The Daily Retro: 1929 Flapper


The Forgotten Flapper – Olive Thomas

Here comes another
singular narrative
from the perspective of
Muscleheaded’s fascination
with the early 20th Century
and the stranger side
of it’s popular culture.

Today, the story of
Olive Thomas,
sometimes called
Hollywood’s “Forgotten Flapper”.

It’s perhaps true that,
as heart-rending
as the tale is, it
might not seem
as intriguing were
it not for the fact
that none of her
20-plus silent films
have survived completely
intact, making it almost
impossible to get a feel
for her short and
tumultuous acting career.

All we have are
motion picture fragments.

She is, however,
memorialized forever
in another one of my
favorite genres —
because she was
enormously popular
as a model for some
of the best pin up and
glamour artists of the era —
Raphael Kirchner,
Howard Chandler Christy,
Haskell Coffin,
Harrison Fisher
and Alberto Vargas,
among others–
actually, she was the
first “Vargas girl”.

Born in western Pennsylvania
in 1894, she found her
way to New York in
the early 1910’s —

and in 1914 won a contest
called “The Most Beautiful
Girl in New York City”,
sponsored by
Howard Chandler

The modeling jobs
and the media exposures
she gained from this title
were substantial –
and she soon appeared
on the cover of “Saturday
Evening Post”.

In 1914, She landed a job
with the Ziegfeld Follies
as a performer in the saucy
“Midnight Frolic”,
and soon, she was having
affairs with several of her
wealthy patrons
(including Ziegfeld himself) –
and within a
period of 18 months,
had acquired a contract
to do motion pictures,
where she became known
as “Everybody’s Sweetheart”
( which also happens to have
been the name of her final film ) .

She met and married
Jack Pickford, another
silent film actor who usually
played the “All American
Boy Next Door”
(he was actually Canadian,
and Mary Pickford’s
younger brother) in 1916.

Pickford was a well known
drug abuser and womanizer,
and the marriage was quite
a volatile one.

Still, both of
their careers were flourishing ,
and early in 1920,
Olive made a seminal film
called ” The Flapper ” –
with a screenplay by
Frances Marion –
which really was the first
on-screen portrayal of the
true-to-life ‘flapper’ lifestyle.

In September of that year,
Olive and Jack went to
Paris for a ‘second honeymoon’,
and at the Hotel Ritz ,
Olive somehow ingested a
fatal dose of her husband’s
topical mercury bichloride
solution – a medicine he was
using to combat a case of
chronic syphilis.

As Jack Pickford described the events:

” 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.

Her death was ruled accidental, and Olive was buried in the Pickford
family crypt in the Bronx.

Happy ending?


But, even
considering that
her film work, for the
most part, has been
victimized by the
ravages of time –

— the beauty of Olive Thomas
still rings across the years
in the great works of art
that she inspired.

!!! HOY !!!