Olive Thomas wurde am 20. Oktober 1894 als Oliveretta Elaine Duffy in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, geboren. Nach dem Tod ihres Vaters musste sie für den Lebensunterhalt der Familie beitragen. Sie verließ daher die Schule und arbeitete als Verkäuferin in Pittsburgh. Am 1. April 1911 heiratete sie Bernhard Krugh Thomas von dem sie sich aber zwei Jahre später wieder scheiden ließ.
Nach der Scheidung von ihrem Mann zog Thomas zu ihrer Tante nach New York und arbeitete dort in einem Kaufhaus.
1914 gewann sie an dem Foto Wettbewerb The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City teil. Der Hauptgewinn war ein Porträt des von Revuemädchen und Filmstars bekannten Künstlers Howard Chandler Christy, für den sie fortan häufig als Modell arbeitete. Dieses Bild gelangte auf das Cover der Saturday Evening Post wodurch Florenz Ziegfeld junior auf sie aufmerksam wurde, der sie für seine Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic engagierte.
Während dieser Zeit arbeite sie auch als Modell für Künstler wie Haskell Coffin, Harrison Fisher sowie Alberto Vargas für den sie auch nackt posierte.
Bedingt durch ihren plötzlichen Ruhm gab Thomas 1916 in in BEATRICE FAIRFAX ihr Film Debüt. Nach BEATRICE FAIRFAX PLAYBYLL (1916) und A GIRL LIKE THAT (1917) erhielt sie 1917 in MADCAP MADGE ihre erste Hauptrolle.
1916 hatte sie in einem Nachtclub Jack Pickfort, den Bruder der Schauspielerin Mary Pickford, kennen gelernt, den sie am 10. Oktober 1916 gegen den Willen der Pickford Familie heimlich in New Jersey heiratete.
"Jack . . . is a beautiful dancer. He danced his way into my heart. We knew each other for eight months before our marriage, and most of that time we gave to dancing. We got along so well on the dance floor that we just naturally decided that we would be able to get along together for the remainder of our lives." (1)
Ein Jahr später schloss sie mit TRIANGLE PICTURES einen Vertrag und drehte 1917 mit EVEN BREAK ihren ersten Film für diese Filmgesellschaft.
Es folgten Filme wie BROADWAY ARZIONA (1917), BETTY TAKES A HAND (1918), HEIRESS FOR A DAY (1918) oder TOTON THE APACHE (1919)
"This is the first real thing I've ever done, I think. I hope they'll like it. I want them to take my work in it seriously, critically. At least it gives me a chance to show what I can do; maybe that won't be much, but I can try." (2)
1918 drehte die Schauspielerin mit PRUDENCE OF BROADWAY ihren letzten Film für Triangle Pictures.
Myron Selznick, der Sohn des Filmmoguls Lewis J. Selznick, überzeugte Thomas davon, dass sie besser in der Selznick Pictures Company aufgehoben sei und schloss mit der Filmgesellschaft einen Exklusivvertrag ab.
It was Myron Selznick who corralled the young lady and made her the first star of the Selznick Pictures Company. Several other companies, we hear, had their eye on Miss Thomas, but it was finally Myron who made her believe she had the best chance for fame and fortune by joining his company. He is now "dickering" with several theatrical managers in the hope that he can get a suitable vehicle for Miss Thomas. She wants a play which has had a success on the stage. While no definite plans have been made, young Mr. Selznick expects to produce on the Coast. Miss Thomas is hoping, at any rate, such will be his determination, since her husband, Jack Pickford, is already at work there.
It would be, indeed, an unkind trick of fate if she were detained in the East now, for all last Summer and Spring, while she was working in the Triangle studios in the West, her husband was busy in the navy here in New York. (3)
1919 drehte Thomas mit UPSTAIRS AND DOWN" ihren ersten Film für die Selznick Pictures Company.
Olive Thomas came into town a few weeks ago with the Selznick Company. She has since I last saw her become the first Myron Selznick star and created for the screen the baby vamp role in "Upstairs and Down." Broadway has been blazing with electric signs with her name, magazines have been filled with her pictures and the papers have told all about Jack Pickford's wife who, refusing to bank on the Pickford name, went out for herself and signed a contract so alluring in its weekly demands, only a motion picture story could bring it to pass.
And Olive Thomas might still be a little girl dancing on the Amsterdam roof in "Ziegfeld's Follies" every night for all the difference this contract makes to her. (4)
Der Filmmogul Lewis J. Selznick, steigerte Olive Thomas Starruhm, indem er aufwendige Werbekampagnen für sie organisierte und sie in maßgeschneiderte Filmen besetzte. Zeitschriften und Fanmagazine waren voll mit Bildern und Geschichten von und über sie.
Es folgten die Selzneck - Filme wie THE GLORIOUS LADY (1919), OUT YONDER (1919), FOOTLIGHT AND SHADOWS (1920) oder YOUTHFUL FOLLY (1920).
Mit dem Film THE FLAPPER prägte Olive Thomas zudem das Bild der Modebewussten Frau der 1920er Jahre.
