Friday, February 26, 2010

Miss Olive Thomas

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!)

Olive married Jack Pickford on October 25, 1916, although the public didn't find out about it until a year later. She was afraid that people would think she was riding on the coat tails of the Pickford family in Hollywood, and she wanted to make a name for herself. Olive and Jack both liked to party and live life fast. They loved to drink and spend money and were often careless with it. In one instance, Olive bought Jack a new car...which he then crashed. Jack bought Olive a diamond bracelet...which she then lost. They were just two kids in love and having fun.

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 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

Miss Theda Bara

Fabulous, Fabulous Theda Bara. I put Theda in the same category as Alla Nazimova and Pola Negri...the exotic silent film stars who belong in the beautiful silent era. The one difference is that Theda was not really as exotic as Alla and Pola. She was a Jewish girl from Ohio. But the publicity that the studio spun about her and the pictures she appeared in and just her general appearance is what makes her such an amazing woman. She wasn't a "traditional beauty." She wasn't a Norma or a Mary or a Clara, but she had this intense look that made you take notice. Theda is what really helped make the silent era. She was the original vamp, and I love her! (You do too, or you will...)

Theda was born Theodosia Burr Goodman on July 29, 1885 in Cincinnati, Ohio to Bernard and Pauline Goodman. She had a brother Marque and sister Esther (who would become an actress under the name Lori Bara).

She got her stage name of Bara from a relative's name of Barranger. The family all changed their name to Bara in 1917.

She moved to New York City in 1908, making her Broadway debut that same year.

Her first film role was in 1914's The Stain. But she was only an extra, and was barely seen onscreen.

Theda's appearance in 1915's A Fool There Was as a vamp, marked the beginning of her stardom.

The studio decided to go with the idea that Theda really was this exotic, man stealing vampire. So, they changed her background story and even told her to act differently during interviews.

They started the story that her name Theda Bara was an anagram for "Arab Death." That her mother was an Arabian princess and her father was a French artist and that she was born in a shadow of the Sphinx. She also was photographed with skulls and snakes, in dark rooms, to enhance her mysterious vampire persona.

She appeared the first film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra, and Camille.

Its amazing that some of the costumes she wore in films were allowed during the silent era. Bras that were nothing more than coiled rope and sheer fabric didn't leave much to the imagination.

Theda was seen as a man stealing vamp, but she only married once, to Charles Brabin from 1921 until her death. She had retired from the screen, but had thought about making a comeback. Brabin didn't think it was proper for a wife to work, so the comeback never came about.

 Theda died of stomach cancer on April 13, 1955 in Los Angeles. She was interred at Forest Lawn (Unfortunately, you cannot visit her because she is in the Great Mausoleum, believe me, I've tried).

The sad part about Theda is that only four of her 40+ films survive. This is due in large part to the fact that silver nitrate in the film dissolved very easily if not kept properly. Also, her films were stored at a Fox Studios warehouse and were lost after a fire broke out in 1937. Only about 40 seconds of Cleopatra exists, and it is kept at the George Eastman House.

It would be amazing if more of her films turned up somewhere. I mean, its not impossible, right? Bits and pieces are found every now and then. I think it would be amazing to see her as Juliet and as Cleopatra. She lives on though in the photographs that have survived (thank goodness!) And, by having people remembering her as the fabulous, original vamp.

"To understand those days, you must consider that people believed what they saw on the screen. Audiences thought stars were the way that they saw them. Why, women kicked my photographs as they went into the theaters where my pictures were playing, and once on the streets of New York a woman called the police because her child spoke to me." ~ Theda Bara

** 10/23/10 ** Oh man, this 1910 Census record is so hard to read! Someone did a horrible job of scanning it...but this is what I could make out. Bernard Goodman (Theda's father) was born in Poland and her mother Pauline was born in Switzerland.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Miss Clara Bow

Oh Clara. My favorite flapper. I first heard about Clara from the book "Hollywood Babylon" (aka TRASH) and then I had started reading about her in connection with Jean Harlow (another one of my favorites). Just looking at her in films and photographs, she really just looks like the Roaring Twenties. Her, and other actresses like Louise Brooks are just so 20s...they belong there, and will live there forever. I love Clara. She was a fiery red head with a free spirit, but also she had a sensitive soul. Her film, "It" is one of my favorite films, and when I have kids, my first daughter is going to be named Clara Bow :)

Clara Gordon Bow was born July 29, 1905 in Brooklyn, New York to parents Sarah and Robert Bow. Sarah suffered a head injury when she was 16 years old and later developed epilepsy. She was then diagnosed with "psychosis due to epilepsy." As a result, Cara spent most of her childhood caring for her mother.

When Sarah realized that her daughter wanted a career in movies, she grew distraught. One night, Clara woke up to her mother holding a knife to her throat, threatening to kill her if she became an actress. Her mother later did not remember this episode, and was soon committed. She passed away in 1923.

