Love her! Miss Ollie Thomas. I first heard about her in the trashy "Hollywood Babylon," but then I went on and learned much more about her. She was a beautiful young girl who was living life to the fullest and enjoying her new found fame and it seems got caught up the excesses. Who could blame her though? In her short life, she had a chance to be in the Ziegfeld Follies, be a silent film star, and marry Jack Pickford. The untimely and mysterious death of Olive has caused her to live on in Hollywood legend, but she deserves to be remembered for a beautiful young actress who was gone too soon. I would have loved to have met her...
She was born either Oliveretta Elaine Duffy or Oliva R. Duffy on October 20, 1894 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Her father died when she was young, so her mother had to raise her and her two younger brothers, James and William alone. Olive eventually had to quit school to help take care of the family.
At age 16, she married Bernard Krug Thomas. They were only married for two years (I saw in a documentary about Olive, that there are no known photographs of Bernard in existence...interesting). After the divorce, she moved to New York and worked in a department store.
She, like Clara Bow, made her break by entering her photo in a magazine contest. Olive won the chance to work as a model for artist Harrison Fisher and was on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It was Fisher who wrote a letter to Flo Ziegfeld, recommending Olive as a Follies Girl.
Olive mainly worked in the Midnight Frolic show, a more risque version of the Follies. One of the most famous parts of the Frolic was the fact that sometimes the girls wore only balloons as costumes, and the men who came to the show would pop them with their cigars. She, along with the other showgirls met plenty of wealthy men who showered them with money and jewelry.
After posing nude for artist Alberto Vargas, she was signed to the International Film Company. She appeared in the serials Beatrice Fairfax at this studio.
She then signed with Selznick Company. There, she honed an image of a baby vamp. She really popped onscreen in the film The Flapper. It was the first film where this term was used. (And look close to see Norma Shearer in the film as well!)
The Pickfords (namely Mary and her mother Charlotte) had mixed feelings about Olive apparently. They thought that they were too young to get married and that they were too wild to settle down. Mary did write fondly of her in her biography, and many of the Pickford clan attended Olive's funeral.
In August 1920, Jack and Ollie decided to take a second honeymoon in Paris, France. They lived it up and partied every night.
On September 20, 1920, after a long night out partying, the pair returned to their hotel room. The only two people who really know what happened that night are both dead, so there are many different speculations on what exactly occurred. But, the general idea is that Jack retired to bed (he may have been drunk or high) and Olive was having trouble sleeping and somehow managed to ingest mercury bichloride. It has been debated for the past 80+ years whether or not she drank the mercury on purpose as a suicide attempt, if she grabbed the wrong bottle on accident, or if Jack killed her by forcing her to drink it. Either way...it did not end well.
She screamed "Oh my God!" and then collapsed into Jack's arms. He stated that he forced her to drink egg whites to help ease the pain and a doctor was called to pump her stomach. She was rushed to an American hospital where she lingered in agony for days. Her vocal chords were burned through and she was stricken blind. She died on September 10, 1920 with Jack and former brother in law, Owen Moore by her bedside.
Her body was brought back to the US and her funeral was held on September 29, 1920 in New York. She as interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. She was buried in a small mausoleum with the name "Pickford" on the stone marking, with the intent that Jack was to be buried beside her when he died. It did not happen. Jack was buried with his mother, and two sisters at Forest Lawn in California.
Poor Olive. It breaks my heart when I read about how much she suffered when she died. My take on how she died was that it was in fact an accident. I don't think she intending to die, nor would I ever believe that Jack would kill her. I think she was disoriented from being out drinking and partying all night, it was dark, and the label was said to be written in French and she was confused. No matter what happened, it was a tragedy. Its said that she haunts the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City. I want to pay that place a visit one day. It would be pretty great to run into Olive :)
"I think that you die when your time comes and not until then. " ~ Olive Thomas