Family & Companions
A vivacious and sexy blonde who displayed sharp comic timing, Thelma Todd became an expert foil for comedians like the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and ZaSu Pitts, only to wind up dead under suspicious circumstances and have her name forever tied with scandal. Todd entered Hollywood during the silent era, when she appeared in a number of films like "Fascinating Youth" (1926) and "The Noose" (1928), but made an effortless transition to sound pictures with Marx Brothers comedies like "Monkey Business" (1931) and "Horse Feathers" (1932). She attempted to change her image with dramatic roles, acting under the name of Alison Lloyd in "Corsair" (1931) while appearing as Todd in the original version of "The Maltese Falcon" (1931). After some critical backlash from her change of pace, Todd returned to comedies with several shorts that starred ZaSu Pitts and later Patsy Kelly, and starred opposite Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in "Speak Easily" (1932). She had more prominent turns in "The Devil's Brother" (1933), "Hips, Hips, Hooray!" (1934) and "Two for Tonight" (1935). In December 1935, however, Todd's body was discovered in her car, which was parked in a garage, after having died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Though officially ruled a suicide, Todd's death was marred by suspicion of foul play and remained one of Hollywood's most elusive unsolved mysteries.
Born on July 29, 1905 in Lawrence, MA, Todd was raised by her father, Jim, and her mother, Bertha. A gifted student, she later began teaching grade school and intended that to be her life's pursuit until she began working part time as a fashion model. That led to Todd entering beauty pageants and eventually winning the title of Miss Massachusetts in 1925. It was during her reign that she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and began attending Paramount Picture's acting school in New York City. She entered the filmmaking business during the silent era with supporting roles in "Fascinating Youth" (1926) and "The Noose" (1928), and went on to make scores of films under the auspices of Hal Roach Studios with top comedy acts like Harry Langdon, and Laurel and Hardy. Todd also appeared in a number of two-reel comedies with ZaSu Pitts and later Patsy Kelly, which was seen as Roach's attempt to create a female Laurel and Hardy slapstick team. With the advent of talkies, Todd was given a wider array of opportunities and she was quick to display her comedic gifts. Meanwhile, she became involved with director Roland West and starred under the name of Alison Lloyd in his crime thriller "Corsair" (1931).
Branching out beyond comedy, Todd played the lover of Sam Spade (Ricardo Cortez) in the original version of "The Maltese Falcon" (1931), which director John Huston famously remade with Humphrey Bogart a decade later. But Todd was at her best in comedies like "Monkey Business" (1931) and "Horse Feathers" (1932), both of which starred the Marx Brothers. She next appeared with Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in the slapstick "Speak Easily" (1932), widely considered to be Keaton's best sound picture, and starred opposite Cary Grant in his film debut with the romantic comedy "This is the Night" (1932). The following year, Todd appeared in a number of comedies like "You Made Me Love You" (1933), the Laurel and Hardy vehicle "The Devil's Brother" (1933) and the musical comedy "Sitting Pretty" (1933), while also trying her hand at drama with William Wyler's "Counsellor at Law" (1933), starring John Barrymore. In 1934, the socially proficient Todd opened a successful restaurant in the Pacific Palisades, Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Café, while continuing to churn out comedies "Palooka" (1934), "Hips, Hips, Hooray!" (1934) and "Two for Tonight" (1935), with Bing Crosby and Joan Bennett.
On Dec. 16. 1935, after filming all the scenes for what became her final film, "The Bohemian Girl" (1936), Todd was found dead inside her car, which was parked inside her garage just up the road from her restaurant, which was near the home of lover Roland West's ex-wife, Jewel Carmen. The cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, which the Los Angeles Police Department first deemed an accident - they thought she was trying to heat up the car or keep herself warm. But a grand jury later discovered that Todd had been found with spots of blood on her mouth and in her car, which led to suspicions of foul play. It was further reported that Todd had a public spat with ex-husband, Pat DiCicco, who was described as an "agent," but was really mobster Lucky Luciano's right-hand man in Hollywood. Adding further fuel to the fire, Todd suffered a bitter divorce with DiCicco, with reports of physical abuse, while she was also the victim of an extortion attempt. In the end, the grand jury determined that Todd committed suicide, based on witness statements that she was subject to depression, and was in trouble with the IRS while on the verge of bankruptcy. Despite the official ruling, the Todd scandal remained a topic of debate and gossip. Meanwhile, the directors of "The Bohemian Girl" reshot her scenes with another actress and reduced her onscreen appearance to just one musical number. At the time of her death, Todd was 30 years old.
Cast (Feature Film)
Film debut in Paramount's acting school production, "Fascinating Youth"
Appeared under pseudonym Alison Lloyd in film "Corsair"
Last films for Roach, "An All-American Toothache" and "The Bohemian Girl"