Olive Borden

Olive Borden (July 14, 1906 – October 1, 1947) was an American film and stage actress who began her career during the silent film era.[1] She was nicknamed "The Joy Girl",[2] after playing the lead in the 1927 film of that same title.[3] Borden was known for her jet-black hair and overall beauty.

Olive Borden
Born(1906-07-14)July 14, 1906
DiedOctober 1, 1947(1947-10-01) (aged 41)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Years active1924–1934
Theodore Spector
(m. 1931; annulled 1932)

John Moeller
(m. 1934; div. 1941)
RelativesNatalie Joyce (cousin)

At the peak of her career in the mid-1920s, Borden was earning $1,500 a week. In 1927, she walked out on her contract with Fox after refusing to take a pay cut. By 1929, her career began to wane due to her rumored reputation for being temperamental and her difficulty transitioning to sound films. She made her last film, Chloe, Love Is Calling You, in 1934 and moved on to stage work for a time. By the late 1930s, she had declared bankruptcy and stopped acting. During World War II, she joined the WACs. She was later honorably discharged with distinction after sustaining a foot injury during service. Borden attempted a comeback in films, however, she was hindered by her alcoholism and health problems.

In 1945, she began working at the Sunshine Mission, a home for impoverished women located in the skidrow section of Los Angeles. She died there in October 1947 of a stomach ailment and pneumonia at the age of 41.

Early life

Olive Borden was born in Richmond, Virginia on July 14, 1906.[1] It was often erroneously reported that Sybil Tinkle was Borden's real name until the 1990s, when it was discovered that another woman had been confused with Borden.[4] In a 1910 census report her name is listed as Borden.[5] Borden's father died when she was a baby and she was raised by her mother, Sybil[6] ("Sibbie"), in Norfolk and Baltimore, Maryland where she also attended Catholic boarding schools.[7] She was a distant relative, fourth cousin on her father's side, of Lizzie Borden.[8] As a teenager, she persuaded her mother to take her to Hollywood to pursue a career in show business. To support themselves they opened a candy store and Olive worked as a telephone operator.


Borden began her career as one of the Sennett Bathing Beauties in 1922 and was soon appearing as a vamp in Hal Roach comedy shorts. Producer Paul Bern chose her for an uncredited role in his film The Dressmaker from Paris (1925). She was signed by Fox after being named a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1925 (along with her cousin, Natalie Joyce).[9] Borden quickly became one of their most popular and highest paid stars earning a salary of $1,500 a week. She had starring roles in eleven films at Fox, including 3 Bad Men and Fig Leaves, both of which costarred her then-boyfriend George O'Brien. 3 Bad Men has also been featured at the Museum of Modern Art.[10] During this time she worked with some directors who would go on to achieve major fame, including John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Leo McCarey.

Paramount Studios began a policy of 10% paycuts on any salary over $50 to recoup production costs, when Fox tried the same and cut her salary in 1927, Borden left the studio.[11] By this point she was a major silent film star. In making the transition to "talkies" she worked with a voice coach (to suppress her Southern accent). She was less successful, but still remained in demand as an actress, continuing to work for Columbia and RKO. She had cut her trademark hair[12] into a short bob, and turned herself into a modern flapper. But Borden had trouble with the new look, losing her identity; she couldn't find her audience and this confused her waning public.[13]

She made few movies in the early 1930s and her once promising career stalled, producing but one picture in 1932 (The Divorce Racket), and three in 1933 (Leave it to Me, Hotel Variety, and The Mild West). Her last screen credit came in 1934 in the film Chloe, Love Is Calling You, where she played a woman kidnapped at birth and raised as a child of mixed race. Some say that this once-lost film "is so bad it should've stayed lost."[14] A pre-code movie made under Will Hays, it had little box office success and in some states (mostly southern) it was banned at the time of its release. Borden then moved to New York, where she had a brief stage career, and made a living on the waning vaudeville circuit.

