You Don’t Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford – Part III

Here is Part III of You Don’t Know Jack, my take on the much misunderstood and much maligned Jack Pickford. Parts I and II may be found by clicking on their links. This post is much longer than I intended but the death of Jack’s first wife Olive Thomas was not only Hollywood’s first big scandal, it was the most significant event in the life of Jack Pickford. Therefore, there is much ground to cover here and I am having trouble getting my high horse to climb off my soap box. As you will see I have some rather strong opinions on the subject!

Two innocent-looking childen, [Jack and Olive] 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.

– Frances Marion

Olive Thomas.

Now, we come to the event that has both defined and destroyed Jack’s image and reputation today – the tragic death of his wife Olive Thomas while the pair were on a vacation in Paris in 1920. This event was a tragedy indeed, but over the years it has turned into a travesty for both poor Olive and Jack, with an appalling amount of irresponsible writing taking the wildest unsubstantiated speculation, outrageous rumors and downright gossip and magically, without any actual proof, distilling it as a FACT. And the saddest part is few ever seem to question it. Olive and/or Jack were heroin addicts and/or cocaine fiends. Olive and/or Jack had syphilis. Olive killed herself. Jack murdered Olive. These aren’t facts. They are just speculation, gossip and rumor that have been sold as facts and it looks like most people bought them. Only two people were in that bathroom at the Ritz that night – Jack Pickford and Olive Thomas – and only they knew the truth. Olive couldn’t tell her story, but Jack could and did. No one today, however, apparently wants to believe him because it isn’t sexy or lurid enough. They also do not want to believe the official ruling in the case made by the French authorities that declared it to be an unfortunate accident. Oh no, they must have been bribed. The public apparently will accept nothing short of gore, sleaze, sex, sinister intent, suicide and murder. Interesting? Certainly. But true? How dull the truth can be.


When I first began reading up on Hollywood history I too accepted these stories about Olive’s death as outright fact, but when I started doing my own research I began to notice things that troubled me. Some things were just not adding up. I began to notice holes in some of these FACTS and over time found so many that I am now convinced that a great disservice has been done to Olive and Jack and to history itself by the unquestioned acceptance of what seems to me as pure speculation as rock solid fact. Naturally, I came up with a few of my own theories in the process and, naturally, they could be just as off base as the ones I’m decrying. But I want to offer them to you in the hopes you will see this infamous old tale in a new light and give Jack and Olive a “Second Take.”

Have you ever heard of the principle of Occam’s Razor? It is most commonly defined as being “the simplest explanation is often the correct one.” This rule has apparently never been applied to Olive Thomas’ tragic death. But, for a moment, put yourself on a jury. How would you weigh the evidence presented? As Olive and Jack’s self appointed attorney I would like to present you with a different point of view by challenging the most troubling FACTS in this story. See what you think.

The elegant Imperator in its Hamburg-American days.

Jack & Olive aboard the Imperator on their fateful last journey.

On August 12, 1920, Jack Pickford and his wife Olive Thomas, a very bright young film star with Selznick Pictures, boarded the Cunard liner the R.M.S. Imperator in New York Harbor for what Jack declared to be a “Second Honeymoon” (They had been married since 1918). By all accounts, the beautiful young Olive was Jack’s female twin. They were both fun-loving, wildly impulsive kids who loved to party and have sex with a great deal of passion and maybe not so much brains. As the Los Angeles Times noted in 1917 “Miss Thomas…has a reputation for seeking action and plenty of it.” Same could be said for Jack.  The couple had a highly tempestuous relationship of passionate fights followed by passionate reconciliations and then more passionate fights, more passionate reconcilations…and so on and so on with many expensive gifts exchanged between the two as part of the game. It is interesting to note how so many newspaper and magazine accounts of the day liked to paint the pair in almost childlike terms, treating them like a couple of school kids playing house. Their actions were not always what one could call mature, but maybe that’s because they weren’t mature. They were still practically kids with Jack just turning 24 on the boat over to Paris and Olive a whopping 25.

Jack and Olive both liked shiny, fast cars. Here’s Olive at the famous Triangle gates in Culver City. Later MGM Studios. The gates are still there. Olive isn’t.

