Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Joy Girl (2010) – By James L. Neibaur

“Olive Borden was fully prepared for the success that Hollywood threw at her,” says author Michelle Vogel in her latest book.  “What she wasn’t prepared for was the rejection.  And that killed her.”

Like her recent book on another Olive, Olive Thomas, who was also a beautiful, talented actress who enjoyed major stardom and suffered an early death, Vogel investigates the whys and wherefores of Olive Borden’s similar story.  But unlike Ms. Thomas, who died suddenly and tragically while still a star, Ms. Borden lived to see her career plummet, to go from Hollywood stardom to working for 12 bucks per week on Skid Row.  After years of alcoholism, her body simply shut down when she was 41 years old.

Vogel’s study offers the sort of biography that film researchers welcome – it not only gives details about her life and work, it carefully points out errors in previous studies.  One of the most glaring is the often repeated information that Borden’s  birth name was Sybil Tinkle.  Through an article by film historian Michael Ankerich, Vogel provides the information that Ms. Tinkle was a separate person entirely who resembled Borden enough to fool her family into thinking that she was actually the Hollywood star (with a showbiz name-change). There are also period reviews of films in which Borden appeared that are now lost – as well as an explanation of just what a “lost film” is.   The biographical info is followed by a complete annotated filmography that includes recently discovered titles that do not appear in any previous bio.

There is a wealth of photo illustrations and ad slicks that cover Borden’s life and career, and these vary in quality.  That, however, is a good thing.  In this digital age, it is outrageous that some publishers still insist on pristine 8X10 glossies, limiting the illustrations that can be serviceable with some minor Photoshop enhancement.  McFarland allowed Vogel to use some wonderfully rare shots of a scantily clad Borden and George O’Brien for the controversial Adam and Eve drama FIG LEAVES (Howard Hawks, 1926), as well as a few candids that have heretofore not been published in any other book.

The thoroughness and insight provided in this biography allows the reader to truly appreciate one of the many forgotten stars from cinema’s silent era;  one whose star shined brightly and eventually withered to nothingness.  It is a fascinating, heartbreaking story, as well as intelligent and informative.  Highly recommended, even for casual readers who may not be interested in early cinema, but just simply like to read a good book.  But, as Vogel indicates, “This is Olive Borden’s story.  It has everything.  Everything but the fairy tale ending….”

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