In Giles’ (Love Lies Bleeding, 2015) novel, the ghost of actress Olive Thomas recounts her previous life as a model, chorus girl, and silent-film star.
The spirit of the actress haunts Manhattan’s New Amsterdam Theatre, once the home of the Ziegfeld Follies, in which Olive performed. The apparition recollects her modest beginnings in a Pennsylvania coal mining town, getting married too young, and working as a shopgirl in New York where she’s “discovered” and becomes a model for artists such as Howard Chandler Christy and Harrison Fisher. After using her connections to become a Ziegfeld Girl, she performs in both the Follies and the more risqué rooftop Frolic; she also begins an affair with her married boss, Florenz Ziegfeld. After he refuses to leave his family for her, Olive takes a heartbroken trip to California, where she meets Jack Pickford, the notorious playboy and brother of Mary Pickford, and they have an exciting yet volatile marriage. Her beauty and enthusiasm open many doors into the world of silent film; however, she struggles with Jack’s alcoholism and indiscriminate infidelities. These dalliances inadvertently bring about her early end; she accidentally drinks a mercury solution, her husband’s syphilis treatment. Though a tragic figure, Olive unapologetically indulges in the excess of the early 20th century by being sassy, savvy but never cynical, and sexually vibrant. Giles employs an easy style and modest creative license backed by obsessive research. The book’s only noteworthy shortcoming is its failure to explore one of Olive’s more noteworthy claims to fame: her early death was one of the first heavily publicized scandals, and as a ghost, the starlet would have been uniquely positioned to comment on it. That said, nearly every page features at least a passing reference, if not an appearance, by a Hollywood legend, from the Pickfords to the Selznicks to F. Scott Fitzgerald. These are joined by lesser-remembered figures such as actors Blanche Ring and George Chesebro and the cross-dressing performer Julian Eltinge. The author includes an impressive reading list to explore these personalities further.
A film buff's dream wrapped in the decadence and glamour of a bygone era.