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Olive Thomas
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Olive Thomas

Olive Thomas, born October 20, 1894 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, United States - died September 10, 1920 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, was an actress. Born Oliva Elaine Duffy into a working class family in a Pittsburgh suburb, her father died when she was young and she had to leave school to help support her mother and siblings. At the age of 16, she married Bernard Thomas but the marriage lasted only a short time. A beautiful and ambitious girl, she went to stay with an aunt in New York City where she worked in a department store. In 1914 she entered and won The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City contest run by the celebrated commercial artist, Howard Chandler Christy. She then modeled for another famous artist Harrison Fisher and eventually wound up on the cover of Saturday Evening Post. She was hired by the Ziegfeld Follies and then worked for the much racier revue, the Ziegfeld Frolics," a show staged after hours in the roof garden of the New Amsterdam Theatre for mainly male patrons with plenty of money to bestow on the young and beautiful lady performers. Before long, the gorgeous Olive Thomas was the center of attention of the in-crowd such as those associated with Conde Nast and she was being pursued by a number of very wealthy and powerful men.

Approached by an executive from Triangle Pictures, she was put under contract and in 1916 made her motion picture debut using her married name, Thomas. She went on to appear in more than twenty Hollywood films over the next four years. Through her work she met actor Jack Pickford (1896-1933), an alcoholic, drug-using, womanizer who lived extravagantly off the wealth and fame of his sister, Mary Pickford. They married in October of 1916, and although Olive was the love of his life, the marriage was a stormy one sometimes filled with highly charged conflict followed by lavish making up through expensive gifts. Alcohol began playing a larger and larger role in Thomas' life and in a short span crashed her automobile on three occasions. In 1918, film mogul and master promoter, Myron Selznick signed her for Selznick Pictures Company. The following year, gossip columnists such as Louella Parsons were gushing about her career and the name Olive Thomas was emblazoned in electric lights on Broadway while magazines were filled with stories and photos of her soaring career.

By 1920, she had become one of the brightest young stars in America and renowned artist Alberto Vargas painted another portrait of her, nude from the waist up. Florenz Ziegfeld hung the painting in his New Amsterdam Theatre office, much to the chagrin of his wife, actress Billie Burke. While doing film preparations mixed with a vacation in Paris, France, she and her husband went out for a night of entertainment at the famous bistros in the Montparnasse Quarter. Returning to their room in the Hotel Ritz at around 3:00 in the morning, an apparent drunken Olive Pickford accidentally ingested a large dose of mercury biochloride which had been prescribed for her husband's ongoing venereal disease. She was taken to the American Hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly, where her husband and former in-law Owen Moore stayed by her side until she succumbed to the poison a few days later. A police investigation followed and her death was ruled accidental.

Jack Pickford brought her body home to the United States and on the return trip, family friend and film director Allan Dwan had to talk him out of committing suicide. Olive Thomas' funeral service was held at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York and she was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

In 2004, with funding from Timeline Films and with the help of Hugh Hefner and his film preservation organization, Sarah J. Baker premiered her documentary on Olive Thomas' short life titled Olive Thomas: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Olive Thomas Facts

Birth NameOliveretta Elaine Duffy
BirthdayOctober 20, 1898
BirthplaceCharleroi, Pennsylvania, USA
Date of deathSeptember 10, 1920 (age 21)

Selected Filmography

Not available.