The Girls in the Picture: a novel by Melanie Benjamin
Reviewed by: Jennifer Chretien, Reference Librarian
Rating: 3.5 stars
Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were among the most powerful women in the early days of Hollywood. Pickford was considered to be the very first "America's Sweetheart" and best known for her golden curls, youthful looks, and tempestuous marriage to Douglas Fairbanks. Pickford was much more than a pretty face though; she was a shrewd businesswoman with significant control over the movies she made. Frances Marion was a former San Francisco socialite turned artist that was obsessed with the film industry. She developed a close relationship to Mary and soon became one of the most prolific screenwriters of her time.
The Girls in the Picture is an intriguing look at the lives of two very important women of the early 20th Century. The prose is simple, yet vivid, and the characters leap off of the page. Readers can easily imagine themselves transported back to the glamorous events of Hollywood's heyday.
The point of view switches every chapter between Frances' first person point of view and Mary's third person point of view. This is where the book loses points with me. A first person narrative from Frances makes her come alive within the pages. She comes across as more interesting and much more relatable. Mary's perspective written in third person makes her seem flat and lifeless, which the real Mary Pickford is anything but. The novel is also about 50 pages too long. It flounders towards the end, particularly after Mary's career is in its downward spiral. I strongly believe this would be have been a much more riveting novel if Benjamin ended it much earlier in their lives.
Despite the format issues, The Girls in the Picture is a fantastic read. Marion and Pickford are groundbreaking women and their stories should be more widely known. If you're a fan of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, I think you would especially enjoy reading about their early counterparts in the movie business