It was a rather unconventional marriage with the couple spending as much time apart as together with Olive and Jack seemingly always on opposite coasts shooting pictures for their respective studios. They never seemed to be on the same coast at the same time except for an all too brief period in 1919. This inevitably led to suspicions and rumors of infidelity on both parts, which inevitably led in turn to passionate fights, passionate reconciliations and…well, you know the drill, a fascinating pattern that Jack followed in all three of his marriages. For some reason, this kind of relationship felt comfortable for Jack and for Olive too apparently. Perhaps they both liked the longing. Perhaps they both liked the freedom. Perhaps they had an “open” marriage.

To put things in perspective for a moment, Olive is definitely the better remembered today as she not only died young, but died under mysterious circumstances. This has elevated her to a certain “cult” status, which she probably would not have attained had she lived a full life. At the time, however, it was Jack who was the superstar of the two. Olive’s marriage into the House of Pickford was, in fact, a huge step up for the promising young actress and it resulted in the same sort of response experienced by another rising young star, Joan Crawford, when she married into the same family a decade later. Olive had married a prince of the Hollywood realm and his family, Charlotte and Mary that is,  was none too keen on it. It was to them a Morganatic marriage and they let Jack and Olive both know their feelings in direct and indirect ways.

The elegant Hotel Ritz.

Regardless of what Charlotte and Mary thought, the union between young Jack and young Olive lasted for more than two years, culminating in the “Second Honeymoon” in Paris of August/September 1920. Arriving in Paris on the 20th after their overseas crossing, the couple checked into a luxurious suite at the world-famous Hotel Ritz.  For the next few weeks there appeared nothing out of the ordinary as they engaged in a steady round of clothes shopping, sightseeing and nightclubbing until the early morning hours of September 5, 1920 when something bizarre happened, something terribly tragic that remains a mystery to this very day.  That’s about as far as one can get with the facts before everything devolves into a melee between various writers over what happened next, who was to blame and why. To be sure, there were many conflicting and confusing reports coming out of Paris following the incident with the flames of rumor and innuendo being fanned into a full conflagration by the sensation-seeking press, something they would never do today (!), but responsible writers should know the difference between innuendo and rumor and a hard provable direct source fact. Not that there really were many in this case. Let’s look at what we have to work with. Remember now, you’re the jury here.

Le Cabaret Le Rat Mort. Does this really look to you like the seedy, sinister dive you are expected to believe it was?

A horrid place where angels fear to tread.

On the fateful evening of Saturday, September 4, 1920 Jack and Olive went out nightclubbing with a small group of friends, visiting the mysteriously exotic dives of the Montmartre including one establishment with the charming name of Le Rat Mort. This trip to the Montmartre has, in light of subsequent events, been given a most sinister patina with visions of Jack and Olive wallowing in wanton depravity from dusk till dawn. Drugs. Alcohol. (Perverted) SEX. What else could they have possibly gone to that den of inequity for? Well, maybe dinner? Some cocktails? A show? Some dancing? In actuality, “doing” the Montmartre would have been de regueur for any tourist, particularly adventure-seeking young ones like the Pickfords. Yes, you most certainly could get drugs, alcohol and sex there, but you could get that in Peoria if you looked hard enough. By the time of their visit, the Montmartre was world-famous as Paris’ Bohemia, a charming and exciting artist’s colony where such figures as Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Picasso and others had gathered. The Montmartre was something akin to the Las Vegas of its day and people went there for the same reasons they go to Las Vegas today. There were many famous and popular “dives” in the Montmartre including Cafe D’L’Enfer (Hell), Le Chat Noir (with that poster everyone has in their kitchen today), the Moulin Rouge and others. Believe me, if you were visiting Paris in 1920 you would have gone to the Montmartre too. If not, why are you in Paris? You should have stayed in Peoria.

L’Enfer was a favorite Montmartre night spot. How cool is that?!

Oh, come on now. You wouldn’t have had at least one glass of champagne in the bowels of “Hell?”

Their logic = There were some risqué entertainments in the Montmartre, even “depraved” entertainments where champagne flowed like water and people had intimate relations without the benefit of clergy. Jack and Olive went to the Montmartre. Ergo they were depraved. Case closed.

Maybe they took in the “Ghost Show” at the Cabaret du Neant?