Während Olive Thomas mit ihren Filmen zum ersten großen Filmstar der US amerikanischen Filmindustrie avancierte, stand ihre Ehe und ihr Privatleben unter keinem guten Stern.
Trennungen, Zerwürfnisse und Alkoholexzesse prägten die Ehe mit Jack Pickford, der ebenfalls kein Kostverächter war und an Syphilis litt, die er mit Quecksilber(II)-chlorid äußerlich behandelte, eine ganz gängige Methode, die für die damalige Zeit Standard und allgemein bekannt war.
"He's always sending me something and then I send him something back. You see, we have to bridge the distance in some way.
At first I just couldn't get used to the idea of living this way, but I suppose one gets used to anything, given time.
When we were together we used to use up the time fighting over things. I'd say, 'You were out with this person or that person,' and he'd come back at me in the same way, and we'd have a lively time of it, but we're over that now.
We know that we can't sit home by the fireside ALL the time just because we cannot be together." (3)
Im August 1920 reiste das Paar nach Frankreich und wohnten im Pariser Hotel Ritz. Jeden Abend begaben sie sich in das Pariser Nachtleben, wo sie mit amerikanischen Freunden in Nachtclubs feierten und tanzten.
In der Nacht vom 5. zum 6. September 1920 schluckte Thomas - möglicherweise in angetrunkenem Zustand - gegen drei Uhr morgens im Badezimmer ihres Hotelzimmers eine tödliche Dosis Quecksilber(II)-chlorid. Ihr Ehemann Jack holte Hilfe und Olive wurde in das American Hospital in Neuilly gebracht, wo sie am 10. September an ihrer Vergiftung verstarb.
London, Sept. 10--Olive Thomas, broken-hearted and temporarily unbalanced, who died in the American hospital at Neuilly today from mercurial poisoning, was convinced that she could never again bring herself to live with her husband, Jack Pickford. Such is the story of the tragedy that came to London today in a letter to an intimate friend from a screen star on close terms with Pickford and his wife and who was in Paris the night Miss Thomas took the bichloride of mercury. According to the letter, the pair were enjoying an unbelievably happy "second honeymoon" when an interruption came.
Jack made a hurried trip to London, August 25. When he rejoined his wife in Paris, Olive, the letter said, had told Jack that further life with him would be abhorrent and impossible. Then, the letter continued, came the wild party of Saturday night. The letter declares that Miss Thomas took a large dose of cocaine immediately preceding the swallowing of the bichloride of mercury. (This is not borne out by the physician's statement.) She did not have medical attention until some time afterward.
Unterschiedliche Versionen kursieren seitdem über Olive Thomas Tod. Es wurde einerseits behauptet, dass die Schauspielerin, enttäuscht über ihre gescheiterte Ehe, Selbstmord begehen wollte, was aber eher untypisch für den Charakter der Schauspielerin gewesen wäre.
Eine andere Version verdächtigt sogar Jack Pickford, seine Frau ermordet zu haben.
Die häufigste Geschichte ist aber jene, die von Pickford selbst stammt, der als einziger Zeuge in der fraglichen Nacht zugegen war. Sie besagt, dass Olive Thomas noch ein Schlafmittel zu sich nehmen wollte, weil beide frühmorgens einen Flug gebucht hatten, versehentlich aber ein giftiges Toilettenreinigungsmittel schluckte. Allerdings handelte es sich nachgewiesenermaßen nicht um ein Reinigungsmittel, sondern um Quecksilber(II)-chlorid, das zum Tod von Olive Thomas führte. Jack Pickford verwendete diese Substanz, um seine Syphilis Erkrankung äußerlich zu behandeln.
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. We both loved each other since the day we married. The fact that we were separated months at a time made no difference in our affection for each other. She even was conscious enough the day before she died to ask the nurse to come to America with her until she had fully recovered, having no thought she would die. She kept continually calling for me.
I was beside her day and night until her death. The physicians held out hope for her until the last moment, until they found her kidneys paralyzed. Then they lost hope. But the doctors told me she had fought harder than any patient they ever had. She held onto her life as only one case in fifty. She seemed stronger the last two days.
She was conscious, and said she would get better and go home to her mother. 'It's all a mistake, darling Jack,' she said. But I knew she was dying. She was kept alive only by hypodermic injections during the last twelve hours. I was the last one she recognized. I watched her eyes glaze and realized she was dying.
I asked her how she was feeling and she answered: 'Pretty weak, but I'll be all right in a little while, don't worry, darling.' Those were her last words. I held her in my arms and she died an hour later. Owen Moore was at her bedside. All stories and rumors of wild parties and cocaine and domestic fights since we left New York are untrue... (6)
The night of Ollie's death in Paris she and Jack had been doing the night spots. At one o'clock Jack insisted on taking Ollie back to their hotel, since they were leaving for London at seven that morning by plane for London. They were already undressed when a crowd of friends trooped in, scolding them for breaking up the party and ordering them back into their clothes to continue making the rounds until dawn. Jack said he was too tired.
The crowd finally left. Jack went to bed and Ollie started to write a letter to her mother, outlining their future plans. The unfinished letter was still on the desk after she was taken to the hospital.
Jack awakened with the light in his eyes, surprised to see Ollie still up.
