Archive for Olive Thomas

Sunday Intertitle: Rushing to Destruction

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on November 18, 2012 by dcairns

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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A Life in Intertitles

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on August 8, 2010 by dcairns

THE FLAPPER, written by Frances Marion (THE SCARLET LETTER) and directed by Alan Crosland (BELOVED ROGUE), is an intermittently amusing, very watchable comedy, made both fascinating and melancholy by the appearance of star Olive Thomas. Not only is Thomas’s life at cruel odds with the lighthearted movie she stars in, the intertitles keep butting up against the facts of her story in a way that seems cruel, suggestive, mysterious and discomfiting. And since those are all emotions I can enjoy at times, I thought I’d bring you the Olive Thomas story, in illustrated intertitle form.

Information lifted wholesale from the IMDb and Wikipedia.

She was born Oliva R. Duffy, or possibly Oliveretta Elaine Thomas, in 1894. She was brought up in a working-class home in Pittsburgh. Her father died when she was young and she had to leave school to help support her family. She married at 16 but it didn’t take — she divorced two years later and went to New York.

Working in a Harlem department store, Olive responded to a newspaper contest seeking The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City — and won!

This led to a modeling career, including landing the front cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Artist Harrison Fisher recommended Olive to Florenz Ziegfeld, and she joined the Follies, and the racier Midnight Frolic, where she performed clad only in balloons. Alberto Vargas painted her nude.

Olive signed with the International Film Company and began her movie career appearing in the serial BEATRICE FAIRFAX, with Harry Fox, “inventor” of the foxtrot. She went on to work with directors John Francis Dillon, Frank Borzage, Ralph Ince and Alan Crosland.

In 1916 she became engaged to Mary Pickford’s brother Jack, eloping with him shortly after. It proved to be a stormy relationship.

In 1918, she signed with David O Selznick.

“But I want to create a certain role, you see Mary is the kid in pictures; Norma does drama; Constance is the flippant, flighty wife; Dorothy the hoyden; Nazimova is exotic and steeped in mystery, my Jack does boys, while I–I–why don’t you see, I am just nothing at all!” In fact, Olive was the first movie flapper, or “baby vamp”.

Olive’s tendency to drink and wild partying increased during her marriage to Jack, resulting in several serious car accidents.

Drugs were also rumoured.

In August 1920, the pair embarked on a second honeymoon in Paris, attempting to repair their strained marriage. On the night of September 9th in the Ritz Hotel, Olive drank what she apparently thought was a sleeping draught, but confusion with the labels of various bottles apparently meant that she took a mercury bichloride solution, prescribed for Pickford’s syphilis and not intended for ingestion. It can also be used as a cleaning product.

She died a few days later, aged just 25. It was the first time a young Hollywood star had died at the height of their fame. Rumours abounded of suicide or murder.

Although she died in Paris, her ghost is said to haunt the New Amsterdam Hotel Theater, New York.

“I think that you die when your time comes and not until then. I feel the same about other things as I do about death. I don’t think you can change anything that is going to happen to you any more than you can change anything that has happened to you. That’s why I never worry, and that is why I don’t think people should get conceited and think themselves better than others.”

“Life’s too short and fate too funny to get upstage, Today they may be showering us with roses on Broadway and tomorrow some fool director who used to be a waiter may be rejecting us as atmosphere in a five reel five cent feature…”