Olive Thomas

Olive Thomas(October 20, 1894 – September 10, 1920) was an American silent film actress and model .Thomas began her career as an illustrators' model in 1914, and moved on to theZiegfeld Folliesthe following year. During her time as a Ziegfeld girl , she also appeared in the more risqué show,The Midnight Frolic. In 1916, she began a successful career in silent films and would appear in over twenty features over the course of her four-year film career. That year she also married actor Jack Pickford , the younger brother of silent film star Mary Pickford .On September 10, 1920, Thomas died of acute nephritis in Paris five days after consuming mercury bichloride . Although her death was ruled accidental, news of her hospitalization due to the poison and Thomas' subsequent death were the subject of media speculation. Thomas' death has been cited as one of the first heavily publicized Hollywood scandals.

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 Olive Thomas's Early life

Thomas later helped both of her brothers to secure work in the film industry; after serving in the Marines in France during World War I , William worked as a cameraman while James worked as an assistant director .At the time of Thomas's death, both brothers were employed with Selznick Productions.

In April 1911, aged 16, she married Bernard Krugh Thomas in McKees Rocks , a small mill town. During the two-year marriage, she reportedly worked as a clerk in Kaufmann's , a major department store in Pittsburgh. After their separation in 1913, Thomas moved to New York City and lived with a family member. She later found work in a Harlem department store.

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 Olive Thomas's Career


"Memories of Olive" painted by Alberto Vargas



. However, Thomas later disputed this, claiming she walked right up and asked for the job.She made her stage debut in theZiegfeld Follies of 1915on June 21, 1915. Thomas' popularity in theFolliesled to her being cast in Ziegfeld's more risquéMidnight Frolicshow. TheFrolicwas staged after hours in the roof garden of the New Amsterdam Theatre . It was primarily a show for famous male patrons who had plenty of money to bestow on the young and beautiful female performers. Thomas received expensive gifts from her admirers; it was rumored that German Ambassador Albrecht von Bernstorff had given her a $10,000 string of pearls .

Thomas ended the affair with Ziegfeld after he refused to leave Burke to marry her.

The portrait, titledMemories of Olive,features Thomas nude from the waist up while clutching a rose. The portrait was reportedly commissioned by Florenz Ziegfeld but Vargas later denied this claim. Ziegfeld purchased and hung the portrait in his office at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Vargas, who called Thomas "one of the most beautiful brunettes that Ziegfeld ever glorified," kept a copy of the painting for his personal collection.

Silent films[edit]

Beatrice Fairfax, a film serial. In 1917, she made her full-length feature debut inA Girl Like Thatfor Paramount Pictures .

Thomas inOut Yonder(1919)

Madcap Madge, was released in June 1917. Thomas' popularity at Triangle grew with performances inIndiscreet Corrine(1917) andLimousine Life(1918). In 1919, she portrayed a French girl who poses as a boy inToton the Apache.Thomas later said that she felt her work inTotonwas "the first real thing I've ever done."She made her final film for Triangle,The Follies Girl, that same year.

In 1920, Thomas played a teenage schoolgirlThe Flapper ,who yearns for excitement beyond her small Florida town. Thomas was the first actress to portray a lead character who was a flapper and the film was the first of its kind to portray the flapper lifestyle. Frances Marion , who wrote the scenario, was responsible for bringing the term into the American vernacular.The Flapperproved to be popular and became one of Thomas' most successful films.

On October 4, 1920, Thomas' final film,Everybody's Sweetheart, was released.

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 Olive Thomas's Personal life

In 1931, Bernard Krug Thomas gave an interview toThe Pittsburg Press, detailing his marriage to Olive.

Autographed photo of Olive Thomas, circa 1916

Thomas eloped with Pickford on October 25, 1916, in New Jersey . None of their family was present, with only actor Thomas Meighan as their witness. The couple never had children of their own. In 1920, they adopted Thomas' six-year-old nephew when his mother died.

Pickford's family did not always approve of Thomas though most of the family did attend her funeral. In Mary Pickford's 1955 autobiographySunshine and Shadow, she wrote:

the Follies. She and Jack were madly in love with one another but I always thought of them as a couple of children playing together.

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 Olive Thomas's Death

In August 1920, the pair headed for Paris , hoping to combine a vacation with some film preparations.

