n the heyday of silent films, a winsome ingenue named Olive Thomas had a seemingly charmed life. Born in the mining town of Charleroi, Pennsylvania, her beauty and spirit carried her to New York where she found fame and fortune.
Film history records that during the late Teens of the 20th century, Olive Thomas was the screen's "quintessential American girl" and possibly "the most beautiful woman in the world." The beauty was there for anyone to see: a heart-shaped face, luminous skin and smile, large eyes whose deep blue photographed a lustrous gray. As for quintessential American girlness, she'd been born in the milltown of Charleroi, Pennsylvania (unlike "America's sweetheart" Mary Pickford, who'd been born Canadian), and gone from gingham counters in Charleroi and then New York City, to modeling for the most popular portrait artists of the day, to stardom with the Ziegfeld Follies. Wonderfully natural on screen, she made a passel of movies (eight in 1919 alone), married Mary Pickford's brother Jack, got to define the screen image of "the flapper" (albeit comically), and may have been turning into a real actress when she died in Paris in 1920, either a victim of accidental poisoning or an impetuous suicide.
It's necessary to say "film history records" because the films themselves, by and large, do not survive. One that does, pristinely, is The Flapper (1920), Thomas's next-to-next-to-last movie. Written by the estimable Frances Marion, it's an easygoing comedy about a Southern teen who, sent to a ritzy boarding school up North, gets into mischief while acting the sophisticated grownup to impress a suave gentleman and match wits with a pair of jewel thieves. She's lovely to look at, and there's an exhilarating sequence shot atop a double-decker bus as it bears her along Fifth Avenue--an innocent girl in a vibrant metropolis she had already seduced years earlier.
Completing the Collection is Olive Thomas: Everybody's Sweetheart, an hourlong documentary chronicling the actress's life and career--including her relationships with Flo Ziegfeld and the three Selznicks, Lewis J., Myron, and David--and affording glimpses of some of her other movies. Much of the commentary is supremely fatuous, but not the legend that her ghost haunts the New Amsterdam Theatre where her star first rose. --Richard T. Jameson