Tag Archives: Ziegfeld Follies

Tragic Beauty Olive Thomas

 

Olive Thomas
fanpix.famousfix.com

The ethereal beauty, Olive Thomas, is the inspiration for one of the secondary characters in my novel, Grace in the Wings, a Daphne du Maurier unpublished contest winner. The novel  is the first book in a mystery series that is currently being shopped by my agent for purchase.

Sophia Michelle is the older sister of my protagonist, Grace Michelle. Orphaned at 15, Sophia vowed that she and Grace would always have a roof over their heads, never go hungry and never live in an orphanage. She relied on the only asset she possessed at the time, her captivating beauty. She spent many nights “out” but always provided for her sister until she was discovered by the famous show-man, Florenz Ziegfeld, who took the girls under his wing and made Sophia a star. When Sophia is murdered, Grace is devastated and sets out to discover who killer her sister.

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Olive Thomas was born Olivia R. Duffy, October 20, 1894, to a working class Irish American family in Pennsylvania. At 15 years of age she was forced to leave school to help support the family.  At 16 she married Bernard Krush Thomas. The marriage lasted two years. After her divorce she moved to New York City, lived with a family member, and worked in a Harlem department store. In 1914, she won “The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City” contest and landed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Having caught the public’s attention, and the eye of the famous Florenz Ziegfeld, Olive was hired to perform in his wildly popular Ziegfeld Follies. It wasn’t long before Olive had star billing in the Midnight Frolic, a show at one of Ziegfeld’s favored venues, the Roof Top Theater of the New Amsterdam Hotel. The Frolic catered primarily to well-known male patrons. The girls’ costumes, often just a few strategically arranged balloons, allowed amusement for the gentlemen who would pop the balloons with their cigars. The beauty of Olive Thomas became legendary and she was pursued by a number of wealthy men. She is said to have had “lovely violet-blue eyes, fringed with dark lashes that seemed darker because of the translucent pallor of her skin.”

Known for her beauty, Olive was also known for her wild ways. That free spiritedness became more pronounced when she became involved with Jack Pickford of the famous Pickford family. Alcohol and cocaine became part of her partying repertoire and it proved to be reckless. She had three automobile accidents in one year. After that, she hired a chauffeur.

Jack Pickford & Olive Thomas
Broadway Scene

Screenwriter Frances Marion later remarked, “…I had seen her often at the Pickford home, for she was engaged to Mary’s brother, Jack. Two innocent-looking children, they were the gayest, wildest brats who ever stirred the stardust on Broadway. Both were talented, but they were much more interested in playing the roulette of life than in concentrating on their careers.”

The marriage to Pickford caused much trouble for both parties. For Jack, his high-brow famous family did not approve of Olive’s work in the Frolics, and for Olive, her employer Florenz Ziegfeld accused Jack of taking her away from his entertainment dynasty. There were rumors that Flo and Olive were also romantically involved.

The relationship with Pickford could even have been said to contribute to her sudden death in 1920.  After a long night of dancing, drinking, and drugs, Olive and Jack went back to their hotel room. Suddenly, from the bathroom, Jack heard Olive scream, “Oh God!”  According to Jack’s account, Olive had accidentally drank from a bottle of something marked “poison”.  After a trip to the hospital and having her stomach pumped three times to no avail, Olive Thomas died. The autopsy stated that she died of a mixture of mercury bichloride and alcohol. Mercury bichloride was the prescribed tonic for Jack’s persistant and cronic syphyllis.

Olive Thomas had a short, but successful career. She worked for the Ziegfeld Follies and Midnight Frolic and she starred in over twenty motion pictures. She was also one of the first actresses to be termed “a flapper,” along with Clara Bow, Louise Brooks and Joan Crawford.

Writer’s Process Blog Tour

Greetings! I’ve been tagged in The Writing Process Blog Tour by my friend and fellow LERA (Land of Enchantment Romance Authors) sister, 2014 Golden Heart®finalist, Shelly Alexander to tell you about my process in writing a novel.

Process is one of the things I love to talk about with other writers. I love to hear about what makes them tick and how they get their stories down on paper, or on the computer screen. Some writers are pantsers, they sit down and let their fingers fly, telling those stories by the seat of their pants. Others are plotters, with pages and pages of scenes, dialogues, outlines, beginnings and endings. I fall somewhere in between. I like to think of myself as a puzzler. I start with a plan, an outline – the frame of the puzzle – and then I add the pieces, usually in a linear fashion. This is the way I work actual jigsaw puzzles. I start with the outer frame and then work from the top down, filling in the pieces.

As a part of the blog tour, here are four questions every writer must answer:

What am I working on right now?

