Jack Pickford – actor, director, and alleged womaniser, alcoholic, drug-user, bootlegger and all-around scoundrel. Born in 1896, Jack was the brother of Mary Pickford, the Queen of Hollywood during the 1920s while her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, was the King. Jack entered the film industry in 1909 and featured, mostly in small roles, in a series of short films by directors like D. W. Griffith. Following a series of supporting roles in feature-length films such as Wildflower (Allan Dwan, 1914) and Poor Little Peppina (Sidney Olcott, 1916), his big breaks came in 1917 when he played the role of Pip in Great Expectations (Robert G. Vignola and Paul West, 1917) and the title role in William Desmond Taylor’s film adaptation of Tom Sawyer, which was so successful that a sequel, Tom and Huck, was made the following year. By 1918, when he joined the Navy, Jack had married former Ziegfeld girl and rising star of the screen Olive Thomas, a young woman who shared Jack’s love of fun, alcohol and, allegedly, drugs. Whilst in the armed forces, Jack found himself involved in the running of a scam in which he helped others avoid military service. He was court-martialled, although his dishonourable discharge was changed to medical discharge when he turned state witness in the subsequent trial.
In 1920, with their marriage on the rocks, Jack and Olive travelled to Europe hoping the trip would help them to patch things up. It didn’t. The story goes that after an alcohol-fuelled evening of partying, Olive drank mercury bichloride, supposedly prescribed for Jack for syphilis, although there appears to be no documentary evidence of Pickford having the illness. Thomas died a few days later. Unsurprisingly, speculation grew that Olive’s death was suicide or even murder, although Jack always protested that it was simply an accident. The following year, William Desmond Taylor, Jack’s friend and director of many of his films, was found murdered. His murder, one of early Hollywood’s great scandals, is still unsolved.
Jack married twice more, both times to former Ziegfeld girls and both times unsuccessfully. He continued making films throughout the 1920s with his career only fading out in 1928 following the advent of sound – although his lifestyle, unpredictable behaviour and premature aging were probably as much to blame as the changes to the film industry. Jack’s health deteriorated rapidly over the next few years and he died in 1933, aged just 37.
In this piece, I will explore how the various scandals surrounding Pickford were reported in the New York Times. By doing this I will show how Pickford can be regarded as one of the first, if not the first, Hollywood celebrity to suffer what today we might call “trial by press” or “trial be media.” The fact that he was still making films nearly a decade after the suspicious death of his wife should be an indicator that such events were treated vastly differently ninety years ago to how they are now, and that Jack and his career survived the scandal relatively unscathed. However, Jack was not a prolific actor, normally making just one or two films a year during the 1920s – compare this to the thirteen that Clara Bow starred in during 1925 alone. Despite this, Pickford was never relegated to particularly minor films. In 1925 he starred in Waking Up the Town with Norma Shearer and directed by James Cruze, and The Goose Woman (Clarence Brown), a film co-starring Louise Dressler based on a real-life murder case. The following year saw him in the ensemble cast of The Bat (Roland West), the first film version of the Broadway hit old-dark-house thriller, and in Brown of Harvard (Jack Conway), which also starred William Haines. His final silent film was Exit Smiling (Sam Taylor, 1926), in which he appeared opposite Beatrice Lillie.
Despite this run of relatively high-profile films in the mid-1920s, Pickford’s popularity never totally recovered from the battering it took following the death of Olive Thomas and the accusatory stance taken by the New York Times and other newspapers, and Pickford is still linked to his wife’s death even now. In a review of the documentary Olive Thomas: Everybody’s Sweetheart (Andi Hicks, 2004), it is noted that the film “obviously attempts to influence viewers to read Thomas’s death as murder by husband Jack Pickford” (Baskett, 2006: 161). Charles Foster writes of Pickford that “the world had been at his feet since he was in his early teens, but instead of picking it up and running with it to the finish line, he chose to kick it around and not bother to reach the goals others had set for him” (Foster, 2000: 245). Michelle Vogel’s 2007 biography of Thomas goes even further, once again linking Pickford to Thomas’s death, and saying of Pickford’s passing at the age of 36: “the old saying ‘what goes around, comes around,’ seems to be extraordinarily appropriate” (Vogel, 2007: 116). These comments, all made fairly recently, can be seen as a direct result of the original reporting of the death of Thomas. While the New York Times and others never explicitly accused Pickford of wrongdoing, the suggestion and accusation is there in the articles they printed that fuelled rumours and were then taken as fact over the years and still blight the name of Jack Pickford to this day.
It would be fair to say that Jack Pickford never had a good relationship with the New York Times even before the various scandals that befell him during his lifetime. His succession of popular films during the late 1910s was largely ignored by the publication, and those that were not ignored were often given somewhat curt reviews. For example, Motion Picture magazine refers to Great Expectations as “one of the best five-reel plays of the year. Only in length is it inferior to Intolerance and Joan the Woman” (B. B. C., 1917: 13). Motion Picture singles out Pickford for praise, telling its readers that he “is his usual boyish, likeable self in the role of Pip” (ibid). The New York Times failed to review the film at all. Pickford’s other star-making role of the year, in Tom Sawyer, is reviewed in the Times, but Pickford is singled out for criticism, with the anonymous writer stating that “in the event of the filming of additional scenes it might be well to intrust [sic] the title role to some one [sic] other than Jack Pickford, who, in addition to being too large for the part, acts quite without inspiration or sympathy” (Anon, 1917: 13). In rather stark contrast, Motion Picture refers to Pickford as “Tom Sawyer with all his gay impishness brought back to life” and that “Jack Pickford as our beloved Tom Sawyer was simply beyond compare” (Anon, 1918: 168). Pickford’s films also received praise in other publications. In The Evening Independent, the 1916 film Seventeen (Robert G Vignola) is described as “screamingly funny,” and readers are told that they “can’t afford to miss ‘Seventeen'” (Anon, 1919a: 1). The same publication also approved of Jack and Jill (William Desmond Taylor, 1917), which saw Pickford teamed with regular partner Louise Huff. The review tells us that “it immensely pleased all who saw it. It is one of the wholesomest, cheeriest little comedy-dramas in which the two have worked” (Anon, 1918: 1).
The above comments stand in stark contrast to the New York Times. Their 1921 review for the comedy Just Out of College (Alfred E Green, 1920) is one of the harshest aimed at a Jack Pickford film. The unknown writer tells us that “It would pass any board of censors in the country, and yet is more immoral than most of the films that would be suppressed. There isn’t a bedroom scene in it, and all of its girls are fully clothed, but its hero is just a plain swindler, and his success is the happy ending of the story. . . . Swindling fathers-in-law may be an excusable crime, but if movies, as claimed, exert a directing influence on the minds of the young, ‘Just Out of College‘ should increase the sum of ballyhooism, bluff and unproductive shrewdness in the world. . . . Its additional fault is that it is dull” (Anon, 1921: 9).
One can only speculate whether the same review of the film would have been written a year earlier, before the death of Olive Thomas. As the review indicates, demands were being made for the censorship of film and a clamp-down on its corrupting influence, demands that grew louder a few months later when Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was arrested for manslaughter.
Perhaps the publication gave their most blunt assessment of Jack Pickford in a six-line review of his 1920 film The Double-Dyed Deceiver (Alfred E Green) in which they referred to him as the “unilluminated star” of the film (Anon, 1920a: 17). This opinion had changed little by the time of Pickford’s death in January 1933, at which time they wrote that his screen career was “never highly successful” (Anon, 1933a: 17) in an article littered with factual errors, and that dwells as much on the death of Olive Thomas thirteen years before as on the death of Pickford himself. However, it is the misconception that Pickford’s career was unsuccessful that has filtered down through the years, despite the fact that fan magazines and trade journals of the period show him to be a huge box-office draw in the late 1910s, particularly in his partnership with Louise Huff.
THE OLIVE THOMAS SCANDAL
One of the most surprising things one learns in looking at film magazines of the 1920s is that scandals such as those surrounding Jack Pickford were rarely covered. While today, scandal is the most common subject of celebrity magazines, this was not the case during this earlier period. This reflects the influence and input of the major studios on these magazines. Looking at publications from 1920 and early 1921, we find that the mysterious death of Olive Thomas was barely mentioned at all, despite Pickford and Thomas being regularly discussed as a high-profile Hollywood couple prior to this. Photoplay simply published a full-page photograph of Olive Thomas along with three lines of text stating that the photograph was in tribute to the star, who had recently died of accidental poisoning. It would be difficult to imagine a magazine being so reverent about a suspicious celebrity death now. However, in the case of Pickford at least, it was left up to the broadsheets such as the New York Times to cover the events in more detail – and to encourage speculation.
Pickford had already made negative headlines in 1919 when he was implicated in a scandal while he was in the Navy. An article in the Pittsburgh Press states that he was “discharged from the navy for complicity in the New York naval graft scandal involving wholesale bribery of naval officers by rich slackers, who obtained thereby bombproof jobs during the war” (Anon, 1919b: 3). Rather strangely, the Navy graft scandal was reported in the New York Times but none of the articles mentioned Pickford, despite the fact that his involvement was reported widely in newspapers from around the country.
However, the New York Times wasted little time in implicating him the following year when his wife fell ill after drinking poison. On September 10, 1920, a headline tells us “Olive Thomas Near Death.” From the outset, the article seems intent on stirring up speculation as to how the poisoning happened. It states that “as she has been unable to talk since she took the poison, Miss Thomas has not been able to explain how she came to make the mistake of drinking from the bottle which was clearly marked” (Anon, 1920b: 20). It’s clear even at this early stage that, with the querying of how the poisoning came about, and the supposed secrecy of the affair, the newspaper is going to make more of this in the coming days and that, despite any facts that may surface in the future, their stance is going to be that there is some form of cover-up or wrongdoing. This, in many ways, is surprising. Although over the next few years Hollywood was rocked by scandals that would indirectly lead to the introduction of the Production Code in 1934, the death of Olive Thomas was the first of these, and so one can only presume that the suspicions that had been aroused by the incident were caused by the fact that naughty boy Jack Pickford, whose love of alcohol and carousing was well known by this stage, was the husband of the deceased.
On September 11, the day after Thomas’s death from the poison, the New York Times contained a much longer article that appears to divulge information the paper seems to have had from the outset. The headline states that “Paris Authorities Investigate the Death of Olive Thomas,” while the subheading tells us that that “police seek evidence on rumors of drug and champagne orgies” (Anon, 1920c: 1). Again, there are hints in the story that Jack Pickford was not an innocent in the affair. While the police were investigating the alleged “orgies,” they apparently had not yet interviewed Pickford, who was “not receiving visitors” and, according to a physician, was “in a very bad state of health.” Even so, something doesn’t ring true here. There seems little likelihood of the husband of a victim of poisoning not having been interviewed by the police nearly a week after the event. Yet, according to the New York Times, he still hadn’t given his version of events to the authorities, something which is very hard to believe. Surely with a suspicious death such as this, he wouldn’t have had a choice and would have been questioned, if only as a formality. The newspaper also throws into the mix the information that “Miss Thomas was certified as perfectly well a few weeks ago for a very heavy insurance policy by the same doctor who later attended her to the end” (ibid). The mention of a “very heavy insurance policy” was only likely to cast more suspicion on husband Jack Pickford.
It’s worth noting that this article was the first time the Olive Thomas death had reached the front page of the New York Times, and there seems to be an intent here to make the story seem more substantial than it actually is. For example, the use of the term “champagne orgies” as the subheading for the article was likely to attract readers’ attention, despite the fact that we are told they are rumours. But it is the mention of the insurance policy that sets alarm bells ringing. The writer fails to tell us why this information is important or what it has to do with the recent events. After all, if it was the poison that had made her ill, why wouldn’t she have been “perfectly well” a few weeks earlier? The newspaper seems determined to put the idea of wrongdoing into the reader’s mind. The taking out of an insurance policy followed by an unexplained death brings with it the suggestion that the death was, in fact, murder. There was no legal case being made against anyone in relation to Thomas’s poisoning, nor would there ever be, and yet a seed of doubt has been planted in the reader’s mind as to Pickford’s innocence because he has yet to talk to the police, there are rumors of “champagne orgies,” Thomas had died shortly after taking out a life insurance policy, and he was the only one with her when she took the poison. There might not have been a legal case, but the New York Times was determined to present its less-than-reliable evidence all the same so that the public could make up their own mind.
Jack Pickford did give his own account of the events to the Los Angeles Examiner. While he was often treated harshly by the press, it has to be said that this article could have done little to help his cause. In the article he said, “We arrived back at the Ritz Hotel at about 3 o’clock in the morning. . . . Both of us were tired out. We both had been drinking a little” (Forbes W. Fairburn, quoted in Long, 1995). One would always assume that someone in Jack’s position would play down the amount of alcohol and/or drugs consumed but to try to get away with “we had been drinking a little,” considering the rumors in the New York Times of “champagne and drugs orgies” certainly made his story less believable, especially given the fact that the police had already said that they were investigating various parties that had taken place that night as part of their enquiries. Pickford continues:
She was in the bathroom. Suddenly she shrieked. “My God.” I jumped out of bed, rushed toward her and caught her in my arms. She cried to me to find out what was in the bottle. I picked it up and read: “Poison.” It was a toilet solution and the label was in French. I realized what she had done and sent for the doctor. Meanwhile, I forced her to drink water in order to make her vomit. . . . The doctor came. He pumped her stomach three times while I held Olive. . . . She didn’t want to die. She took the poison by mistake. We both loved each other since the day we married. The fact that we were separated months at a time made no difference in our affection for each other. . . . She kept continually calling for me. I was beside her day and night until her death. The physicians held out hope for her until the last moment, until they found her kidneys paralyzed. Then they lost hope. . . . She was kept alive only by hypodermic injections during the last twelve hours. I was the last one she recognized. I watched her eyes glaze and realized she was dying. I asked her how she was feeling and she answered: “Pretty weak, but I’ll be all right in a little while, don’t worry, darling.” Those were her last words. I held her in my arms and she died an hour later. . . . All stories and rumors of wild parties and cocaine and domestic fights since we left New York are untrue . . . (ibid)
Anyone who had read the reports in other newspapers such as the New York Times would notice the inconsistencies in Pickford’s account of the incident and its aftermath. According to the September 10 article, Thomas had been unable to talk after the poison was taken, and yet according to Pickford she called out to him repeatedly and spoke to him from her death bed.
One would assume that, after Thomas’s funeral, the story would peter out. On December 10, 1920, the New York Times carried the news that there would be no criminal case following Olive Thomas’s death, and that piece of news was conveyed to the public in an article of just six lines. In the end, it didn’t matter if there was an actual case or not, for the newspaper had already created its own, and it continued to build on it (and remind the public of it) for the rest of Pickford’s life.
Jack Pickford remarried in 1922, this time to fellow widower Marilyn Miller, whose husband had died in a car accident, also in 1920. On May 28, 1922, the New York Times declared in a headline “Marilyn Miller to Marry Jack Pickford.” The story consists of five paragraphs, two of which are about the forthcoming wedding, with the final three being about Jack’s scandals. The paper reminds its readers that Pickford’s first wife died of “bichloride mercury poisoning, having taken the poison in her hotel apartment following a night of gayety in Montmartre” before adding that “Pickford was asleep in the next room at the time and was awakened by her cries” (Anon, 1922a: 17). This seems a rather unsubtle way of suggesting that parts of the story are still missing and that Thomas was not in the bathroom but in a separate bedroom. The readers are left wondering why Pickford wasn’t in the same room as his wife. Were they not sleeping together? Was the marriage on the rocks? The story finishes by raking over the issue of Pickford’s court-martial in 1919, stating that he “turned state’s evidence in the exposure of the graft and bribery ring in the Third Naval District” (ibid). This was the first time the New York Times linked Pickford with the scandal, despite a number of articles on the subject in its own pages in 1919.
In July of the same year, Pickford was again in the news, this time thanks to Florenz Ziegfeld, who was quoted as saying that “Jack Pickford had broken the heart of Olive Thomas, his first wife, who took poison, and had been dishonourably discharged from the navy” (Anon, 1922b: 2). At this point, the newspaper makes no comment on the accusations, and spends most of the article quoting Marilyn Miller’s angry response as she denies that Jack was dishonourably discharged and says that she would like to get out of her contract with Ziegfeld. And yet it is interesting to note what the article doesn’t say, most notably that Miller is not quoted defending her future husband against the accusations made by Ziegfeld about breaking Olive Thomas’s heart, and thus continuing the suggestion that Pickford was somehow linked to her death, if only in driving her to suicide.
“ONE-TIME FILM STAR”
There is an apparent misconception (which still lingers on today) that Jack only had a career because he was the sister of Mary Pickford. Whether or not this is true we shall never be able to completely determine, but we do know that Jack had appeared in a huge number of short films prior to the mid-1910s when Mary was at the pinnacle of her fame, and not just at the studios at which Mary herself was making films. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Jack didn’t get all of his work through Mary’s stardom, at least in the early years of his career. His series of feature films in the late 1910s, especially those where he was paired with Louise Huff, were both popular and successful. This is something that is largely forgotten today, not least because most of his films from this period are either lost or unavailable. Only Tom Sawyer and The Man Who Had Everything (Alfred E Green, 1920) have been made available on DVD, and both through independent labels. Following the death of Olive Thomas, Mary did finance a couple of the movies he directed, and yet Jack’s own status rose again during the mid-1920s and he acted in some major films. Most explanations for his low output of acting work during the 1920s suggest that he had become depressed and disinterested. The real reason is something we shall probably not know unless a full biography of him is written that has access to letters and diaries, etc.
The Pittsburgh Post takes all of the speculation on his career and personal life a stage further when it reported on Pickford’s death in 1933, which ironically took place in the same Paris hospital as that of Olive Thomas. The lengthy article almost becomes a memoriam for Thomas instead, who seems to be of more interest to the Pittsburgh Post simply because she came from Pittsburgh. However, the article seems particularly cutting when it comes to Jack, calling him a “one time film star” and “brother of the famous Mary” (Anon, 1933b: 6). In comparison, the article refers to Thomas’s “brilliant but short” career. Almost a column is then given over to a summary of Thomas’s rise to fame, ending with an almost bizarre account of the poisoning incident that killed her. According to the newspaper, “she stumbled in [Jack’s] bedroom following their return from a night of gaiety and said ‘I’ve taken poison, goodbye Jack.'” It then refers to her suicide, when the official ruling was accidental death.
The news story covering Pickford’s death in the New York Times was just as unsympathetic and, like that in the Pittsburgh Post, links the story to both Olive Thomas and Mary Pickford rather than concentrating on Jack himself. Despite a number of successes in the late 1910s, only one film, Exit Smiling, is referenced in the article, and then erroneously referred to as Pickford’s last film. That was actually Gang War (Bert Glennon, 1928), a film now lost and Pickford’s only foray into talkies.
Rather surprisingly, the films Jack Pickford made in the years after the death of Olive Thomas were generally more highly regarded in New York Times reviews. For example, while hardly receiving glowing praise, Gang War was begrudgingly called “better than the majority of its ilk” by Mordaunt Hall (Hall, 1928: 16). The 1925 film The Goose Woman is referred to as “an unusually interesting production,” with Jack Pickford “earnest and natural in the role of the son” (Hall, 1925: 14), possibly the most complimentary words in any review of Pickford’s films in the publication. Despite what seems like a change of heart toward Jack in the mid-1920s, this does not follow through in the article concerning his death, which rehashes not only Thomas’s death, but also his two further marriages that ended in divorce, and his part in the Navy scandal of 1919. His film career was simply regarded as “never highly successful” (Anon, 1933a: 17).
The New York Times seems to have grudged Jack Pickford his film career, as if they didn’t believe he deserved it. Part of this seems to be inextricably linked with the popularity of his sister, Mary Pickford, with Jack being viewed as getting his film roles thanks to the Pickford name rather than through any talent of his own. He was looked down upon even more when he tried to break away from Mary’s shadow in his own series of starring vehicles starting in 1916. Despite this, the popularity of his films in the late 1910s and the performances we can view today in the surviving films suggest that he had every right to his own career, with his performances often charming and understated, especially in rural dramas such as In Wrong (1919). However, there is a sense here of “knowing your place,” something that Mark Jancovich has discussed in terms of the New York Times reviews of horror films during the 1930s and 1940s (see Jancovich, 2010; and Jancovich and Brown, 2013). Here, “the problem was not films or stars . . . that knew their place but rather those . . . with [pretentions of] the middlebrow. It was these films or stars that threatened cultural hierarchies and distinctions” (Jancovich and Brown, 2013: 256). In other words, Jack Pickford was seen as attempting a legitimate acting career that the newspaper didn’t believe he deserved. If he had stayed in supporting roles alongside his sister – that is, “knowing his place” – then the newspaper’s view of him might well have been very different.
