Cover image for The Biograph Girl
The Biograph Girl
Mann, William J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Kensington Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
457 pages ; 23 cm
General Note:
Cataloged from uncorrected proof.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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The highly-acclaimed William J. Mann, Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, takes us on a wild roller-coaster ride through the 20th century, led by a sassy, chain-smoking 107-year-old actress named Florence Lawrence. Masterfully blending fact with fiction, Mann has reimagined this very real historical figure. From her vaudeville childhood as "Baby Flo, The Child Wonder Whistler" to the snowy Bronx backlot where she shot her first motion picture, the lovely Florence Lawrence commanded -- and demanded -- attention. By 1910, she was the legendary, enigmatic Biograph Girl -- the world's very first movie star.

Sixty years later, the fiercely competitive Sheehan twins discover a feisty, mysterious old lady named Flo Bridgewood...a woman who turns out to be none other than the renowned Biograph Girl -- who supposedly died decades before. In this sweeping, sensational novel. Mann has imagined that the movies' first star didn't die. that Florence Lawrence faked her suicide and went on to a whole new life. When the Sheehan brothers find her, she's relaunched into a new and unorthodox stardom, popping up everywhere from the six o'clock news to "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." But Flo, who delights in telling people she's "the one who started all this," soon discovers the times -- and nature of celebrity -- have changed dramatically from the beginning of the century to the end.

Like Christopher Bram's Father of Frankenstein and Alan Gurganus's Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, "The Biograph Girl" is a tour de force that seamlessly weaves historical reality with dazzling invention. With a supporting cast of characters that includeD.W.Griffith. Clark Gable, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, John Waters, and Oprah Winfrey, "The Bio

Author Notes

William J. Mann is an American novelist, biographer, and Hollywood historian best known for his studies of Hollywood and the American film industry, especially his 2006 biography of Katharine Hepburn, Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn. Kate was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2006 by the New York Times. Mann was born in Connecticut and received his Master's degree at Wesleyan University. His first novel, The Men From the Boys, was published by Dutton in 1997. His other biographies include How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, and 2014's New York Times bestseller: Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

What if the first star of the silent screen, Florence Lawrence, didn't die in 1939 from ingesting ant poison, but is 106 and living in a nursing home in Buffalo, New York? Gay freelance writer, Richard Sheehan, finds her by chance while interviewing the elderly for a New York Times article. His ambitious, straight twin, Ben, makes a documentary about her in the hopes that it will jump-start his career. He sends her out on the talk-show circuit, but questions are raised about who is buried in Florence's grave. Still cagey, she refuses to talk about certain aspects of her life, happy just to bask in the limelight once again. Old age finally catches up to her, and Florence's decline brings the conflicts between the two Sheehan brothers to a head. Seamlessly combining actual people, including Florence, who worked for D. W. Griffith, with fictional characters, Mann presents a wonderfully entertaining look at the ups and downs of the life of a star and of the film world, from its inception to the present day. --Patty Engelmann

Publisher's Weekly Review

The birth of the film industry and the advent of the world's first film star, Florence Lawrence, the original "Biograph Girl," form the basis of this fictionalized account of one woman's life in a burgeoning industry that changed the parameters of entertainment. The real silent film actress Lawrence committed suicide in 1938 by drinking ant poison. In Mann's version, LawrenceÄwho was at the height of her fame in 1910, but by the late '30s had faded into oblivionÄand a besotted physician-fan use the suicide of Lawrence's housemate as a ruse to allow Lawrence to disappear gracefully from an industry that no longer wants or cares about her. The fictional Lawrence not only goes on to have her own life, but lives to the ripe old age of 107. Lawrence's compelling story could easily stand alone: she starts out in show business as a stagestruck child, famous as "Baby Flo" for her whistling talents; has a knack for hooking up with the wrong men; and in her new incarnation emerges as an independent, insouciant dame doing her own thing with ‚lan. Mann (Wisecracker) unfortunately burdens this lively material with a cumbersome plot device concerning twin brothers at odds with each other. While researching a piece, New York Times journalist Richard Sheehan discovers that the legendary Florence Lawrence is alive, living in a Catholic nursing home as Florence Bridgewood. Struck by the ex-actress and her remarkable life, he decides to write her biography. His brother, Ben, however, has other plans. Once a film student wunderkind and now stuck in an unrewarding advertising job, Ben intends to use Florence's storyÄand Florence herselfÄto make his way back into the film industry. Though the subplot revolving around the brothers' rivalry pales next to the vivacious incarnation of Florence Lawrence, Mann builds each tale on the other, leading up to a fittingly cinematic grand finale. Agent, Malaga Baldi. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved