Olive Thomas

Active - 1916 - 2004  |   Born - Oct 20, 1894   |   Died - Sep 10, 1920   |   Genres - Drama, Romance

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Better known for the horrific nature of her death than for her thespian talents, brunette Olive Thomas (born Oliveretta Elaine Duffy) was a salesgirl in a Harlem department store when discovered by illustrator Harrison Fisher. Her modeling career led to the Great White Way and a spot in both the 1915 Ziegfeld Follies and Midnight Frolics. She reportedly earned 75 dollars a week for her services, a fee that was raised considerably the following year and even further in 1917, when she became Mrs. Jack Pickford. By then, Thomas had made her screen debut, in Beatrice Fairfax (1916), a series in 15 installments filmed at Ithaca, NY. She wasn't the only Ziegfeld girl to have made the jump -- Lillian Lorraine, Florenz Ziegfeld's mistress, had preceded her and the glamorous Mae Murray also took the leap in 1916 -- but she was certainly one of the prettiest and most able. A contract with Triangle brought her to Los Angeles but she became a star for producer Myron Selznick, brother of David, who launched her in a series of romantic melodramas that never veered far from the Cinderella mold. By 1919, the year she made Love's Prisoner, one of her few readily available films, Thomas was earning a whopping 2,500 dollar weekly paycheck. Then, all of a sudden, it was all over. Olive Thomas died from bichloride of mercury poisoning at a hospital in Paris, France -- that much is known. How or why, however, remains a mystery to this very day. According to Jack Pickford, his wife had mistaken the vial of mercury for a headache powder. But bichloride of mercury was routinely used to treat syphilis and Pickford's explanation was always treated with a fair amount of suspicion. Did the young star in fact commit suicide after discovering that she had been infected? Or because of her husband's seemingly incurable drug addiction? Some even speculated that she herself had become a dope fiend or, wilder still, that Pickford had her killed for the insurance money. Judging from Love's Prisoner, Olive Thomas was an attractive, typically Irish girl and a competent comedienne. Burdened by a ridiculous plot, she struggles somewhat along the way and the apparent loss of the final reel doesn't help clarify matters. But in her day, Olive Thomas was one of Hollywood's brightest young stars and her early demise came as a rude awakening to movie fans who hitherto had perceived their idols as something more than mere mortals.