Olive R. Duffy (1894 - 1920)

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Nicknames: "Oliveretta Elaine Duffy"
Birthplace: Charleroi, Pennsylvania, USA
Death: Died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Occupation: Silent film actress and socialite
Managed by: Tina
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Olive R. Duffy

American silent film actress and socialite Olive Thomas is better known for the horrific nature of her death than for her thespian talents. he was a Ziegfeld girl and the original flapper.

She was born Oliva R. Duffy, though sometimes she claimed her birth name was Oliveretta Elaine Duffy, on October 20, 1894 into a working class Irish American family in the Pittsburgh area steel town of Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Her father, James Duffy, a steelworker, died when she was young, in 1906. Due to the strained financial situation, she was forced to leave school at age 15 to help support her mother and two younger brothers, James and Williams. She sold gingham at Joseph Horne's department store for $2.75 per week. In April 1911, at the age of 16, she married Bernard Krugh Thomas in McKees Rocks, another small mill town. During the two year marriage, she reportedly worked as a clerk in Kaufmann's department store in Pittsburgh. After her divorce, she went to stay with a family member in New York City where she found work in a Harlem department store.

In 1914, after answering a newspaper ad, she won "The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City" contest run by the celebrated commercial artist, Howard Chandler Christy. She then modeled for artist Harrison Fisher and eventually landed on the cover of Saturday Evening Post.

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.

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Olive Thomas's Timeline

1894
October 20, 1894
Charleroi, Pennsylvania, USA
1920
September 10, 1920
Age 25
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
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