An intoxicated and tired Thomas ingested mercury bichloride liquid solution. It had been prescribed to Pickford to topically treat sores caused by his chronic syphilis .

Controversy and death ruling[edit]

On September 13, 1920, Pickford gave his account of that night to theLos Angeles Herald-Examiner:

We arrived back at the Ritz hotel at about 3 o'clock in the morning. I had already booked airplane seats for London. We were going Sunday morning. Both of us were tired out. We both had been drinking a little. I insisted that we had better not pack then, but rather get up early before our trip and do it then. I went to bed immediately. She fussed around and wrote a note to her mother. ... She was in the bathroom.

Suddenly she shrieked: 'My God.' I jumped out of bed, rushed toward her and caught her in my arms. She cried to me to find out what was in the bottle. I picked it up and read: 'Poison.' It was a toilet solution and the label was in French. I realized what she had done and sent for the doctor. Meanwhile, I forced her to drink water in order to make her vomit. She screamed, 'O, my God, I'm poisoned.' I forced the whites of eggs down her throat, hoping to offset the poison. The doctor came. He pumped her stomach three times while I held Olive.

Nine o'clock in the morning I got her to the Neuilly Hospital, where Doctors Choate and Wharton took charge of her. They told me she had swallowed bichloride of mercury in an alcoholic solution, which is ten times worse than tablets. She didn't want to die. She took the poison by mistake. We both loved each other since the day we married. The fact that we were separated months at a time made no difference in our affection for each other. She even was conscious enough the day before she died to ask the nurse to come to America with her until she had fully recovered, having no thought she would die.

She kept continually calling for me. I was beside her day and night until her death. The physicians held out hope for her until the last moment, until they found her kidneys paralyzed. Then they lost hope. But the doctors told me she had fought harder than any patient they ever had. She held onto her life as only one case in fifty. She seemed stronger the last two days. She was conscious, and said she would get better and go home to her mother. 'It's all a mistake, darling Jack,' she said. But I knew she was dying.

On September 13, 1920, her death was ruled accidental by the Paris physician who conducted her autopsy.


The mausoleum of Olive Thomas Pickford

The New York Times, a police escort was needed, and the entire church was jammed. Several women fainted at the ceremony, and several men had their hats crushed in the rush to view the casket.Thomas is interred in a crypt at the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx , New York City.


Pickford later relinquished the rights to his share choosing to give it to Thomas' mother.

Mabel Normand bought a 20-piece toilet set, a 14 karat gold cigarette case , and three pieces of jewelry, including a sapphire pin.

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 Olive Thomas's Aftermath

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 Olive Thomas's In popular culture

  • In 2004, with funding from Timeline Films, and with the help of Hugh Hefner and his film preservation organization, Sarah J. Baker premiered her documentary on Olive Thomas' life, titledOlive Thomas: Everybody's Sweetheart.
  • In 2007, Michelle Vogel wrote a biography titled,Olive Thomas: The Life and Death of a Silent Film Beauty, published by McFarland Publishing Company.
  • Ghostlightopened in New York City at the Signature Theatre on September 26, 2011, and was presented by the New York Musical Theatre Festival . It starred Drama Desk Award winner Rachel York as Billie Burke , Tony nominee Michael Hayden as Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. , Tony Award winner Daisy Eagan as Molly Cook, Kimberly Faye Greenberg as Fanny Brice , Matt Leisy as Jack Pickford, and newcomer Rachael Fogle in the leading role of Olive Thomas.
  • In 2015, novelist Laini Giles released a fictionalized biography of Olive calledThe Forgotten Flapper. Based completely on factual information, it goes from her poor roots in Pennsylvania to her death, and is narrated by her ghost, now haunting the New Amsterdam Theatre.

