I was honestly hesitant to even pick up Girls in the Picture due to the triumph that was the Swans of Fifth Avenue. I thought there was no way author Melanie Benjamin could follow that up with anything worthy. I was so wrong–and I’m so glad. Girls in the Picture is right up there on the same fabulous level as Swans of Fifth Avenue.
“Her desperation was so palpable it should have had its own dressing room on set.”
Famed silent film star Mary Pickford, aka America’s Sweetheart, and Academy Award-winning screen writer Francis Marion helped make movies what we know them to be today. Their friendship and their professional collaborations are the focus of this often emotional fictionalization of their lives from the early “flickers” to 1969.
Thru the book we come to know Mary and Fran and also screen legend Douglas Fairbanks. We experience Pickfair–the Buckingham Palace of early Hollywood. We also come to see what fame and listening to your press does to one.
As possibly the first ever “typecast” actor, Mary Pickford suffered the ruin of her acting career while at the same time she, along with husband Douglas Fairbanks and legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplain, formed United Artists–making her a formidible figure in the motion picture industry. Meanwhile Francis Marion, the woman who unwittingly helped to typecast Mary, earns accolades the likes of which women screen writers today would love to receive. Both women were trailblazers for women, not only in the movie industry, but in careers in general–by taking control of real careers, careers that they helped to define.
But, as so often happens to women, but almost never to men, the sacrifices they had to make were brutal. One of the hard parts of listening to audio books while driving is the desire to capture superb quotes. One I could not capture featured a dialogue on marriage and how women who are successful so often have no ability to choose decent husbands. Both women were married multiple times, but each did find her true love.
Interestingly, the author’s note at the end is, for once, as good as the novel itself. Having forbidden myself to research anything on Mary or Fran while reading the book (an occupational habit of librarians) here was essentially the sum total of my knowledge of Mary Pickford: that she, Douglas and Charlie Chaplain made a movie with the then Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten during their honeymoon travels in 1921–part of which I have seen. The author’s note filled me in much more.
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An unexpected benefit to me as an adoptive Mom one part of this filled me with relief that adoption has become a much, much more rigorous process! I really doubt that was the author’s intent though!
You can read my review of Swans of Fifth Avenue here: There Were Three In This Marriage….