Published by Delacorte Press
Publication date: January 16th 2018
Genres: Chick Lit, Fiction, Historical
Mary Pickford was one of the first Hollywood stars, having acted from the time she was a child to not only maintaining her film career when silent moves became ‘talkies’, but going on to create her own studio, giving her and her partners the creative control actors didn’t have at the time. Frances Marion was a screenwriter, one of the first women in the business, who went on to write some of Pickford’s best films and win several Academy Awards. They were powerhouse women for their times. Melanie Benjamin explores both women’s lives and their professional and personal relationship in her new novel, The Girls in the Picture.
I fell madly in love with Benjamin’s last novel, The Swans of Fifth Avenue, so hoped that the combination of her sharp prose with a subject I love would be book heaven. Given that Pickford and Frances were women with power in the 20s and 30s, when most women had only just begun to venture out of the home, the facts alone make for great reading. Add an author who can write dynamite prose and I was ready for reading I couldn’t put down.
Benjamin covers all the bases in both these women’s lives with details that stagger even today—namely that Pickford was earning $10,000 a week in 1916, which, adjusted for inflation, equals $12 million a year now. What?! She and Marion formed a strong personal friendship and became the first female collaborative team in the movies. Marion wrote and Pickford acted. The Girls in the Picture is filled with stories of the trials they both faced in their careers and in their personal lives.
It may be that Benjamin does too good a job of writing in the voice of her characters and that’s why the novel comes off as syrupy and bland. Hollywood is not known for its wit, and urbane characters, unlike Manhattan at the time of Swans. Regardless, The Girls in the Picture does not have the same pull and the novel’s end is so treacly that I felt as if I was reading bad chick-lit. There was no snap or sparkle and I didn’t believe it. I wanted so much to love this book, but could not even make it to a solid Like.