was this revenge for rebuffing him?
“To see—to see Miss Pickford?” I detested the question mark in my voice, but this young man, despite his short stature, looked capable of picking me up by the scruff of my neck and tossing me outside to be swept away by the hot wind like the rest of the trash.
“Mary? She don’t like outsiders. You sure?”
I took a big breath, remembering who I was, why I’d ever thought I had a right to be here in the first place. “Y-yes. I’m quite sure.”
The boy took another step toward me, but I held my ground, although I did grip my reticule in case I needed to clobber him over the head with it. The boy’s eyes were blue and hard and not a little bit menacing—until I detected a gleam dancing behind them. The promise of mischief, perhaps? That dancing light won out; his face relaxed. Suddenly, he was no longer a menacing thug but a laughing leprechaun with a surprising dimple in his cheek.
“Well, okay, then. I guess you’ll do. Mary’s in there.” He stabbed a finger toward the closed door. Odd; this boy had acted much more protective of Miss Pickford than her own husband had. For when you got right down to it, Owen Moore had no idea who I really was, or what my intentions might be.
“I know, Mr. Moore told me.”
“Owen!” The boy grimaced. “So, Miss Outsider. You like it here?” He jerked his thumb in the general direction of the set area.
“Yes, yes, I do!” I surprised myself with this answer. But I did like it here, chaotic and strange as it was. I had suspected—hoped—that I would, but even so, hearing it out loud, in my own voice, was stunning. It was as if I’d agreed to dive headfirst into a shallow pond.
The first time I’d heard the word, it was used to describe people and not those flickering, mesmerizing images on a screen. We don’t take no movies here, landlady after landlady told me when I’d first arrived in Los Angeles two years ago.
“What’s a movie?” I’d ask, bewildered.
“You know, them people running all over the place with those cameras, makin’ those flickers. Those movies. You’re not one of them, are you?” Always a suspicious, squinty-eyed glare as I attempted to look as un-movie-like as possible, because I desperately wanted the room. Still, the back of my neck twitched and I thought, for a moment, of answering in the affirmative; how appallingly prejudiced these landladies were!
“No, I’m not a movie,” I’d confess, practicality winning out over solidarity with the downtrodden.
“Fine, fine, then you can rent the room,” and I’d be allowed to inspect such modest abodes, baldly furnished with dusty, moldy Victorian furniture and threadbare oriental rugs, that I had to marvel that the owner could afford to look down on anyone, let alone one of the mysterious movies.
I was a native San Franciscan, born and bred, and everyone warned me that I’d take one look at Los Angeles, turn right around, and catch the next train home. “It’s a wild and wooly town full of heathens!” “There’s not a single museum there!” “I heard they drive cattle down the streets, and you can kill yourself on the cacti!”
Mother, especially, pleaded for me to stay put.
“Why you would want to go to such an untamed place is beyond me,” she had said with a sniff. “There’s plenty for you to sketch here, Frances, if you’re still bent on becoming an artist.”
I refrained from reminding Mother that my husband—husband number two, a number that definitely stung and so was best not mentioned—was being sent to Los Angeles to open up a branch of his father’s steel company, and it was my wifely obligation to accompany him. It wasn’t that I was exactly thrilled about moving; I loved San Francisco. I loved its hills, its stately new buildings springing up from the earthquake just eight years before, its museums, its theater and opera houses, the determined genteel quality, even if most of its residents were only a generation—or less—removed from the gold rush.
But the instant I disembarked from the train in Los Angeles, I was enchanted. Far from being a barren cow town, the place seemed drenched in color, crimson and gold and purple and white flowers spilling out of every window box, embracing every streetlamp. I couldn’t stop gazing at the tall pepper trees, with their languid, lacy green leaves dripping with clusters of red berries, providing much-needed shade from a sun that rarely found a cloud behind which to hide—something this native San Franciscan thought she would never find tiresome. Orange groves dominated the mountainous landscape that sloped to the beckoning sea, the air so perfumed that I immediately craved the sweet, tangy fruit that I’d never really cared for before.
