Tuesday, July 21, 2020

On This Day...Operation Olympic! (1920)

On this day...no not a film...but the start of a bigger adventure!

At just 16-years old Archibald Leach was just one of 1,207 names making up the passenger list of the R.M.S Olympic.


It was 1920 and the ship, built alongside the Titanic, was departing from Southampton, bound for New York.

The passenger list from the White Star Line ship reveals Archie's name, tucked away at the bottom of a string of names of men and women travelling second class.

One page of the White Star Line manifest for 21st July 1920.

The only information he was required to provide when boarding on July 21st, 1920, was the question of country of intended future permanent residence. In a display of ambition, Archie said the U.S.A.

He also described himself as an actor, from England, who was just one of the 1,207 passengers.

Also on board were Hollywood heartthrob Douglas Fairbanks and actress Mary Pickford.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

The couple had married on March 28th, and enjoyed an extended honeymoon in Europe.

She was 26 and he was 37, and unlike Archie, the glamorous couple were travelling in first class.

Archie was sailing second class with the Bob Pender Troupe, and sharing a ship with Fairbanks and Pickford was to leave a big impression.

Second Class cabin accommodated 3 passengers.

He later recalled the meeting: 

 "Among the fellow passengers were newlyweds Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford, the world’s most popular honeymooners and the first film stars I ever met.

They were gracious and patient in face of constant harassment, by people with cameras and autograph books, whenever they appeared on deck; and once even I found myself being photographed with Mr. Fairbanks during a game of shuffleboard.

As I stood beside him I tried with shy, inadequate words to tell him of my adulation.

He was a splendidly trained athlete and acrobat, affable and warmed by success and well-being. A gentleman in the true sense of the word."

With Douglas Fairbanks Snr?

The actor was to claim that he had striven to maintain a glowing tan in order to emulate the healthy appearance of Fairbanks.

On arriving in New York, Archie was amazed! He later wrote:

"Manhattan Island. That skyline in the early-morning July sunshine. New York City. There it was; but was I there? Was I actually there at the ship’s rail, neatly scrubbed and polished, standing with a small, solitary band of Pender-troupe boys--none of whom had slept all night for fear of missing the first glimpse of America? The excitement. Those skyscrapers I had seen so many times before. Oh my, yes. In England. In Bristol. In the films."

Archie Leach circa.1920's

After arriving in the U.S he toured with several vaudeville acts and even worked as a stilt-walker, before finally becoming a regular on Broadway in the late 1920s.

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