Robert Bow supported his daughter's dreams of becoming a movie actress. Later on, it would become apparent that he felt this way because he wanted to use Clara for her money and her fame.

Clara read that the magazine Motion Picture Classic was running a contest, asking for girls to send in their pictures for a chance to win a movie role. She went to the boardwalk and had a cheap photograph taken, submitted it, and won. The film was Beyond the Rainbow, and sadly, her part was cut from the final print (It has since been restored for all of us to watch and enjoy).

After she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1924, her career started to pick up. Her father Robert tagged along with Clara and would try and pick up girls by using the line "I am Clara Bow's father!"

The 1927 film It skyrocketed Clara to stardom. After the films release, she was nicknamed "The It Girl." Later that year she starred with Buddy Rogers and George Arlen in the first film to win an Academy Award, Wings.
Her other works included: The Plastic Age (1925), Mantrap (1926), Hula (1927), and The Saturday Night Kid (1929).

Clara's fame brought with it interest in her private life. Women were copying her hairstyle (she died it red with henna) and the way she applied her lipstick in the shape of a heart on her lips. Ladies called this "putting a Bow on."

Clara only married once. But, she was famous for her sexual escapades...some of which were fabricated by newspapers. She was at one time engaged to Gilbert Roland and Victor Fleming. She had relationships with Bela Lugosi (who kept a nude portrait of Clara in his room until the end of his life), John Gilbert, Gary Cooper, Richard Arlen, and Harry Richman.

There has been a myth circulating that Clara once had an orgy with the entire USC football team. This is FALSE! Because of her free spirited nature, she was accused of being very free with her sexuality (which...maybe she was, but not enough to take on an entire team).

The beginning of her downfall from fame began when she fired her personal secretary and friend, Daisy DeVoe, for embezzling. Clara took Daisy to court, and as revenge, Daisy told the press details about Clara's sex life...adding plenty of exaggeration. The scandal ruined Clara's image, and sent her into a mental breakdown. She entered into an asylum.

With the coming of talkies, many actors became terrified of speaking on screen. Clara was one of them. She was terrified. During the filming of her first talkie, shots had to be retaken over and over again because she kept looking up at the microphone over head. The stress of the talkies, and the end of the 1920s caused her to withdraw from film.

She married actor Rex Bell in 1931, and had two sons, Rex Jr. and George. When Rex decided to run for a political position, the idea of being thrust back into the spotlight terrified Clara so much, that she attempted suicide. She again checked herself into a sanitarium for shock treatments. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, just like her mother. This along with her consistent insomnia (as a result of the knife incident with her mother) makes Clara feel very unstable, and she had to be under the care of a nurse at home.

She died on September 27, 1965 of a heart attack at home. She was only 60 years old. At atopsy, it was revealed Clara had an undiagnosed heart condition, and had actually had a heart attack before. She was interred at Forest Lawn in California.

I do not want people to remember Clara Bow as the girl who took on the USC football team (GRRR!). I want them to see how beautiful and full of life she was. I had a chance to leave a kiss on her grave when I visited California a few years ago...after leaping over some chains. I absolutely adore Clara Bow :)

(On director Victor Fleming) "Of all the men I've known, there was a man." ~ Clara Bow

** 10/23/10 ** If I am reading the 1920 Census correctly (the handwriting and small print can make it difficult) it appears that Clara's father worked as an electrician. And as we know or have learned, he didn't keep that job after Clara became famous.

Miss Florence La Badie

I am going to start out by introducing the beautiful Florence La Badie. She is known mainly today by silent film enthusiasts, which really is tragic. I don't recall how I first came across Florence. I think I saw her picture in a book or online, and her beauty drew me in. Then, when I read that she was the first movie star to die at the height of her fame, I was really intrigued. (You should know, I am a Death Hag and a bit morbid, so of course this part of her life intrigued me). But, it was the picture above that made me want to know more about her and get a hold of her movies.

Florence La Badie was born on April 27, 1888 in New York City, New York. There is some mystery surrounding her early years. She was said to be the daughter of James, an attorney, and Amanda La Badie from Montreal. But, it is also said that she was born in Austin, Texas and was then adopted by the La Badies.

Another scenario was brought forth by a woman named Marie Russ, who claimed to be Florence's birth mother. She said her proof was the Russ burial plot in New York, with Lot 17187 being reserved for Florence La Badie aka Florence Russ. Although it is generally accepted that Florence was indeed adopted, Marie's story was challenged when the fact that she was living in a mental institution was brought forth. It was never proven whether or not Marie was Florence's birth mother, but there was evidence that the woman who had purchased the burial plot, Louisa Russ, was Florence's grandmother.

Like most girls wanting to go into show business, she started out as a model and then began acting in plays. During one of her stage play tours, she met a young Mary Pickford. Mary invited Florence to the Biograph Studios in 1909 so that she could watch motion pictures being made. After a bit part in one of Mary's films, she was invited back to appear in more. Her first credited motion picture was in D.W. Griffith's The Politician's Love Story in 1909.

