REVIEW: THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE, BY MELANIE BENJAMIN

 

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.

 

My Thoughts: In the beginning of The Girls in the Picture, we meet Frances Marion. It is 1969, and she is reflecting on the past. She is about to visit Mary Pickford again after an estrangement of many years. I liked starting at “the end,” and then I wanted to know more about the journey.

What a journey it is! Mary is already acting when she and Frances meet, and as their bond grows, Mary pulls her in by persuading her to write scenarios for her, as she admires her writing style. Their team work begins in the era of silent movies. Slowly they become a brilliant duo, and almost from the beginning, they enjoy personal time together, too.

But the men in the industry and in their lives slowly pull them apart, and when “talkies” come along, everything changes for Mary. She doesn’t quite know how to flow with the new style, and other issues are interfering in her ability to act, too.

The journey plodded for me…and then, suddenly, as we come to the end, the intensity builds and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I would have loved the book more if the middle hadn’t sagged for me. However, I did like learning more about the Old Hollywood era, and the author’s writing style kept me engaged. 4 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

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