|From||United States of America|
|Field||Film, TV, Stage & Radio|
|Birth||29 July 1906, Lawrence, Essex County, Massachusetts, U.S.A.|
|Death||16 December 1935, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California (aged 29 years)|
Thelma Alice Todd (July 29, 1906 – December 16, 1935) was an American actress. Appearing in about 120 pictures between 1926 and 1935, she is best remembered for her comedic roles in films such as Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, a number of Charley Chase's short comedies, and co-starring with Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily. She also had roles in Wheeler and Woolsey farces, several Laurel and Hardy films, the last of which (The Bohemian Girl) featured her in a part that was truncated by her suspicious death at the age of 29.
Todd was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts to John Shaw Todd, an upholsterer from Ireland, and Alice Elizabeth Edwards, an immigrant from Canada and was a bright student who achieved good academic results. She intended to become a school teacher and enrolled at the Lowell Normal School (now University of Massachusetts, Lowell) after graduating from high school in 1923. 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 at Paramount. She had an older brother, William.
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, Todd was given opportunity to expand her roles when producer Hal Roach signed her to appear with such comedy stars as Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, and Laurel and Hardy.
In 1931, Roach cast Todd in her own series of slapstick comedy shorts, running 17 to 27 minutes each. In an attempt to create a female version of Laurel and Hardy, Roach teamed Todd with ZaSu Pitts (pronounced "Zay-soo," also her character's name) 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, appearing with Todd in 21 shorts, from "Beauty and the Bus" (September 1933) through "An All American Toothache" (January 1936). These Roach shorts often cast Todd 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.
In 1931, Todd became romantically involved with director Roland West, and starred in his film, Corsair.
Todd became highly regarded as a capable film comedian, 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 starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, in which she played Miles Archer's treacherous widow. During her career she appeared in 119 films although many of these were short films, and was sometimes publicized as "The Ice Cream Blonde." In August 1934, she opened a successful cafe in the Los Angeles coastal neighborhood of 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 and Hardy comedy The Bohemian Girl. This was her last film; she died after completing all of her scenes, but most of them were re-shot. Producer Roach deleted all of Todd's dialogue and limited her appearance to one musical number.
On the morning of December 16, 1935, Thelma 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 as well as 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. At the restaurant, she had had a brief but unpleasant exchange with her ex-husband, Pat DiCicco. 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 her committing suicide. She was driven home from the party in the early hours of December 15 by her chauffeur, Ernest O. Peters.
The detectives of the LAPD 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 Todd's 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 to be accidental but recommended "further investigation to be made into the case, by proper authorities."
Subsequently a grand jury probe was held to determine whether Todd's death was a murder. After four weeks of testimony, the inquiry was closed with no evidence of murder being brought forward. The case was closed by the Homicide Bureau, which listed the death as "accidental with possible suicide tendencies." However, investigators were unable to find any motive for suicide or a suicide note.
Todd's 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.
|1926||Fascinating Youth||Lorraine Lane||Silent|
|1927||Rubber Heels||Princess Anne||Silent|
|1927||Fireman, Save My Child||Uncredited/Silent|
|1928||Noose, TheThe Noose||Phyllis||Silent|
|1928||Abie's Irish Rose||Part-talkie|
|1928||Haunted House, TheThe Haunted House||Silent|
|1929||Her Private Life||Mrs. Leslie||Lost film/First full length talkie|
|1929||Seven Footprints to Satan||Eve||Produced as both a silent film and part-talkie|
|1929||Unaccustomed As We Are||Mrs. Kennedy||Short film|
|1929||House of Horror|
|1930||Another Fine Mess||Lady Plumtree||Short film|
|1931||Chickens Come Home||Mrs. Hardy||Short film|
|1931||No Limit||Betty Royce|
|1931||Maltese Falcon, TheThe Maltese Falcon||Iva Archer||Alternative title: Dangerous Female|
|1931||Corsair||Alison Corning||Credited as Alison Loyd|
|1931||Monkey Business||Lucille Briggs|
|1931||On the Loose||Thelma||Short subject|
|1932||Big Timer, TheThe Big Timer||Kay Mitchell|
|1932||This Is the Night||Claire|
|1932||Deception||Lola Del Mont|
|1932||Horse Feathers||Connie Bailey|
|1932||Speak Easily||Eleanor Espere|
|1932||Call Her Savage||Sunny De Lane|
|1933||You Made Me Love You||Pamela Berne|
|1933||Fra Diavolo||Lady Pamela Rocburg||Alternative titles: Bogus Bandits
The Devil's Brother
|1933||Sitting Pretty||Gloria Duval|
|1933||Air Hostess||Mrs. Carleton|
|1933||Mary Stevens, M.D.||Lois Rising|
|1933||Counsellor at Law||Lillian La Rue|
|1934||Palooka||Trixie||Alternative titles: Joe Palooka
The Great Schnozzle
|1934||Hips, Hips, Hooray!||Amelia Frisby|
|1934||Cockeyed Cavaliers||Lady Genevieve|
|1935||Two for Tonight||Lilly|
|1936||Bohemian Girl, TheThe Bohemian Girl||Gypsy queen's daughter||With Darla Hood|