Review: The Girls in the Picture

the girls in the pictureThe Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
Published by:
Delacore Press
Pub Date:
January 16, 2018
hardcover | Source: publisher
adult, historical fiction
Rating: 5_star_rating_system_4_stars

An intimate portrait of the close friendship and powerful creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female superstars: Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. An enchanting new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife.

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.

This is a novel about power: the power of women during the exhilarating early years of Hollywood, and the power of forgiveness. It’s also about the imbalance of power, then and now, and the sacrifices and compromises women must make in order to succeed. And at its heart, it’s a novel about the power of female friendship.

Thank you to Wunderkind PR and Random House for sending me a finished copy of The Girls in the Picture- this is no way affected the honesty of my review. This book took me so long to finish and that is 100% on me and my mood reading because it was absolutely fascinating! I knew of Mary Pickford from seeing movies at the Mary Pickford movie theater in Palm Springs as a kid (oh, how she would love that!!), but didn’t know much about her other than her being an early actress. I learned SO much about her, and about Frances Marion and the beginnings of Hollywood, it was fantastic.
pickford theatreI love the mentions of Laguna Beach, and the orange groves surrounding LA. Hollywood was literally being built from the ground up. I also had no idea until I started reading that Frances Marion was the first female screenwriter in the industry and the first woman to win the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 1930. I have to say I felt a little silly though because I didn’t realize they were making silent movies until about 70% into the book, when “talkies” came into the plot. Maybe that’s why they referred to Frances as a scenarist- plotting scenes instead of dialogue. My brain did not make the connection, whoops.
mary pickford giggleThis was the typical sort of historical fiction that skips time rather succinctly but it didn’t feel rushed to me.  I also liked that we got alternating chapters from Frances and Marys’ points of view- it helped to paint a much fuller picture of their respective characters and relationships, especially when we got to see the same scene from both angles. There were a number of famous cameos, including Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, and quite a bit of romance… some of it more romantic than others depending on the paramour. But the central relationship was that of Frances and Mary.
mary and francesIt was wonderfully written and researched and I’d very much recommend the book to historical fiction readers, Hollywood/movie aficionados, and those interested in the turn of the 20th century and WWI. I found the ending sort of abrupt and melancholy, and wished it had been wrapped up a little more, but it also made me want to research all these fascinating people. Mary in particular was a visionary: producer, studio head, and Oscar winning actress with a flair for business. She was also the founding member of so many staples of today’s Hollywood industry and culture, including the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and the Screen Actors Guild. I really recommend checking out her foundation’s website to learn more about her and to watch some clips of her movies!
mary and camera

Do you enjoy reading historical fiction based on real people? Have you read The Girl in the Picture or any other books set during the dawn of young Hollywood? Let me know!

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