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Olive Thomas & Her Life

"Life's too short and fate too funny to get upstage."

Olive and Jack, 1920.

I'm going to explain to you who Olive Thomas was, have a look at her life, and look into her very brief filmography, lost & available, featuring some of my own clippings. Grab snacks & a drink and join me in celebrating the life and the work of Miss Olive 'Ollie' Thomas. Disclaimer: I own nothing. Photographs and footage belong to their respectful owner(s).

Now, I've had a big love for Old Hollywood (thanks Grandma!) for a very long time. In my 19 years of life, a lot of it has been consumed by Old Hollywood and I don't mind it one bit.

Olive Thomas The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City: Olive was born in Charleroi, Pennsylvania in 1895. Her birth name is either Olive R Thomas, Olive Elain Duffy, Oliveretta Elaine Duffy or according to Motion Picture Magazine in 1919, Olivetta Duffy; I have no idea which.

Let's start right at the beginning. Olive's first real job wasn't at all glamorous, she worked at Horne's Department Store earning $3.00 a week. At the time, she was apparently extremely proud of being the 'youngest saleslady at Horne's' and bragged constantly.

Olive entered a contest held by Howard Chandler Christy in 1914. They were looking for The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City and did they find it. Olive won and this really kick-started her whole career in pictures. She got work as an illustrators' model for various notables, including: Penrhyn Stanlaws, Harrison Fisher, Raphael Kirchner, and Haskell Coffin, being briefly known as a 'Harrison Fisher Girl'.

When it comes to the topic of Ziegfeld, there are two ways their introduction could have come to be: the first being that Harrison Fisher wrote to Florenz Ziegfeld, giving a brief introduction to Olive and giving Mr. Ziegfeld his sincere regards concerning Olive. However, in the same article from Motion Picture Magazine as used earlier, Olive claimed that she 'just went up there and asked them for a job,' and when interviewer, Elizabeth Peltret, asked if there were any 'letters of introduction or anything,' Olive replied with 'No; I just went up and asked for a job and got it." This was 1915, her first debut with Ziegfeld was Ziegfeld Follies of 1915. Due to her massive success, she was put into another show, Midnight Frolic in 1915. The show was put on in the room of the New Amsterdam Theater in New York. Olive spoke about a man called Jim Buck in her interview with Elizabeth with Motion Picture Magazine, recalling her days rehearsing for the shows:  

"After I was engaged, I was told to get practice clothes. I had no idea what practice clothes were, but one of the girls told me that a middy and a pair of bloomers would do. I already had bloomers — the kind they were wearing with a type of dress. Mine ran down to my ankles and ended in a ruffle. I put them on and wore them for several days," she continued, "one day, Jim Buck came to me and said, 'Miss Thomas, I am going to ask you something. I do hope you won't be offended. It's about those bloomers that you wear. Are you bow-legged?' 'No!' I answered. 'Then why on Earth do you wear them?" He exclaimed, 'We've been afraid to order a costume for you.' After that, I got a regular gym suit."

My scan: Olive during her time as a Ziegfeld Girl in 1915.

Olive signed with the International Film Company in the Summer of 1916. A couple of months later, she made her first endeavor in a silent serial called Beatrix Fairfax (1916), she played in the 10ᵗʰ episode as Rita Malone. This film is very much available and can be found online thanks to the Public Domain. See here.

In 1917, Olive married Jack Pickford, her second husband. According to Film Fun Magazine, they married in Los Angeles. But other sources state they were married in New Jersey.

The following year, Ollie went on to make A Girl Like That (1917) with International and then signed with Triangle Pictures and made Madcap Madge (1917), An Even Break (1917), Broadway Arizona (1917) and Indiscreet Corinne (1917). An uncredited Olive does appear in Tom Sawyer (1917). This film is not lost (Thank you Jesus) you can apparently see a little Olive squished between the other Choir members. 

She also went on to make a film called Limousine Life (1918), in which she portrayed the character Minnie Wills, although it's lost, I managed to dig up some information on the film: Limousine Life was based off of a story by Ida M. Evans that was published in Red Book Magazine, directed by Jack Dillon and costumes designed by Peggy Hamilton. An excerpt from Motion Picture News from January, 1918 tells us Olive did her own stunts, including: crashing her car through a fence and 'hooking up with a wagon' resulting in her tearing the radiator off her car, 'without even cracking her make-up.'Olive made appearances in Toton the Apache (1919) and The Follies Girl (1919) and left Triangle Pictures after these pictures. 

Olive's decision to sign with Selznick was due to her husband, Jack Pickford being signed with the company too. She believed she'd have a bigger chance of gaining better roles.

The same year, Olive signed with the Selznick Pictures Company. This cute clipping is of Olive during her time at Selznick. Original caption: "Olive Thomas, Selznick Star, presenting the Myron Selznick prize to Miss Victoria Groom, winner of the Olive Thomas Beauty Contest conducted through the columns of The Baltimore News."

Olive made Upstairs and Down (1919), Love's Prisoner (1919), Prudence on Broadway (1919), The Spite Bride (1919), The Glorious Lady (1919), Out Yonder (1919) and Footlights and Shadows (1920).

Olive also starred in Youthful Folly (1920), this to me is one of those films I just really hope one day gets found in a cardboard box in an attic because I need to see this film. Important because it's the first film that Olive was the author for. This was the first of what was likely going to be many films written by Olive. Youthful Folly, according to The Moving Picture World, was shown at Minerva Theater, put on for an extra week and broke their personal records.

Then there's The Flapper (1920), this film was probably her most famous role. This film is available to watch under The Public Domain and you can watch it here!

Darling Mine (1920) consists of five reels, written by John Lynch. It was released on August 9ᵗʰ of 1920. The Exhibitors Herald from October of 1920 gives a short synopsis:

"'Darling Mine' in which the late star is seen in the role of a sweet, simple Irish lassie who comes to America, finds her Aunt Agnes groping in the darkness, and in the trend of circumstances suffuses the premises with happiness and good cheer."

Below, I've put three of my scans. These pictures give us insight into what Olive looked like in one of her final roles, as Kitty McCarthy.

Olive and Jack decided to go on a (second) Honeymoon. According to Photoplay Magazine, "Happiness formed a radiant aura around her as she sailed with Jack for their Honeymoon in Paris." (As you see in the GIF I made right up at the top of the page!) I don't want to speculate about what happened on the night of Olive's death, I don't even like to talk about it because it upsets me. To read about her death, the controversy over it, and what is thought to have happened, Wikipedia would definitely be your best friend for that. 

Everybody's Sweetheart (1920) was released after her death & isn't lost; it's available, but I haven't found anywhere to watch it so, I sadly haven't seen it first-hand. But there's a full plot you can find with a quick Google search, so I won't reiterate. 

Not only was Olive a beautiful and talented actress, she was also a generous and loving person who really deserved the recognition she got. I can only imagine how far her career would have gone if she wouldn't have died at such a premature age. I wanted this to originally come out on her birthday, but I've had a lot of things happening and I've been so busy with work, but it's here, at least. This was dedicated to Ollie. ♡

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