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 Olive Thomas's Filmography

1916 Beatrice Fairfax Rita Malone Episode 10: Playball
1917 A Girl Like That Fannie Brooks Lost film
1917 Madcap Madge Betty
1917 An Even Break Claire Curtis
1917 Broadway Arizona Fritzi Carlyle
1917 Indiscreet Corinne Corinne Chilvers
1917 Tom Sawyer Choir Member Uncredited
1918 Betty Takes a Hand Betty Marshall
1918 Limousine Life Minnie Wills Lost film
1918 Heiress for a Day Helen Thurston Lost film
1919 Toton the Apache Toton/Yvonne Lost film
1919 The Follies Girl Doll
1919 Upstairs and Down Alice Chesterton Alternative title:Up-stairs and Down
Lost film
1919 Love's Prisoner Nancy, later Lady Cleveland
1919 Prudence on Broadway Prudence Lost film
1919 The Spite Bride Tessa Doyle
1919 The Glorious Lady Ivis Benson
1919 Out Yonder Flotsam
1920 Footlights and Shadows Gloria Dawn Lost film
1920 Youthful Folly Nancy Sherwin Writer
Lost film
1920 The Flapper Ginger King
1920 Darling Mine Kitty McCarthy Lost film
1920 Everybody's Sweetheart Mary Released posthumously

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 Olive Thomas's Footnotes

  1. ^abGolden 2001 , p. 181
  2. ^abVogel 2007 , p. 13
  3. ^Vogel 2007 , pp. 41, 44
  4. ^"Memories of Olive" . Worcester, Massachusetts: assumption.edu. 
  5. ^Pitz, Marylynne (September 26, 2010). "Olive Thomas, the original 'Flapper' and a Mon Valley native, still fascinates" .Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. RetrievedSeptember 28,2010. 
  6. ^"The Most Beautiful Girl In The Movies" .Herald-Journal. October 22, 1919. RetrievedNovember 26,2012. 
  7. ^abOgden 2009 , pp. 12–13
  8. ^Hladik 2010 , p. 170
  9. ^Golden 2001 , p. 193
  10. ^Hanson, Bruce K. 2011 , p. 111
  11. ^Mizejewski 1999 , p. 162
  12. ^Kenrick 2008 , p. 168
  13. ^abFleming 2008 , p. 54
  14. ^Vogel 2007 , p. 2
  15. ^Pizzitola 2002 , p. 122
  16. ^abcdefghLong, Bruce, ed. (September 1995). "The Life and Death of Olive Thomas" .Taylorology(33). 
  17. ^Golden 2001 , p. 182
  18. ^York, Cal. (1920). "Plays and Players" .Photoplay(Macfadden Publications)18(2–6): 89. 
  19. ^Palmer 1922 , p. 135
  20. ^abcGolden 2001 , p. 183
  21. ^Desser & Jowett 2000 , p. 68
  22. ^Sagert 2010 , p. 89
  23. ^ab"From $2.75 To $4,000 Weekly As A Movie Star" .The Pittsburgh Press. February 4, 1931. p. 19. RetrievedNovember 26,2012. 
  24. ^"Thomas Death Starts Quiz Into Paris Night Orgies" .The Milwaukee Journal. September 11, 1920. RetrievedNovember 26,2012. 
  25. ^Lussier, Tim. "The Mysterious Death of Olive Thomas" . 
  26. ^Pickford 1955 , p. 330
  27. ^Whitfield 2007 , p. 120
  28. ^Foster 2000 , p. 257
  29. ^Blum 2011 , p. 107
  30. ^abPetrucelli 2009 , pp. 14–15
  31. ^Beauchamp 1998 , p. 137
  32. ^"Denies Olive Thomas Suicide" .The Milwaukee Journal. September 26, 1920. RetrievedNovember 25,2012. 
  33. ^"Bichloride of Mercury Killed Olive Thomas" .The Toronto World. September 15, 1920. p. 6. RetrievedNovember 25,2012. 
  34. ^"Olive Thomas' Death Declared An Accident" .The Vancouver Sun. September 14, 1920. p. 1. RetrievedNovember 19,2012. 
  35. ^Pickford 1955 , p. 335
  36. ^"Funeral Service For Olive Thomas Largely Attended" .Meriden Morning Record. September 20, 1920. p. 1. RetrievedNovember 19,2012. 
  37. ^"Women Faint At Olive Thomas Rite" .The New York Times. September 20, 1920. RetrievedNovember 19,2012. (subscription required)
  38. ^Hanson, Nils 2011 , p. 99
  39. ^"Olive Thomas Leave No Will; Estate Is Value At $25,000" .The Pittsburgh Press. October 5, 1920. p. 16. RetrievedNovember 19,2012. 
  40. ^"OLIVE THOMAS LEFT $27,644; Jack Pickford's Wife, Who Died by Poison, Left Everything to Mother." .The New York Times. July 15, 1922. RetrievedNovember 19,2012. (subscription required)
  41. ^Inflation calculator
  42. ^"Pickford Gets None Of Wife's Estate" .Ellensburg Daily Record. August 15, 1922. p. 8. RetrievedNovember 19,2012. 
  43. ^"$30,000 Realized As Olive Thomas' Effects Are Sold" .The Pittsburgh Press. November 23, 1920. p. 4. RetrievedNovember 19,2012. 
  44. ^DiMare 2011 , p. XXXIII
  45. ^Lowe 2005 , p. 526
  46. ^Menefee 2004 , p. 132
  47. ^Vogel 2007 , p. 6
  48. ^Hanson, Nils 2011 , pp. 101–102
  49. ^Hetrick, Adam (September 26, 2011). "Daisy Eagan, Michael Hayden and Rachel York Step Into Ghostlight at NYMF Sept. 26" . playbill.com. RetrievedDecember 2,2012. 