Later years

During her acting career, Borden was one of the highest paid stars. She spent her money freely and by the late 1930s, she was broke. Borden then found work as a postal clerk and mail carrier and also worked as a nurse's aide.[15] In 1942, Borden joined the WAC's, the Women's Army Corps, the only place women could serve in the Army at the time, where she received an Army citation for bravery in turning over an enemy ammunition truck. Her Army career ended after she was hospitalized in Walter Reed Medical Center with a severe foot injury. After her honorable discharge she attempted an unsuccessful comeback in films.[8]

Borden struggled with alcoholism and numerous health problems. She spent her final years in the skid row section of Los Angeles working and living at the Sunshine Mission, a home for women alongside her mother Sibbie, who got Borden the work.[8]

Personal life

Borden had several relationships with men in and out of the motion picture industry. For the majority of her life, she lived with her mother, Sibbie, who was known as a "stage mother", helping Borden with most decisions and spending of money until Borden's death.[13] From 1926 to 1930, Borden was romantically involved with actor George O'Brien and the press reported they were engaged. She also dated director Marshall Neilan, producer Paul Bern,[16] and had a long affair with Arthur Benline, Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Construction Battalion.

Borden was married twice. Her first marriage was to stockbroker Theodore Spector, whom she married on March 28, 1931, in Harrison, New York.[17] The marriage was rocky from the start,[18] and the couple separated in early 1932 after news of scandal broke that she was involved in a love triangle.[13] This was because Spector had not divorced his first wife, Pearl, whom he married in 1919. Spector was arrested for bigamy after his first wife came forward and claimed they were still married. In November 1932, Borden petitioned the court for an annulment, which was granted on November 22.[17] Spector was cleared of bigamy but Borden had already had their marriage annulled and had moved on from the entire incident.[13] She married her second husband, 26-year-old railroad technician, John Moeller, in November 1934 under the pseudonym Mary Borden.[19][18] That marriage ended in divorce seven years later.


Olive Borden died on October 1, 1947 from a stomach ailment and pneumonia at the age of 41.[1] The only possession she had when she died was a signed photo of herself.[20] Borden's funeral was held on October 3 at the Sunshine Mission home for women where she had worked and lived since 1945.[6] The mission's founder, Essie Binkley West, officiated at the service.[21] Borden was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.[22] Her mother was interred in the grave next to her when she died of a heart attack in 1959.[18]

For her contributions to the film industry, Borden has a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.[23] She was one of the first eight stars chosen to receive a star in 1958.[24]

Selected filmography

Year Title Role Notes[25]
1924 Neck and Neck
1924 Wide Open
1924 Air Pockets
1924 Why Men Work
1924 Should Landlords Live?
1924 Too Many Mamas
1924 The Royal Razz
1924 Just a Good Guy
1925 Should Husbands be Watched? The New Maid
1925 The Dressmaker from Paris Lost film
1925 Bad Boy Undetermined Role Uncredited
1925 Tell It to a Policeman
1925 Good Morning, Nurse! Lost film
1925 The Happy Warrior Ima Lost film
1925 The Overland Limited Ruth Dent
1926 The Yankee Señor Manuelita Alternative title: The Conquering Blood
Lost film
1926 My Own Pal Alice Deering Lost film
1926 Yellow Fingers Saina
1926 3 Bad Men Lee Carlton
1926 Fig Leaves Eve Smith
1926 The Country Beyond Valencia Lost film
1927 The Monkey Talks Olivette
1927 The Secret Studio Rosemary Merton Lost film
1927 The Joy Girl Jewel Courage [26]
1927 Pajamas Angela Wade
1927 Come to My House Joan Century Lost film
1928 The Albany Night Boat Georgie Lost film
1928 Virgin Lips Norma Lost film
1928 Gang War Flowers Alternative title: All Square
Lost film
1928 Stool Pigeon Goldie Alternative title: The Decoy
1928 Sinners in Love Ann Hardy
1929 Love in the Desert Zarah
1929 The Eternal Woman Anita
1929 Half Marriage Judy Paige
1929 Dance Hall Gracie Nolan
1929 Wedding Rings Eve Quinn Alternative title: The Dark Swan, lost film
1930 Hello Sister Vee Newell
1930 The Social Lion Gloria Staunton
1932 The Divorce Racket Marie Douglas
1933 Hotel Variety Alternative title: The Passing Show
Lost film
1933 Leave It to Me Peavey Alternative title: Help
1933 The Mild West Baby Doll Short film
1934 The Inventors Uncredited
1934 Chloe, Love Is Calling You Chloe (Betty Ann Gordon)