Everywhere I walked I encountered quaint little squares lined with the small adobe-style homes I’d seen in pictures of Mexico; colorfully tiled fountains centered the squares and people would lounge about, napping or reading or simply relishing being outdoors in shirtsleeves in the middle of February. At first, this drowsiness seemed to embody the town to me, threatening to lull me into a dreamy slumber as well—sleepwalking through a marriage to a man I didn’t know, nor, I now realized with exceptionally bad timing, did I care to. Dutifully I sketched away at my job, doing commercial art for an advertising agency, but it was rote now, not at all challenging or fulfilling—how many different ways can you depict a necktie? After the initial enchantment wore off, it seemed to me that I’d come to Los Angeles to sleep my way through a disappointing life I didn’t remember choosing.
Sometimes I’d try to rouse myself with a good old-fashioned scolding. What happened to your early ambition to create, to make something lasting, something worthy, my dear? Weren’t you going to be the next Rembrandt or Chopin? Weren’t you going to set the world on fire? Make your mark, cast a big shadow?
Stupidity, my dear; that’s what had happened. Two—not just one, but two—impetuous marriages I could chalk up only to youthful idiocy; I was seventeen when I married for the first time, twenty-two the second. Every time I encountered a setback on the road to becoming the next Rembrandt or Chopin, I blindly said “yes” to the first person who asked. Yet as soon as I’d mumbled “I do,” I immediately rebelled. I had no desire to be a conventional society wife to the conventional society husbands I found myself married to.
But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to be instead—oh, I couldn’t figure out anything, do anything other than fall into miserable marriages in order to put off, for a time, doing or figuring out anything—it all went round and round and managed to dull my early ambition until its edges were harmless and easy for a confirmed sleepwalker like me to ignore.
In the evenings, after a silent meal with the stranger I’d married—truly, I’d stare at Robert, his features still so unfamiliar to me that after two years of sharing a bed I would have been hard-pressed to sketch him from memory—I would lean over the windowsill. Dreamily, I’d inhale the perfumed air, feel the warm breeze carrying salt from the ocean, gape at the beauty around me, but even so, none of it roused me; none of it reached my soul. That remained dormant, waiting. For someone—or something.
One morning, late for work, I scurried around a street corner only to find my path blocked by an immovable cluster of backs. “Excuse me,” I muttered, holding on to my hat with one hand, my portfolio clamped beneath my other arm as I roughly tried to elbow my way through the crowd, which stubbornly refused to part. “Please, let me through!”
“All right, bring on the cops!” I heard someone shout.
Frustrated, I pushed my way to the front of the crowd, only to stop and stumble backward. Right there in the middle of the normally busy street stood a man barking through a megaphone, while another man turned the handle of a camera perched atop a wobbly tripod. I glanced around nervously; it was as if I’d stumbled upon something unlawful, perhaps. Like a bank heist.
And maybe I had; most of my fellow onlookers wore grim, disapproving expressions as they glared at the spectacle playing out in front of them.
Suddenly a gaggle of men in rumpled police outfits burst onto the scene, skittering around a corner and toward the camera, jumping about, falling down on their behinds, slapping one another with nightsticks. In the middle of the wide, unpaved street stood a narrow gate. Only the gate, no fence. And to my glee, instead of running around the gate—the obvious visual effect—the policemen fumbled with the latch, then patiently took turns spilling through the now-open gate, one by one.
The smallest of the police, a slight young man with curly black hair, didn’t simply tumble through the gate; he leaped into the air, turned a somersault, and landed on one foot, the other leg extended in a stunningly graceful arabesque. I couldn’t help it; I clapped wildly.
The little man whirled toward me; I could see his eyes gleaming impishly. He tipped his hat, wiggled his nose, and hitched up his baggy pants—then dashed after the rest.
Reading Group Guide
1. Frances and Mary, especially in their younger years, feel they have to choose between pursuing careers and fulfilling traditional expectations of marriage. Did these conversations surprise you? Do you think these pressures still exist for women today?
2. How did you react to the sexism Frances and Mary face in the movie industry? How do the women confront their male superiors, and do they ever prove the men who doubted them wrong?
3. Mary’s role as an actress places her in the spotlight while Frances works behind the scenes as her “scenarist.” Does Mary’s fame work for or against her? What about Frances’s relative anonymity?
