The Biograph Girl
The best biographical novels compel us to delve more deeply into the true history behind the characters, and this is no exception. In 1910, Florence Lawrence was the world’s first movie star, attracting larger crowds than even the President. In 1938, depressed over her faltering career, she committed suicide. Mann imagines that the real-life Florence faked her death, disappeared, and lived out her old age in a Buffalo, New York rest home. It is there where, in 1997, the rival Sheehan brothers find a feisty 106-year-old woman with sharp memories of the early film industry and convince her to tell her story.
Florence, an entertaining narrator, recalls the details of her long life, from her childhood in vaudeville to her years as the celebrated Biograph Girl, the leading lady of numerous silent films. Never comfortable with fame, Florence was all too soon replaced in audiences’ hearts. Her story is told in pieces, interspersed with that of the Sheehans and their investigations into her past. The novel not only illustrates how much Hollywood has changed in a hundred years, but also, ironically, how very similar it is.