This is another fictionalized book about real people by Ms Benjamin (who wrote “The Swans of Fifth Avenue”) – and it’s an intriguing read! I’m sure we all have the basic knowledge of Mary Pickford who was America’s sweetheart, the “girl with the curls” who married Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and lived the glamorous star life. What I didn’t know is that there was another woman from that era who was also forging a path for herself in a man’s world – Frances Marion, a writer who became a close friend of Mary’s. This book tells that story.
It begins in the silent era of movies, aka “flickers”, and a chance meeting between Mary and Frances sets the stage for their friendship. Mary was born Gladys Smith in Canada, and she was supporting her family through her acting. Frances Marion had been already divorced twice when she moved to Hollywood to make a fresh start, determined to support herself by writing. She starts by working for another woman screenwriter, and is fascinated by the business. While she is pretty enough to be in front of the cameras, she prefers to stay out of the limelight. This also helps aid her friendship with Mary, as Mary sees other actresses as competition and would never befriend any of them. What Frances is able to do for Mary as a writer is to give the woman’s perspective in the story, something that male writers never could do.
The book does focus more on Frances, as her chapters are told in first person and I was captivated by her. She made her way up the ranks, and had great success with many films other than the ones she wrote for Mary. In fact, she was the first woman to win an Academy Award for best original screenplay. In her personal life, she ended marrying a third time to Fred Thomson, a soldier who had the movie star looks to become a well known actor in Westerns after the war. They built a gorgeous home in Hollywood called Enchanted Hills where they entertained many of the luminaries of the time. (I was doing a little reading about that home after I finished this book and was saddened to read that it was bulldozed to the ground in 1997 after Paul Allen, founder of Microsoft, bought the property. I believe it’s still a sad empty lot to this day.)
If you enjoy reading about old Hollywood and the people who were responsible for the film industry, you will probably like this book. We get glimpses of Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, Louis B. Mayer along with many others. While Mary and Frances may have had their success, they had their share of heartache as well and it was a fascinating look at how they became “the girls in the picture”.