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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Olive Borden's Story


During the 1920's Olive Borden was one of Hollywood's most popular stars but by the age of forty-one she was penniless and forgotten. Olive Mary Borden was born on July 14, 1906, in Norfolk, Virginia. Tragically her father, Harry Borden, died of typhoid fever when she was just fourteen months old. Her widowed mother, Sibbie Shields Borden, moved them to Mt. Washington, Maryland where she managed a restaurant. Olive was an only child and she developed a very close relationship with her mother. During her teen years she attended Mount St. Agnes Academy, a Catholic boarding school in Baltimore. She was very ambitious and dreamed of becoming an actress. In 1922 she persuaded Sibbie to take her to Hollywood. Just two days after arriving Olive got a job as an extra at Christie Studios. She was devastated when the director fired her because he didn't like the way she looked. Sibbie and Olive decided to open a candy store near UCLA. When it closed six months later they were nearly broke. Luckily Olive caught the eye of a casting director and became one of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties. In 1923 she made her acting debut in the short film Ponjola. Olive was offered a contract with Hal Roach and appeared in numerous comedy shorts. Then producer Paul Bern cast her as a model in his film The Dressmaker From Paris. She dated Paul on and off for several years and he gave her some more small roles. Olive signed a five year contract with Fox in December 1925. Her big break came when she was cast opposite Tom Mix in The Yankee Senor. The movie was a hit and made Olive an overnight star.


In 1926 director John Ford gave her the female lead in his western 3 Bad Men. During filming she started a serious romance with her costar George O'Brien. Olive and George worked together again in the hit comedy Fig Leaves. The press often reported that the couple was engaged. Olive appeared in a string of successful films including Yellow Fingers, The Joy Girl, and Come To My House. She was a gifted comedienne and was usually cast as a vamp. Olive was considered one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood and her long, black hair became her trademark. At the peak of her career she earned $1,500 a week. Unfortunately Olive spent her money as fast as she made it. She lived with her mother in a lavish Beverly Hills mansion. Olive had a maid travel with her everywhere and she had a limousine standing by twenty-four hours a day. Although she was one of their biggest stars Fox cut her salary in November of 1927. The studio claimed she was "temperamental". She walked out on her contract and took a six month break from acting. Olive could no longer afford her extravagant lifestyle so she moved to a small house in Malibu. She was still in demand as an actress and in 1928 she signed a lucrative contract with Columbia. Olive was given starring roles in big budget movies like The Eternal Woman and Virgin Lips. Unfortunately her southern accent made it difficult for her to make the transition to sound films. She tried to change her image by cutting off her long hair and playing flappers. After Columbia dropped her contract she worked at RKO and First National studios. She costarred with Arthur Lake in Dance Hall and with Jack Oakie in The Social Lion.


Olive was heartbroken when George O'Brien ended their four year relationship in 1930. There were rumors that George's conservative family did not like her and that he was involved with his new costar Sue Carol. Olive's star was fading quickly and she was having trouble finding work in Hollywood. She was only twenty-four years old but she was already considered a has-been. Olive moved to New York City where she appeared in several unsuccessful plays. She was able to make a living performing in vaudeville. Olive eloped with Theodore "Teddy" Spector on March 23, 1931. He was a thirty year old stockbroker from New Jersey. Teddy would later claim that he only married Olive because she threatened to kill herself. They separated in early 1932 because he wanted her to quit acting. After Olive filed for divorce she learned that Teddy was still legally married to his first wife. He was arrested for bigamy but the charges were dropped. On November 21, 1932 their marriage was annulled. Despite the bad publicity she was offered a role in the low budget drama Chloe, Love Is Calling. She had a brief relationship with the film's director Marshall Neilan. Olive married John Moeller, a 26 year old electrician, on November 2, 1934. The couple lived with John's father William in a three room apartment on Long Island. Olive took a job working at Macy's department store. She wanted to become a mother but she was unable to have children. Her marriage to John ended in 1941 after he found out she was having an affair with Lieutenant Arthur Benline. By now Olive's fortune was gone and she was forced to file for bankruptcy.She was also struggling with a serious drinking problem. During World War 2 she worked as a nurse's aid and drove an ambulance.


In November 1942 she joined the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. Olive was sent to Fort Des Moines in Iowa where she earned $12.50 a week working at the WAAC training center. She received an Army citation for bravery when she she turned over an enemy ammunition truck. After injuring her foot she spent some time at Walter Reed hospital and was honorably discharged. Olive tried to make a comeback in Hollywood but she could not get any acting jobs. She had gained weight and was in poor health. Olive was forced to take several low paying jobs. In 1945 she moved into the Sunshine Mission, a home for destitute women in the skid row section of Los Angeles. Her mother, Sibbie, worked in the commissary. Olive claimed she had become a born again Christian and devoted herself to helping the children at the mission. She spent her days scrubbing floors and answering phones. Her final acting performance was in the mission's 1946 Christmas pageant. During the Spring of 1947 Olive ran away from the mission. Sibbie found her three months later living in a cheap motel. Olive returned to the Sunshine mission but she was very sick. Sadly she died on October 1, 1947, from complications due to a stomach ailment and pneumonia. Olive was only forty-one years old. She was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Olive Borden was a talented actress who learned how fleeting fame can be. She was a kind woman who never found true happiness in her life. Her story is one of Hollywood's most tragic tales.


                                                                                                                      Olive on her deathbed with her mother Sibbie

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