BookBrowse Reviews The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Girls in the Picture

by Melanie Benjamin

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin X
The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Jan 2018, 448 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

Buy This Book

About this Book



A story about the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood's earliest female legends - screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford

Melanie Benjamin's fine historical novel about the relationship between two women in the early days of American filmmaking does what all great novels must. It provokes deeper thought, more questions, and more ponderings on the nature of things.

It's 1914 and young San Franciscan Marion Benson Owen de Lappe Pike is already a twice-wed marriage cynic when she and husband #2 arrive in the then-sleepy town of Los Angeles. She's yearning to find a future for herself. He's content with tending his father's steel business. But soon Marion is questioning the decision to leave bustling, if staid, San Francisco for this place: "Everywhere I walked I encountered quaint little squares lined with the small adobe-style homes I'd seen in pictures of Mexico; colorfully tiled fountains centered the squares and people would lounge about, napping or reading or simply relishing being outdoors in the middle of February." So she plies her artistic talent to her job as an advertising illustrator and wonders if she is doomed to "sleep my way through a disappointing life I didn't remember choosing."

At around the same time, an ambitious former child actress known as Mary Pickford is straining under the weight of carrying the burden of family provider for her mother and fatherless siblings. An experienced stage actress, she initially balks at lowering herself to ply her trade in front of a moving picture camera. But she soon discovers she can earn more money acting in what were then called "flickers." First in New York City, later in Los Angeles, her curly-haired tresses, petite figure and childlike face adapt well to this new medium. She too has become a cynic about marriage since her matinee idol husband, Owen Moore, leaves Mary alone and wanting in their conjugal bed. However, he makes his desires clear to Marion (who has now changed her name to Frances Marion), when they meet at a party, but she adeptly redirects him to wrangle an introduction to his famous wife.

The two women know immediately they are kindred spirits. Despite drastically different personal histories – Fran is from a stable home with a good education, Mary has known only a life of suitcases and transacting tough business deals with niggardly theater owners – they share unbridled ambition for a future in moving pictures. Mary wants on screen recognition, more money and greater artistic control over the films she acts in. Fran doesn't know early on what she wants to do but, thanks to Mary, is allowed to find her niche: screenwriting.

Fran begins writing screenplays for Mary's silent films. "I liked it enormously!", she gushes. And between her sensitivity to the kinds of roles that best suit her friend and Mary's savvy understanding of what her fans want, the pair are off and running into a fabulously successful future. It's a future that holds both reward and heartbreak, financial wealth and personal tragedy.

Benjamin tells this story in alternating points of view. Fran's first person account is full of her; her personal thoughts and feelings leap off the page. Hers is a rich, full life told with all the color and sensibility of a talented writer. Mary's universal point of view passages keep the real woman at arm's length. We're getting only a bird's eye view of the beloved actress. Others have criticized Benjamin for this divergence. I think it plays magnificently into the way each woman looks at life and, most importantly, at their relationship. It is as intentional as it is provocative.

It is clear these women are ahead of their time, in the right place at the right point in a nascent industry. Of course there is a kinship, a wink and a nod to the sluggishness of stodgy businessmen who can't see the creative potential of moving pictures. But is theirs a friendship? The book jacket says so. Obviously Mary was Fran-the-writer's initial muse. Fran was the embodiment of all Mary needed to become obscenely famous and wealthy beyond her wildest dreams, penning one box office success after another for the actress. But does the writer owe anything to her muse? What does the actor owe her public? Does friendship come with an unspoken debt? And what about jealousy and resentment?

These are but a few of the ponderables with which The Girls in the Picture left me. The story may be historical but I believe Benjamin has made it as relevant as the real life dramas played out behind the scenes of every "flicker" that splashes across every screen every day. I quite enjoyed meeting these women and highly recommend this book to readers who like historical fiction, movies, and stories about strong, driven women.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review is from the March 7, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Birth of Moving Pictures

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girls in the Picture
    The Girls in the Picture
    by Melanie Benjamin
    Melanie Benjamin's fine historical novel about the relationship between two women in the early ...
  • Book Jacket: The Driest Season
    The Driest Season
    by Meghan Kenny
    On a summer afternoon in 1943, an almost sixteen-year-old Cielle Jacobson walks into the family barn...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano

    A charming, bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily's newest amateur sleuth.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Y L D W D, Y'll G U W Fleas

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.