4. Did you identify more with Frances or Mary? Why? Whose chapters were more intriguing to you?
5. Benjamin references many movies produced in the early days of Hollywood, such as The Birth of a Nation, The Poor Little Rich Girl, and The Big House. Have you seen or heard of any of these movies? If not, did the novel make you want to seek them out?
6. Have you ever had a friendship as supportive, productive, and collaborative as Frances and Mary’s? Do you think that kind of friendship can only thrive between the young and ambitious, or can you find it at any age?
7. Are Frances and Mary truly equal creative partners or does one woman hold more power over the other? How do the power dynamics of their partnership change over the course of their lives?
8. Consider the opening line of Mary’s first chapter: “Mama, I made a friend!” How does Mary’s relationship with her mother affect her throughout her career? Does Mary feel as though she needs to prove something to her—and if so, what?
9. Seeing the frontlines of the war—and the war’s brutal ramifications for women—is a turning point for Frances. Why do you think Frances makes the decision to leave her flourishing career and go to war? How did Mary’s decision to stay in Hollywood and work on her movies affect her relationship with Frances?
10. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the most celebrated couple of their age. Can you think of a similarly iconic couple alive today?
11. Despite their remarkable success, Frances and Mary experience anxiety in their personal and professional lives. What is Frances most insecure about? What makes Mary feel imprisoned?
12. What do you think causes Frances and Mary’s friendship to fracture? Do you think it was one incident or many over time? Was it inevitable?
13. Throughout the novel, Benjamin sprinkles appearances from well-known celebrities and illuminating details about the time and place of the story. What did you learn about early Hollywood and the naissance of the movie industry?
14. What female screenwriters or directors do you know of? How do sexism, gender bias, and inequality manifest in the film industry today?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Girls In The Picture is Melanie Benjamin’s 5th historical fiction novel. We are introduced to the friendship of Actress Mary Pickford and the screenwriter Frances Marion. They both have helped grow the Hollywood film industry to what it is now. There is something about the way author Melanie Benjamin writes. She captures conversations and scenes, then mixes them with true history. When combining those things it is hard to believe that the exact conversations and/or character traits she described may not be exactly true. Mrs. Benjamin historical fiction books are hard to believe that they are part fiction. I fall into every scene believing pretty much everything because it is so realistic. I had a hard time writing this review. I finished this book a while ago but did not want to write the review because it kind of marks it as a goodbye to the book. Now it is the long wait for the next book by Melanie Benjamin. It makes me sad to have to wait. I just adore the people she has introduced me to. The only thing that helps me (at least after this book) is to watch some of Mary Pickford’s and Frances Marion movies. I would read more books about them as well but my TBR pile is insane at moment. The Girls In The Picture has also come out at the perfect moment especially because of the rise of female empowerment at the moment. Mary and Frances helped create major roles for women in Hollywood. They ignited the fire that women are still trying to live up to and keep that fire lit.
5 fantastical stars I am in awe and quite sleepless as well over this book. In a word it was awesome. Ms Benjamin has created for us a world that was early Hollywood. It was a world where silent movies were becoming the rage and where woman were taking the reins or at least trying to in a society dominated and controlled by males. We are introduced to two powerful women of the past, Mary Pickford and Frances Marion, who become great friends and travel the road to fame and stardom. The year is 1914, and Frances Marion, a writer, is desperately seeking a place in Hollywood. She meets Mary Pickford, a young beautiful girl who is fast becoming "America's Sweetheart" and these two woman take on Hollywood. As the author takes us on this journey into these women, their lives, their loves, their hardships, and their glamour, we get a moving picture into the Hollywood of yesteryear. We are there to witness Mary and Frances's struggles to overcome the chauvinism, to be the center in a world moving quickly around them, to find that fame so needed by them to feel their worth. Yes, they do succeed, but in the long run they lose a lot of what they really needed the love of a man they adored. In Mary's case, that man was Douglas Fairbanks and in Frances's world, it was Fred Thompson. Mary becomes the face of Hollywood with her curls, diminutive stature, and her ability to always maintain that little girl look. Frances becomes a screenwriter extraordinaire, wining during her career two Academy Awards. They had it all or so it seemed to those who followed them through the tabloids of the time. But, as we are shown, the life these women led was often sad, often tumultuous, and often one in which they lost so much. By becoming who they wished, ambitious, centered women in a man's world, they fought courageously to overcome all the many barriers placed in their path. They were the women who broke through some many layers of male dominance and succeeded and created a world that America had never seen the likes of. I recommend this book most highly, not only for the portrayal of these movie pioneers, but also for the exquisite writing that Ms Benjamim put onto the pages of this book. If you are at all interested in early Hollywood and how this town and industry came about this book will supply some answers. Mary and Frances, a friendship formed at such an early age, traveled a road no one really had before and in this they gained so much but also suffered losses that filled their hearts with sorrow and grief. As Bette Davis once said, "A sure way to lose happiness, I found, is to want it all at the expanse of everything else." Frances and Mary wanted it all, they gained it all, but in so many ways they did lose that happiness we all seek as a fulfilling thread of our lives.