Surely, they must have stopped in to hear Pere Frede strum the guitar at the Lapine Agile.(

We know they definitely danced at Zelli’s Famous Cabaret (

Now, here please do not get the impression I’m trying to convince you they went to the Montmartre that night to pray at the Sacre Coeur. Maybe Jack and Olive did go to satisfy their unholy desires for wanton depravity from dusk till dawn. They certainly drank, Jack admitted as much. A “little” he said. (Jack, who are you kidding?!). He also said they went dancing. Did they do drugs? Possibly. In fact, I would be surprised if such a party hardy couple as Jack Pickford and Olive Thomas hadn’t at least tried or even used cocaine or some other recreational drug from time to time. But were they drug addicts? There is a big difference between recreational use and drooling dope fiend and it is simply stunning how people write with such presumed authority that Olive and/or Jack were heroin/cocaine addicts without bothering to offer any proof other than lurid tabloid newspaper accounts or books by writers making the same outrageous and unsubstantiated claims as they do. Everyone says so. Really? Well, that’s not proof. If you happen to have any actual proof of any drug use at all, let alone abuse, by either Olive or Jack, please let’s see it.

Here’s something to think about: Did you know that when Will H. Hays was brought to Hollywood in 1922 to “clean up,” the movie colony’s lax morality it was said there was a “Doom Book” containing a list of actors and actresses who were known drug addicts who were to be banned from the screen? If Jack was, in fact, such a hopeless “hop head” as has been sworn to by those who claim they know (Olive’s biographer breathlessly declares Jack was  “without question” an addict. Without question.), wouldn’t his name have been in that book? I’d certainly think so. Wouldn’t you? Well, guess where Jack’s name did wind up vis-a-vis Will Hays –  On the official greeting committee welcoming him to Hollywood.

Jack in 1920. Note the empty, vacant stare of the depraved dope fiend.

Their logic = Some Hollywood movie stars did drugs. Jack and Olive were Hollywood movie stars. You could get drugs in the Montmartre. Jack and Olive went to the Montmartre. Ergo Jack and Olive were drug addicts. Case closed.

A contemporary view of a luxurious Ritz suite.

The point is, no one really knows if Jack and Olive did drugs that night or any other for that matter. No one is even sure what they even did that night at all after 10PM. The full whereabouts of the couple throughout the evening are in dispute past that point and even whether they returned to the hotel together or not is a subject of heated debate. Regardless, they were in their suite together around 3AM. According to Jack, the only living witness, he was exhausted (drunk) and went to bed, but Olive was restless (drunk) and stayed up writing a letter to her mother. At some point, Olive went into the bathroom. The next thing Jack knew his wife was screaming in agony. He rushed in and found her writhing in pain having swallowed poison.

A Ritz bathroom.

Now here in that bathroom at the Ritz we find not only the end of poor hapless Olive, but really Jack as well. It took her five days to die. It took him a dozen years, but he surely died as a result of what transpired on that long ago night just as assuredly as did Olive. What could have happened? And why? Well, it was learned later that Olive had walked into the bathroom and swallowed approximately 8 grams of a truly horrible concoction known as Bichloride of Mercury, a dangerous and highly toxic corrosive. What on earth was such a ghastly thing doing in the Pickford’s bathroom at the Hotel Ritz in the first place? Why, syphilis, of course. What else could it have been? After all, everyone knows Jack was “Mr. Syphilis.” It’s an Internet FACT! And Mercury Bichloride was the best known treatment for it at the time. In FACT we even know the exact year when Jack contracted the disease. It was 1917, at least that’s what Olive Thomas’ biographer tells us. (What, no month?) Now, where she got this very, very specific FACT makes one wonder. Did Jack tell her himself? Did she see it in his medical records? Did she even see his medical records? Did he put it in his Christmas letter? Guess what I got this year? Where on earth would you get such an intimate and closely guarded piece of information? Where did anyone who claims Jack had syphilis get that information?

Their logic = Jack Pickford liked to have sex. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease.  Mercury Bichloride was a treatment for syphilis. Mercury Bichloride was in Jack Pickford’s bathroom. Ergo Jack Pickford had syphilis. Case closed.

