In 1916, Mary Pickford’s little brother Jack married Olive Thomas, a beautiful Ziegfield girl who had transitioned successfully from stage to silent film. Here is Olive in her famous Vargas calendar pose. And here’s how a contemporary described them: “Two innocent-looking children, they were the gayest, wildest brats who ever stirred the stardust on Broadway,” wrote Frances Marion, a prominent Hollywood scriptwriter who knew them well. “Both were talented, but they were much more interested in playing the roulette of life than in concentrating on their careers.” Both were also alcoholics, cocaine addicts, promiscuous, and infected with syphilis.
Though publicists sketched lives of blissful love and devotion, Olive and Jack had way too many issues for a successful marriage. In Paris in 1920 for what was billed as a second honeymoon, the couple stayed at the Ritz and frequented the popular nightspots. Back at the hotel after a wild night that was rumored to have included plenty of cocaine and alcohol (remember—no Prohibition in France), Olive drank a large amount of bichloride of mercury, something often prescribed for syphilis and meant to be applied topically. She died a gruesome death a couple days later in a French hospital.
Contradicting stories abound. A police investigation and autopsy ruled the death accidental and Jack and the body were quickly shipped back to America. But some thought Olive had committed suicide, others thought Jack had poisoned her, still others believed she had intended to poison Jack but made a mistake.
Here’s the New York Times headlines from that day.
PARIS AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATE DEATH OF OLIVE THOMAS
Police Seek Evidence on Rumors of Drug and Champagne Orgies
REFUSE TO RELEASE BODY
Former American Officer, Sentenced for Selling Cocaine, One of Those Questioned
PICKFORD IN DOCTOR’S CARE
Police Have Not Yet Obtained His Story of How the Actress Drank Poison
Read the whole article at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9403E2D61E3CEE3ABC4952DFBF66838B639EDE
Jack married two more times, each time to a pretty Ziegfield showgirl, and each time, the marriage ended in divorce or separation with rumors of infidelity, physical abuse, and substance abuse. Like Olive, Jack died young and in a hospital, a victim of his lifestyle and various addictions.