Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

March 2013 UPDATE



(added March 15, 2013) from Motion Picture Magazine 1928 November

New Information About Olive from Elizabeth Landis posted December 19, 2010


New details about Olive's life have just been discovered in the archives of the New York public library!

During World War 2 Olive had an on-again off-again romance with Arthur Benline, Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Construction Battalion. Their affair ended Olive's marriage to John Moeller who left her after he found out about it. In 1943 Olive spent time at Walter Reed medical center after suffering a severe foot injury which caused her to be discharged from the WAAC's. During this time Arthur Benline helped Olive financially and tried to get her re-enlisted in the Army but he could not stop her downward spiral.  Michael S. Miller was thanked for sharing the information at the Olive Borden website.

 Last Fall (2008) there was a mix-up about a group of photographs from Mabel Normand personal album that Profiles in History had up for auction, among them was the one that Olive Thomas had given to Mabel Normand but the auction house had labeled it as being from the another Olive, Olive Borden.

There is a great deal of information regarding Mabel and Ollie Thomas being friends, so I was not surprised that it was among the images, when I was finally able to see the picture, it was indeed of Ollie but what about the other Olive.  So I have been collecting odd bits and pieces of data about her, the other Olive.  It is now rather easy to research various personalizes now that the internet, has the newspaper achieve, google books, IMDb, Wikipedia, and the web searches.



Marilyn Slater

July 20, 2009


So what I found is that:

Olive Borden was born July 14, 1906 in Richmond, Virginia, Sybil (Sibbie) Shield Borden; her mother was left a widow when Olive was less than 2 years old.  It was reported that the family was somehow related to Lizzie Borden, the accused axe murderess, but I didn’t find the source of this story, yet.  Sibbie was a manager of a restaurant in Maryland; she raised Olive in Maryland and sent her to Mount St. Agnes Catholic Academy.  When Olive began to blossom, they headed for California with dreams of a career in the movie industry. Sibbie’s sister lived there, so Olive and her mother moved in with her aunt and cousin, Natalie Joyce; another aspiring actress.

First stop for the lovely black hair beauty was a job at Christie Studios just 2 days after they arrived as an extra. When she didn’t find steady work at Christie, Sibbie and Olive opened a sweet shop near the UCLA campus, the shop closed after 6 months.  

 It was reported in a number of newspaper articles that Olive found work as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty in 1922 at the age of 15 or 16 even made an uncredited appearance in "Ponjola" (Sennett 1923) and in Warren Sherk's book "The Films of Mack Sennett" there is one film listed "Good Morning, Nurse" (Sennett 1925) however in looking through the images of the Bathing Beauties I have not found her picture and in the tons of photos on the internet, I didn’t see any of the Evans postcards of her.   She did a bit of modeling as she had a spectacular figure. She even was shown wearing a costume made for driving!


Olive Borden, Otto Fries, Jack Lloyd, Peg O’Neill and Lige Conley were directed by Fred Hibbard in a film called “Wide Open” an Educational Film supervised by Jack White. The 18 years old was on her way, than she was off to the Hal Roach Studios to appear in his comedy shorts.

Olive was moving fast, she became one of the 13 WAMPAS Baby Star in 1925 but so did her cousin, Natalie Joyce, they looked very much alike. The WAMPAS was an organization made up of publicity men that selected girls just starting out each year that they thought would make it in the business. 

March 17, 1925, “The Dressmaker From Paris” was released in New York.  Mabel Normand’s special friend, Paul Bern directed this showcase of the 1925 fashions of Travis Banton. Olive was known to have dated Paul. This was a very glamorous production Cecil B DeMille was supervising producer; a Famous Players-Lasky feature for Paramount, (you get the idea). This is a list of 14 beauties casted to play the various types in the film, according to one article many of the girls were sponsored by beauty connoisseurs” including Flo Ziegfeld, Neysa McMein, Coles Phillips. The highlighted names were not listed in the article but were listed on IMDb as being in the cast.

1.     Olive Borden, a Wampas baby (1925)

2.     Majel Coleman, declared to have the most perfect hands by 6 artists

3.     Rosemary Cooper

4.     Yola D’Avril, Model of Jean Patou

5.     Cecille Evans., chosen by Coles Phillips, her ankles are insured for $100,000

6.     Eugenia Gilbert, winner of the Rudolph Valentino contest

7.     Mildred Harris

8.     Leatrice Joy

9.     Etta Lee, daughter of Chinese physician in Honolulu

10. Jocely Lee, beauty that opened the new Moulin Rouge in Paris (1924)

11. Sally Long, a Ziegfeld beauty discovered by D.W. Griffith

12. Adalyn Mayer, chosen by Betty Bronson

13. Christina Montt, granddaughter of former president of Chile

14. Clara Morris, chosen by Neysa McMein

15.   Sally Rand, chosen by Cecil DeMille

16. Dorothy Seastrom, a pure Norse type with a lithe figure.

17. Thais Valdemar daughter of Cossack revolutionist

This would have made for one terrific rap party!