Would you like to know something interesting about Mercury Bichloride? It’s true that in Jack’s day it was a common treatment for syphilis, but it was much more commonly used as a household antiseptic and disinfectant, sort of a Lysol of its day, used to disinfect such things as – bathrooms. And it was sold over-the-counter, an extremely common household item. A very dangerous one, but nonetheless common, something that would have been in many bathrooms and kitchens of the day, including a bathroom of a hotel in Paris, which according to the Ritz it was. Hmmm. And, now here’s some more food for thought. It was also in common use in cosmetics at the time of Olive’s death and many years thereafter being a very effective blemish remover and skin lightener. Although banned today in the United States for obvious reasons, it is apparently still finding use in cosmetics in other parts of the world. Check out the informative citation at Cosmetics and Skin here. Now then, are we still absolutely certain beyond reasonable doubt the Mercury Bichloride was in that bathroom because Jack was “Mr. Syphilis” and that there couldn’t possibly be any other plausible explanation as to why it would have been there otherwise such as a cleaning aid or a beauty aid for a very pretty and no doubt very vain movie star?

Lovely Olive surrounded by white powder.

The Tabloids had a field day with the scandal.

Well, we know what she took. The next thing we must address is why and here’s where things get really fun. The mysterious and convoluted circumstances of the event have brought out just about every crackpot theory imaginable generally sworn by the postulator as being the one “true” story. Which one sounds most plausible to you? (1) Olive took the poison on purpose committing suicide because: (A) She discovered Jack was cheating on her with another woman/man and she couldn’t live with it. (B) Jack was leaving her for said woman/man and she couldn’t live with it. (C) Jack had contracted syphilis from another woman/man and had now given it to her and she couldn’t live with it (Well, she had been living with it since 1917 apparently). (D) Jack yelled at Olive for coming back on her own (Gosh, they never fought before) and she couldn’t live with it. (E) Jack was a hopeless drug addict and Olive had failed in her attempts to score him heroin and she couldn’t live with it (The Hollywood Babylon version. BTW, Kenneth Anger was so far off he didn’t even have Jack in Paris that night. He even got the hotel wrong! Take it from there.) (2) Jack murdered Olive because (A) One or both were having affairs with other women/men and he was insanely jealous over her women/men and/or she was insanely intolerant of his women/men. (B) It wasn’t anything personal it’s just that Jack was broke and needed the insurance money (Jack’s 1919 Federal Income Tax Return shows him earning some $66,000, today’s equivalent of about $877,000. Plus, even if he had already spent it all (and knowing Jack he might have), don’t forget he had unlimited credit at a bank called Charlotte and Mary Pickford). By the way, the records show that Jack’s desperate attempts to save his stricken wife were nothing short of heroic. He did absolutely everything within human power to save his dying wife, feverishly working on her until the ambulance came. Some murderer. (3) It was an accident. Olive went into the bathroom for sleeping pills or aspirin and mistook the bottle of Mercury Bichloride for sleeping pills/aspirin and swallowed it instead.

Amazingly, it is Theory (3) that is so readily dismissed by many as being the least logical. People find suicide and murder so much more plausible than a mere accident. After all, what idiot (and let’s face it, Olive was a lovely girl but not a member of MENSA) could have possibly mistaken a hideous corrosive powder for aspirin tablets? And the powder had been mixed with alcohol before it was ingested. How could that have been accidental? Well, let’s look at a few things here. (1) Start by figuring Olive was pretty drunk or at least very tired upon entering the bathroom. Don’t forget, she’d been out debauching in depravity for hours and it was now after 3AM. (2) She may have entered with the lights off so as not to further bother her husband with more light after writing her letter. (3) The two preparations were not as dissimilar as people may believe. People readily assume Olive was reaching for aspirin tablets. Have you ever heard the old expression “Take a powder?” Well, aspirin was commonly distributed in powder form as well as tablets in those days. In fact, you can still get it that way if you look hard enough. Most people would mix the powder in water and drink it. Olive, being Olive, may have jazzed her aspirin up with a bit of bubbly. The cause and the cure of a headache all in one glass! And Mercury Bichloride was found in both tablet and powder form too.  It should be further noted that Jack claimed the label on the fatal bottle was written in French and (in her bleary-eyed state) Olive apparently confused it with something else. Is that so incredibly hard to imagine? Apparently so to a lot of people.

Would it be possible to mix these up? Maybe.

Now, see them in “Olive Vision” after her evening of nightclubbing.

