Published by Bantam on January 22, 2019
Source: Wunderkind PR and the publisher
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“In the era of #MeToo, Girls could not be more timely—or troubling—about the treatment of women in the workplace. . . . [Melanie] Benjamin portrays the affection and friction between Pickford and Marion with compassion and insight. . . .”—USA Today
It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband 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. In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, America’s Sweetheart. The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly.
Yet their astronomical success could come at a price. 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 perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era--its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.
I received this book for free from Wunderkind PR and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When I started The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin, I had never heard of Mary Pickford or Frances Marion so when the Goodreads synopsis described them as women who “shaped the movies” I was curious.
The story begins in 1914. Fran has moved to LA to pursue the arts. She meets actress Mary Pickford and the two hit it off easily. Mary has had a very successful career thus far working with “flickers” which are short, silent moving pictures-sort of a precursor to silent films as most of us know them. Even though Fran loves the rapidly growing filmmaking industry, she doesn’t really want to act. She loves the creative process of writing the stories, however, so she becomes what they call a “scenarist.” Fran and Mary end up collaborating on many films, as they both have an intensive desire to be creative and to expand the industry and how things are done within it. The best of friends, they both rise to the top of their crafts, and they live very glamorous lives as a result.
I loved this book and everything that I was able to learn about these two women and the film industry. Even though much about this story is fiction (you can read the Author’s Note in the book for more information about this), it is fascinating to me that there is clearly so much research that went into creating this story. I had no idea about what went into creating movies in the early 1900’s because, honestly, I’ve never cared that much about movies from this period of time. But as I was reading, I was so enamored with what I was reading that there was a point where I stopped long enough to watch one of Mary’s silent movies and it really expanded the story for me. To be able to see Mary Pickford one of the films mentioned in the narrative, acting in the way the story indicates-it was just really cool. I think it puts so much into perspective about how movies have grown and changed over time, which is cool for someone like me who genuinely enjoys modern movies so much.
Another interesting thing about the story is how much influence these two women had in the industry and exactly how much they had to work for it. It certainly seems like their male counterparts did not have to work to be taken seriously. Yes, Mary and Fran were creatives and decision-makers during their career, making their own art and owning their own businesses, but they lived during a time when women just didn’t have the same amount of freedom in that market as they do today; they just didn’t. So their decisions were vetoed or second-guessed by husbands or other men-in-power. As much as this annoyed me while I read, I can’t even begin to know how irritating it must have been for them–especially when they had to make changes to a film or something they’d created because of this. ALSO, sidenote: the famous “casting couch” that we have heard so much about during the #MeToo movement? Well, it was a thing during Mary Pickford’s movie days too. Isn’t that just something?
With all of the glamour and stress of Hollywood, there is strain on the relationship between Fran and Mary at various times, sure. I mean, these two women aren’t exactly alike even though they were the best of friends. They had their jealousies and insecurities, and those come out during this story. It broke my heart to read about these times, but these things happen in any relationship. I enjoyed reading about Fran’s romantic relationship with her husband more than anything else in the story, and of the two POV’s (Fran and Mary), I feel like I connected most with Fran. But every little detail in this one is special and well worth the read.
I think readers that enjoy well-investigated historical fiction about women would like The Girls in the Picture. I also think readers that enjoy movies and old Hollywood glamour will enjoy it. I was really able to paint a picture of this story in my head as I read, and when the story was over, I felt like I had lost these people from my life. The story spans a lot of years, so it is broad in its scope, and it really is just really well-done.