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Wednesday, March 3, 2010


The lexicon of movie stars gets longer and longer every day (though some may argue that, these days, the title is applied too liberally). As our collective history gets more and more jam-packed, we dispense with the ever-increasing data to make room in our brains for future information. So, while we may maintain Lillian Gish, we lose Mae Marsh; we hold tightly to Garbo, but kick Pola Negri to the curb. But these ladies of cinema trivia are not trivial, and should be remembered. Which is why, just as we revere glamour girl Jean Harlow, so too should we pay homage to her platinum predecessor: Ice Cream Blonde Thelma Todd.

Today, Thelma Todd is remembered for two reasons: she was a supporting lady in the Marx Brothers' comedies, and she died a mysterious death. But Thelma was much more than some "bit player" and was a comedic phenomenon in her own right. Discovered after winning the Miss Massachusetts Beauty Contest-- which she did NOT want to enter-- she found herself in Hollywood starring opposite legends like Laurel and Hardy and Charley Chase. Her natural talent and immediate likability made her an instant star. Too beautiful and funny to be stuck in the background, she effortlessly drew the audience's attention. Before long, she was partnered up with Zasu Pitts and later Patsy Kelly in female buddy films. This was really saying something in a genre where men were always given the lead and women were an afterthought, generally only there to move the plot along.

Sadly, her luminosity is clouded by her macabre death. On Dec. 16, 1935, Thelma was found dead in the garage above her Pacific Palisades restaurant: Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe. Hastily ruled a suicide, the police at first didn't even pretend to investigate-- she had died of carbon monoxide poisoning, case closed. However, the bruises on her face raised questions, and her disbelieving mother and friends got the media in a tizzy, so DA Buron Fitts was forced to order an investigation. It was commonly known that Thelma was linked to the downright evil Lucky Luciano, and there was a lot of evidence implicating his involvement, yet the finger of blame was never placed upon him. Witnesses were bullied into keeping their mouths shut, and while Roland West, Thelma's ex-paramour and business partner, was temporarily used as a scapegoat, no real evidence could be found against him. Her death was finally ruled "accidental." In one fell swoop, Thelma and her place in the public consciousness was killed.

The thing that makes Thelma's overshadowed career the most tragic is that she was just plain fun! Watching her movies, you wish you had known her personally and could kick back and laugh it up with her. To her friends, she was the kindest and warmest pal they could ask for. Humble, utterly lacking in vanity, witty as they come, and girlishly vulnerable, hers is an endearing soul that continues to draw viewers in long after her untimely demise. Goofy and not afraid to make an ass of herself, Thelma still maintained her beauty and sex appeal. She was the whole package and a true gift to all of us. Since laughter is the best medicine, I think we could all do with a dose of Hot Toddy! Cheers!!!

 With Grouch Marx in Monkey Business

RIP, Lady Love...


  1. Great stuff, and TT was definitely one of the brightest talents of the thirties. The shorts she made with Pitts and Kelly are really fascinating and enjoyable.

  2. Meredith, you did a great job of calling attention to Thelma. As you said in the beginning it’s difficult to keep focus on all the stars. One day I’m into Marion Davies then, the next day Ann Sheridan. But you really brought light to Thelma in a way I never saw. thank you

  3. sorry Meredith, but I was logged into a business associate Linda’s gmail and her comment was really me! lol

  4. Matt: I agree. I really came to adore Thelma while researching her this last month. What an underrated woman. Her premature death is tragic.

    Billy: You are silly! And thanks as always!

  5. True Goddess

    thank u so much for this

  6. You're welcome, Collin. Glad you enjoyed. She was quite a gal :)