After we reported on the New Amsterdam Theatre ghost of the 1920s Ziegfeld Girl, Olive Thomas [see story below -- ed.] we received a call from Jeremy Bennington, who was employed at the theatre during the famous theatre's 1996-97 restoration. He informed us that many strange things happened there during the time he worked there.
"One of the Tishman workmen," he said, "was standing in the empty lobby one day and a voice behind him said, 'Hi there -- how are you doin'?' He turned around and no one was there."
Bennington added tha during one conference in the theatre, things suddenly started falling off the walls. "It was very creepy," he said, "and it made everyone very nervous."
At a preview performance of The Lion King, the spectacular new Disney musical at the New Amsterdam, one of the young sellers at the souvenir stand confirmed that there had been much talk among construction workers about the ghost of Olive Thomas, who once graced the Ziegfeld Follies.
Our original spring 1997 feature appears below.
Now that the historic New Amsterdam theatre on Manhattan's West 42nd Street has been splendidly restored at a cost of $34 million, one wonders if the ghost of the late Ziegfeld girl Olive Thomas will return to see what the Walt Disney Company has done for the beautiful house where she once graced the stage as one of Ziegfeld's prize beauties.
In his 1972 book Ziegfeld, Charles Higham reported a strange occurrence in the New Amsterdam Theatre in 1952 when it was a rather seedy movie house. A handyman named Irving Cohn was putting new fabrics on some chairs in the backstage workshop when he suddenly felt he was being watched. He looked up and saw a stunning beauty in the doorway wearing a white dress with a gold sash bearing the name OLIVE. She was holding a blue bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. When he asked her what she was doing there, she ran up a flight of stairs and vanished.
Two weeks later, the apparition reappeared, but this time she walked downstairs toward the stage. Cohn called up to an electrician named Charlie Breest and asked if he saw the beautiful redhead. Breest did not see her, so Cohn described the woman and what she was wearing. Breest almost fell off the ladder he was working on. He immediately realized that Cohn was describing Olive Thomas, the Ziegfeld girl he had worked with and had idolized. Until he died Breest truly believed that Thomas had come back with that bottle and glass to confirm the rumor that she had taken poison and died in Paris at age 22 when she discovered she had contracted syphilis from her husband, Jack Pickford (Mary Pickford's brother).
Some weeks after Cohn had viewed Olive Thomas for a second time, he had a further shock. Looking at some old photos of the Ziegfeld Follies he was petrified. She was wearing the same white dress with a gold sash that had OLIVE printed on it.
A recent check with Tishman Realty and Construction Company, Inc., revealed that workman who toiled for many months restoring the New Amsterdam did not view the ghost of Olive Thomas. Perhaps she's been intimidated by King David or Hercules.
After all, for many years, the landmark Belasco Theatre on West 44th Street was haunted by the ghost of its illustrious builder and director, David Belasco. But his ghost was never seen again after the nude revue Oh, Calcutta! played there.
Mary C. Henderson, who has written a soon-to-be published book on the New Amsterdam, told Playbill On-Line that she interviewed a group of men who worked on the restoration of the theatre. "They said they saw a number of strange things -- especially a ghostly woman," she reports. "I asked them what she looked like and they said they got so frightened that they ran out of the theatre."
-- By Louis Botto