"Please come to bed, darling," he said, "it's so late, and I can't sleep with that light on." Ollie answered petulantly, "You don't care that I can't sleep, do you? I've got an awful headache." Ollie turned out the lights and went to the window overlooking the street.
"Why don't you take an aspirin?" Jack said, and went back to sleep. Again he was awakened, by a crash and a scream. Ollie was standing in the darkened bathroom. Jack rushed to her side. " Quick, Jack," she said, "turn the light on and see if the bottle with the bichloride of mercury tablets is in the cabinet?"
Jack looked and said, "No, Ollie; only the aspirin bottle is here." Ollie gave another scream. "Then I've taken poison!" Ollie had put the mercury tablets somewhere else, but the maid had evidently placed the bottles, which were of the same size, side by side on the shelf of the medicine cabinet. Jack tried to wash out Ollie's stomach by giving her twelve to fifteen glasses of tepid water.
Then he dashed downstairs to secure melted butter and milk. But everything was tightly locked, kitchens and iceboxes, and no one was around but the night watchman. After a frantic search Jack obtained the milk and butter. In the meantime he tried to get the American hospital on the telephone. An ambulance arrived, but only after much precious time had been lost.
Ollie lived for one week, and that one week, according to the doctors, she owed to Jack's quick thinking in giving her the warm water, milk, and melted butter. When someone who was Catholic entered her room at the hospital, Ollie would look up with those pained velvet-blue eyes of hers and say: Please pray to God to leave me with my baby husband!"
She fought a hopeless battle, dying, finally, in my brother's arms. As if that were not torture enough, Jack had to wait an entire week while the French authorities made a painstaking investigation of the case. Finally they ruled it was an accident and not suicide. (7)
Die polizeilichen Ermittlungen und die Autopsie, die nach dem Tod der Schauspielerin durchgeführt wurden, kamen zu dem Ergebnis, dass Thomas' Tod auf ein Versehen zurückzuführen war.
"Dr. Warden, famous poison specialist, who had charge of the case toward the end, declared a police investigation into the circumstances under which Miss Thomas died would be of the utmost value in revealing the facts. "It would show," he said, "whether Miss Thomas committed suicide, as the medical evidence indicates, or whether she took the stuff by mistake, as claimed.
"Personally, I am convinced that if she had taken a sleep potion in the same quantity as she took the poison she would be dead just the same."
... Police Commissioner Catrou, assigned to examine into the circumstances under which Miss Thomas came to her death, returned a finding of accidental death.
... "Owing to Mrs. Pickford's dying without making a statement and also because of the fact that she was alone when she took the poison, the only possible verdict is accidental death by poisoning." Such was the summing up of M. Catrou as submitted to the higher officials. His inquiry dealt only with the causes of death, Jack Pickford, the physicians and Mrs. Florence W. Wufelt, who says she was Olive's best friend, being the only witnesses. (8)
Jack Pickford kehrte mit dem Leichnam seiner Frau zurück nach Amerika. Die Trauerfeier für Olive Thomas wurde am 29. September 1920 in der St. Thomas Episcopal Kirche in New York abgehalten.
Tausende wohnten der Zeremonie bei, um einen letzten Blick auf den Sarg zu werfen. Olive Thomas wurde auf dem Woodlawn Cemetery in der Bronx zur letzten Ruhe gebettet.
EVERYBODYS SWEETHEART, Olive Thomas letzter Film, kam erst nach ihrem Tod in die Kinos, und wurde zu einem Hit an den Kinokassen. Er brach alle bisherigen Besucherrekorde und wurde sowohl vom Publikum als auch von den Kritikern gleichermaßen gelobt.
(1) Olive Thomas
(2) Olive Thomas
(3) New York Telegraph, 18. Dezember 1918
(4) Louella Parsons "Just a Little Irish Girl," New York Telegrapf, 11. Mai 1919
(5) Forbes W. Fairburn, Los Angeles Examiner, 11 September 1920
(6) Jack Pickford, Los Angeles Examiner, 13. September 1920
(7) Mary Pickford, Sunshine and Shadow
(8) C. F. Bertelli, Los Angeles Examiner
© 2009 by Ingo Löchel
Bilder: Archiv des Autors
1. Beatrice Fairfax (1916)
2. Beatrice Fairfax Episode 10: Playball (1916)
3. A Girl Like That (1917)
4. Madcap Madge (1917)
5. An Even Break (1917)
6. Broadway Arizona (1917)
7. Indiscreet Corinne (1917)
8. Tom Sawyer (1917)
9. Betty Takes a Hand (1918)
10. Limousine Life (1918)
11. Heiress for a Day (1918)
12. Toton the Apache (1919)
13. The Follies Girl (1919)
14. Love's Prisoner (1919)
15. Prudence on Broadway (1919)
16. Upstairs and Down (1919)
17. The Spite Bride (1919)
18. The Glorious Lady (1919)
19. Out Yonder (1919)
20. Footlights and Shadows (1920)
21. Youthful Folly (1920)
22. The Flapper (1920)
23. Darling Mine (1920)
24. Everybody's Sweetheart (1920)