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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.