In 1926 a release of a Fox western, directed by John Ford called “Three Bad Men” starred Olive with a man that would be her very special friend George O’Brien. In the October 4, 1925 Oakland Tribune a story ran of John Ford going the Jackson Hole Wyoming with around 100 actors and crew to start filming “Three Bad Men”, Olive is the star and she seems to be able to play a range of characters. If you have been to Jackson Hole in October, it wouldn’t sound strange to you that Olive became ill and was rushed to hospital from the desolated country where she had been filming in icey pouring rain.


January 10, 1926 Fox Studios and Olive signed a 5 year contract with a salary reported to be $1,500 a week, which in 2009 dollars would be almost $20,000. The Fox "mega star", Madge Bellomy was making even more, a staggering sum of over $3,000 a week or $37,500 in real money. Fox was paying huge salaries and sending the cast to expensive locations. Olive had truly become a movie star; she co-starred with Tom Mix in “The Yankee Senor” and had an important part in “Yellow Fingers”.






In 1927 Olive turned 21 and she starred in a film called The Joy Girl”, another actress in the movie was the great and powerful Marie Dressler.  It was one of those stories that Olive was very good at playing; the character is determined to marry into wealth, rejecting the love of a young man, supposing he is  a chauffeur but he was actually a millionaire, and instead she marries a real chauffeur who is posing as the millionaire. Disillusioned, she nevertheless becomes a success in business, and realizing that she actually loves the false chauffeur, she is delighted to learn he is in fact a wealthy man. After making the film she received the nickname The Joy Girl”


But it was also in 1927 that Fox wanted to cut her salary. Fox was having financial problems, sound was on the horizon, the transition for silent stars without stage experience was difficult and Olive also had a distinctive southern accent. Fox labeled her difficult when she refused to accept the salary cut.

Olive needed her salary as she spent it as fast as she made it.  Sibbie and Olive lived is a mansion in Beverly Hills.  Olive had a limousine and driver on 24-hour standby and of course, a maid that went everywhere with her. When she stopped working for Fox, she had no income and she couldn’t keep up her extravagant way of life and had to move to a small house near the beach. So it wasn’t a very happy 21st Birthday after all.

Columbia seems to have made a couple of movies in England starring Olive in 1928, one was co-starring Jack Pickford, yes that’s right, Jack was in a film with Olive, it was the “other Olive” but still. . . .  The titles of her English movies were “Gang War” & “Stool Pigeon

Olive found work at RKO and Columbia; she was working in 1929 but not the kind of major vehicles that marked in the early 20s.  George O’Brien in 1930 ended a 4 year relationship with Olive, it was said because of her “party girl” image, his family found her reputation distasteful.  George was the son of the Chief of Police of San Francisco, D. J. O’Brien.


March 23 1931 she married Theodore “Teddy” Spector but that marriage was annulled after it was found that he was still married to the proprietor of a beauty shop named Pearl Haworth Spector of Buffalo, New York, his first wife. Of course, Teddy said he only married Olive because she threatened to kill herself if he didn’t marry her.


Olive cut off her trademark long black hair and tried to turn herself into a flapper but her career ended by 1934, she was only 28. Marshall Neilan directed her in her last movie at the Sun Haven Studios in St Petersburg, Florida. It produced Chloe, Love is Calling Youjust one of the three pictures that they made at Sun Haven in the early 1930s but the depression was in full bloom, Marshall had hope for a new center of movie making could happen in Florida, he had written “Chloe” and was directing his personal film.. Its storyline is a bit odd and isn’t thought to be a very watchable movie.  The dream ended for the studio and “Chloe” was not a success for Olive.


1934 was also the year she married John Moeller, an electrician. It was during this period that Olive moved back to the East Cost to try to develop a stage career, she made a small living on the vaudeville circuit, the couple lived with John’s father in a small 3 room apartment on Long Island.

When Olive was posing for a fashion layout she displayed 14 fur coats and in December 1940 she said she was buying 2 more for the new season. Perhaps this was just wishful thinking, 6 months later, she isn’t buying fur coats but selling them off one by one.


