A fascinating novel of the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female legends—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford.

Historical novelist Melanie Benjamin offers another adventure in time, back to 1914 to witness the rise of a new era in entertainment and the blossoming of a friendship borne of shared dreams and ambitions, of that same desire to create. Read what some of our First Look Club ladies—JeanJody, and Kai—think of this dazzling new story.


A Tale of Two Women

Jean says: A story of two female trailblazers, but it’s also a fascinating look at a complex and complicated relationship between two strong women – a strange mixture of admiration, respect, insecurity, and mutual dependency. […] Both women – constant friends and colleagues, often collaborating on successful projects – worked their way to the top through a combination of talent, ambition, and sheer grit and perseverance.

Jody says: Set in the early 1900s, the novel follows the lives of two important figures in the world of movies: Frances Marion, a two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter, and Mary Pickford, hailed as America’s first sweetheart actress.

Kai says: Frances wanted to be part of this burgeoning industry, and no, not as an actress, but as a “scenerist”. More specifically, she wanted to be the scenerist of Mary Pickford, a prolific young actress who charmed America with her raw talent and iconic golden curls. […] Soon, these two women would forge not only a friendship that permeated every corner of their lives – family, career, romance and all – but also the path that would turn the silly nickelodeon flickers into a multi-million-dollar industry that created a lot of art and a lot of money.

Hollywood Struggle…

Jean says: As you learn the great tragedies of their lives, you are left to marvel at the sacrifices these women made in order to succeed – whether it was having a proper childhood, or raising a family, or having their own privacy. They were always the only girls in the picture, the only women calling the shots – at great cost.

Jody says: The novel shines in its ability to picture the worries and hardships of the industry at that time. Being women, the two leads share in the harsh stereotypes and expectations of their gender, as well as in their spunky resistance to these norms.

Kai says: The novel is a grounded take on Hollywood’s genesis, a peek into the lives of the women who fought for their rightful places in a table dominated by men – men who were crude and rude misogynists undermining women’s every move and waiting for them to fail, if only to prove that women had no place making decisions for themselves, let alone for big movies and even bigger companies.

…and Success

Jean says: In her heyday, Mary Pickford was known as “America’s Sweetheart,” and she’s considered the first major movie star of all time. Frances Marion is one of the most renowned screenwriters (originally called “scenarists”) of the century. At one point, she was also the most well-paid among her contemporaries.

Jody says: Their stories are weaved into a history lesson on the how’s and who’s of movies, along with a smattering of feminist fist bumps that leave readers sitting in awe at the amazing way we manage to evolve and innovate as time flows forward.

Kai says: In spite of the mounting disadvantages of being ambitious and darn talented women at the turn of the 20th century, Frances and Mary triumphed in leaving their own marks on Tinsel Town. They succeeded in becoming the highest paid scenerist and actress of their time, and even found the great loves of their lives while they were at it.

The Verdict

Jean says: This biographical fiction is a slow burn of a novel, taking its time to build up the characters against the backdrop of the movie industry in the early decades of the 20th century. […] An enlightening and intimate portrait of the close friendship and creative partnership between two fascinating women.

Jody says: It isn’t a heart-stopping one-sitting page-turner but more of a quieter read for coffee shop breaks—sort of like a series you patiently wait each week for new episodes to be released. […] A great window to the past, the book invites us into the world of movies before they were known as such.

Kai says: The Girls in the Picture is a delightful read that dives into difficult human experiences with prose that is light and easy to take in. […] Rarely have I come across characters that are as masterfully developed as those in this novel. Highly recommended for film aficionados, for the roaring twenties-loving flappers, and for any curious feminist looking for inspiration in these seemingly bleak times.

 

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin is available at select Fully Booked stores. To reserve a copy, email us at greatreads@fullybookedonline.com.


Jean has, at different points in her life, worked in government, interviewed international celebrities, and been the social media manager for several brands. Read her full review here.

Jody is currently an undergraduate student taking up Education and is discovering everyday the greatest bits about reading and learning that fuel our thinking. Read her full review here.

Kai finds narratives and tells stories for a living, and is in constant search for fascination in worlds both real and imagined. Read her full review here.

[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]

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