Sunday Intertitle: Rushing to Destruction

Looking at WAKING UP THE TOWN, a peculiar Jack Pickford vehicle from the twenties — my first exposure to Jack, brother of the more famous Mary. At times he looks like his sister in drag. I mainly knew of him in terms of the stories about his drug addiction, and the tragic death of his beautiful movie star wife Olive Thomas. Since I didn’t get a chance to see all of WAKING, (which does have a Dublin connection since his character is called Jim Joyce) I’m really using it as a springboard to quote a chunk of screenwriter Lenore Coffee’s entrancing memoir, Storyline ~

Lovely Olive Thomas, who had the face of an angel and the speech of a guttersnipe, through no fault of hers. When barely fourteen her two sailor brothers, when on shore leave, used to take her to a studio where the photographer specialized in nude studies. I don’t think, at this stage, she could have realized what many of her poses represented. She only knew that after her brothers had pocketed the money there was usually enough left for her to buy a new pair of shoes or a new dress and, on especially successful days, sometimes both. When she became a highly paid star she never changed. Her language was really appalling but she never said anything deliberately to offend. She didn’t even know when the words she used were offensive. For instance, once in the lobby of a famous hotel an elderly woman dropped her knitting and Olive, in one graceful, sweeping gesture, picked it up and handed it to her, displaying in this gesture a magnificent diamond ring which caught the old lady’s eye. ‘My, how wonderful to have a ring as beautiful as that!’

Olive said as carelessly as if she were telling where to get a cup of tea, ‘It’s easy, honey. I got this for two humps with an old Jew in Palm Beach.’ And went serenely on her way, leaving the old lady to ask anxiously of her neighbours, ‘Can anyone tell me what are “humps”? I’ve always associated them with camels.’

More from Coffee’s entertaining, and at times horrifying autobiography in the coming week…

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4 Responses to “Sunday Intertitle: Rushing to Destruction”

  1. Yes, and she weathered the transition to sound without apparent difficulty — a forty year career with brilliant films dotted throughout from the twenties to the fifties.

  2. TWO humps? Honey, never pay retail.

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