I first became familiar with Melanie Benjamin when I read her novel about Anne Lindbergh in ‘The Aviator’s Wife‘. I was absolutely awestruck by how Ms. Benjamin could draw me into the world she was writing about. Hers is a genuine talent that I admire so much in writers; where they can make the world disappear and draw you into the world they’re written about. She takes these known figures, figures that we’ve known only by history and makes them living, breathing, vibrant people. There are dimension and wonder created. I became a fan then and I was so excited to hear about this project. I love Old Hollywood and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this novel.
I was not disappointed.
Given my love for Old Hollywood, I’m a bit surprised that I’ve never heard of Frances Marion. I’m not entirely sure if it’s an error on my part or if history has tried to erase her at all. It could be both so I am glad to be aware of her now. Ms. Marion was a “Scenarist” back then, what we now call a screenwriter. She could have worked on screen, but she found that she preferred to be behind the scenes. She did make a few appearances in film though.
Not only did she help with a lot of scripts (300, 160 of which became produced films!), she was close friends with Mary Pickford. They were so close that when Mary married Douglas Fairbanks, she and her new husband, Fred Thomson all honeymooned together. What I loved was the friendship between the two women; how genuine and tender it was. They were legendary for the fact that not only were they women in a field where men seemed to reign supreme but each became powerful forces to be reckoned with. They became businesswomen, which at the time was a truly trailblazing endeavor and each made significant contributions in the movie industry. (Have you ever heard of United Artists? Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. created it!) It wasn’t always sunshine and roses, of course. Jealousy flared its ugly head, threatening the friendship. By 1932, Mary’s career was over, given that she was so small and childlike, the transition to ‘talkies’ wasn’t kind to her as she wanted to be seen as an adult. She only made four of those. Frances had endeavored to give Mary a childhood on screen (because she never had one in real life; having been working to support her entire family since she was a child) but it seemed ‘America’s Sweetheart’ wasn’t meant to be seen as anything but the young girl America had fallen in love with.
Frances’ career continues to soar, however. She has been a journalist and served overseas during WW1, documenting women’s contributions to the war efforts. They were nurses, typists, messengers, and support. She was even the first woman to cross the Rhine after the armistice. Her career continued onwards and upwards. She was a force all on her own. She eventually became quite wealthy, earning $50,000 per film. But in 1946, she said goodbye to Hollywood.
I enjoyed greatly learning about silent films and how they were evolving to ‘talkies’ and the technical aspects of film were very interesting to learn. They really were spliced together from all different things to create a film. It was interesting to learn that the actors were also quite hands-on, stepping behind the camera to see how things would look and things to that effect. To see two women become such powerhouses was amazing and I loved reading about that. I also loved the complexity of their friendship; it jumped off the pages to me, giving me the feeling of it being a friendship I might have with someone. Though I really wouldn’t let a man come between a friend and myself!
I also enjoyed the mention of other celebrities of the day, particularly Charlie Chaplin! All in all, I wasn’t disappointed and I look forward to when Ms. Benjamin releases a new novel.
I’d give it ★★★★ stars.
- I received a copy of this in exchange for my fair and honest review. Thank you to Random House! ❤
- I would recommend this to a friend. 100%!