Writer Michelle Vogel is putting her knowledge of Classic Hollywood on the printed page once again with Olive Thomas – The Life and Death of a Silent Film Beauty. Thomas, hailed the “most beautiful woman in the world” by artist Harrison Fisher, was a girl on her way to the top. Like many aspiring actresses, she traveled to Hollywood with a dream. She first won a beauty contest in New York which led her to a part in Florenz Zeigfeld’s “Follies”, and the rest, should have been film history. Instead, Thomas’ story took a tragic detour with her untimely and mysterious death at the young age of 25.
The Roaring 20s, as they were known, were full of parties and letting loose. World War I was over and everything seemed to return to normal. Maybe they had in Anytown, USA. In 1920s Hollywood, life was anything but normal. Vogel’s prologue takes us back in time to those golden and scandalous Tinseltown nights. The lives and infamous deaths of such stars as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Wallace Reid and director William Desmond Taylor seem too surreal to believe; but, these are the people to whom we’re immediately introduced. It’s the perfect setup to a love story, a drama and a mystery, the very things that Olive Thomas’ life would become.
Vogel takes us from the prologue and throws us into a virtual timeline. The book is full of beautiful photography and rare candids, including one of Thomas posing with the 1916 New York Yankees, and even a vintage skin cream advertisement promoting the 1918 film “Heiress For A Day”.
Olive, a pretty face with an unending thirst for knowledge, would ask questions to the point of annoying those around her. To her, it was the natural way of things. Incredibly, she managed to finesse her way into directing a few scenes in one of her own movies. The readers must remember, this was a woman in an industry dominated by men. She eventually married into Hollywood royalty by becoming Mrs. Jack Pickford. Jack was the brother of Mary Pickford, America’s Sweetheart. Though it seemed like Mary and her mother did not approve of the marriage, Olive kept her head up the way she always did. Jack and Olive often showered each other with lavish gifts, which included jewelry and the latest automobiles. Many times they’d be working on opposite coasts, so these extreme measures were most likely over-compensation for not seeing each other. Life appeared to be grand, until a fateful trip to Paris in 1920. Olive died from what was said to be suicide by poisoning.
We delve straight into the numerous speculations about Olive’s death. Vogel examines the unexplained and the unsettling angles like a rogue detective. From her birth to her childhood, from her rise to stardom to her death and finally to her funeral (attended by some 15,000 people) and the investigation thereafter, we’re escorted along as if it were happening all over again. In Chapter 10, we get a “special” addition to the haunting story! I won’t spoil it, but this was a great additive that, in retrospect, was very fitting to a woman as persistant as Olive Thomas. The book even gives a detailed list of Olive’s stage and film appearances. If Michelle Vogel’s list of credits are any indication, this is the perfect tribute to a woman that many have long forgotten. Olive Thomas was already an icon in the making, a rival to Mary Pickford that never got the chance to shine as bright as she could have. This is a book for enthusiasts and novices alike. It’s written in a way that is very easy to understand, despite its incredible amount of information and research.