If indeed Olive Thomas had accidentally ingested Mercury Bichloride she most certainly would not have been alone. It was reported that accidental death by poisoning from the chemical was alarmingly common with at least one source claiming “hundreds and hundreds” were dying from it annually, which is why it was ultimately banned by the U.S. Government.

And to think, Olive wasn’t the first to do this. Nellie Elsing beat her to it by more than five years!

So from that horrific tragedy of long ago I believe a terrible injustice has been done to both Olive Thomas and Jack Pickford, particularly to Jack. The death of a beautiful young person in a stupid, but ghastly accident and the antics of a couple of immature, party-loving kids has been twisted into a cesspool of depravity by people who weren’t there and without an iota of hard evidence, but only speculation, rumors and gossip to back them up, have found them guilty and damned them to hell without a trial. Jack and Olive can’t defend themselves against these scurrilous charges and what is saddest of all, for me at least, is just how blindly people have swallowed this bill of goods with nary a finger of doubt raised on their behalf for years now. What a sad and cruel thing to do.

Please stay tuned for Part IV, the conclusion of You Don’t Know Jack, which I can assure you, will be much, much shorter. Well…at least shorter.

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35 Responses to You Don’t Know Jack – A Second Take on Jack Pickford – Part III

  1. Mary Mallory says:

    Steve, you hit the nail on the head. I think most people unfortunately prefer the gossip-tinged, scandalous stories about people instead of thinking the best about them. Look at the stupid story of Ince supposedly being shot on Hearst’s yacht, not an iota of fact to back that up, but of course it happened. Thanks for giving the two of them respect and dignity.

    • Steve says:

      Thank you, Mary. I think people are getting fed up with all the garbage they’ve been expected to swallow and are interested in knowing the real story if someone would just tell it. It’s usually more interesting than the silly junk they were given. Everyone needs to start pushing back and questioning writers who pass off unsubstantiated claims as fact. Or better still, stop buying their books.

      • Bob Tomlinson says:

        You might take your own advice and check your facts. You state that they certainly danced at Zelli’s but Zelli’s did not open until the spring of 1921 (we don’t know the exact month, probably March). The photo you reproduce dates from 1925.

  2. Joan says:

    I’m a big fan of Ockham’s Razor (and pushing back on unsubstantiated claims) myself, so Number Three explanation works just fine for me. This is an excellent series, I’m looking forward to the continuation.

  3. Allison A. says:

    Thank you so very much for this wonderful tribute to Jack. It’s amazing to me how all these years later gossip and lies about Jack and Olive continue to be repeated time and time again. It was so wonderful to read this retraction of all of that, mainly perpetuated by Flo Ziegfeld in his feud with Marilyn Miller. I agree with you too on what may have happened with Olive – from doing my research as I see you clearly did too — mercury was in every bathroom in the western world at the time , for cleaning, and for skin care! Pimples! And the treatment for VD was not in an ingestible form – it was in a salve. So, it was not Jack’s medication for some unsavory disease he supposedly had that Olive drank. At the time the french inquiry said it was in a cleaning solution. Why no one wanted to believe that beats me. Incidentally, I found an incredible article in a european fan magazine — written by a woman who was surely the last reporter to talk to Olive, and the interview was with her and Jack the DAY of Olive’s death. The couple could not have been happier and more in love. Jack was showing off dresses Olive had just bought and singling out his favorites. The woman journalist said these were two people with death the furthest thing from their minds. Tragic. Thanks so much Steve — this was fabulous. Now if we can just find a way to get Jack reburied at Woodlawn in the spot he intended for himself and out of that stuffy locked garden at Forest Lawn….

  4. Very nice research!
    Do you by any chance know what happened to Nellie Elsing? I did research on her, but the only thing I found was that doctors where trying to save her.

    • Steve says:

      She recovered. In fact, as it turns out, she did not accidentally ingest the pills as she had originally told authorities, but took them in a suicide attempt after a fight with her boyfriend on New Year’s Eve. Her boyfriend, Charles Whitley, is a story in himself. They met back east and he tried to impress her as a rich man’s son by buying a $1,250 automobile, which they drove around in until it was repossessed. Turns out he was a check kiter and wrote a string of bad checks in Los Angeles, El Centro and again in Yuma. They managed to catch him through his contacts with Elsie. “She’s the best little girl in the world,” he told reporters when arrested inYuma, “and all I ask of her is that she does not tell my folks in the East.” Based on the news coverage, she probably didn’t have to. You know, based on the insidiousness of biochloride of mercury, I wonder how much, if any she actually took as she seems to have made a remarkable recovery very quickly. Well, she was an actress. Obviously, she was a good one!

