Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Short, Sweet Life Of Olive Thomas

Here's another name I didn't know until I started writing this blog (okay, who am I kidding. I'd never heard of her until this morning—thanks, KC).

Olive Thomas, born on this day in 1894, died at the height of her fame in 1920 while on vacation in France. Born Olive Duffy in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, Thomas fled an abusive marriage to a local millworker for New York City. There, she won Howard Chandler Christy's contest for "The Most Beautiful Girl In New York" and soon after posed for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

She went to work for Florenz Ziegfeld's risque Midnight Frolic, where the dancers, clad only in balloons, would slowly disrobe by allowing wealthy customers to pop their costumes with lit cigars. Thomas also posed nude for Alberto Vargas—that painting is easy enough to track down on the internet if you are so inclined.

In 1916 Thomas signed a contract with the International Film Company and made twenty-four movies over a four year period. Her best known work is The Flapper, a 1920 movie by legendary screenwriter Frances Marion about a senator's daughter who longs to leave her sheltered existence and live the life of a flapper. It was a formula often repeated but Hollywood had to start ripping itself off somewhere. I watched it this morning on YouTube. Eh, it's okay.

While in Hollywood, Thomas became involved with Jack Pickford, film star Mary's brother. Said Frances Marion, "They were the wildest brats ... who ever stirred the stardust on Broadway. Both were talented, but they were much more interested in playing the roulette of life than in concentrating on their careers."

The end came suddenly for Olive Thomas. While vacationing with Jack Pickford in France, Thomas drank a bottle of mercury bichloride that had been prescribed for Pickford's syphilis. French authorities ruled the death an accident. Thomas was a month shy of her twenty-sixth birthday.

The Baltimore Examiner, a local paper if you happen to live where I do, claims that to this day, Olive Thomas's ghost haunts the New Amsterdam Theater in New York where she danced for Ziegfeld. Maybe she misses that business with the balloons.


KC said...

How funny--when I saw the title of your post in my reader I thought--oh good, I've been meaning to learn more about Olive Thomas. I'm so glad my b-day listing inspired you to do the heavy-lifting for me. All I knew of her before was the way that she died. I'll have to check out The Flapper. Great post as always!

Mythical Monkey said...

That's funny, because I saw you'd listed Olive Thomas's birthday and I figured, wow, KC must know everything and I started doing research to catch up. Her life turned out to be so interesting, I put together a fast post about her.

Thanks for the push.

Mz. Louise Brooks said...

Hey, you two -- get a room!

It's a good thing Mz. Thomas downed the tincture when she did -- otherwise, I'd have done to her what I did to that Livingston bitch.

Yes; the truth will out: I offed Margaret!

Anyway, Olive was a swell girl, by all accounts, but no one that you'd want to cast in a meaningful lead.

Unless you were casting a "filler" blogpost pending completion of your best supporting actor of 1930-31 post . . . .

for that, she was the cat's pyjamas!

Mythical Monkey said...

Actually, I'm working on the Best Supporting Actress essay, which I will post tomorrow without fail.

And before this afternoon is out, I will also post my choice for best fun-stupid movie of 1930-31. A busy couple of blogging days.

Mythical Monkey said...

By the way, for five thousand really well written words about Olive Thomas, I'd recommend "Beautiful Dead Girl" by Gordon Thomas at Bright Lights Film Journal. Gordon makes Olive sound like the foulest-of-foul-mouthed drunken promiscuous manipulative brats which must have come as something of a culture shock to a Hollywood used to Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford. I can't honestly tell you how much talent she had -- the one movie that's available outside of a private collection is The Flapper and it's fairly run-of-the-mill stuff -- but somebody at the time sure must have thought she had something special to put up with her. I'll chalk her up as interesting question mark.