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Thelma Todd biography

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Thelma Todd ( July 29, 1906 – December 16, 1935)

Biography of Thelma Todd, a popular American actress of the late 1920s and early 1930s film. Appearing in over 40 pictures between 1926 and 1935, she is best remembered for her comedic roles in films like Marx Brothers’€ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers. She also had roles in Laurel and Hardy’s Another Fine Mess, The Devil’s Brother (aka Fra Diavolo), Chickens Come Home, and a brief part in The Bohemian Girl.

Early life of Thelma Todd

Thelma Todd was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts and was a bright student who achieved good academic results. She intended to become a school teacher. However, in her late teens, she began entering beauty pageants, winning the title of Miss Massachusetts in 1925. While representing her home state, she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and began her career in film.

The career of Thelma Todd

During the silent era, she appeared in numerous supporting roles that made full use of her beauty but gave her little chance to act. With the advent of the talkies, Thelma Todd was given the opportunity to expand her roles when producer Hal Roach signed her to appear with such comedy stars as Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, and Laurel & Hardy. In 1931 she was given her own series, teaming with ZaSu Pitts for slapstick comedies. This was Roach’s attempt to create a female version of Laurel & Hardy. When Pitts left Roach in 1933, she was replaced by Patsy Kelly. The Thelma Todd shorts often cast her as a working girl having all sorts of problems, and trying her best to remain poised and charming despite the embarrassing antics of her sidekick.

Thelma Todd became highly regarded as a capable film comedienne, and Roach loaned her out to other studios to play opposite Wheeler & Woolsey, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, and the Marx Brothers. She also appeared successfully in such dramas as the original 1931 film version of The Maltese Falcon. During her career, she appeared in more than 130 films and was sometimes publicized as “The Ice Cream Blonde.”

In the early 1930s, she opened a successful cafe at Pacific Palisades, called Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, attracting a diverse clientele of Hollywood celebrities as well as many tourists.

Todd continued her short-subject series through 1935, and was featured in the full-length Laurel & Hardy comedy The Bohemian Girl. This was her last film; she died before completing all of her scenes. Producer Roach salvaged the unfinished performance by deleting all of her dialogue and limiting her appearance to one musical number.

The Suspicious Death of Thelma Todd

On the morning of December 16, 1935, she was found dead in her car inside the garage of Jewel Carmen, a former actress and former wife of Todd’s business partner Roland West. Carmen’s house was approximately a block from the topmost side of Todd’s restaurant. Her death was determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Todd had a wide circle of friends and associates as well as a busy social life. Police investigations revealed that she had spent the last night of her life at a party at the Trocadero, a popular Hollywood restaurant, hosted by entertainer Stanley Lupino and his daughter, the actress Ida Lupino. At the restaurant, she had had a brief but unpleasant exchange with her ex-husband, Pat DeCicco. However, her friends stated that she was in good spirits and were aware of nothing unusual in her life that could suggest a reason for committing suicide.

The detectives of the LAPD concluded early that her death was accidental, the result of Todd’s either warming the car to drive it or to use the heater to keep herself warm. While they never wavered from their view, other theories emerged during several weeks of investigations.

One theory was that her on-again/off-again boyfriend, director Roland West, €”known to have been very possessive of her, €”had grown frustrated by Todd’s flightiness and, to keep her from leaving her premises to attend another party, had locked her in the garage. According to this theory, her resulting death was accidental.

A second theory was that Todd had turned on the motor of the car in order to keep warm and had fallen asleep. Roland West had closed the door to the garage without realizing Todd was inside, and she had died as a result. (However, West denied going down the road to Jewel Carmen’s home).

A third theory postulates she was murdered by New York gangster “Lucky” Luciano because of her refusal to allow him to involve her club with illegal gambling, as well as her refusal to participate in Luciano’€™s group sex orgies. Like the Roland West story, the Lucky Luciano story was in Kenneth Anger’s frequently fallacious book Hollywood Babylon. Later it was alleged to be “the true story” in Andy Edmonds’ book (and later TV movie) Hot Toddy. It has become the most celebrated of all theories despite the fact that there is no record of Luciano ever visiting Los Angeles, much less having an affair with Todd, or (as in Hot Toddy) publicly threatening her at the Brown Derby.

A fourth theory was that she was murdered by her ex-husband, Pat DiCicco, who was involved in bootlegging and prostitution and had a history of violence against women. Gloria Vanderbilt, who was later married to DiCicco, mentioned allegations that he had murdered Todd in her autobiography, Black Knight, White Knight (DiCicco was the “Black Knight” of the title).

The Los Angeles DA’s department and a Grand Jury were unable to establish the true circumstances surrounding her death. The conjecture that surrounded it at the time, which has never been resolved, is an early example of what would become known as a conspiracy theory, with rumors and suppositions accepted as fact and widely divergent opinions given credence. The fact that her body was cremated caused theorists to conjecture that this had been done to destroy evidence and to prevent a second autopsy. However, by this time, authorities were satisfied with her official cause of death.

