Reviving Hollywood’s Aboriginal Scandal Victim


If the name of Olive Thomas meant anything to filmgoers in the last 30 years or so, it was only due to Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon—which told her sad story in characteristically violet prose and tinctured it with old rumors of smack. Dead in 1920, at 25, from an accidental-or-suicidal ingestion of mercury bichloride in a Paris hotel room, Thomas was quickly noted as Hollywood’s aboriginal scandal victim and then forgotten. Her films, too, have been considered entirely lost. But for a handful of years, as we can now see in the few of her films newly recovered and restored, she was the most vivacious, most beguiling figure in American movies, and debatably one of the entire silent era’s most naturalistic and enthralling performers. The feature on this Milestone DVD, The Flapper (1920), was one of her last, and it’s a hokey tall tale about a rambunctious schoolgirl and jewel thieves, enlivened by Selznick Pictures’ stunningly whimsical intertitles, on-location footage of Fifth Avenue, and of course, Thomas herself, who radiates buoyant conviction even when she simply walks across a room. Accompanying the film is a feverish battery of Oliviana, including a Rosanna Arquette-narrated biography, impromptu music videos built around songs written about or for the star, a 1931 interview with Thomas’s first husband, and even Limburgery “re-enactments” of Thomas’s life starring her great-grand-niece.