The Flapper

The Flapper is a 1920 American silent comedy film starring Olive Thomas. Directed by Alan Crosland, the film was the first in the United States to portray the "flapper" lifestyle, which would become a cultural craze or fad in the 1920s.

The Flapper
Glass slide for the film
Directed byAlan Crosland
Produced byMyron Selznick
Screenplay byFrances Marion
Story byFrances Marion
StarringOlive Thomas
Warren Cook
CinematographyJohn W. Brown
Distributed bySelect Pictures
Release date
  • May 10, 1920 (1920-05-10) (United States)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)


Sixteen-year-old Genevieve 'Ginger' King (Thomas) is living in a very wealthy family in the boring town of Orange Springs, Florida, where even having a soda with a boy is considered scandalous. Because of her questionable behavior and yearning for a thrilling life, Ginger’s father decides to send her to a boarding school, Mrs. Paddles’ School for Young Ladies, which is administered by strict disciplinarian Mrs. Paddles (Marcia Harris) in Lake Placid, New York.

Despite the strictness there, the girls have fun getting into flapper-lifestyle trouble including flirting. Richard Channing (William P. Carleton), an older man, rides past the seminary every day, prompting romantic fantasies among the schoolgirls. When Ginger connives a sleigh ride with Channing, she lies to him about her age, saying she is "about twenty". Ginger is quickly charmed and becomes enamored with him. Ginger soon gets into trouble with the headmistress by sneaking out to the local country club where Channing is having a party. One of her schoolmates, Hortense (Katherine Johnston), who is described as “a moth among the butterfies”, informs on her. Hortense’s actual motive for doing this is to get the headmistress out of the way so she can rob the school's safe and flee with her crooked boyfriend Thomas Morran (Arthur Housman).[1] Acting on a vaguely worded note she receives, Ginger—while traveling home from school—goes to a hotel in New York City where Hortense and Thomas are staying. They force her to take some suitcases for safekeeping, cases that contain stolen valuables, including fancy clothes and jewelry.

Knowing that Channing has gone to Orange Springs on a yachting trip, Ginger decides to use the clothes and jewels to present herself as a more-mature, well-dressed “woman of experience” when she returns home.[1] Her plan backfires, and her father believes she is lying when she says it is all a joke. Detectives then show up wanting to know why she has stolen loot; and both her young admirer Bill and Channing think she has really become a wicked woman. Hortense and her crooked boyfriend now turn up in Orange Springs to reclaim their illgotten loot. Their subsequent capture by the police clears Ginger's name and restores her reputation.

The events in the lives of Ginger King and another character are presented as incidents in a (non-fiction) newsreel at the end of the movie.


Production notes

  • Frances Marion wrote the screenplay, which is credited with popularizing the slang term “flapper” throughout the United States in the 1920s.[2]
  • Olive Thomas appeared in only two films after The Flapper. She died in Paris in September 1920.[3]

Public domain and home-media release

  • The Flapper, originally a “six-reeler”, is no longer under copyright. Now in the public domain, the film is free for general, unrestricted use.[1][4]
  • In 2005, The Flapper was released on Region 1 DVD by the Milestone Collection as part of The Olive Thomas Collection.[5]

References and notes

  1. Quotation is transcription from one of the intertitles in The Flapper. “Bill Sprague Collection -THE FLAPPER-Olive Thomas-PUBLIC DOMAIN”, Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  2. Boyer Sagert, Kelly (2010). Flappers: A Guide to an American Subculture. ABC-CLIO. p. 89. ISBN 0-313-37690-5.
  3. Lowe, Denise (2005). An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films, 1895-1930: 1895-1930. Haworth Press. p. 526. ISBN 0-7890-1843-8.
  4. “The Flapper, 1920”, Public Domain Movies—Feature Films in the Public Domain. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  5. Giddins, Gary (2005-05-17). "Rediscovering Maurice Elvey's Masterpiece". Retrieved 20 November 2012.
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