Her death certificate states her cause of death as accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. She was cremated and, after her mother’s death, her remains were placed in her mother’s casket and buried in Bellevue Cemetery in her hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

A segment of the History Channel series History’s Mysteries reported that Roland West actually confessed to the crime, in the manner stated in the first theory stated above, i.e. that he was trying to keep her from going to the next party. Although no legal action was taken against him, allegedly due to Hollywood’s elite closing ranks, West supposedly never worked again in Hollywood. Actually, West had forsworn making movies after the failure of his independently-made gangster movie Corsair, which starred Todd under an assumed name. By her death in 1935, he had been out of the business for three years. It wasn’t until 1951 that West made his confession (to actor Chester Morris).

A line of dialogue in the Marx Brothers film Monkey Business (1931) appears to predict Todd’s death. Alone with Todd in her cabin, Groucho Marx quips: “You’re a woman who’s been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten those brakes, but you’€™ll have to stay in the garage all night.” While the reference is nothing more than a coincidence, it is perceived by some fans as eerie in light of the events of her death.

Thelma Todd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6262 Hollywood Blvd.

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Filmography of Thelma Todd

Feature films of Thelma Todd

  • Fascinating Youth (1926)
  • God Gave Me Twenty Cents (1926)
  • Rubber Heels (1927)
  • Fireman, Save My Child (1927)
  • Nevada (1927)
  • The Shield of Honor (1927)
  • The Gay Defender (1927)
  • The Noose (1928)
  • Abie’s Irish Rose (1928)
  • Vamping Venus (1928)
  • Heart to Heart (1928)
  • The Crash (1928)
  • The Haunted House (1928)
  • Naughty Baby (1928)
  • Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)
  • Trial Marriage (1929)
  • House of Horror (1929)
  • The Bachelor Girl (1929)
  • Careers (1929)
  • Her Private Life (1929)
  • Her Man (1930)
  • No Limit (1931)
  • Command Performance (1931)
  • Swanee River (1931)
  • The Hot Heiress (1931)
  • Aloha (1931)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1931)
  • Broadminded (1931)
  • Monkey Business (1931)
  • Corsair (1931)
  • The Big Timer (1932)
  • This Is the Night (1932)
  • Horse Feathers (1932)
  • Speak Easily (1932)
  • Klondike (1932)
  • Deception (1932)
  • Call Her Savage (1932)
  • Air Hostess (1933)
  • Cheating Blondes (1933)
  • The Devil’s Brother (1933)
  • Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)
  • You Made Me Love You (1933)
  • Sitting Pretty (1933)
  • Son of a Sailor (1933)
  • Counsellor at Law (1933)
  • Palooka (1934)
  • Hips, Hips, Hooray! (1934)
  • The Poor Rich (1934)
  • Bottoms Up (1934)
  • Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934)
  • Take the Stand (1934)
  • Lightning Strikes Twice (1934)
  • After the Dance (1935)
  • Two for Tonight (1935)
  • The Bohemian Girl (1936)

Short Subjects of Thelma Todd

  • Players at Play (1929)
  • Unaccustomed As We Are (1929)
  • Hurdy Gurdy (1929)
  • Snappy Sneezer (1929)
  • Hotter Than Hot (1929)
  • Look Out Below (1929)
  • Crazy Feet (1929)
  • Sky Boy (1929)
  • Stepping Out (1929)
  • The Head Guy (1930)
  • The Real McCoy (1930)
  • The Fighting Parson (1930)
  • Whispering Whoopee (1930)
  • All Teed Up (1930)
  • The Shrimp (1930)
  • The King (1930)
  • Dollar Dizzy (1930)
  • Looser Than Loose (1930)
  • Another Fine Mess (1930)
  • High C’s (1930)
  • Chickens Come Home (1931)
  • The Pip from Pittsburgh (1931)
  • Love Fever (1931)
  • Rough Seas (1931)
  • Let’s Do Things (1931)
  • Catch As Catch Can (1931)
  • The Pajama Party (1931)
  • War Mamas (1931)
  • On the Loose (1931)
  • The Voice of Hollywood No. 13 (1932)
  • Seal Skins (1932)
  • The Nickel Nurser (1932)
  • Red Noses (1932)
  • Strictly Unreliable (1932)
  • The Old Bull (1932)
  • Show Business (1932)
  • Alum and Eve (1932)
  • The Soilers (1932)
  • Sneak Easily (1932)
  • Asleep in the Feet (1933)
  • Maids a la Mode (1933)
  • The Bargain of the Century (1933)
  • One Track Minds (1933)
  • Beauty and the Bus (1933)
  • Backs to Nature (1933)
  • Air Fright (1933)
  • Babes in the Goods (1934)
  • Soup and Fish (1934)
  • Maid in Hollywood (1934)
  • I’ll Be Suing You (1934)
  • Three Chumps Ahead (1934)
  • One Horse Farmers (1934)
  • Opened by Mistake (1934)
  • Done in Oil (1934)
  • Bum Voyage (1934)
  • Treasure Blues (1935)
  • Sing, Sister, Sing (1935)
  • The Tin Man (1935)
  • The Misses Stooge (1935)
  • Slightly Static (1935)
  • Twin Triplets (1935)
  • Hot Money (1935)
  • Top Flat (1935)
  • All-American Toothache (1936)

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