Take a trip back to the early days of Hollywood and the flickers (movies), when you read The Girls in the Picture.
I read the book right after a presentation by Melanie Benjamin about her most recent book. This novel is timely, published just before the Oscars and during the discussions of “me-too” and “women’s voices in Hollywood.”
The title didn’t come from the idea of movie pictures, Melanie said, but from old photos where Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were often the only women in the room (surrounded by men) during important events, such as the founding of United Artists.
Besides giving us a close-up view of the new movie industry, she tells this story through the voices of two powerful women who became friends, during that time, imagining what they were thinking and how the movies changed.
The book is fiction, just as their movies were, but often truth can be revealed through fiction. Each person seeing a movie or reading a book sees it through their eyes.
Silent movie star Mary Pickford and writer Frances Marion met during the confusion that was early Hollywood and became best friends and movers and shakers in that world.
As a writer, I could identify more with Frances and her view of this emerging new method of communication. Some thoughts from the fictional Frances Marion that I could identify with:
”How fun-how freeing- it had been to put myself in other people’s shoes! To imagine their lives, their relationships, what they might say, even if it was merely party chatter. I wasn’t acting only one role, I was acting several—all of them—all intoxicatingly different.”
“This is it, this is what I was looking for, waiting for, all those years. This flowering, this opening of hearts and eyes and minds, great vistas, all through the creation of people like me – people whose imaginations were too big for real life, so we had to build another.”
“Perhaps the simplest formula for a plot is: invent some colorful personalities, involve them in an apparently hopeless complication or predicament, then extricate them in a logical and dramatic way that brings them happiness.”
These two women were very different, but both loved this new world, Hollywood. Mary could bring the emotions alive in front of the camera and was an astute business woman, while Frances was a writer and director.
Mary and Douglas Fairbanks married, became the king and queen of Hollywood during that era. Pickfair was like the Buckingham Palace of California and they entertained royally. Frances and Fred Thompson married and the four honeymooned together.
Both women were far more than just their jobs. Besides their movies, they were instrumental in forming United Artists, the Screen Writers Guild and the Academy Awards and other Hollywood institutions. Pickford won the second Academy Award and Marion won two Academy Writing Awards.”
I had trouble putting this book down, although I knew it was not going to be a happy story all the way to the end. Life happens to all of us and not necessarily the way we want. I hope you enjoy “The Girls in the Picture” as much as I did. Thanks to Melanie Benjamin for a wonderful story and a good presentation and compliments to Penquin Random House, Carroll Community College and Carroll County Public Library.
I’ve also enjoyed Melanie’s books, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (which I read in 2012) and The Aviator’s Wife (2015) and look forward to reading more of her books.
You can learn more about the author and books at www.melanieBenjamin.com and on twitter@MelanieBen.
Okay. For those who have stuck with me, here is another quote from Frances Marion who volunteered and went to war (WWI).
“It was odd, I knew; I’d come to war for a lot of reasons, one of which, if I were being honest, was to gain experience; experience to write about. Because that’s what writers did; they lived, then they wrote about that living.”