I am working on the first book of a three book series titled Waiting In The Wings. The story is a historical mystery and takes place in 1917, New York City, in the glamorous, glittering world of the Ziegfeld Follies.

Here’s my pitch:

One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle - Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star
One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle – Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star

Grace Michelle, an introverted, aspiring costume designer in the Ziegfeld Follies, 1917, has everything she wants; pretty good for an orphan who once lived on the streets of New York City. When her sister, Sophia, the star of the show is murdered, Grace’s protected, comfortable life is shattered. She must step into the Broadway spotlight as Ziegfeld’s newest star to find her sister’s killer. When she discloses a secret from their past, Grace becomes a target and soon discovers the horrific truth about Florenz Ziegfeld, the man who raised her as a daughter.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to take real life characters from the past and breathe new life into them. I am particularly drawn to smart, strong women who were mavericks of their time. Although Grace is a fictional character, she is comprised of many of the women I researched for this novel. Some were actresses and some worked behind the scenes. Many of my secondary characters are real people who worked for Florenz Ziegfeld on Broadway from 1917 -1920. And, of course, the man himself, Florenz Ziegfeld has a starring role in my story.

It was fun for me to learn as much about these iconic figures as I could and then recreate their adventures (in pursuit of fame and fortune) in the theater and on the road. I like working within the confines of history, but expanding on that history and as I imagine what could have happened. After all, as writers, aren’t we all asking that BIG question, what if?

Why do I write what I write?

I’ve always thought I should have been born in a different era. I am fascinated with certain periods in history and can actually visualize what my life would be during those times. I’ve traveled to many places around the world and in a few of those places I have had an intense, visceral, almost spiritual connection with my surroundings. And no, I don’t take drugs – it could be my overactive imagination, or maybe I really did live in those times and places. It’s all a part of the cosmic question, who are we?

How does my writing process work?

As a history buff, I absolutely love getting lost in research. I often take two to three months to research a historical person, place or event. Sometimes, I’ve even been lucky enough to travel where my story will take place.

Once I have a character and setting in mind, then I will start to form the story. I like to use a four-act structure I learned from Lisa Miller’s Story Structure Safari class, comprised of the set up, the response, the attack and then the resolution. Once I figure out vital story components such as the Inciting Incident, Call to Action, Defining Moment, etc, then I start to outline scenes. I use sticky notes on poster sized foam core boards. On each sticky note, I will jot down what I want that scene to be. I map out all the scenes in the story and then I sit down to write. Here’s where the puzzler part comes in. Often, as I write, my characters will say or do something I never expected – which can change the story line. If this happens (and I LOVE it when it does) I have to make the puzzle pieces different shapes to fit the new puzzle. My motto for writing and for life is: Always have a plan. If the plan changes, adjust and make a new plan!

Once I have a first draft, I walk away from it. Sometimes, I don’t look at it for weeks, months, maybe a year – or several – as it’s been for Waiting In The Wings. I am usually working on more than one book at a time, so the separation isn’t devastating. I think about my stories all the time.

Then come the revisions. Revise, revise, revise. I work with a fabulous critique partner and together we work to make our stories as perfect as we can. Sometimes I share my work with other writers and always, I share my work with readers (a select few, of course) because the reader is really the one who counts. At times, I’ve used a professional editor and the experience is invaluable. I highly recommend it!

So, that is my process – for now. Life and writing is full of change.

As writer’s we all have our own process and our own way of telling our stories. All are different and all are fascinating. I’d love to hear about yours!!

 

Tragic Beauty – Olive Thomas

 

Olive Thomas
fanpix.famousfix.com

The ethereal Olive Thomas is the inspiration for one of the secondary characters in my novel, Grace in the Wings, the first book in a mystery series that is currently being shopped by my agent for purchase.

Sophia Michelle is the older sister of my protagonist, Grace.  Orphaned at 15, Sophia vowed that she and Grace would always have a roof over their heads, never go hungry and never live in an orphanage.  She relied on the only asset she possessed at the time, her captivating beauty. She spent many nights “out” but always provided for her sister until she was discovered by the famous show-man, Florenz Ziegfeld, who took the girls under his wing and made Sophia a star.

