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The Girls in the Picture
Cover of The Girls in the Picture
The Girls in the Picture
A Novel
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator's Wife, a "rich exploration of two Hollywood friends who shaped the movies" (USA Today)—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford

"Full of Old Hollywood glamour and true details about the pair's historic careers . . . a captivating ode to a legendary bond."—Real Simple
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY REAL SIMPLE
It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home 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. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you'll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.
In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title "America's Sweetheart." The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.
But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world's highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. 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 brilliantly captures the dawn of a glittering new era—its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.

"A boffo production . . . Inspiration is a rare and unexpected gift in a book filled with the fluff of Hollywood, but Benjamin provides it with The Girls in the Picture."—NPR

"Profoundly resonant, The Girls in the Picture is at its core, an empowering and fascinating tale of sisterhood."—Bryce Dallas Howard
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator's Wife, a "rich exploration of two Hollywood friends who shaped the movies" (USA Today)—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford

"Full of Old Hollywood glamour and true details about the pair's historic careers . . . a captivating ode to a legendary bond."—Real Simple
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY REAL SIMPLE
It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home 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. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you'll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.
In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title "America's Sweetheart." The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.
But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world's highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. 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 brilliantly captures the dawn of a glittering new era—its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.

"A boffo production . . . Inspiration is a rare and unexpected gift in a book filled with the fluff of Hollywood, but Benjamin provides it with The Girls in the Picture."—NPR

"Profoundly resonant, The Girls in the Picture is at its core, an empowering and fascinating tale of sisterhood."—Bryce Dallas Howard
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover Chapter 1

    Frances

    Spring 1914

    "Mary? Hey, Mary, here's that girl artist I was telling you about."

    Owen Moore thumped on the door, cocked his head, listening. He held up a finger. "Hold on, she's cutting," he informed me dismissively. "Wait here. She'll yell when she's ready."

    "Are you sure this is a good time?" I patted my long skirt, sneezing as reddish-brown California dust came flying out of it, and touched my head to make sure my cartwheel hat was still pinned into place. Oh, if only I could have brought my sketches! But the Santa Anas had been too fierce this morning. They would have blown my sketch folder right out of my hands, and of course I didn't own a car, so I'd had to take the trolley, and I had no idea what number to telephone to postpone the appointment—and I wouldn't have done so anyway, not for the world.

    So I'd had to leave my sketches behind, and I felt as if I'd misplaced a baby, so used was I to having something in my hands—a sketchpad, a diary, a book, knitting. Restless hands, Mother had always scolded. Daughter, you have restless hands to match your restless mind.

    "Sure, sure, it's a good time." Owen could barely contain his impatience; I knew he'd regretted setting up the meeting the moment he suggested it. "Mary?" Owen hollered again. "Hurry up!"

    Still no sound from behind the closed door, until gradually I became aware of a whirring, clicking, mechanical noise. Owen Moore—Mary Pickford's devilishly handsome husband—patted his smooth, rosy cheek. On his delicate white hand, a ruby ring twinkled from his pinkie. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. What a ridiculous dandy!

    "My wife thinks she's God's gift to movies." He rolled his eyes nearly to the heavens; a movie actor's exaggerated body language. A bad movie actor's, at that. "She's merely a pretty Irish girl with an adequate little talent—hardly cerebral, if you ask me."

    "I didn't, actually. Ask." Shifting my feet, I tried to find a stance that showed my disapproval but didn't offend him. I couldn't stand Owen Moore from the moment he'd sidled up to me at the party, flashing that ruby ring, and I loathed him even more now. To talk that way about his own wife! He was just another small man afraid of an intelligent woman—the world was full of such fools. Yet my future was held in this particular fool's overmanicured hands.

    "Well, it's the truth."

    "I think she's a major talent." I couldn't hold it in any longer. "I've always loved her movies, even before I knew she had a name. Even when she was only The Biograph Girl, Little Goldilocks."

    "You would," Owen said with a sneer; he had not liked it when I turned down his advances at the party, but still, he'd managed to get me the invitation I coveted. With one last exaggerated grimace of disgust, he turned. "I'm wanted on set, so you'll excuse me." Then he stalked off toward the "set"—whatever that was.

    Left alone, I had to pinch myself; I'd never been in a movie studio before. Studio. That was quite a fancy word for what was really a collection of flimsy barns and sheds, so obviously hastily built I was surprised they were still standing in the force of today's winds. When I'd arrived, I'd given my name to a disinterested man, makeup visible behind his ears, who served as a sort of a gatekeeper. After consulting a list, he told me to go inside the largest of the sheds to wait for Owen.

    This shed was a maze of rooms partitioned so haphazardly that there seemed to be no real hallway. From one corner of the cavernous building I could hear hammers assaulting nails and saws chewing through wood; from...
About the Author-
  • Melanie Benjamin is the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue, The Aviator's Wife, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, and Alice I Have Been. Benjamin lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 20, 2017
    Benjamin (The Swans of Fifth Avenue) escorts readers through the rise and fall of Hollywood’s silent film era by following a friendship and creative collaboration that helped birth the earliest movies: the fruitful, testy bond between the “scenarist” and eventual screenwriter, Frances Marion, and Mary Pickford, a troubled early star. The novel is framed by a reunion late in their lives, in 1969, but focuses on the 1910s and ’20s: Marion’s and Pickford’s meeting, initial closeness and collaboration, marriages and tragedies, and diverging fates in Hollywood. Chapters alternate between the two women’s perspectives—Marion’s sections (written in first person) buzz with her idiosyncratic understanding of her place within the silent film industry, but Pickford’s (puzzlingly, in third person) are used to move the narrative forward and feel lackluster in comparison. Benjamin’s prose and particularly her dialogue are flatly contemporary; conversations between characters lack period nuance, and, while Marion’s and Pickford’s protofeminism is based on substantial research, it is telegraphed mainly in clunky 21st-century sound bites: “ felt that a woman among them was an aberration of nature... and assumed I was there for one purpose only.” However, the heady, infectious energy of the fledgling film industry in Los Angeles is convincingly conveyed—and the loving but competitive friendship between these two women on the rise in a man’s world is a powerful source of both tension and relatability. Agent: Laura Langlie, Laura Langlie Agency

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