Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Olive Thomas: New Amsterdam Theatre, Part l

New Amsterdam
The New Amsterdam Theatre between 7th and 8th Avenue in New York City, just off Times Square, opened its doors in 1903. This 11-story building was designed by the architects Henry Hertz and Hugh Tallant and was immediately dubbed, “House Beautiful.”

This building when originally opened contained two theatres, offices, several plush lounges and a spacious lobby. It displayed murals that reflected the founding of the early settlement, New Amsterdam that was to become New York City.

Flo Ziegfeld
Florenze “Flo” Ziegfeld’s Follies were already successful when he moved his annual show to the New Amsterdam Theatre in June of 1913. At a suggestion of a friend Flo had produced an American version of the Parisian Folies Bergère since 1907.

Ziegfeld’s Follies followed a simple formula. He combined melodious songs sung by famous singers with the funniest comedians from vaudeville. But the highlight of his Follies were beautiful women that wore revealing costumes.

Ziegfeld Follies
Olive Duffy was born in Charleroi, Pennsylvania in 1894. Her father, a steelworker died in a work related accident in 1906. To help support her younger siblings Thomas at age 15 left school and got a job.

A year later, in 1911, at age 16 she married a man by the name of Thomas, she worked in a department store in Pittsburgh. This marriage only lasted 2 years.

Olive in 1916.
Olive then moved to New York City where she won a contest for the Most Beautiful Girl in New York City.

Thomas began to model, then in 1916 she auditioned for the great Flo Ziegfeld on the New Amsterdam’s main stage. Flo an avid womanizer was immediately attracted to her, she was hired.

She danced in the Follies in a green beaded dress, with a matching feathered headband and sash. Olive was an accomplished flirt and it wasn’t long before Ziegfeld began an affair with her.

She then performed in the theater’s more risqué show on the theater’s rooftop. Dubbed the Midnight Frolic this show was surrounded by a garden atmosphere. There was a glass dance floor where the men below could look up lady’s skirts.

The female dancers in this review performed on stage nude--clad mostly in balloons. The male audience would pop these balloons with the end of their cigars.

Vargas' portrait
of Olive.
During this time one man who romanced her, Alberto Vargas convinced her to let him paint a portrait of her. He entitled the picture “Memories of Olive.” She is nude from the waist up and is holding a rose.

One of the men who frequented the Midnight Frolic was Jack Pickford. He was the younger brother of the famous silent film star, Mary Pickford. He also starred in the “shorts” or short films.

He pursued Olive for eight months, the two often danced on the rooftop’s glass floor. They eloped in 1916. It was a love match but a tumultuous affair. Jack was a womanizer and both he and Olive drank a lot. They partied hard and fought harder.

They became fodder for the Hollywood gossip columns.

Her role as The Flapper
Olive independent from her husband signed a film contract. She then worked in Hollywood and appeared in more than 20 silent films. In 1920, she played the title character in the film, The Flapper. This was the first time this term was used.

Olive and Jack's
last journey
In the same year the couple decided to take a second honeymoon. Jack had been discharged quietly from the navy in 1918, during the First World War. He was accused of bribery and procuring shady ladies for various officers.

One night, returning to the Hotel Ritz, after partying hard, the couple was drunk. Jack was asleep in the bedroom while Olive restless found herself in the suite’s bathroom trying to find something to help her sleep.

Her eyes landed on a large blue flask. Thinking the liquid inside would help her-- Olive drank it down. She yelled out as it burned her throat awakening Jack.

In Part ll of Olive Thomas: New Amsterdam Theatre stories about Olive’s ghost at this theater are shared.

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