****

Olive Thomas was born Olivia R. Duffy, October 20, 1894, to a working class Irish American family in Pennsylvania. At 15 years of age she was forced to leave school and help support the family.  At 16 she married Bernard Krush Thomas. The marriage lasted two years. After her divorce she moved to New York City, lived with a family member, and worked in a Harlem department store. In 1914, she won “The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City” contest and landed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Having caught the public’s attention, and the eye of the famous Florenz Ziegfeld, Olive was hired to perform in his wildly popular Ziegfeld Follies. It wasn’t long before Olive had star billing in the Midnight Frolic, a show at one of Ziegfeld’s favored venues, the Roof Top Theater of the New Amsterdam Hotel. The Frolic catered primarily to well-known male patrons. The girls’ costumes, often just a few strategically arranged balloons, allowed amusement for the gentlemen who would pop the balloons with their cigars. The beauty of Olive Thomas became legendary and she was pursued by a number of wealthy men. She is said to have had “lovely violet-blue eyes, fringed with dark lashes that seemed darker because of the translucent pallor of her skin.”

Known for her beauty, Olive was also known for her wild ways. That free spiritedness became more pronounced when she became involved with Jack Pickford of the famous Pickford family. Alcohol and cocaine became part of her partying repertoire and it proved to be reckless. She had three automobile accidents in one year. After that, she hired a chauffeur.

Jack Pickford & Olive Thomas
Broadway Scene

Screenwriter Frances Marion later remarked, “…I had seen her often at the Pickford home, for she was engaged to Mary’s brother, Jack. Two innocent-looking children, they were the gayest, wildest brats who ever stirred the stardust on Broadway. Both were talented, but they were much more interested in playing the roulette of life than in concentrating on their careers.”

The marriage to Pickford caused much trouble for both parties. For Jack, his high-brow famous family did not approve of Olive’s work in the Frolics, and for Olive, her employer Florenz Ziegfeld accused Jack of taking her away from his entertainment dynasty. There were rumors that Flo and Olive were also romantically involved.

The relationship with Pickford could even have been said to contribute to her sudden death in 1920.  After a long night of dancing, drinking and drugs, Olive and Jack went back to their hotel room. Suddenly, from the bathroom, Jack heard Olive scream, “Oh God!”  According to Jack’s account, Olive had accidentally drunk from a bottle of something marked “poison”.  After a trip to the hospital and having her stomach pumped three times to no avail, Olive Thomas died. The autopsy stated that she died of a mixture of mercury bichloride and alcohol. Mercury bichloride was the prescribed tonic for Jack’s persistant and cronic syphyllis.

Olive Thomas had a short, but successful career. She worked for the Ziegfeld Follies and Midnight Frolic and she starred in over twenty motion pictures. She was also one of the first actresses to be termed “a flapper,” along with Clara Bow, Louise Brooks and Joan Crawford.

Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. – It’s Show Time

The next series of blog posts I will write will be about the real life personalities from the Ziegfeld Follies who inspired my characters for Saving Grace.  The first is about Franz Sigrid, my antagonist, who was inspired by the All-Time Greatest Showman on Earth, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.

Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., (Flo)  born of a German father and Belgian mother in Chicago, March 1867, was one of the first and ultimately most successful Broadway producers of his time.  Known for “the Ziegfeld Touch” he was an expert at turning plebian dramas and comedies into art without losing their mass appeal.

Many have said that Ziegfeld Jr. was foolish, extravagant, and cruel, which may be true, but, above all, he was an artist driven by the pursuit of beauty.

His career started in 1893 with a vaudeville act headlining German strongman Eugene Sandow.  Sandow, a perfect male specimen, would perform daring feats of strength .  He would set a man on the palm of his hand and lift him up, wrestle three men at one time, and once let three horses walk across a plank on his chest.  He was wildly popular with the women in the audience and Flo would charge money for them to come backstage and feel Sandow’s muscles.

Ziegfeld’s career was long and varied and produced many stars such as Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Marion Davies, Irene Dunn,  W.C. Fields and Olive Thomas among others.  He hired some of the most talented musicians and composers for his musical scores, among them George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.

Flo had extravagant tastes and would often shower his stars with expensive baubles and gifts.  With some shows, he would amass a fortune, only to spend it all on women or the gaming tables.   There were times in his career that he would be so in debt, the banks would no longer lend him money, but he always found it somewhere.  He was extremely adept at publicity and would often orchestrate elaborate ruses to get his name and his stars names in the papers.  The beauty and grandeur of his shows never suffered.

Ziegfeld was married twice, first to the beautiful French actress Anna Held.   It is said that they never were actually married but were together long enough to constitute a common law arrangement.  She left him years later because of his affair with starlet Lillian Lorraine.  He then married actress Billie Burke of Wizard of OZ fame (Glenda the Witch of the North) and was with her until his death in 1932.

My character, Franz Sigrid is the antagonist in Saving Grace.  While possessing the same charm and brilliance with his artistry and publicity stunts as Flo Ziegfeld, Franz is a bit more humble, but a lot more devious!  His affairs and money problems are exacerbated by his constant strive for publicity and the limelight for his stars.  I hope you enjoy him as much as I did!