The Birth of Hollywood

In Melanie Benjamin’s novel The Girls in the Picture, the girls are screen writer Frances Marion and actress Mary Pickford, each of them new to Hollywood as the story begins. Told from both points of view (first person for Fran, third for Mary), the novel runs through the growth of the movie industry from 1914 through the late thirties. It centers around the friendship and collaboration between the two women (Marion wrote many of Pickford’s most successful movies, as well as some not so successful), and their eventual drifting apart, as Marion continued to be one of the most successful screen writers (”scenarists,” as they were once known) in the first half of the twentieth century, while Pickford faded away, trapped in her own image as Little Mary, the Girl With the Curls.


The Girls in the PictureBenjamin has clearly done a great deal of research, while also fleshing out the two women as real people, through their professional successes and failures as well as their personal lives. The book is also a fascinating look at the growth of an industry, from a light-hearted, fun-filled adventure in the early years to a serious business-focused industry—controlled by men. Although Marion was a successful (and highly paid) writer and Pickford a brilliant business woman and a founder (with Fairbanks and Chaplin) of United Artists, Benjamin also deals with the problems women faced in the first part of the twentieth century—not much different from those of the twenty-first. The very title, The Girls in the Picture, comes from Marion’s recognition, long years later, when looking through photos from those early days, that she and Pickford were almost always the only girls in the picture.


Well researched and well written, the book teems with both familiar and forgotten names from the early days of the movie business, when everything was new and exciting in Hollywoodland. A fascinating read.


Back to Borders, for the last time?

I made another pass through Borders this morning, not looking for anything in particular but unable to resist the increasing discounts.  As it turned out, this is also the last weekend the store is honoring Borders Plus cards with an extra ten per cent off.

The store is still neat and clean, not as crowded as it was the first weekend of the sale but still busier than it ever was before they pulled the plug.  The shelving has become a bit random, but there’s still a lot of stock.  Apparently they are still shipping books to the stores rather than leave them languish in the warehouse (or be stripped and returned to the publishers).

I started with the science fiction shelves.  I haven’t kept up with sf in recent years the way I once did, although I still order fairly regularly from the Science Fiction Book Club.  I do love a good space adventure now and then, and on my last trip to Borders I picked up the first in a series by Ann Aguirre.  Haven’t read it yet, but I found two more installments on the shelf and picked them up (still missing number three).  I also bought Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson, a book I missed when it first came out in 1998.  Alternate history with a gorgeous cover.

Then I went over to the romance shelves, where I found Kieran Kramer’s When Harry Met Molly, a double finalist (for Best First Book and Best Regency) in this year’s Rita contest.  How could someone who loves (and writes) humor resist that title?

On the mystery shelves I found Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn, a handsome trade paperback from a predominantly romance publisher (Mira) which labels the book simply historical fiction.  This is the fourth volume (I think) in a series, so I’ll be jumping into the story.

Back to the front of the store, where I picked up two novels by Melanie Benjamin.  I blame these on National Public Radio, which carried an interview with Benjamin this week about her current release, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, a novel based on the life of its historical heroine, less than three feet tall, who refused to hide from the world.  On the next shelf down was Benjamin’s previous novel, Alice I Have Been, based on the life on Alice Liddell, the original Alice in Wonderland.  I’ve bought a lot of books that I might otherwise never have heard about since our Houston NPR station split into an all-talk channel and an all-music channel.  Maybe I should be listening to the music side more.

Meanwhile, the invisible To Be Read shelf in my Kindle continues to expand.  On the previous Borders expedition, I bought the last volume in a set of four by Zoë Archer, an alternate nineteenth-century fantasy series called The Blades of the Rose.  I didn’t find any more of those today, but I remembered seeing the series at Amazon.  Checked this afternoon and found all four bundled into one file for $9.99.  Click.  Now available on my Kindle, four more novels . . .

Not a contemporary setting in the stack today.  I am currently reading It Had to Be You, by my good friend Cheryl Bolen, on my Kindle, a novel set in Los Angeles before and during (and maybe after–I’m at the 60% mark) World War II.  The serious side of the novel deals with the unconscionable treatment of the Japanese living in California in those years;  the fun part covers Hollywood and teems with well-known names of writers and actors.  Cheryl’s done a terrific job of making life in the Los Angeles of the thirties and forties an integral part of the novel.

Is there a twelve step program for book-aholics?