Cast & Crew
Theodore Westman Jr.
Ginger King, a small town girl attending an Eastern boarding school, dreams of a more glamorous life. Dissatisfied with her military school boyfriend, Bill Forbes, she meets the older, intriguing Richard Channing and accompanies him to the country club dance. More bold after that adventure, Ginger, while on her way home for a holiday, meets two crooks who entrust some stolen jewels to her for safekeeping. Ginger then puts the jewels on and appears in her home town dressed as a vamp. Once the crooks reappear, however, she realizes the seriousness of the situation and gives up her pretensions to return to Bill.
Theodore Westman Jr.
William P. Carlton
Maury Stewart Jr.
The Olive Thomas Collection
Like other DVDs of obscurities that few have had the opportunity to previously see, The Olive Thomas Collection presents a familiar dilemma: Watch the feature first, to get a Thomas performance under your belt before checking out the documentary, or watch the documentary first, to get context for the feature? I chose the second option, starting with Andi Hicks' hour-long Olive Thomas: Everybody's Sweetheart (a/k/a Olive Thomas: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World). The documentary spins a good yarn about a working-class Pennsylvania girl who, after a failed teen marriage, heads to New York, wins a modeling contest, becomes a Ziegfeld Follies star (and mistress of Flo Ziegfeld) and starts acting in movies. She becomes a star, marries Jack (brother of Mary) Pickford, signs a lavish contract with the fledgling Selznick studio, endures the ups and downs of her public marriage to trouble-prone Jack and, in September of 1920, dies of a perhaps-accidental overdose of poison, the first of the many 1920s Hollywood-related scandals. She was 25.
Sitting through Everybody's Sweetheart is easy enough and it's a welcome intro to Thomas, but it sure involves a lot of faith. I realized halfway through that it might as well be Forgotten Silver, Peter Jackson's utterly deadpan mockumentary about Colin Mackenzie, the New Zealand pioneer who invented talkies and color motion pictures and, of course, never existed. Similary, the Rosanna Arquette-narrated Everybody's Sweetheart is very authoritative and affectionate, and its Thomas devotees include director Allison Anders (Things Behind the Sun, Grace of My Heart), as well as several descendants of the actress' family. But its distance from Thomas' lifetime hurts, as it never includes on-camera or on-the-mike comments from a single person who knew Thomas (did Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's definitive silent-film docu series Hollywood include anything about her?). That leads to it using printed sources, such as fan magazines, for comments about Olive, but I don't know how reliable they are (isn't that akin to a contemporary film study quoting an actor from a promotional talk-show appearance?). The documentary is also needlessly vague about Thomas' filmography, sometimes not identifying clips and never coming right out and saying how many of her two dozen or so movies are still available. Sometimes its omissions are just silly. Can you believe it includes a clip from the serial in which Thomas made her movie debut, 1916's Beatrice Fairfax, yet doesn't tell us anything about the character she played?
Moving on to the light comedy The Flapper retroactively hurts and helps the documentary's standing. It helps to see Thomas at work, and see that she is really given the star treatment in this Selznick production in which she plays a Senator's adventurous teen daughter who gets involved in much misadventure after she's shipped off to a strict boarding school. Any doubt who the star of the movie is evaporates in an early scene in which a group of the school's teens are all dressed in dark overcoats and hats, except for Olive's Genevieve, whose light hat and coat makes her standout out like a snowball on a grizzly pelt. The extensive wintry location shooting (in Lake Placid, New York, according to the doc) proves that Thomas' later vehicles were lavish affairs (there is also some Manhattan location photography). Thomas even has a Tom Cruise Ricky Business-like moment where she jumps around her bedroom alone while playing the ukulele.
But something Everybody's Sweetheart and others who have lazily dubbed Thomas "the movies" first flapper somehow fail to understand is that the title The Flapper is a joke. And that's pretty hard to miss. The fact that her 16-year-old character is dying to be a woman is only the movie's greatest source of comedy. Over the course of the movie, Genevieve tries to hook an older gentleman (Wm. P. Carlton, Jr.) by telling him she's 20, but when she learns he's just being patronizing to her, she decides to shake him and her staid hometown up by concocting a dark past by using the love letters and jewels of a wayward classmate. She broadly poses as a worldly, "fallen" woman for a brief 10 minutes as her relatives and would-be suitor gasp in horror as director Alan Crosland (The Jazz Singer) and writer Frances Marion Son of the Sheik, Dinner at Eight) bring Genevieve's personal struggle (she learns to embrace her youth!) and a robbery subplot to a pleasing climax. The Flapper is an above-average production, its best quality perhaps being the artfully-detailed and wryly-written intertitles. For instance, when the action gets to the boarding school where troubled rich girls are sent, the title wittily describes the students as "limbs of Satan from old family trees" (Norma Shearer plays one such limb).
Like the movies of Thomas' sister-in-law, Mary Pickford, The Flapper is one of those movies in which the female star must play a sort of womanchild who is clearly much younger than the actress. Perhaps it's a relic of lingering Victorianism that female stars couldn¿t actually act like mature women. In that sense, The Flapper is perhaps most interesting, and I wonder if Thomas poured any of her own frustration at having to play juveniles into spunky Genevieve's struggle to be treated like an adult. Thomas might not have played "the movie's first flapper" here, as legend has mistakenly said, but you can say she paved the way for future actresses like Clara Bow and Jean Harlow to play genuine women in a few short years. Her naturalistic performance is charismatic and solid, and matches the style of Crosland's entire cast.
Aside from a photo gallery of 15 images that attests to Thomas' archetypal 1910s beauty, the extras on The Olive Thomas Collection are mostly deletions from the documentary. There are two pretty cheesy re-enactments with Thomas' great-niece playing her that were smartly omitted and renditions of two songs written about Olive, though it's unclear if such songs were just 1920 promotional equivalents of a music video from a movie soundtrack today, as well as audio readings of printed recollections about Thomas. As in the documentary, one recollection involves an actor reading cinematographer Billy Bitzer's comments. Although the "Billy" is an Americanization of Wilhelm, I was puzzled by the actor using a thick, pseudo-Viennese accent. Bitzer was born in Boston.
For more information about The Olive Thomas Collection, visit Milestone Film. To order The Olive Thomas Collection, go to TCM Shopping.
By Paul Sherman
The Olive Thomas Collection
A then-unknown Norma Shearer has an uncredited bit part in this film.
William Joseph Scully worked on the film, probably as assistant director. According to a news item, this film was originally entitled Dangerous Paradise, which was the title of a later Selznick production starring Louise Huff. Some scenes in the film were shot in Florida.