Born 1906 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, American actress Thelma Alice Todd apeared in about 120 pictures between 1926 and 1935, she is best remembered for her comedic roles in films such as Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, and 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 and 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.
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.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Todd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6262 Hollywood Blvd.
Take a look at these glamorous photos to see the beauty of Thelma Todd in the 1920s and 1930s.