A biography of the highest-paid female scriptwriter in Hollywood becomes an exploration of the work and sustaining friendships of the leading women of early cinema. Until now Frances Marion has been largely absent from the screenwriters' pantheon, despite a five-decade career that yielded 325 scripts, many for top films (The Champ, Son of the Sheik, Dinner at Eight). Seasoned film reporter Beauchamp (coauthor, Hollywood on the Riviera, 1992) spends no time taking umbrage. Instead she jumps into Marion Benson Owens's two early marriages, a fateful encounter with Marie Dressler as a reporter for Hearst's San Francisco Examiner, and early days in Los Angeles, where she met lifetime friends Adela Rogers and Mary Pickford, and director Lois Weber, who renamed her Frances Marion. After her first scenario in 1915, an already crowded life became dizzying: It included stints with Famous Players, First National, and MGM, new friendships with Hedda Hopper and Anita Loos, and a happy and creatively fruitful marriage to 1920s western star Fred Thomson until his death in 1928. Beauchamp admirably marshals her research and writes with tempered prose. Still, when her subject is so well placed that she witnesses young George Gershwin playing a new piece called Rhapsody in Blue and introduces directors to a tall guy named Frank (later Gary) Cooper, it's hard not to become a little breathless. There's also a gossipy, epic quality that inspires page-turning: Will entertainment mogul Joseph Kennedy hurt Thomson's career? What will Marion do at MGM after her beloved friend Irving Thalberg dies? At the book's conclusion, what stands out are the friendships. As Marion says, `` `Contrary to the assertion that women do all in their power to hinder one another's progress, I have found that it has always been one of my own sex who had given me a helping hand when I needed it.' '' A triumph of discovery in the often strip-mined quarry of film history.