Today is the 116th birthday of the actress and subject of a Hollywood unsolved mystery Thelma Todd. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Thelma Todd
DATE OF BIRTH: 29-Jul-1905
PLACE OF BIRTH: Lawrence, MA
DATE OF DEATH: 16-Dec-1935
PLACE OF DEATH: Pacific Palisades, CA
CAUSE OF DEATH: Accident – Misc
REMAINS: Buried, Bellevue Cemetery, Lawrence, MA
FATHER: John Todd
MOTHER: Alice Edwards
HUSBAND: Pasquale DiCicco (m. 1932, div. 1934)
BOYFRIEND: Roland West (film director)
Miss Massachusetts 1925
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6230 Hollywood Blvd.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Thelma Alice Todd was an American actress and businesswoman who was often referred to by the nicknames “The Ice Cream Blonde” and “Hot Toddy”.
Todd was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts to John Shaw Todd, an upholsterer from Ireland, and Alice Elizabeth Edwards, an immigrant from Canada. She had an older brother, William, who died in an accident in 1910. She was a bright and successful student. Intending to become a schoolteacher, she enrolled at the Lowell Normal School (now University of Massachusetts, Lowell) after graduating from high school in 1923. She began entering beauty pageants in her late teens, and in 1925 won the title of Miss Massachusetts. While representing her home state, she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and began her film career at Paramount.
During the silent film era, Todd 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, she was able to expand her roles when producer Hal Roach signed her to appear with comedy stars such as Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, and Laurel and Hardy.
In 1931, Roach cast Todd in her own series of 17-to-27-minute slapstick comedy shorts. Attempt to create a female version of Laurel and Hardy, Roach teamed Todd with ZaSu Pitts for 17 shorts, from “Let’s do Things” (June 1931) through “One Track Minds” (May 1933). When Pitts left in 1933, she was replaced by Patsy Kelly, who appeared with Todd in 21 shorts, from “Beauty and the Bus” (September 1933) through “An All American Toothache” (January 1936). These shorts often cast Todd as a levelheaded working girl doing her best to remain poised and charming despite numerous problems and her ditzy sidekick’s embarrassing antics.
In 1931, Todd starred in Corsair, a film directed by Roland West, with whom she become romantically involved.
Todd became highly regarded as a capable film comedian, and Roach loaned her to other studios to play opposite Wheeler & Woolsey, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, and the Marx Brothers. She also successfully appeared in dramas, such as the original 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, where she played Miles Archer’s treacherous widow. She appeared in around 120 feature films and shorts in her career.
In August 1934, Todd opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in the Los Angeles coastal neighborhood of Pacific Palisades. It attracted a diverse clientele of Hollywood celebrities, and many tourists.
Todd continued her short-subject series through 1935 and was featured in the full-length Laurel and Hardy comedy The Bohemian Girl. It was her last role before her untimely death at age 29. Although she had completed all of her scenes, producer Roach had them re-shot, fearing negative publicity. He deleted all of Todd’s dialogue, and limited her appearance to one musical number.
On the morning of Monday, December 16, 1935, Todd was found dead in her car inside the garage of Jewel Carmen, a former actress and former wife of Todd’s lover and 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. West is quoted in a contemporaneous newspaper account as having locked her out, which may have caused her to seek refuge and warmth in the car. Todd had a wide circle of friends and associates and a busy social life.
Police investigations revealed that she had spent the previous Saturday night (December 14) at the Trocadero, a popular Hollywood restaurant, at a party hosted by entertainer Stanley Lupino and his actress daughter Ida. She had a brief but unpleasant exchange there with her ex-husband, Pat DiCicco. However, her friends stated that she was in good spirits and were aware of nothing in her life that suggested a reason for her to commit suicide. She was driven home from the party in the early hours of December 15 by her chauffeur, Ernest O. Peters.
LAPD detectives concluded that Todd’s death was accidental, the result of her either warming up the car to drive it or using the heater to keep herself warm. A coroner’s inquest into the death was held on December 18, 1935. Autopsy surgeon A. P. Wagner testified that there were “no marks of violence anywhere upon or within the body” with only a “superficial contusion on the lower lip.” There are informal accounts of greater signs of injury. The jury ruled that the death appeared accidental, but recommended “further investigation to be made into the case, by proper authorities.”
A grand jury probe was subsequently held to determine whether Todd was murdered. After four weeks of testimony, the inquiry concluded with no evidence of foul play. The case was closed by the Homicide Bureau, which declared the death “accidental with possible suicide tendencies.” However, investigators found no motive for suicide, and Todd left no suicide note.
Todd’s memorial service was held at Pierce Brothers Mortuary at 720 West Washington Blvd in Los Angeles. The body was cremated. After her mother’s death in 1969, Todd’s remains were placed in her mother’s casket and buried in Bellevue Cemetery in her hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Todd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6262 Hollywood Blvd.
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Bohemian Girl (14-Feb-1936)
Cockeyed Cavaliers (29-Jun-1934)
Hips, Hips, Hooray! (2-Feb-1934) · Amelia Frisby
Son of a Sailor (23-Dec-1933)
Counsellor at Law (7-Dec-1933)
Sitting Pretty (24-Nov-1933)
Mary Stevens, M.D. (22-Jul-1933) · Lois
The Devil’s Brother (5-May-1933)
Air Hostess (15-Jan-1933) · Mrs. Carleton
Call Her Savage (24-Nov-1932)
Speak Easily (13-Aug-1932) · Eleanor Espere
Horse Feathers (10-Aug-1932) · Connie Bailey
This Is the Night (8-Apr-1932) · Claire
Monkey Business (19-Sep-1931) · Lucille
The Maltese Falcon (13-Jun-1931) · Iva
The Hot Heiress (28-Mar-1931)
Another Fine Mess (29-Nov-1930)
Follow Thru (27-Sep-1930)
The Noose (29-Jan-1928)