  5. judy says:

    I became interested in Olive after seeing her in ‘The Flapper’, a delightful movie in which she was enchanting. Read her bio by Michele Vogel a few months ago, and my opinion, based on Olive’s formidable work schedule, is that she was much too busy making films to be doing drugs. Jack Pickford gave a fine performance in ‘Exit Smiling’, the one film I’ve seen him in. It has been confirmed that he was an alcoholic, which contributed heavily to his death at 37, but not confirmed that he was a drug addict. Being the less talented younger brother of the great Mary Pickford was a heavy cross to bear. But beautiful women found him hugely attractive, enough that a top star, Marilyn Miller, married him., but he seems to have never found his ‘purpose’ in life via work, also a problem for the non-famous.

    Have just read ‘Silent Stars’ by Jeannine Basinger, a film scholar I respect. On page 61 she writes: Mary “lived through her brother’s messy life, which included marriage to the drug-addicted Olive Thomas …” Basinger provides no source note, no documentation for this statement, which reduces my respect for her and now puts me on guard for other undocumented opinions she makes. Readers need to be alert to the difference between fact and rumor and hold these ‘authorities’, these ‘experts’, accountable, and insist that they provide supporting evidence.


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    • Steve says:

      Thanks Judy. Yes, I too was more than a little disappointed in Jeannine Basinger on that front as well as she’s a writer I really like, but I think the Jack Pickford/Olive Thomas drug stories are so ingrained they are just accepted as fact without anyone going back and finding where that story really came from. I would be happy to admit I was wrong if anyone could show me proof of Jack’s and/or Olive’s drug addiction.

      Since I did those posts i’ve been so happy to see others like yourself start to challenge these stories and not just swallow them whole.

      Thanks again!

  6. judy says:

    Just read Michael Ankerich’s 2012 bio of Mae Murray. On pg 97 he writes that MM and her husband, Bob Leonard, were in Paris at the same time as JP and OT. MM had lunch with her old friend from the Follies on Sep 5 and OT, weeping, said Jack had disappeared a week earlier. That evening Jack reappeared, throwing a party at a ‘local nightclub’, which MM and husband attended, and at which MM observed Jack ignore OT. Later, at 3am, OT swallowed poison. MA writes: “Mae pointed the finger of blame directly at JP, whose drug use and philandering, Mae believed, drove Ollie to end her life.” On pg 272: MMs ‘Intimate Recollections’ series of articles were published in Hearst’s Sunday American Weekly in 1942. Mary Pickford was outraged at MM for “attacking Jack and laying Ollie’s death directly at his door.” MP had her old friend and director Mickey Neilan talk to Hearst and MM. MN wrote MP, “…anyone knowing our Jack would have discounted the whole thing as false and to revive it would only make the people that thrive on dirt believe that there must be fire where there is smoke.” MA writes that “MP dropped the idea of suing Mae.”

  7. AllisonA says:

    Well you have to remember, Mae Murray was a flamboyant, grand exaggerator, and by 1933, after which she was recalling all these intimate memories, she was dead broke: the ‘Prince’ she married after Robert Leonard, turned out to be a fraud and bankrupted her and her bad luck continued for another 30 years. Imagine you are hearing about this luncheon with Olive from the ‘bee-stung lips’ of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Blvd.” and then ask yourself if Mae Murray is credible. She was said to have been the inspiration for that character. And yet — I can’t wait to read the book! I’m checking travel records to see if Mae was even in Paris at the time. I do know the Dolly Sisters were in Paris then from travel records. Oh and Steve you will appreciate this — I poured through every single name on the passenger list for the ship Jack was on returning to NY with Olive’s body, and Allan Dwan is no where to be found. So his tale of talking Jack out of throwing himself overboard is suspicious, cause unless he was under an alias, he wasn’t on board. Hollywood people then and now — grand exaggerators!

