Golden Queens of the Silver Screen

With the Oscars coming up and it being just too cold and snowy to spend much time outside, it's movie time. I picked some novels starring the leading ladies of yesteryear, as well as those who helped make them great. Grab your popcorn and Dots, and prepare to be entertained. 

Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were more than just business partners. In addition to cofounding the United Artists studio, Marion wrote most of Pickford's most famous vehicles. Melanie Benjamin chronicles their friendship in The Girls in the Picture.  Benjamin captures the giddiness of a new art form, not entirely unlike a modern startup, where women are allowed some power before the men take it over. Also not completely new to the modern age are the dilemmas of balancing career, marriage, and children. Pickford and Marion support each other through heartbreak, uncertainty, and this scary new thing called being a movie star in this highly atmospheric novel. 

In William J. Mann's The Biograph Girl, Florence Lawrence, the original Biograph Girl before Mary Pickford attained the title, did not commit suicide in 1939 after her career foundered. Instead, a journalist discovers the centenarian in a Catholic nursing home, and attempts to put her back in the spotlight. The journalist has a twin, a would-be documentarian, who tries to get Lawrence to open up about certain aspects of her life she absolutely will not discuss. As Lawrence goes into decline, the brothers and Lawrence reflect on the choices they made that put them where they are.

Mabel and Me by movie historian Jon Boorstin follows the careers and friendship of Mabel Normand and Jack Smith. Normand stars in silent films, eventually playing opposite Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle, while Smith works his way up the career ladder to be the driving force of Normand's career. Smith, like pretty much everyone else, is attracted to Normand but their age difference puts a wrench in being anything more than friends. Like The Girls in the Picture, the real romance is with film and Boorstin lovingly describes the early days of the art.

Finally, there's All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani. In 1933, Loretta Young is an up-and-coming star, on the wrong side of luck and the Hays moral code. While a devout Catholic, she falls hard for a married Clark Gable and bears his child in secret, hoping he'll come around. Aided by a personal secretary who is a former nun and the charming and the witty David Niven, Loretta survives it all. This is a sumptuous novel, full of stars of the era and the oppression from the moralists who tried to run Golden Age Hollywood.

Got a favorite movie from the period or book about its movie stars? Please share in the comments.

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