What is a flapper? Actress Olive Thomas answers (1920)


What’s the definition of a flapper?

During the filming of Olive Thomas’ new Selznick picture “The Flapper,” which will be shown at the Princess, the question arose as to exactly what the word “flapper” meant, or implied.

The veteran lawyer, William P. Carlton, admitted that he was stumped. Theo Westman, Jr., who plays the juvenile, said he knew, but when pinned down to a definite answer, he replied, “Oh, well, it’s just a — er I mean — why, doggone it, a ‘flapper’ is a ‘flapper.’ I know lots of ’em.”

Inquiries around the studio all brought forth very vague answers; it seemed everybody knew in a general way what was meant, but none could give a logical explanation until Director Alan Crosland saw the star herself smiling over the efforts of the others.

‘Perhaps Ollie can tell us,” said, Mr. Crosland, and “Ollie” replied.

“I can and will give you my conception of what is a ‘flapper.’

“In my opinion,” said Miss Thomas, “a flapper’ is a young girl between’ sixteen and twenty who, lacking any real knowledge of the world and its ways, fondly imagines she is the acme of sophistication. Her flights of fancy, however, do not take her to any real emotional heights, and after several unsuccessful attempts she be comes reconciled to the fact that it is better for her to stay in the nest until time and experience have given her strength to fly unaided.”

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Miss Thomas further added, “I arrived at my conclusion from watching the efforts of a nest of young birds. The very young ones made no effort: to fly, but those whose wings were nearly but not quite developed made several energetic though unsuccessful attempts at flight, but only succeeded in ludicrously ‘flapping’ around on the ground, hence my derivation of the term ‘flapper.'”

As the explanation bears out thoroughly the theme expressed in Frances Marion’s story, those assembled all agreed that Miss Thomas had hit upon the best explanation of all.

However, if anyone can give a better definition of the term “flapper,” Miss Thomas will reward them with her thanks and also an autographed photograph of herself in the her latest Selznick picture, “The Flapper.”

From the The Caledonian-Record (Vermont) - July 28, 1920
From the The Caledonian-Record (Vermont) – July 28, 1920

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