  1. "Olive Borden, Star Of Silent Films, 40". New York Times. October 2, 1947. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  2. (Liebman 200, p. 323)
  3. Lowe, Denise (2014). An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films: 1895-1930. Routledge. ISBN 9781317718963. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  4. (Lowe 2005, p. 76)
  5. Vogel, Michelle (March 24, 2010). Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Joy Girl". McFarland. ISBN 9780786458363.
  6. "Olive Borden, 40, Once Famous Movie Star, Dies in Poverty". The Nebraska State Journal. Nebraska, Lincoln. Associated Press. October 2, 1947. p. 6. Retrieved September 30, 2018 via Newspapers.com.
  7. (Shipman Springer 1974, p. 273)
  8. (Brettell 2005, p. 35)
  9. "WAMPAS Choice Proves Open Sesame". The Los Angeles Times. California, Los Angeles. January 23, 1927. p. 42. Retrieved September 30, 2018 via Newspapers.com.
  10. "3 Bad Men. 1926. Directed by John Ford". www.moma.org. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  11. Solomon, Aubrey (January 10, 2014). The Fox Film Corporation, 1915-1935: A History and Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 9780786486106.
  12. Theatre Magazine. Theatre Magazine Company. 1926.
  13. 1972-, Vogel, Michelle, (2010). Olive Borden : the life and films of Hollywood's "Joy Girl". Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. ISBN 9780786458363. OCLC 610027117.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  14. 1962-, Senn, Bryan, (1998). Drums of terror : voodoo in the cinema. Baltimore, MD: Midnight Marquee Press. ISBN 1887664181. OCLC 40545491.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  15. (Ankerich 2010, p. 74)
  16. Fleming, E. J. (March 23, 2009). Paul Bern: The Life and Famous Death of the MGM Director and Husband of Harlow. McFarland. ISBN 9780786452743.
  17. "Olive Borden Has Marriage Annulled". Star Tribune. Minnesota, Minneapolis. Associated Press. November 22, 1932. p. 13. Retrieved September 30, 2018 via Newspapers.com.
  18. Ankerich, Michael G. Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. BearManor Media.
  19. (Ankerich 2010, pp. 72–73)
  20. (Klepper 1999, p. 358)
  21. "Simple Funeral for Olive Borden". The Milwaukee Sentinel. October 5, 1947. p. 15. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  22. "Funeral of Olive Borden". New York Times. October 6, 1947. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  23. "Hollywood Star Walk: Olive Borden". latimes.com. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  24. "Hollywood Walk of Fame - History". walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  25. (Vogel 2010, pp. 162–179)
  26. "Projection Jottings". New York Times. September 4, 1927. Retrieved December 6, 2014. "The Joy Girl," with Olive Borden, produced by Allan Dwan, is to occupy the Roxy screen this week. It is based on a story by May Edglnton. The exterior scenes ...

Works cited

  • Ankerich, Michael G. (2010). Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen. BearManor. ISBN 1-59393-605-2
  • Brettell, Andrew; King, Noel; Kennedy, Damien; Imwold, Denise (2005). Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Leonard, Warren Hsu; von Rohr, Heather. Barrons Educational Series. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9.
  • Klepper, Robert K. (1999). Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0595-3
  • Liebman, Roy (2000). The Wampas Baby Stars: A Biographical Dictionary, 1922-1934. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0756-5.
  • Lowe, Denise (2005). An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films, 1895-1930. Haworth Press. ISBN 0-7890-1843-8.
  • Shipman Springer, John; Hamilton, Jack D. (1974). They Had Faces Then: Super Stars, Stars, and Starlets of the 1930s. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-0300-9.
  • Vogel Michelle. (2010). Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Joy Girl. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-45836-4.

Further reading

  • Michelle Vogel (2010). Olive Borden: The Life and Films of Hollywood's "Joy Girl". McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-4795-8.
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