Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Olive Thomas: New Amsterdam Theatre, Part ll

Olive Thomas
In 1920, Olive Thomas a former Ziegfeld girl and a silent screen actress was on a second honeymoon in Paris with her husband Jack Pickford. The two had been out partying and drinking when they returned to the Hotel Ritz.

Olive in search of something to calm her nerves found in the suite’s bathroom a large blue flask that smelled like alcohol, she thought it was a sleeping draught that would help her. She drank it down. As this liquid flowed down her throat it burned.

She screamed waking her husband in the next room. Too hazy to understand, she had ingested the topical mercury bichloride that Jack was using to treat his chronic syphilis.

Jack tried to induce vomiting but this did not work. Olive was taken to the nearby Neuilly Hospital. In the hours that followed she had fits where she would gain consciousness briefly. She apologized to Jack, who stayed by her side, and then called for her mother.

The amount of toxic fluid she ingested shut down her kidneys and she tragically passed. Jack accompanied Olive’s body back to the U.S. Her funeral service was packed, it was held at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx in September of 1920.

Olive Thomas Pickford's
mausoleum at Woodlawn.

Rumors flew about her death, it was speculated that it was actually a suicide or murder—all untrue. While alive the couple had been dubbed, “the gayest, wildest brats who ever stirred the stardust of Broadway.”

After the scandal of her death, the Hollywood studios used Thomas, the Arbuckle scandal (1921), which I discuss here and the murder of William Desmond Taylor (1922) to instate “morality clauses” into actors’ contracts.

My favorite true ghost story author, Tom Ogden in his book Haunted Theaters retells several stories that indicate Olive Thomas’ spirit returned to haunt the New Amsterdam Theater shortly after her death.

Olive’s ghost often appears partly faded. She has been seen both backstage and in the lounges at the New Amsterdam. She is seen wearing her green beaded dress with the matching headband and sash.

Main stage
New Amsterdam
A workman at the theater in 1952 saw her ghost twice. He noticed the name “Olive” written across her sash. Both times this figure disappeared right in front of him as she held a large blue bottle in her hands.

He recognized her without this ID for he had worked at the theater as a young man during the time she was a Ziegfeld girl.

As many old buildings the New Amsterdam fell into massive disrepair over the years. One preservationist group tried to restore the building in the 1970s but failed. In 1979, the building was declared a New York City landmark.

In 1993, Disney bought the building and spent $35 million restoring it. The man in charge of this restoration, Dana Amendola began to receive reports from workmen that the building was haunted.

These reports did not surprise him for research he did on the history of the theater mentioned Olive, her tragic death and the fact her ghost lingers.

Several night watchmen told him that they had seen a glowing image of a beautiful young woman on the main stage. They also saw this apparition in the dressing rooms.

One watchman stated he captured this image within the beam of his flashlight. “The beads from her Follies dress, headpiece and sash sparkled in the glare.”

This man said this figure held a big blue flask. He challenged her. “Miss, stop, who are you? You shouldn’t be here.”

He said a demure smile formed on the woman’s lips. She then turned and drifted across the stage. He watched as she walked right through a solid outside wall.

Olive’s ghost when seen always carries this blue flask. The male witnesses said she often flirted with them. She whispered, "Hi fella and then would bat her eyes before disappearing."

She was also heard calling out, “Hey, how re doin’?” At other times night watchmen and workers found items moved without explanation.

Production of Aladdin at
After Disney re-opened the theater to the public, cast and crew have reported seeing Olive's ghost. She appears at night after audiences have left.

She has made the sets shake and she has caused all the lights to blow out in the upper floor offices. Her ghost tends to appear more often when changes are made.

She has also been seen on the Amsterdam’s rooftop floating near where the old glass dance floor used to be.

Two portraits of Olive hang in the theater. Today actors that perform in the various Disney productions often acknowledge Olive’s presence as they pass these two pictures. They stop and say, “Goodnight Olive” or they say, “Welcome Home.”

In Part l of Olive Thomas: New Amsterdam Theatre I talk about Olive’s scandalous time as a Ziegfeld girl and her marriage to Jack.

Here is a brief video with Dana Amendola talking about Olive's ghost at the New Amsterdam.

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