Oct. 2, 1947: On Skid Row, Homeless Children Mourn Their Beloved Sister Ollie

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image Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.

Sister Ollie died happy, according to her mother, Sister Sibbie, the superintendent at Sunshine Mission, 558 S. Wall St., a shelter for homeless women and children on skid row.

“Ollie died among people who really loved her and idealized her,” her mother said during the funeral, where a sunbeam lit a cross of red carnations in memory of the woman who died at the age of 40.

“They welcome her, the children especially, with glad cries of ‘Ollie!’ Whenever she enters,” The Times said the year before in a story about the shelter. “At the mission she keeps busy. Sometimes she poses in tableaus that illustrate sermons. At others you hear her voice on the mission telephone: ‘This is the Sunshine Mission and God bless you.’ You see her dressing some little ragged child or helping her mother.”

Of course the world knew her by another name, the one all over the movie marquees 20 years before. Back when Rudolf Valentino put metal bars over his bedroom windows to prevent nocturnal visits from star-struck college girls. An agent found her in a candy store and she was soon presented to Hollywood as one of the WAMPAS babies, selected by the movie industry’s agents and publicity men.

After that came money and stardom, 11 movies in two years, a couple of bad marriages, a fight with the studio that ended her career, a flirtation with radio and stage, and then a long series of appearances as one of the three-dot items headed “Remember When?” at the end of Hollywood gossip columns.

“— Clad in a costume so scanty that even chorus girls paled, had to ride from dressing-room to set in a closed car because so many studio employees were at windows when she went afoot… When beautiful-bodied —- sent a makeup man back to his department boss in a hurry, with orders to be replaced by a woman because that day she was to be made up ‘all over’ for a bathing sequence…”
“When —, who had accumulated 14 fur coats during her lush starring days, began selling them off one by one when adversity came…”

And then the headline:

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Many years later, she got one of the first eight stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The next time you’re at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, look for Sister Ollie, or as she was in the silent movies: Olive Borden.

Bonus factoid: Olive Borden outlived her stunt double, Elva Simmons, who died in 1938 at the age of 39.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Film, Hollywood, Obituaries and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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