Soon after, she joined the studio that she would become the most associated with, Thanhouser. Here she appeared in the first screen adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1912 and in the 1914-1915 serial The Million Dollar Mystery.

When World War I broke out, many of Florence's friends and fans were sent overseas. After a fan sent her pictures of the terrible sights he was seeing, she became involved in promoting peace and traveled the United States showing the pictures soldiers sent to her, and showing others the horrors of war.

Besides acting, Florence enjoyed singing, playing the piano, dancing, painting, and sculpting. She also enjoyed riding roller coasters. (That makes me smile...she was a bit of a daredevil, even did her own stunts).

Her nickname among her friends was "Betty."

She received marriage proposals from her fans all the time and every 100th letter she received, she would send the writer a little gift and a note. She considered this as garnering her good luck.

From 1909 to 1917, Florence appeared in 185 films. She eventually announced that she planned on leaving Thanhouser, but she would not have to worry about being without a home for long since many other studios were ready to sign her.

On August 28, 1917, Florence and her fiance, screenwriter/doctor, Daniel Carson Goodman, were driving near Ossining, New York when the brakes on her car failed and her car was sent flying down a hill , finally landing upside down at the bottom. Goodman suffered only a broken leg, but Florence was thrown from the car, suffering life threatening injuries, including a compound fracture of her pelvis. She did not die right away, but held onto life for six weeks in the hospital and seemed to be steadily improving. But, an infection (septicemia) set in, and she died suddenly on October 13, 1917 at 1:35 pm.

She had quite a large funeral, and was eventually buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. This was the place that Marie Russ had mentioned when she claimed to have been Florence's birth mother.

Shortly after Florence's accident and subsequent death, tongues began wagging that it was no accident at all. Some say she was killed because of an affair she was having with President Woodrow Wilson. A reporter named James Baird said years later in an interview with a fellow reporter that he had looked at Florence's car after the accident and noticed that the brake line had been cut. Everyone thought that this was going to be front page news, and just blow everyone away. But, the next day, Baird was told not to do anymore looking into the accident and to basically keep his mouth shut.

He didn't listen, and instead kept looking. When he went back to look at the car again, it had disappeared. Shortly after, Baird was fired from his job. Months later, he had moved and was working someplace else when he was visited in the middle of the night by a couple of men who were just checking to make sure he forgot about the whole Florence La Badie accident. They "politely" told him that it would be best for his health if he stopped looking into it.

BUT, not for long. He waited a few years and started up his investigation again. He located a former maid of Florence's who told Baird that Florence had had a child in 1915, but wouldn't say who the father was or what became of the child. The maid was one of the only ones to talk to Baird, her other friends, including Mary Pickford refused to talk about what happened to Florence, saying it was best left in the past.

It wasn't until 1943, when a friend of Florence's, Valentine Grant, came forward with more details. Grant told an interviewer that Florence had met Woodrow Wilson when he was just the Governor of New Jersey. He became obsessed with her, going to the studio everyday to see her...she didn't like this. She tried her best to avoid him. He finally got the hint, and decided instead to run for President (hey, why not?) Florence was afraid that he would make his attraction to her even more well known (since his first wife had just passed) and ruin her career and reputation.

Feeling she was unable to refuse to see him now that he was President, she accepted his invitation to visit the White House during Christmas of 1914. She returned from the trip a different person. She was an emotional wreck, forgot her lines on set, stopped answering her telephone or speaking to her friends...her mother, Amanda, was acting the same way. She took a break and came back better than ever. But soon, she took another rest and Studio execs claimed she was "retiring." No one heard much from her until her accident, and when her friends tried visiting her in the hospital, they were turned away and told that she was fine and there was nothing to worry about. Her absences could have been because she was pregnant with Wilson's baby, not that is just speculation.

Amanda La Badie did not attend her daughter's funeral, and no one knows why. She abandoned her home, and just disappeared. No one saw her again. The plot where Florence is buried is a double plot with a space that was supposed to be for Amanda, but it is still empty.

It is also interesting to note that Thanhouser President (and personal friend of Florence's), Charles Hite, was also killed in an automobile accident that involved the brake line being cut.

Aside from Daniel Goodman, her other known beau at one time was Val Hush, a car salesman and sometimes actor. Hush and Florence were engaged until she met Goodman and fell for him.

Its unknown what kind of career Florence would have had had she not died. I would like to think she would have either followed the career of Mary Pickford and been a big star of the silent era, and only make a few talkies before retiring. Or, following Jean Harlow's career of uber-stardom, and then passing away at the height of fame again. That may sound cruel, but I think that some people are made legendary because they pass away before they become old (Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, James Dean...etc). It is this early death that helps them to live on as legends.

Florence seems like a legend to me, almost unreal. She just seems like a beautiful woman who only exists in lovely portraits. But, she was a real woman. She loved roller coasters, she loved to sing and paint, and loved being in movies. I hope that by talking about her more and more, that her name will be remember forever as it should be.

** The new information on Florence's death was found on this site Legion of Decency.