Works cited[edit]

  • Beauchamp, Cari (1998).Without Lying Down Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. University of California Press. ISBN   0-520-21492-7 . 
  • Blum, Deborah (2011).The Poisoner's Handbook Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. Penguin Paperbacks. ISBN   978-0-14-311882-4 . 
  • Desser, David; Jowett, Garth (2000).Hollywood Goes Shopping. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN   978-0-8166-3513-9 . 
  • DiMare, Philip C. (2011).Movies in American History An Encyclopedia [3 volumes] An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN   1-59884-297-8 . 
  • Fleming, E.J. (2008).Paul Bern The Life and Famous Death of the MGM Director and Husband of Harlow. McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. ISBN   978-0-7864-3963-8 . 
  • Foster, Charles (2000).Stardust and Shadows Canadians in Early Hollywood. Dundurn. ISBN   1-55002-348-9 . 
  • Golden, Eve (2001).Golden Images 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. ISBN   978-0-7864-0834-4 . 
  • Hanson, Bruce K. (2011).Peter Pan on Stage and Screen, 1904–2010. McFarland Publishing. ISBN   978-0-7864-4778-7 . 
  • Hanson, Nils (2011).Lillian Lorraine The Life and Times of a Ziegfeld Diva. McFarland Publishing. ISBN   978-0-7864-6407-4 . 
  • Hladik, L'Aura (2010).Ghosthunting New York City. Clerisy Press. ISBN   1-57860-448-6 . 
  • Kenrick, John (2008).Musical theatre a history. Continuum Intl Pub Group. ISBN   978-0-8264-2860-8 . 
  • Lowe, Denise (2005).An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films, 1895–1930. Routledge. ISBN   978-0-7890-1843-4 . 
  • Menefee, David W. (2004).The First Female Stars Women of the Silent Era. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN   978-0-275-98259-1 . 
  • Mizejewski, Linda (1999).Ziegfeld Girl Image and Icon in Culture and Cinema. Duke University Press. ISBN   978-0-8223-2323-5 . 
  • Ogden, Tom (2009).Haunted Theaters Playhouse Phantoms, Opera House Horrors, and Backstage Banshees. ISBN   978-0-7627-4949-2 . 
  • Palmer, Frederick (1922).Photoplay Plot Encyclopedia: An Analysis Of the Use In Photoplays Of the Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations and Their Subdivisions(2 ed. Palmer Photoplay Corporation Department of Education. 
  • Petrucelli, Alan W. (2009).Morbid Curiosity The Disturbing Demises of the Famous and Infamous. Perigee Trade. ISBN   978-0-399-53527-7 . 
  • Pizzitola, Louis (2002).Hearst Over Hollywood Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies. Columbia University Press. ISBN   978-0-231-11646-6 . 
  • Pickford, Mary (1955).Sunshine and Shadows. Doubleday. 
  • Sagert, Kelly Boyer (2010).Flappers A Guide to an American Subculture. ABC-CLIO. ISBN   0-313-37690-5 . 
  • Vogel, Michelle (2007).Olive Thomas The Life and Death of a Silent Film Beauty. McFarland. ISBN   978-0-7864-2908-0 . 
  • Whitfield, Eileen (2007).Pickford The Woman Who Made Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN   978-0-8131-9179-9 . 

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