There is a problem with writing historical fiction when there are a lot of direct historical sources available. I did not care for the cherry picking used to create the story, and I felt that neither lady was presented realistically. The problem with this kind of book is that it becomes the historical record for many people and this one does not portray either lady fairly. If you are interested in Mary Pickford or Frances Marion go to their biographies or autobiographies directly. I do not recommend this book.
If you're a fan of old movies you may not be familiar with silent film stars and the early history of films. I'd heard of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, but didn't know a lot about either one. And I knew nothing about Marion Francis who wrote the beautiful film Stella Dallas. Benjamin's The Girls in the Picture gives one an intimate look at Pickford and Francis, and like all of her books made me want to find biographies on the characters. If there is one minor issue I had with the book it was the conversations between Pickford and Francis about their limited roles in films. I understood the time and the roles they would have been expected to take (wives and mothers) and how they both fought against those roles, preferring instead to rise to the highest levels of their professions. However, it was a much different time and I had to remind myself that what these women were doing were completely outside of what a typical woman would have accomplished. Like Benjamin's other works The Girls in the Picture is a well written book and every book makes me hungry to learn more about the subjects in her books. And I have to add this sentence: I won an ARC for a review of the book.
When artist/writer, Frances Marion, is introduced to silent screen star, Mary Pickford, it is a meeting of souls. Two ambitious women working in a man’s world in 1914, dream of success and riches and the ability to call their own shots. Alone, neither may have had the courage to succeed, together as a team, they are unstoppable. And so begins a journey of both a great friendship and great success. Author Melanie Benjamin captures the era and the larger-than-life characters perfectly in her new novel, The Girls in the Picture. Using both fact and fiction, we follow each woman through her successes and failures, and watch as they each obtain the careers and lives they dreamt about, only to find that one should be careful what they wish for. Benjamin writes wonderfully fleshed out characters in a well thought-out story, and intrigues the reader with the highs and lows these women experience. I highly recommend to star-struck readers who love stories of old Hollywood.
This book was not for me. This is a fictional novel about Frances Marion and Mary Pickford and the early days of Hollywood and the movies. Since it is a novel the author has created a lot of fictional conversations and situations. I have read a lot of the nonfiction books about both of these ladies and I enjoyed those a lot more than this novel. Many of the best parts of both of their lives was left out and I did not like the way she portrayed both women. I had a hard time finishing the book. If you are not familiar with either women you might enjoy this book. The author lists many of the nonfiction books about them and many of them are very good. After reading this I would recommend reading one of those.
Mary Pickford and Frances Marion helped build the foundation of the movie industry, or Hollywood, as referred to today. Melanie Benjamin explores their friendship and intertwining careers in this lush historical fiction, speculating on each women’s hidden agenda, demonstrating their jealousies and joys. Mary Pickford was the darling of silent movies and Frances Marion a lauded screenwriter of the era, navigating a perilous pathway through a man’s world. By alternating viewpoints of these icons, Benjamin has provided insight into their characters and woven a wonderfully complex vision of their complicated friendship. Pickford feels she must maintain her veneer of innocent waif, and Marion carefully balances her relationship with Pickford with the need to advance her own career. As the two evolve away from each other professionally, they remind themselves of obligations bestowed upon them by the other’s influence and talent. Benjamin leads the reader through Mary’s agonizing decision to leave her husband for her “true love,” and along with Frances into the Great War, where she meets her fourth and last husband. There’s a softness to the portrayal of Mary’s descent into alcoholism, and the ending displays the inherent kindness of her lifelong friend. This fictionalized version of the friendship of two of Hollywood’s most influential women offers much more than salacious speculation and name dropping—many famous individuals are mentioned based on their relevance to the story. Rather, it depicts the nuances, unspoken feelings, and misunderstandings of the relationship between two strong, independent women who are very different individuals with a similar goal of making it in an industry run by men. I’m grateful to have received an advanced digital copy of this wonderful story from NetGalley.
