Historical Fiction

Book Review – The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

Goodreads Synopsis:

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.

My Opinion:

This book really brought the film industry to life for me. I have never given a lot of thought to its humble beginnings before, and following the friendship of Frances Marion and Mary Pickford was the perfect way to tell the story.

Frances is working as a commercial artist, sketching things like catsup and face cream, in Los Angeles. One day she happens upon a movie set filming in the streets of Los Angeles and feels a kinship with them that she wasn’t able to shake. She quits her job and goes to work for a theater company as an artist, and loves it but cannot forget about the movie she saw being made and wants nothing more than to become a part of it.

Mary Pickford started as a stage performer at the age of eight. She was the main breadwinner in the family and was responsible for taking care of her brother, sister, and mother. She enjoyed theater, but she wanted more. Her mother encouraged her to try her hand at getting into the movies and that is when a star is born.

I love going to movies, so when I read the synopsis for this book I knew right away that I wanted to read it. Not only is this book a fascinating story of the friendship between Frances and Mary, it is also a fantastic history lesson on the birth of the movies. It is a great reminder of the humble beginning of the movie which was originally known as a flicker and thought to be just a fad, but quickly became elevated to an art form that no one thought possible.

I really enjoyed the story of Frances and Mary. Frances was determined and passionate, while Mary was an intuitive, savvy businesswoman. We learned of their loves and losses, amazing careers, and undying friendship. They were both in the movie industry, but one was in front of the camera and the other behind it. Their ambitions were different and that is what made their friendship work. They did not have to compete with each other, so a genuine friendship was born and lasted a lifetime. These two young women were pioneers at the time, forging their way in a male-dominated industry. They fought together, leaned on each other when times got tough, and continuously encouraged one another.

From time to time I felt bad for Frances, she often seemed to be in Mary’s shadow and I found myself wishing she would speak up and let her voice be heard. Mary had a very strong personality and Frances seemed to be content letting her be in the spotlight that she so desperately craved.

I found the transition of the silent movie to “talkies” quite interesting. I had never given much thought as to how huge a transition that must have been. Actors and actresses now had to speak on film. Many made the transition easily, but not everyone could. Those with a theater background were the most successful with the transition. Then there was the cost of wiring the studios for sound and the changes on set now that all background noise would be heard during filming.

I often found myself looking up many of the actors, actresses, directors, and so on in this book. I loved putting faces to the names of the characters I was reading about. I have a list of movies that I would like to see that has grown substantially longer after reading this book. I look forward to watching them with newfound insight into the actors and actresses in them.

*Thank you NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine , and Melanie Benjamin for the opportunity to read and review this book for my honest opinion.

Book Details:

My Rating: 4/5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: None
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine
Publication Date: 1/16/2018
Pages: 448 (eBook)

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17 thoughts on “Book Review – The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

  1. I’m glad to heat that you enjoyed this one too. The history is fascinating! Mary’s salary was huge but it it seems like she starred in everything. I had the impression that there wasn’t much room at the top for other women.

    Liked by 1 person

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