An ode to Olive…
It all began when I was about 12.
I innocently checked a book out of the library that looked juicy and full of history. Even at a young age, I was fascinated by history. It was called Hollywood Babylon. Nowadays, this book has fallen out of favor, since much of the information in it, at the time assumed to be relatively accurate, has now been accepted as completely made up.
One of the stories contained in it was that of Olive Thomas, one of Hollywood’s early celebrities.
Her story was not a happy one, although she began from the humblest of origins, and worked her way up from nothing to become a Ziegfeld Girl, and the toast of Broadway.
She then went on to marry Mary Pickford’s brother Jack, a wastrel, alcoholic, drug-addicted womanizer. Helluva guy. Their relationship was full of drinking, fighting, and expensive makeup gifts. And her ignominious end came in Paris, when she consumed a mercury solution prescribed for Jack’s syphilis. No one is quite sure if it was an accident or suicide.
Olive and Jack
Real life got in the way for me for quite a while, until I was led back to writing. When my husband and I moved to Canada in 2009, I had 18 months to twiddle my thumbs before I was able to work legally.
In the depths of utter helpless boredom, I turned to the writing I’d always enjoyed but never concentrated my full energies on. Having recently finished Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, one of the most amazing books I’d ever read, I knew where my future lay. I wanted to be able to combine meticulous research with my passion for bringing history to life through writing. Now I merely needed to find the right subject for my interest. I found it in Olive.
My book began taking shape in the winter of 2010, and it came to fruition over the course of two years, being written and rewritten religiously. I found Kevin Brownlow’s old PBS documentary on youtube.com and watched the episodes daily to learn everything I could about old Hollywood. I found a huge stash of old Hollywood books at the Mennonite Thrift Store here in Edmonton. I listened to scratchy old 1920s jazz, I studied my Cassell’s Slang Dictionary with a microscope, and eventually, Olive found her voice. The first time I set it aside and came back to it, I realized that instead of third person, it needed to be in first, with Olive telling her own story. I recently finished my twenty-first rewrite.
I fell in love with Olive– with writing from her perspective, with thinking like her, with speaking like her, and with being her. Now, it is my goal to find an agent who will fall in love with Olive like I did.