  8. Donna says:

    Is Part IV in the mix someday? I adore, ADORE, your blog! You do a fabulous job!

  9. Charlotte Daugherty says:

    Very interesting story. Can hardly wait to read the rest. Hope Part IV is coming soon.

  10. Judy says:

    Just watched The Goose Woman. Jack Pickford in this 1925 movie was wonderful. He showed NO signs of dissipation from living a debauched sex and alcohol and drug infused life for the past 8 years.
    Will there be a Part IV? Is it on your To Do list? No one but YOU can write the final chapter on Jack Pickford. But perhaps you’re busy writing his official biography to be published later this year by Knopf (or Bear Manor)? If so, be sure to include this blog’s fabulous Parts I, II, III in the bio.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Judy – Thanks SO much for the kind comments. I love The Goose Woman and Jack’s appearance fine performance speaks for itself on that end. I have definitely thought of exploring the possibility of writing a book on Jack. Is there already one in the works? Your comment made me think there might be? If not, it’s something that needs to be done and done right. Thanks again so much!

  11. Scott Nixon says:

    Hi Steve – Just finished reading parts 1-3 of You Don’t Know Jack; so impressed with the fair treatment you’ve given JP. I’ve been fascinated with the Silent Era & it’s performers for many years and love the fact that more & more people have become so as well – I feel that the stars were not only good actors but very interesting people too. You’ve put many so-called scandals in proper perspective & made truth more fascinating than fiction, rumors & innuendo. Looking forward to Part 4, hopefully soon. Thanks again!!

  12. Judy says:

    Watched Tom Sawyer last night. We, almost 100 years later, are lucky this terrifically entertaining film still exists. And it shows what a fine actor Pickford was. Without this visual proof, we would believe the “fact” that nepotism rather than talent kept him making successful movies for 18 years. And this is the first film I’ve seen that was directed by William Desmond Taylor, about whose murder several books have been written as well as a superb website.

    There is no Pickford biography about to be published that I’m aware of. My comment that YOU were working on one is wishful thinking. And a bio should be written as Pickford worked with major directors, was a major Hollywood personality, Mary’s brother, Fairbank’s brother-in-law, and also a star himself. Am excited that you are thinking of filling this gap in silent screen history. Hopefully, your book will provide what most others do not, and that is lots of photos (good size and quality) and movie magazine articles and interviews (at least the 1st page with the photos), and gossip paragraphs, film reviews, quotes from contemporaries, etc.

    Was looking thru the online movie magazine archives and noticed that Pickford appeared somewhat frequently in movie mags. One article was from the Oct 1923 Motion Picture Mag titled “House of Pickford” about Jack & Marilyn Miller, who had recently married. While looking for pictures of Tom Sawyer came upon this website: The author shares your viewpoint that Pickford has been maligned and the present day opinion so many people have of him can be traced to the NYT speculation and rumor mongering.

    Let your eager fans know when the Pickford biography is finished and ready for purchase on Amazon.

  13. Tired of Yunioshi Bashing! says:

    You don’t make a very effective defense lawyer.

    We find the defendant, John Smith, aka Jack Pickford, guilty as charged, Your Honor.

    So say you all?

    So say we all.

  14. I have been such a fan of Olive Thomas for quite some time now and her death always intrigued me. I’ve come across so many article and come across so many opinions from people with very little common sense behind any of it. Like you stated, stories of how Jack had killed her and how she committed suicide and those two main explanations for why she could have died just never made any sense based on the type of people both Jack and Olive were. People just love a scandal, I guess. The one thing I always wondered was how she could have mixed up tablets with a liquid (since everyone claims she consumed bichloride mercury in liquid form). Out of all the articles I came across I never saw one person actually talk about how bichloride actually came in powder form and so did aspirin and how easily it could have been mixed up. Also, considering she had consumed alcohol that night. It all makes perfect sense when you don’t let your mind wonder about all these speculations from people.

    I’m not the biggest fan of Jack Pickford but I never believed for a second he murdered her. I also take into considered the fact that he layed her to rest in a mausoleum under his name and was planning on being layed to rest there also. One would not do that normally if they truly murdered that person (At least not, in my opinion)

    I know this article is a few years old but it’s nice to finally come across it. Finally someone who challenged everyone’s mere opinions with some actual logic. Much appreciated!

