Summary and book reviews of The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

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
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  • Published:
    Jan 2018, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator's Wife, a fascinating novel of the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood's earliest female legends - screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford.

It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone's lips these days is "flickers" - the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you'll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title "America's Sweetheart." The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.

But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender - and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world's highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.

With cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, The Girls in the Picture is, at its heart, a story of friendship and forgiveness. Melanie Benjamin perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era - its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.

Chapter 1


Spring 1914

"Mary? Hey, Mary, here's that girl artist I was telling you about."

Owen Moore thumped on the door, cocked his head, listening. He held up a finger. "Hold on, she's cutting," he informed me dismissively. "Wait here. She'll yell when she's ready."

"Are you sure this is a good time?" I patted my long skirt, sneezing as reddish-brown California dust came flying out of it, and touched my head to make sure my cartwheel hat was still pinned into place. Oh, if only I could have brought my sketches! But the Santa Anas had been too fierce this morning. They would have blown my sketch folder right out of my hands, and of course I didn't own a car, so I'd had to take the trolley, and I had no idea what number to telephone to postpone the appointment—and I wouldn't have done so anyway, not for the world.

So I'd had to leave my sketches behind, and I felt as if I'd misplaced a baby, so used was I to having something in my...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Frances and Mary, especially in their younger years, feel they have to choose between pursuing careers and fulfilling traditional expectations of marriage. Did these conversations surprise you? Do you think these pressures still exist for women today?
  2. How did you react to the sexism Frances and Mary face in the movie industry? How do the women confront their male superiors, and do they ever prove the men who doubted them wrong?
  3. Mary's role as an actress places her in the spotlight while Frances works behind the scenes as her "scenarist." Does Mary's fame work for or against her? What about Frances's relative anonymity?
  4. Did you identify more with Frances or Mary? Why? Whose chapters were more intriguing to you?
  5. Benjamin ...
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BookBrowse Review


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.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review Members Only (778 words).

Media Reviews


Benjamin immerses readers in the whirlwind excitement of Mary's and Frances' lives while portraying a rarely seen character, an early woman screenwriter, and deftly exploring the complexities of female friendship.

Publishers Weekly

The heady, infectious energy of the fledgling film industry in Los Angeles is convincingly conveyed - and the loving but competitive friendship between these two women on the rise in a man's world is a powerful source of both tension and relatability.

Kirkus Reviews

A smart, fond backward glance at two trailblazers from an era when being the only woman in the room was not only the norm, but revolutionary.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This engrossing and rewarding read provides the same mixture of well-researched plot and fascinating characters [that has] made Benjamin's previous novels so outstanding.

Author Blurb Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Cruel Beautiful World and Pictures of You
Melanie Benjamin, known for her living, breathing portraits of famous figures, takes on the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the friendship between icons Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion. As riveting as the latest blockbuster, this is a star-studded story of female friendships, creative sparks about to ignite, and the power of women. Dazzling.

Author Blurb Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan's Tale
With the artistry for which she has become renowned, Melanie Benjamin has simultaneously created an insightful tale of the relationship between writer and muse and a breathtaking view into Hollywood's most glittering era.

Author Blurb Allison Pataki, York Times bestselling author of Where the Light Falls and Sisi
With elegant prose and delicious historical detail, Benjamin delivers a timely tale of female friendship - and the powerful duo who dared to dream beyond the narrow roles into which they'd been cast.

Author Blurb Lauren Belfer, New York Times bestselling author of And After the Fire
The Girls in the Picture is a fascinating, fast-paced, and ultimately heartbreaking story about two kindred spirits and their struggle for professional and personal fulfillment.

Author Blurb Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky
This vibrant portrait of two Hollywood groundbreakers is rich with insights about friendship, ambition and power... . A fascinating read.

Author Blurb Dawn Tripp, author of Georgia
Melanie Benjamin is a transcendent storyteller, and with The Girls in the Picture, she has created a spellbinding novel of female power and ambition, heartbreak and desire.

Author Blurb Elizabeth J. Church, author of The Atomic Weight of Love and All the Beautiful Girls
Her many fans should get ready for the pleasure of yet another of these Benjamin miracles in The Girls in the Picture, where they'll venture into early Hollywood, the magic of 'flickers,' and women's struggles to find - and hold on to - power within that celluloid world.

Reader Reviews

Diane D.

Interesting Movie History
This book kept giving me more surprises as it went on. I hadn't realized that Mary Pickford was the first star of silent pictures, nor that she carried that over into Talkies & was the first in so many things. I did know that she and Douglas ...   Read More

Betty Taylor

A Test of Friendship
I thoroughly enjoyed “The Girls in the Picture” by Melanie Benjamin and learned a lot from it. That is why I have come to love the genre of historical fiction – I always learn something new. I knew very little about the early days of the movie ...   Read More


Surreptitious delight
A fascinating look at still movies and beyond through the lens of Mary Pickford and Frances Marion from the 1914-1969. How prescient of Benjamin to examine the sexual misconduct and the treatment of women as second class citizens in the movie ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Birth of Moving Pictures

Although the main characters in Melanie Benjamin's historical novel The Girls in the Picture are just breaking into the nascent film industry in the early 1900s, actual moving pictures had been around for decades. It all began in the United States, shortly after the American Civil War.

Eadweard MuybridgeIn the early 1870s, British born Eadweard Muybridge – a.k.a. Eadweard "Helios," Ted Muggeridge, Muygridge or E.J. Muggridge – then living in the States, was busy experimenting with the fascinating new art of photography. Described as solitary, peripatetic, unpredictable and nervous, Muybridge attracted the attention of staid, shrewd and ruthless California businessman Leland Stanford. The former California governor and founder of Stanford ...

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