cover image The Biograph Girl

The Biograph Girl

William J. Mann, Mann. Kensington Publishing Corporation, $23 (468pp) ISBN 978-1-57566-559-7

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, Lawrence--who was at the height of her fame in 1910, but by the late '30s had faded into oblivion--and 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 story--and Florence herself--to 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)