But no matter what the reasoning behind it, both the New York Times and (to a lesser extent) the Pittsburgh Post seem to have been intent on linking Jack with the death of his first wife, whether by implying that there was a cover-up as to how and why the poison was taken in the New York Times, or the suggestion that he must have been part of the reason for her suicide in the Pittsburgh Post. This is arguably an example of “trial by press,” something that has become more and more prevalent over the last ninety years. With regard to Jack Pickford, the allegations are implied rather than stated outright, as if the newspapers were testing the waters to see how much they could get away with in this area. We can see this on a number of occasions, most notably after Thomas died. Prior to this, it could be argued that the newspaper was simply trying to make a story out of the few details it had of the incident. However, once she had died and it was clear that her side of the story was never going to come out, the paper can be seen to be pointing the finger of blame at Pickford. It is at this point that the story becomes front page news for the first time, and it is hinted at that the actor is evading the police. We are told that he has changed hotels, and that the police have talked to “waiters, porters and chambermaids” (Anon, 1920c: 1) but were “unable to obtain” his version of events. On December 10, the New York Times carried the news that there would be no criminal case following Olive Thomas’s death, and that piece of news was conveyed to the public in an article lasting just six lines. However, it didn’t matter if there was an actual case or not, for the newspaper had already created its own. A ruling of accidental death might have been made, but the events that took place in Paris in the summer of 1920 would constantly be regurgitated until Pickford’s own death in early 1933. The newspaper articles on Pickford’s death show just how much the Olive Thomas scandal had come to define him, with her poisoning taking up a bigger percentage of the stories than information on Pickford himself. The Times ultimately stopped short of accusing him of being somehow involved in his wife’s death, but the insinuation was being made that he was somehow to blame.
The New York Times and other newspapers would draw upon their experiences of reporting the Olive Thomas scandal again over the coming years. In the years following her death, they were presented with the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the death of movie star Wallace Reid due to drugs, and the manslaughter trials of Fatty Arbuckle, a comedian second only to Chaplin in the popularity stakes in the 1910s. Arbuckle was accused of raping and causing the death of Virginia Rappe, a struggling actress, at an alcohol-fuelled party. There were literally hundreds of newspaper stories about Arbuckle, the party, and the morals of Hollywood in general. There were three trials, the first two of which were inconclusive. The third trial ended in acquittal, with the foreman of the jury reading a statement which said: “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him . . . there was not the slightest proof produced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story which we all believe. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame” (Pate, 2007: 67).
However, it was too late, Arbuckle was a broken man and was effectively banished from the screen, although he did continue to direct under assumed names during the 1920s. He attempted a comeback in 1932, but died the following year – the same year as Jack Pickford.
Arbuckle is still more remembered for the scandal than for his films. The same can certainly be said for Jack Pickford, who is still regularly accused of benefitting from his sister’s fame and of being implicated in some way in the death of Thomas. A recent biography of the actress is particularly (and rather viciously) damning of him. Michelle Vogel writes that “Jack wallowed in a world of alcohol- and drug-induced self-pity and grief (or was it guilt?) for two and a half years after Olive’s death” (Vogel, 2007: 115) She goes on: “There were so many unanswered questions surrounding the lead-up to Olive’s death and Jack held the answers to most (if not all) of them. Unless he had ice water running through his veins, the weight of that burden would have been difficult to endure without the help of a bottle of something stronger than lemonade” (ibid). One can only assume that such vindictiveness was influenced by the reading of contemporary newspaper stories and gossip columns. Vogel’s prejudice is perhaps at its most cutting in her next comment: “When you analyse the few years that Jack had to live after Olive’s death, everything, on every level, began to fall apart for him. . . . The old saying ‘what goes around, comes around’ seems to be extraordinarily appropriate when it comes to the life of Jack Pickford” (ibid, 116). Harsh words.
