Editor’s Note: 2015 is the year of the Tragic Star over at Marsha’s blog, A Person in the Dark, and her first subject is actress Olive Borden.
Beautiful Olive Borden had it all, but she ended up making beds, washing dishes and scrubbing floors at a mission for destitute women. How did this happen?
This striking beauty was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1906. Raised by her mother, Sibbie (her father had died when Olive was a baby), lovely Olive convinced her mama that she had the stuff to make it in Hollywood. Sibbie believed in her girl and Olive proved her right. By 1922 she was appearing as a bathing beauty in comedy shorts and by 1925 she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star. Signed by the Fox Studio, Olive quickly became one of the studio’s highest paid stars and one if its most popular.
By all accounts, Olive loved being a star. She spent lavishly, loved to party and engaged in a four-year affair with one of Hollywood’s hunkiest stars, George O’Brien. The couple would work together only twice, in 1926, in early works by two iconic directors: Fig Leaves by Howard Hawks and John Ford’s 3 Bad Men.
Borden was renowned for her beauty, her form, her style and even her acting. Between 1925 and 1927 she appeared in a string of successful films for Fox. In 1927 Fox starred her as The Joy Girl, a successful comedy that gave Olive the same nickname. In 1927 Hollywood’s Joy Girl was on top of the world.
And then, suddenly, it all went wrong. Apparently Fox, who had a lot of high-paid stars, began to experience financial difficulties. As a result, they attempted to reduce some of the highest salaries, including Olive’s. Olive refused and walked out on her contract. From there, things went from bad to worse. O’Brien, tired of her hard partying ways, ended their relationship. Talking pictures and the lack of studio support put the nail in the coffin. Her last film was 1934’s Chloe, Love is Calling You, directed by fellow alcoholic and former great, Marshall Neilan. It was not a success. She was 28 years old.
Olive made a couple of bad marriages and attempted some vaudeville work, but nothing seemed to click. In 1941 she was broke and finished. She worked as a nurses aid and an army chauffeur and served as a WAC during World War II.
After the war she tried to reestablish herself in Hollywood, but all doors were closed. During the last years of her life she found religion and joined Mama Sibbie at the Sunshine Mission, a refuge for homeless and poverty stricken women. In 1947 she fled the mission and was found by her mother in a motel. Olive was close to death. Sibbie brought her back to the mission, but Olive died soon after, in October of that year, from complications arising from pneumonia and alcoholism.
Olive Borden — Silent Star: A completely comprehensive site about all things Olive – you will learn a lot here.
Looking for Mabel: A stunning site about actress Mabel Normand and her world.
Marsha Collock has been an avid fan – not scholar – of classic films since she saw the first flicker of black and white on the TV screen. Her muse is Norma Desmond, to whom she has dedicated her blog, A Person in the Dark, a site designed for all of the wonderful people out there in the dark who have an unabashed passion for silents, early talkies, all stars and all films. You can also visit her Facebook group, FlickChick’s Movie Playground.