Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


Silent film start Olive Thomas had a life that could fill a supermarket tabloid.  Born outside of Pittsburgh in 1894, she had a rough childhood and married Bernard Krug Thomas when she was sixteen, only to divorce a few years later.  Following her divorce she moved to New York and worked in a department store.  In 1914, Olive entered a contest for "The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City" and won, which eventually led to her being on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.  This attracted the attention of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., who signed her up for his Midnight Follies at New York's New Amsterdam Theater -- a more adult, male audience version of his famous review.  Olive would appear nude wearing only balloons, which the mennin the audience would pop with their cigar.  Olive also became Ziegfeld's mistress.  Olive somehow (details are sketchy) made it Hollywood where she signed a film contract with the International Film Company as a leading lady.  She appeared only in two films and only in minor roles for the company before she moved to Triangle Pictures and, in 1917, began a string of popular light comedies in teenage roles which soon caused her to be marketed as a "baby vamp.".  Earlier, in 1916, she met Jack Pickford, brother of Mary, and began a passionate and stormy affair.  Mary and Jack said they were married in 1916 but did not announce the marriage until 1917; court records show they were actually married in 1918.  In 1918, Olive signed with Selznick Pictures, which began transitioning her image to a flapper.  Olive was the first person to play a flapper in The Flapper, the first of three successful films in 1920.  By this time Olive's marriage was in trouble.  At the same time she and Jack had petitioned to adopt Olive's nephew.  Olive desperately wanted children so she and Jack went to Paris on a "second honeymoon" to try to repair the marriage.  In Paris, after an epic night of drinking and partying, the couple returned to their hotel at 3:00 in the morning.  Olive headed to bed while Jack stayed up to write a letter.  Olive mixed what she thought was a sleeping powder and accidentally used powdered mercury bichloride (a common bathroom cleaner at that time).  She was rushed to the hospital, blinded, with burned vocal chords, and in agony, where she died the next day.  Olive Thomas was 25.

Olive's death spawned many rumors.  It was the first scandal involving the death of a major female star.  Did she kill herself?  Was she poisoned by a crazed American captain?  Did Jack Pickford kill her?  The French police investigated and concluded that live's death was accidental.  Jack was distraught and threatened suicide.  He later married twice (both times to Ziegfeld girls) and each reported that, while in a drunken stupor, he would call out, "Olive,"  His life and his acting career wen downhill, marked by bouts of syphilis and drinking.  He died of "progressive multiple neuritis" (alcoholism) in 1933 at age 36.

In The Flapper, Olive plays Genevieve "Ginger" King, a small-town Florida girl who yearns for something more.  Ginger is sent to a New York all-girls boarding school situated nicely net to a military academy where her somewhat boring Florida then attends.  At boarding school, Ginger meets a number of girls (including an uncredited Norma Shearer) and they romantically fantasize about men.  One man they fantasize about is William Carleton (William Forbes) who often rides a horse by their school.  The girls picture him as a gambler, or an actor, or perhaps (gasp!) a wife-beater.  Soon Ginger feels she is falling in love with this mysterious man.  She dons an outfit to resemble a "flapper"and is mistaken for a "bad girl."  Carleton is not a gambler, actor, or wife-beater -- he is, however, a jewel thief and he entrusts a package of gems to Ginger's care.  On a visit home, Ginger puts on the jewels and appears as a vamp.  And then the bad guys show up and fantasizing turns out to be not much fun at all.

The film was written by Frances Marion, the most successful female screenwriter of her day.  At that time Marion was writing scripts for Mary Pickford.  It is not known why the picture starred Pickford's sister-in-law instead of her.

Alan Crosland (The Jazz Singer, The Case of the Howling Dog, The Great Impersonation) directed.


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