Saturday, May 9, 2009

Thelma Todd (1905-1935)

(Colorized by Lolita)

Yet another sad Hollywood fate.
Thelma Todd was an American actress, best remembered for her comedic parts in the Marx Brother's films Horse Feathers (1932) and Monkey Business (1931). Although her life was ended tragically and mysteriously at the age of 30, she appeared in no less than 115 films.

Thelma Todd was born in late July, 1905, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. As a young woman she was a bright and successful student, who aimed to be a school teacher. She did however in her late teens attend beauty contests, and in 1925 she won the title of Miss Massachusetts. It was while presenting her home state in the competition that a Hollywood talent scout spotted her and presented her to the film industry.

During the silent era Thelma got many parts, exposing her beauty rather than getting the chance to act, and became famous among audiences as The Ice Cream Blonde. Among friends she was nicknamed Hot Toddy, a name she from time to time used when writing autographs.
When the talkies started to take over the film industry, Thelma's acting was more taken advantage of. She became a famous comedienne, working with comedians like Laurel & Hardy, Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, Buster Keaton, Wheeler & Woolsey, Joe E. Brown - not to mention The Marx Brothers.

Scene: Thelma and Buster Keaton are drunk in Speak Easily (1932). Buster seems a little troubled.

Hot Toddy and Charley Chase in Crazy Feet (1929).

Thelma Todd seduces Groucho Marx in Horse Feathers (1932). (Colorized by Lolita)

In 1931 producer Hal Roach teamed Thelma up with ZaSu Pitts in an attempt to make a female slapstick comedy couple like Laurel & Hardy. In 1933 Pitts was replaced by Patsy Kelly.

Thelma and ZaSu Pitts in On the Loose (1931)

Thelma and Patsy Kelly in Air Fright (1933). (Where does Patsy have her hands...?)

Even though Thelma obviously had a talent for comedy, she also starred in several dramas, like the 1931 pre-code version of The Maltese Falcon (re-filmed with a less "lewd" content in 1941).
The same year Thelma was hired by director Roland West (with whom she had an affair) for a gangster epic called Corsair. To remove the air of slapstick from his heroine he re-named her Alison Lloyd. The film was, however, a flop at the box office.
During this time Thelma also proved to be a smart business woman by the opening of her own café, called Thelma Todd Sidewalk Café, popular among Hollywood celebrities and tourists.

As the treacherous widow Iva Archer in The Maltese Falcon.

Thelma/Alison with Chester Morris in Corsair.

The next year, 1932, Thelma eloped with an Italian playboy named Pasquale "Pat" DiCicco - nicknamed "The Glamour Boy of Hollywood". This was the beginning of the end for Thelma.
Pat was reportedly linked to the famous gangster "Lucky" Luciano, and his relationship with Thelma was very turbulent. At one point Thelma had to be taken to a hospital for an emergency appendectomy after one of his beatings. Thelma began drinking heavily, and after having bumped into too many cars while drinking and driving, the studio chose to pay for a chauffeur.
DiCicco and Todd divorced in 1934.

Pat DiCicco watches Thelma putting on some lipstick.

Thelma's last film appearance was in Laurel & Hardy's full-length feature The Bohemian Girl (1936). She died after completing all of her scenes, but many of them had to be re-shot. Producer Hal Roach decided to limit the scenes Thelma was in, worrying for bad publicity after her death.

Thelma in her last role as "The gypsy queen's daughter" in The Bohemian Girl. (Colorized by Lolita)

One morning, in the middle of December 1935, Thelma was found dead in her car inside the garage of Jewel Carmen, a former actress and ex-wife to Thelma's former lover Roland West. Carmen's apartment was situated one block away from the topmost side of Todd's restaurant.
Her death was determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, and was labelled as a suicide. There are however a lot of circumstances that points in another directions, and up to this day the case is still unsolved.
For one thing, Thelma's friends had never seen her depressed or acting in any way that would worry about a suicide. Another, very interesting, fact is that besides celebrities and tourists, underworld gangsters also was attracted to Thelma's nightclub café. There is a theory that they were trying to take over the club, and that Thelma by refusing got very dangerous enemies.
Another strange thing about Thelma's death was what was found in her stomach during the autopsy - peas. Nothing strange about that, if it weren't for the fact that they didn't serve any peas at the party she had attended during that night. Also - her make up was perfect, except for her lipstick that was smudged.