Her marriage was ending in 1941; she was bankrupt and a raging alcoholic. There was no more career in films or on stage possible for Olive, she was totally washed up.  In private life, she became a nurse’s aide and she volunteered for the Womens Auxiliary Army Corps and was sent to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, she was earning $12.50 a week as an Army chauffeur.


Early in 1941, a bill was introduced to establish an Army women's corps separate and distinct from the existing Army Nurse Corps.  Over 150,000 American women served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War 11. Members of the WAC were the first women other than nurses to serve within the ranks of the United States Army. Both the Army and the American public initially had difficulty accepting the concept of women in uniform; it was believed the women's corps should be a part of the Army so that women would receive equal pay, pension, and disability benefits, the Army did not want to accept women directly into its ranks.  Olive Borden was cited with the Croix de Merite, she was the first Hollywood celebrity to join the WAACS.




 When she tried to find work in Hollywood after the war, her time had passed she has gained weight and had a number of health problems. Jimmie Fidler in his December 16, 1943 column wrote, “After she gets her Reno unhooking ex-star Olive Borden will return to Hollywood to see if studios have a place for her…Hmmm!” In November 2, 1944 Louella Parsons’ column . . . “Sidelines: Olive Borden, glamour girl of the Clara Bow days, is back in Hollywood – a heroine.  Olive was in the WACS and has received an army citation for bravery in turning over an enemy ammunition truck.  She’s just been dismissed from Walter Reed hospital with an honorable discharge – but says she isn’t interested in a career any more…

 Olive became a born again Christian, her mother was a member of the staff at the Sunshine Mission located on skid row in downtown Los Angeles. Olive came to live at the mission and scrubbed floors and she helped organized the 1946 Christmas pageants and also helped her mother in the commissary. Early in 1947 without telling anyone where she was going, perhaps a relapse a bender, a spree, she left the mission, after searching for 6 months, her mother found her in a flop house; Olive was brought back to the mission very ill dieing October 1, 1947 of pneumonia and complication of her alcoholism.

reprints 1945 - 1947





1.     Lowe, Denise (2005). An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films, 1895-1930: 1895-1930. Haworth Press. pp. 76. 

2.     Klepper, Robert K. (1999). Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies. McFarland. pp. 358.. 

3.     Olive Borden wedsite. http://www.oliveborden.com

4.     Brochure, U.S. Army Center of Military History by Judith A. Bellafaire.

5.     Olive Borden wikipedia http: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_Borden

6.     1923, February 23, New Castle New – Oriental Touch Noted in Spring Garments…photo of Olive Borden.

7.     1924 International News Service, Olive Borden in driving dress

8.     1924, February 10, Charleston Gazette, Fine Arts Studio  ‘Wide Open”

9.     1925, January 19, The Sheboygan Press, list of “Baby Stars”

10. 1925, February 3, State Journal, “The Dressmaker From Paris”

11. 1925, October 4, Oakland Tribune, “Three Bad Men”

12. 1925, October 18, Oakland Tribune Jack Wooldridge column

13. 1926, January 10, Borden signs long term contract with Fox

14. Scott Hamilton, St. Petersburg, Florida Sun Haven Studios http://www.stomptokyo.com/scott/blog

15. Lisa K. Bradberry) on the Sun Haven movie studio

16. 1940, December 27, Charleston Daily Mail Olive’s fur coats

17. 1941, May 7, Salt Lake Tribune, Olive sells her fur coats

18. 1943, January 21, Standard, Uniontown, Croix de Merite

19. 1944, November 2, INS Louella Parsons, Sidelines


 I found out that an actual biography has been written but not available yet about Olive Borden, how wonderful.  There was a post at the Genealogy website requesting information, dated December 27, 2008.  There is so much I am sure the author will tell us.  I want to know if Mabel Normand and Olive Borden knew each other at the Sennett Studios, Mabel was there making Molly O’ and Suzanna when Olive was just starting out as a Bathing Beauty or was she really there?.  And then there is the connection of Olive with Paul Bern, Mabel’s Paul, the man who wrote her love letters, wanted to marry her, directed her in “Head Over Heels”….and he dated Olive after Mabel’.   If Olive work with Mabel’s husband, Lew Cody was it during her Vaudeville period?

 After Olive left films, I want to know all about her period in the WAC…what is the story of the “Croix de Medite”? I love learning new stuff so am looking forwards to the complete story which only a book can tell us, as an outline like I just did is easy and the material easy to find but a biography is hard.  Although, Elizabeth’s website has the advantage of the wonderful photos and insightful quotes and is very excisable, and yes, free …Michelle Vogel's book will be out after the first of the year...a book is a book is a book...and always a joy.