Detail of Alberto Vargas’ illustration, Memories of Olive, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

The Haunting Death of Olive Thomas

A century ago, Olive Thomas was a rising star of stage and screen renowned for her beauty. Today, she is famous for the tragic circumstances surrounding her death.

Heather Monroe
6 min readOct 4, 2019



Young Olive Thomas, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Oliva R Duffey was born on October 20, 1894, to James and Rena Duffey in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. After the death of her father in, 15-year-old Olive left school to help her mother support her two younger brothers in 1909. She found employment at Joseph Horne’s Department Store in Pittsburgh, where she earned $2.75 a week selling gingham.

Olive married Bernard Krug Thomas in 1911. She was just 16 years old. Around this time, Olive left to visit an aunt in New York and decided never to return to her husband. She did, however, retain his name.

Initially, Olive took another clerk job at a department store in Harlem. But this sort of existence could not satisfy her wild spirit.


Olive ca 1914, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Olive had the face of an angel and the mouth of a sailor, so naturally, she wasn’t cut out to live a life of loneliness and poverty. She knew she was destined for more. In 1911, Olive entered a contest, “The Most Beautiful Girl in New York,” put on by artist Howard Chandler Christie and won.

As a result of becoming the most beautiful girl in New York, Olive began posing for various artists. Before long, she caught the eye of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr and joined his Ziegfeld Follies. Although different men claimed credit for her success with the Follies, Olive said she just walked up to Florenz and asked for the job.

Olive was an overnight sensation. Men especially enjoyed her many talents. During her time with the stage, she even posed nude for illustrator Alberto Vargas.



Heather Monroe

Welcome readers! Heather Monroe is a genealogist and writer who resides in California with her partner and their nine children. •True Crime• History• Memoir•