I don’t want to divulge too much of the plot. The lives of Mary Pickford and Frances Marion intersected professionally and personally a great deal. Fran wrote exclusively for Mary’s films for a time, and helped rocket Mary to stardom, in some ways. Mary, a standoffish person, had trouble believing people were on her side, and lived in mortal fear that making personal choices, like divorcing her cad of a husband, would upset her fans and she’d be back to the poverty she grew up in. What was remarkable was the struggles Mary and Fran suffered professionally still exist for women today. They were fierce women looked down upon by the men who held the money and power in the fledgling world of film. They were pinched, and overruled, and groped, and belittled, and had to keep cheery smiles for the camera–so many of their professional pictures reflected their isolation as the only women in the picture. They did have falling outs, and reunions. Their relationship isn’t all sunshine and Academy Awards. No, they had disappointments and jealousy and needed to lift each other, and themselves, up many a time. They had uncaring husbands, and abusive partners and alcoholism to contend with, but they left a mark on the business that they helped to create and this was beautifully captured in print, not celluloid. Mary was a founding member of United Artists and AMPAS, as well as being the second woman to win an Oscar. Fran helped to form the Screen Writers Guild, and both weathered the transition from silent film to “talkies” in different ways. I’ll admit to being captivated throughout by the resilience of these women. Fran was the first American woman to cross the German Frontline in WWI as she helped film women assisting the US forces. Mary supported her entire family for decades, through famine and feast, from the age of 5 or 6. Astonishing. I’ll be honest, I’d only barely heard of Mary Pickford, and I’d never heard of Frances Marion before opening this book…and I’m a fan of older movies. My father and I passed many an evening watching AMC Classics when I was younger, yet, I hardly watched any silent film. There’s a reason for that, which the book makes clear: lots of those movies were lost to the vagaries of time and poor storage. Still, I’m a fan of movies, and historical fiction, and stories about strong women, so I began my second Melanie Benjamin book with high hopes that were completely exceeded. The premise seemed simple, read about the beginnings of Hollywood as told through the lives and friendship of two women who were there at the start. Wow. What an understatement of this reading experience. I know it’s a novelization, and the author clearly states that she fabricates some scenes, but I still feel awed by the lives of Pickford and Marion. They were pioneers, and tried to create an egalitarian Hollywood that struggles to exist today. I remember thinking how the sexism Mary and Fran experienced is reflected daily in the tabloids on my grocer’s checkout. To borrow an adage from my father: the more things change, the more they stay the same. (He surely borrowed that from someone, but I don’t know whom.) And that’s a pretty sad commentary on how far we haven’t come in terms of sexual equality since Fran met Mary in 1914.