  15. Pingback: Defending Jack Pickford | Silent-ology

  16. Pingback: Book Review: “Mabel Normand: The Life and Career of a Hollywood Madcap” | Silent-ology

  17. Pingback: The Most Beautiful Ghost In New York | Olive Thomas – Dance Delta

  18. Melissa says:

    Hi. I really enjoyed this series and would love to read more. I also enjoyed all the comments that were positive. I learned quite a lot.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Melissa! I would love to finish the series at some point, maybe even turn it into a full-length book. There is a great story here, one that has largely been overlooked, and one that deserves telling. Thanks again!

  19. Nancy Ormonde says:

    I watched a documentary on Mary Pickford yesterday. I really enjoyed it. Found out she had a brother. I mentioned the documentary to a friend and the friend said Jack and his wife were drug addicts and had syphilis. That made me curious and that’s how I ended up reading your great blog.
    I love old Hollywood and a good story. Reading your blog, I could really envision the time. I wondered how Olive Thomas could mistakenly drink poison – but now I know. It makes perfect sense once you know that bichloride mercury came in powder form – as did aspirin, and was kept in the medicine cabinet. It was a fatal mistake on Olive’s part – which it seems, Jack was blamed for the rest of his life. Not a murderer, no syphilis, not a drug addict. And I thought the tabloids and newspapers today were bad – apparently the real poisoning started a long time ago in the newspapers of the day.
    Thanks for your excellent story. I loved it!

  20. Socal says:

    Or, he was just another Hollywood bachelor playboy, as many many were, and he DID contract syphilis, as many did then and before, and it was his medication. What if she was doped up and drunk from that night and he forced it on her. I mean the theories can keep going and going. But one thing is clear from the report. His powerful family did not approve in the least of the relationship. So, if he would’ve even been at fault they would’ve had the means to make it look like an accident. Ate we going to pretend powerful families aren’t capable of that and more? And to pretend that scandal wasn’t a daily issue with the rich and famous is quite naive. They loved drama, thrived on it, they cleaned up the mess as best as possible, used opiums and such( which is a fact that these were used by many to include many prescribed medication!!). Let’s not pretend that drugs, alcohol, sex, stds, unwanted pregnancies and so on weren’t a part of that time period. Because they were.

    • Steve says:

      I don’t think anyone is disputing that sex, drugs, scandals and powerful family cover ups were, and remain a part of Hollywood (and everywhere else for that matter.) But if this was a cover up, I’m very disappointed in Charlotte Pickford! Not her usual level of finesse. The truth is no one knows, and probably never will know, what really happened with certainty. As such, it has generated endless speculation and theories. And you’re right. the theories can keep going on and on. And that’s fine except when they start morphing from theories into “facts.” That’s why I wrote this piece up. I wanted to point out that much all of what is accepted as fact about Jack and Olive is really only based on speculation. In the end, boring as it may sound, it was probably just a stupid accident.

  21. carolynquinn says:

    BRAVA for writing such a terrific article! It was such a pleasure to read this.

  22. Lena_P says:

    Another aspect to this is the insult to the French authorities behind these rumors. It almost borders on bigotry. To say Mary Pickford, a well connected Hollywood businesswoman who had helped sell millions in war bonds for the US government, mitigated her brother’s discharge is one thing. To say that the Paris police forces would cover up a murder is another thing entirely. Why the hell should they? Hollywood films had been the biggest competetion to the French film industry before the war, so why go out of their way to help the “Royal Family” of Hollywood? To accuse them of a payoff means bribery of the highest officials, by a foreign national. Even if one could imagine the Los Angeles DA of being bribed by a wealthy American, do you think they would take payoff money from a French citizen? In a case that got international press? So why should it work the other way around?

  23. Pingback: Olive Thomas | Welcome to My Magick Theatre

  24. Elaine says:

    Has anyone ever seen the tv show ghost inside my child? There was this girl who had a mysterious connection with silent film stars. She was in love with Jack Pickford and her parents didn’t see him as a good person. Everytime someone, (not her parents,) said something bad about Jack she would say that they don’t even know him. She was right. This proves it.

  25. Well researched and written! 👏🏼 I stumbled upon your site looking for info on Olive Thomas as her tragic story recently came to my attention. Great insights and photos!

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