Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

This novel took me a long time to read.  I was a bit disappointed in it, and reading reviews online has me in the minority.  

Of course I knew who Mary Pickford was going into this novel, and I was excited to read about early Hollywood.  It had to have been such an exciting place--when Los Angeles was still a small outpost, and silent films were all the rage. Bungalows, tiled fountains, and orange groves, along with the warm weather, made it a paradise and a place to start new.  Frances Marion, whom I knew nothing about, was just an amazing woman. This is the type of historical novel that will have you pausing to do internet research, look at photos, and read up.  Did you know Frances Marion was the first woman screenwriter to win an Oscar?  And that she won two in the 1930's?  With movie star good looks, she could have easily become famous onscreen; but her talents and heart were all about creating stories.  She successfully wrote for silent films, and easily transitioned over to "talkies" without any trouble.  She was a powerhouse in early Hollywood.  

But I'm getting too far ahead of myself. This novel is about the real life friendship and working relationship between Mary Pickford, darling of silent films and a genuine movie star of the early 1900's, and Frances Marion, a "scenarist" (a screenwriter before there was the term for screenwriter) who arrived in Los Angeles in 1914, 25 years old and going through her second divorce. They met, and quickly became friends, in a world where men called all the shots, and treated women like infants.  Mary's onscreen persona as the little girl with blond curls kept her trapped in the same role. Frances wrote roles for Mary that would help her capture a sense of childhood, since Mary had been working in movies since the age of five to support her family.  While the movies made Mary an international star and put money in the bank, they also kept her from growing into more mature roles.  She was an adult always playing a young girl.  

I know--it sounds like a really good novel.  For the most part, I enjoyed it, but I felt that it dragged a lot.  World War I is a big part of it, and the machinations of men with money and power.  Everything Frances got, she fought for.  She was a tough cookie who didn't take much from anyone.  Mary was not as tough, and she had to fight her own insecurities to make strides towards independence in her career.  Her relationship with Douglas Fairbanks Sr is a big part of the novel as well; they were the first Hollywood power couple--all the way back in 1920.  Charlie Chaplin also moves in and out of the story, as a friend of Frances, Mary, and Douglas.  

The novel moves between Frances and Mary, and the years 1914 to 1969.  It is a tale of women making strides in Hollywood, but also all the garbage they had to put up with--which sounds remarkably like a lot of what is happening today.  Then, as now, women had to decide between having a career and a family, fight for better pay, put up with sexual harassment, and cope with the pressure of society's expectations to be respectable women.  

I did enjoy reading about Frances and Mary. I really liked the inside look at the beginnings of Hollywood and movie making, and how amazing it all was at the time.  But I did feel the book was too long, and there were parts where I lost interest because it felt plodding. And Mary, geez. A perfect example of a person who is consumed by fame, and left with nothing. 

Available in hardcover, audio and ebook. 

Rating:  3/6 for a novel that sets the scene of early Hollywood and film making very well, and delves into the complexities of friendship between women.  I loved reading about Frances Marion and Mary Pickford, two powerhouses in Hollywood who helped create the film industry.  A refreshing historical novel set in Los Angeles as World War I begins and the world is on the brink of change. I felt the novel was too long, but enjoyed it because of Frances Marion.  She was fascinating.  


  1. Good review. Even though it was not a great read for you it sounds like you did learn something. Thanks for posting.

  2. These women have come up in other novels I have read, so I will probably give this one a pass. One of my favorites was The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr. http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-age-of-dreaming.html