This excellent fiction based on fact novel about the friendship and co-dependency that colored the lives of Mary Pickford (Gladys Smith), actress, and Frances Marion, scriptwriter, from the birth of moving pictures in their 20's until they were in their 70's is an excellent eye on the world of film. These 'two girls' fought hard to make their place in pictures, leading the way for women into the male citadel that was the infant film industry. The Girls in the Picture is an interesting and very telling look the the costs both women paid for breaking that glass ceiling. A great deal of serious research went into the telling of this tale, and Melanie Benjamin shares it with us in a way that is completely captivating. I did not want to put this story down even to the very end. My absolute favorite part was the actual public premier of Poor Little Rich Girl, after the moguls had castigated the ladies and pulled their privileged final editing rights from their contracts for adding a bit of 'slap-dash' to the film. And it would have been very very hard to fault Mary Pickford for her life choices. She was sole support for her mother and siblings from the age of eight, when her father died. Her fears that her public would turn on her if she grew up were very real. The only 'childhood' she experienced was on the movie set where she played a child until she was in her late 20's. Nor can you find fault with Frances, for scripting those childhood years into the screenplays for Mary to bring to the screen. I felt Frances was the only true friend Mary had for many years. Both women paid a very high price for 'equality' in Hollywoodland. I received a free electronic copy of this novel based on fact from Netgalley, Melanie Benjamin, and Delacorte Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
In 1914 , when movies were in their infancy, two women forged not just a friendship but a creative relationship and pioneered their way through the burgeoning motion picture industry. Mary Pickford had her start in the theater and after transitioning to movies quickly became a fan favorite with her trademark long blonde curls. Frances Marion did not want to be an actress, but found the “ flickers ” exciting and wanted to be a part of their creation. She arrived at the studios hoping her artistic skills might land her work, but a meeting with Mary led to greater opportunities; screenwriting. In an industry ruled by men, they learned how to break down barriers and get where they wanted to be as a team. Mary Pickford was the first international movie star and highest paid actress at the time and Frances Marion became the most in demand screen writer of her time. This was my first novel of 2018 and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its a fascinating glimpse at the very earliest years of Hollywood and two women who took it by storm to become powerful forces in the industry. Starting with silent films and transitioning into “ talkies”, they paved the way, all the while, drawing strength from and supporting each other. They have their differences, struggles, tragedies, and men that come between them, which tests their friendship. The chapters alternate between Mary and Frances. Interestingly, Mary`s chapters are told in the third person, but Frances, the writer, tells her story in her own words. I`ve always loved old movies and enjoyed all the other characters who appear in the pages like, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish. The author refers to events and scandals that motivated me to read more online. If you read this, I encourage you to look online at the video clip of Mary Pickford receiving her final Oscar, presented to her at Pickfair for a glimpse at the home she shared with Douglas Fairbanks. This is my third (and favorite) novel by Melanie Benjamin and I always appreciate the depth of research she puts in to her very real characters. She has made Mary and Frances very relatable and memorable as she introduces them to a new generation. Thank you to @netgalley and @randomhouse for an ARC to review! #partner
My Review of "The Girls in the Picture" by Melanie Benjamin, Random House Publishing Group, Ballantine, January 2018 I enjoyed reading "The Girls in the Picture" by Melanie Benjamin. The genres for this novel are Historical Fiction, and Women's Fiction. This is a story that starts in 1914 when silent movies were so important. This is also a novel that discusses friendships and the lifestyle in Hollywood. Melanie Benjamin gives us a front row seat as she discusses the years in Hollywood as movies go from silent to talking, and the history of the Producers, Writers, Actors and Actresses and the Big Film Companies. Essentially as film producing gets more technical it seems to be a man's world. In this novel , the blurb says " there are cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino and Lillian Gish. The Girls in the Picture is, at heart, a story of friendship and forgiveness." Other actors and actresses makes cameo appearances as well. The author describes the two main characters Frances Marion, and actress Mary Pickford, or "America's Sweetheart" as complicated and complex. Mary Pickford's husband Douglas Fairbanks is discussed as well. Both Mary and Frances are ambitious, and aggressive in pursuit of the Hollywood dream. Mary becomes the famous actress commanding an expensive salary, and Frances, a screen-writer, one of the most highly paid one in the industry. Eventually Mary becomes a partner in her own film studio. Both are friends and seem at times to be co-dependent on each other, and at other times seem to be competitive. This is a man's industry, and it is difficult for women to make their own path. Of course Hollywood is known for drama, and the lifestyle causes disagreements, jealousy, blame disappointment and heartbreak. This story also takes place during World War One,where Frances Marion goes hoping to get a story about women and war, and facing danger every step of the way. I would recommend this novel for those reader that are interested in the "Glitz" and "Glimmer" of Hollywood Production, Actors, Actresses and the industry itself. I received An Advanced Reading Copy for my honest review.