This was the first scandal to rock the modern celebrity world. Many more have followed, from the Fatty Arbuckle case to the Michael Jackson case, and from the revelations of Rock Hudson’s private life to the murder of Ramon Novarro at the hands of two hustlers the aging actor had invited to his house. Looking at the articles written about the death of Olive Thomas, it appears that, from the very beginning, the newspaper industry had been aware of its power not only to make stars but also to break them, something that we have seen time and time again in recent years. What’s more, as Michelle Vogel’s biography of Olive Thomas goes to show, once the suspicions and scandals have been made public, it is almost impossible for a celebrity to shake them off, even three-quarters of a century after his death.
NOTE: This is an expanded, rewritten version of an article on the subject in the author’s “Beyond Boundaries” blog.
Anon., 1917. “‘Tom Sawyer’ in Movies,” in New York Times, December 3, 1917, p. 13.
Anon., 1918. “Jack Pickford at Grand,” in The Evening Independent, January 25, 1918, p. 1.
Anon., 1919a. “Jack Pickford at Grand,” in The Evening Independent, October 2, 1919, p. 1.
Anon., 1919b. “Jack Pickford Fired From Navy in Probe,” in The Pittsburgh Press, March 1, 1919, p. 3.
Anon., 1919c. “Little Mary’s Brother Helped in Navy Bribery,” in Waterloo Evening Courier, March 1, 1919, p. 14.
Anon., 1920a. “The Screen,” in New York Times, June 14, 1920, p. 17.
Anon., 1920b. “Olive Thomas Near Death,” in New York Times, September 10, 1920, p. 20.
Anon., 1920c. “Paris Authorities Investigate Death of Olive Thomas,” in New York Times, September 11, 1920, p. 1.
Anon., 1921. “The Screen,” in New York Times, February 7, 1921, p.9.
Anon., 1922a. “Marilyn Miller to Marry Jack Pickford,” in New York Times, May 28, 1922, p. 17.
Anon., 1922b. “Fiancee Defends Pickford,” in New York Times, July 10, 1922, p. 2.
Anon., 1933a. “Jack Pickford, 36, Is Dead in Paris,” in New York Times, January 4, 1933, p. 17.
Anon., 1933b. “Jack Pickford Dies in Hospital Where End Came to Olive Thomas,” in Pittsburgh Post, January 4, 1933, p. 6.
B. B. C., 1917. “Photoplay Reviews,” in Motion Picture magazine, March 1917, p. 13.
Basket, Michael., 2006. “The Olive Thomas Collection: The Flapper (1920), directed by Alan Crosland, and Olive Thomas: Everybody’s Sweetheart (2004), directed by Andi Hicks,” in The Moving Image, Vol 6, no. 1, Spring 2006, pp. 159-162.
Foster, Charles., 2000. Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood. Toronto: Dundurn Press.
Hall, Mordaunt., 1925. “The Screen,” in New York Times, August 4, 1925, p. 14.
Hall, Mordaunt., 1928. “The Screen,” in New York Times, November 19, 1928, p. 16.
Jancovich, Mark., 2010. “Two ways of Looking: The Critical Reception of 1940s Horror,” in Cinema Journal, Vol 49, no 3, pp. 45-66.
Jancovich, Mark and Brown, Shane., 2013. “The Screen’s Number One and Number Two Bogeymen: The Critical Reception of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the 1930s and 1940s,” in Kate Egan and Sarah Thomas (eds) Cult Film Stardom: Offbeat Attractions and Processes of Cultification. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 243-258.
Long, Bruce., 1995. “The Life and Death of Olive Thomas,” in Taylorology, Issue 33, September 1995. http://www.public.asu.edu/~ialong/Taylor33.txt. Accessed: January 7, 2013.
Pate, Matthew., 2007. “The Tragedy of Arbuckle, ‘Prince of Whales,'” in Chermack, Steven M. and Bailey, Frankie Y. (Eds.), Crimes and Trials of the Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.