Girls in the Picture (Benjamin)

The Girls in the Picture 
Melanie Benjamin, 2018
Random House
448 pp.

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 given her the title of 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 both by 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Aka—Melanie Hauser
Birth—November 24. 1962
Where—Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Education—Indiana University (Purdue University at Indianapolis)
Currently—lives near Chicago, Illinois

Melanie Benjamin is the pen name of American writer, Melanie Hauser (nee Miller). Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Melanie is one of three children. Her brother Michael Miller is a published non-fiction author and musician. Melanie attended Indiana University—Purdue University at Indianapolis then married Dennis Hauser in 1988; they presently reside in the Chicago, Illinois area with their two sons.

Early writing
As Melanie Hauser, she published short stories in the In Posse Review and The Adirondack Review. Her short story "Prodigy on Ice" won the 2001 "Now Hear This" short story competition that was part of a WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) program called Stories on Stage, where short stories were performed and broadcast.

When Melanie sold her first of two contemporary novels, she had to add Lynne to her name (Melanie Lynne Hauser) to distinguish her from the published sports journalist Melanie Hauser.

The first of Melanie's contemporary novels, Confessions of Super Mom was published in 2005; the sequel Super Mom Saves the World came out in 2007.  In addition to her two contemporary novels, Melanie also contributed an essay to the anthology IT'S A BOY and maintained a popular mom blog called The Refrigerator Door.

Fictional biographies
Under the pen name Melanie Benjamin (a combination of her first name and her son's first name), she shifted genres to historical fiction. Her third novel, Alice I Have Been, was inspired by Alice Liddell Hargreaves's life (the real-life Alice of Alice in Wonderland). Published in 2010, Alice I Have Been was a national bestseller and reached the extended list of The New York Times Best Seller list.

In 2011, Benjamin fictionalized another historical female. Her novel The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb focuses on the life of Lavinia Warren Bump, a proportionate dwarf featured in P.T. Barnum's shows.

Her third fictionalized biography, The Aviator's Wife, was released in 2013 and centers on Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of famed aviator, Charles Lindberg.

The Swans of Manhattan, published in 2016, revolves around the Truman Capot-Babe Paley friendship and the glitterati of Manhattan during the 1950s and '60s. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/14/2016.)

Book Reviews
It is not a spoiler to share that the first scene of THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE is the beginning of the final chapter—a genius move by author Melanie Benjamin. I flipped through the pages enthralled, needing to understand how the great Mary Pickford, a glamorous 1920s actress, had happened upon such a sad ending personally.… This timely, well-crafted piece of historical fiction is absolutely worth the read. MORE…
Abby Fabiaschi, author - LitLovers

In the era of #MeToo, Girls could not be more timely—or troubling—about the treatment of women in the workplace.… [Melanie] Benjamin portrays the affection and friction between Pickford and Marion with compassion and insight.… As Hollywood preps for an Oscar season riven with the sexual mistreatment scandal, the rest of us can settle in with this rich exploration of two Hollywood friends who shaped the movies.
USA Today

A boffo production.… One of the pleasures of The Girls in the Picture its no-males-necessary alliance of two determined females—#TimesUp before its time.… Inspiration is a rare and unexpected gift in a book filled with the fluff of Hollywood, but Benjamin provides it with The Girls in the Picture.

Full of Old Hollywood glamour and true details about the pair’s historic careers, The Girls in the Picture is a captivating ode to a legendary bond.
Real Simple

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.
Publishers Weekly

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.

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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
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 references many movies produced in the early days of Hollywood, such as The Birth of a Nation, The Poor Little Rich Girl, and The Big House. Have you seen or heard of any of these movies? If not, did the novel make you want to seek them out?

6. Have you ever had a friendship as supportive, productive, and collaborative as Frances and Mary’s? Do you think that kind of friendship can only thrive between the young and ambitious, or can you find it at any age?

7. Are Frances and Mary truly equal creative partners or does one woman hold more power over the other? How do the power dynamics of their partnership change over the course of their lives?

8. Consider the opening line of Mary’s first chapter: "Mama, I made a friend!" How does Mary’s relationship with her mother affect her throughout her career? Does Mary feel as though she needs to prove something to her—and if so, what?

9. Seeing the frontlines of the war—and the war’s brutal ramifications for women—is a turning point for Frances. Why do you think Frances makes the decision to leave her flourishing career and go to war? How did Mary’s decision to stay in Hollywood and work on her movies affect her relationship with Frances?

10. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the most celebrated couple of their age. Can you think of a similarly iconic couple alive today?

11. Despite their remarkable success, Frances and Mary experience anxiety in their personal and professional lives. What is Frances most insecure about? What makes Mary feel imprisoned?

12. What do you think causes Frances and Mary’s friendship to fracture? Do you think it was one incident or many over time? Was it inevitable?

13. Throughout the novel, Benjamin sprinkles appearances from well-known celebrities and illuminating details about the time and place of the story. What did you learn about early Hollywood and the naissance of the movie industry?

14. What female screenwriters or directors do you know of? How do sexism, gender bias, and inequality manifest in the film industry today?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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