I thoroughly enjoyed “The Girls in the Picture” by Melanie Benjamin and learned a lot from it. That is why I have come to love the genre of historical fiction – I always learn something new. I knew very little about the early days of the movie industry and nothing really about Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. This book is the story of the intense friendship between Frances and Mary. In the era of silent films, Mary Pickford was loved and adored by everyone in America. Much of her popularity was due to the excellent screenwriting of Frances Marion, a true pioneer of her time. Ms. Benjamin took me into the glitz and glamour of the time, and also the intense rivalries. From stage productions to silent films to “the talkies”, she brought it all to life. It was no secret that this was a man’s world, but Mary and Frances broke into that world and made it their own. Mary had to work from a very early age to support her siblings and her mother. Thus she never had a childhood, and never had a friend - until she met Frances. They understood each other and, more so, Frances understood and shared Mary’s passion for the film world. Frances instinctively knew how to write for the character. The book addresses the history of the film companies and the partnerships and mergers that took place. Many of the best known names appear in the story – Cecil B. DeMille, Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and more. The latter portion of the book addresses the tumultuous love affair and marriage of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Mary and Frances had promised each other that they would never let men come between them. (How often have we heard that one?) As Mary ages and finally is no longer able to maintain the persona of the little girl with the golden curls she loses her fans and her husband. Thus begins her downward spiral into alcohol and insanity. In the meantime, Frances has maintained a more realistic view of life, especially after spending time in Europe filming the impact of the war on women. Frances has also been “struck anew by how universal my world was, how what we did on a soundstage in Hollywood could travel across the ocean to the battlefields of France.” Frances soon recognizes that Mary is losing touch with reality and fights to save her lifelong friend. But can she after all the accusations of jealousy and blame Mary throws at her? This is a true test of friendship.
The Girls In the Picture: A Novel. Melanie Benjamin. Random House Publishing Group. January 2018. 448 pp. ISBN#: 9781101886809. What was it like to be part of the beginning of silent and sound pictures in the first half of the 20th Century? Mary Pickford and Frances Marion meet and immediately recognize the independent and creatively talented spirit in each other. They also will learn how talented actresses and screen writers are used to make money and then shunted aside when no longer useful. They also initially have no time for love as they are obsessed with their artistic craft. Mary Pickford, with her slight, blond figure is delightful to audiences as “America’s Sweetheart;” but after Frances creates scripts depicting a childhood Mary never had but will now get to live on camera in “Poor Little Rich Girl,” Mary is viewed as America’s darling for sure. The story of how that movie was at first rejected by producers but was produced by Mary is intriguing and thrilling. Audiences went crazy with delight as this story called forth the inner child in every viewer. More importantly, this experience cemented their trust and belief in their own creative vision of what audiences wanted on film. Then love arrives for Mary, after a failed marriage, in the person of Douglas Fairbanks and for Frances in a love she finally found and lost. Mary and Frances are tested with these loves, the Academy Awards and other glamorous acknowledgments of excellence. The thrills of this novel lie in the descriptions of love, betrayal, forgiveness, renewal and artistic growth representing the rise and fall of two magnificent careers, a celebration of women’s rise in the film industry and a tribute to the art of drama on screen and stage. A magnificent historical fiction read!
This beautifully written book by Melanie Benjamin is a work of historical fiction about the friendship between screenwriter Frances Marion and actress Mary Pickford. The reader will recognize many names of Hollywood legends who played a role in their story. The film history interwoven into this novel makes it even more interesting. Frances and Mary are both strong women but they do not have equal success as the film industry moves from silent films to “talkies” and they experience this change differently. Still, even as their Hollywood success and jealously intervenes you feel that they sense the bond between them. Ms. Benjamin is a new author to me. However, while this is the first of her books that I have read I am sure that it will not be the last. I received an advance readers copy from NetGalley. My review is completely voluntary.
I started reading this fictional account of Mary Pickford and Frances Marion with pleasure and enjoyment. Unfortunately, after a few chapters the writing turned trite and elementary. The whole novel reeked of mostly conversations between Mary and Frances. The settings disappeared and a commentary of the life of each of these amazing women disappeared. Melanie Benjamin does cover the beginning of the movies starting with the silent movies. The struggles of the actors and actresses wane in this telling. The book reads like a comic book with only words and little action.