Forgotten star from film’s golden age

There’s an Australian girl whose role in the Golden Age of Film has largely been forgotten. She deserves to be remembered along with her remarkable family. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

Her name is Mrs Olive Taylor, or Miss Olive Pender-Smith as she was known when she grew up in Ipswich, Queensland.

Olive Pender-Smith

Olive was born in Essex, England, in 1906 but went to Ipswich as a young girl. She attended the Ipswich Girls Grammar School and was considered one of the beauties of the town.

Pender – as she was affectionately called by her friends – was the daughter of the Doctor George Pender-Smith who was the superintendent at the Sandy Gallup mental asylum in 1917-1920.

Olive learnt to ride as a young girl in Chinchilla. Whereas most girls back then who sought fame in Hollywood did so through their beauty, Olive entered the world of film by her skill as horsewoman.

She doubled for many famous film actresses in both London and Hollywood.

There was Chili Bouchier the famous English film actress who achieved success during the silent film era.

Olive was also a stand-in for the American actress Mary Ellis including in the 1937 film “Glamorous Night” (see top photo) in which she rode an Arab horse up a stairway.

Olive also doubled for Ann Todd the English actress who shot to international fame in the 1940s, and Olive doubled for her in the hunting scene in the 1938 film “South Riding.”

Bebe Daniels

Olive was a brunette just like the American actress Bebe Daniels and the two looked so much alike that many people didn’t know which was which.

Daniels began her career in Hollywood during the silent film era and appeared in 230 films. Olive doubled for Daniels in a number of them including the riding scene in the 1935 film “The Return of Carol Dean.”


But then there’s Olive’s family who were even more remarkable.

I’ve already told you that her father was the superintendent at the asylum.

Her grandfather John Smith was the mayor of Melbourne seven times.

John Smith

One uncle Thomas Webb was a King’s Council in Victoria, and for twenty-one years held the interesting government title of Master in Equity and Lunacy.

Another uncle was Charles Nicolson who was the police officer who put in place the network of spies that was responsible for the capture of the Kelly Gang.

And finally, there was Olive’s mother Phyllis Pender-Smith who achieved a most remarkable death.

In 1928, while talking to the milkman about the morning’s supply from the balcony of her home in Darlinghurst, Sydney, the mother overbalanced and fell twenty-five feet to the street below. She was killed instantly.

A peculiar feature of the tragedy was the milk jug that Mrs Pender-Smith was holding at the time of the fall. On the way down, the jug somehow became balanced on a ledge twelve feet from the ground. It stayed there while the mother continued falling past, right side up, unbroken and still full of milk.

Acrobatic mothers aside, one must not forget Ipswich’s Olive Pender-Smith who was a star back in Hollywood’s golden age.


Photo credits:
Olive Pender-Smith doubles for Mary Ellis in Glamorous Night, 1937.
Olive Pender Smith aboard palatial liner Orantes – Sun, Sydney, Thursday 5th December 1929, page 32.
Bebe Daniels 1925 – Wikipedia, by National Photo Company.
John Thomas Smith – State Library of Victoria


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