Thelma as she was found dead in the garage.

The police carrying Thelma's body away.

Another theory is that Thelma's ex-lover Roland West, known to have been very possessive about her, had gone frustrated about Thelma's social life and many friends, and had locked her into the garage. According to that theory the death was accidental.
There are a whole lot of other theories, but the question is if any of them are nearer the truth than those I've already mentioned.

"You're a woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night."

Groucho Marx to Thelma Todd in Monkey Business

In her will, Thelma left all her money to her mother - and one dollar to DeCicco.
The D.A. who closed Thelma's case shot himself in 1973.

Some more photos of "Hot Toddy" I've colorized.


Kate Gabrielle said...

What a sad story. I love her in the Patsy Kelly team-ups.. I wish they showed them more on TCM.

Great job again on the colorization! It would be so neat if you did one with every post :)

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Yeah, never marry the maffia...

Oh, great idea! I should hire you to hatch blog ideas for me ;)

Christopher said...

nice cOlOr PIT'chers!:o)..of HOT TODDY!,the ice cream
I used to have some of her short comedies with zazu pitts and patsy kelly on super 8mm film..I like the ones with Patsy Kelly better.a couple of them Air Tight and Top Flat(where they have a wild party and the drunk guests drop water bombs off the balcony on people below)are hysterical...

Keith said...

She's amazing. Great writeup on her. I loved the photos. I hope you've had a wonderful weekend. Cheers!

Kate Gabrielle said...

Hi Lolita! I just got the Friendly Blogger Award and passed it on to you on my blog-- you can swing by to pick up the image :)

Anonymous said...

Here are two rare photos of Thelma, literally half the woman she used to be. Well, let me explain...

In 1930, Hal Roach did a Laurel & Hardy short called "Brats," where they played child versions of themselves on oversized sets. Thelma dropped by and had some fun on the set:


Lolita said...

Ah, lovely, thank you! But I think you linked twice to the same picture...

Anonymous said...


Here's the other pic of the "downsized" Thelma:

Lolita said...

Haha, easily done! Thanks a lot, funny and adorable photos!

Anonymous said...

Aah, she was gorgeous! Have you seen this clip from Wheeler & Wolsey's Hips Hips Hooray

Thelma seems to enjoy every second of it, and who wouldn't? The song (by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby) is apparently a left-over from Duck Soup and I keep imagining Zeppo and Groucho performing it with Thelma (who should have played Vera Marcal) and some other hot girl (like Ruth Hall from Monkey Business). First Zeppo and Ruth, then Groucho and Thelma.

BTW, I like your blog a lot. Och det är extra kul att konstatera att vi är landsmän/landsmaninnor!

/Mikael Uhlin @

Lolita said...

Mikael Uhlin:
Oh, that was a nice song! Had not heard it before. It's not hard to guess who Zeppo and who Groucho would be! Thelma is adorable.

Thanks a lot! Ja, det är verkligen skoj! Har inte sett den Marx-hemsidan förut, den ska jag hålla koll på! ;)

Lya de Putti said...

Wonderful pictures Lolita - hope you don't mind but I've featured one on my blog today with a credit to you. Clever you colourizing the pics - they are beautiful! LDP x

Collin said...

most beautifull woman in the world !
thanks for this

edmonds said...

Please remove the photo of Todd and DiCicco at the restaurant. It was lifted from my book HOT TODDY. The photo was cropped so Thelma's notes along the edges were removed, but the phoro was pesonal. not a publicity shot, and there is only my original copy. If you lifted it, please stop. If you purchased it, please tell whomever you bought it from that it is copyrighted. The other ohoto of her in the nightie also was in my book, but a publicity shot. Thank you. Andy Edmonds

Lotten said...

I found the photo on the Internet, so your photograph (you have the sole rights to it?) is probably doing its rounds now, and it won't be able to stop. Let people enjoy it, that's what freedom on the Internet is all about. After all, I don't claim to own the photo myself.

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