Thelma Todd

Thelma Alice Todd[1] (July 29, 1906 – December 16, 1935)[2] was an American actress often referred to by the nickname "The Ice Cream Blonde", also "Hot Toddy". Appearing in around 120 feature films and shorts between 1926 and 1935, she is best remembered for her comedic roles in films such as Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and Horse Feathers and a number of Charley Chase's short comedies. She co-starred with Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily. She also had roles in several Wheeler and Woolsey and Laurel and Hardy films, the last of which (The Bohemian Girl) featured her in a part that was truncated by her suspicious death in 1935 at the age of 29.

Thelma Todd
Todd, c. 1933
Thelma Alice Todd

(1906-07-29)July 29, 1906
DiedDecember 16, 1935(1935-12-16) (aged 29)
Cause of deathAccidental carbon monoxide poisoning or homicide
Other namesAlison Loyd
Years active1926–1935
Pat DiCicco
(m. 1932; div. 1934)

Early life

Todd was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts,[2] to John Shaw Todd, an upholsterer from Ireland,[3] and Alice Elizabeth Edwards, an immigrant from Canada.[4] She had an older brother, William.[5] She was a bright student who achieved good academic results. She intended to become a schoolteacher and enrolled at the Lowell Normal School (now University of Massachusetts, Lowell) after graduating from high school in 1923.[6] In her late teens, she began entering beauty pageants, winning the title of Miss Massachusetts in 1925.[6] While representing her home state, she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and began her career in film at Paramount.


During the silent film era, Todd appeared in numerous supporting roles that made full use of her beauty but gave her little chance to act. With the advent of the talkies, Todd was given opportunity to expand her roles when producer Hal Roach signed her to appear with such comedy stars as Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, and Laurel and Hardy.

In 1931, Roach cast Todd in her own series of slapstick comedy shorts, running 17 to 27 minutes each. In an attempt to create a female version of Laurel and Hardy, Roach teamed Todd with ZaSu Pitts for 17 shorts, from "Let's do Things" (June 1931) through "One Track Minds" (May 1933). When Pitts left in 1933, she was replaced by Patsy Kelly, appearing with Todd in 21 shorts, from "Beauty and the Bus" (September 1933) through "An All American Toothache" (January 1936). These Roach shorts often cast Todd as a levelheaded working girl having all sorts of problems and trying her best to remain poised and charming despite the embarrassing antics of her ditzy sidekick.

In 1931, Todd starred in Corsair, a film directed by Roland West, with whom she would later become romantically involved. [1][7]

Todd became highly regarded as a capable film comedian, and Roach loaned her out to other studios to play opposite Wheeler & Woolsey, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, and the Marx Brothers. She also appeared successfully in such dramas as the original 1931 film version of The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, in which she played Miles Archer's treacherous widow. During her career she appeared in around 120 feature films and shorts.

In August of 1934, Todd opened a successful cafe, Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe, at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in the Los Angeles coastal neighborhood of Pacific Palisades. It attracted a diverse clientele of Hollywood celebrities as well as many tourists.[8][9][10][11]

Todd continued her short-subject series through 1935 and was featured in the full-length Laurel and Hardy comedy The Bohemian Girl (1936 film). This was her last film; she died after completing all of her scenes, but most of them were re-shot. Producer Roach deleted all of Todd's dialogue and limited her appearance to one musical number.[13]


On the morning of Monday, 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.[14][15][16] Her death was determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. West is quoted in a contemporaneous newspaper account[17] 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 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.[18] She was driven home from the party in the early hours of December 15 by her chauffeur, Ernest O. Peters.[17]

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.[19] 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."[20] There are informal accounts of greater signs of injury.[21] The jury ruled that the death appeared to be accidental but recommended "further investigation to be made into the case, by proper authorities." [22]

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.[23] 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.[23]

Visitation was held at Pierce Brothers Mortuary at 720 West Washington Blvd in Los Angeles

Todd's body was cremated. After her mother's death in 1969, Todd's remains were placed in her mother's casket and buried in Bellevue Cemetery in her hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts.


For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Todd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6262 Hollywood Blvd.[24]

Selected filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1926 Fascinating Youth Lorraine Lane Silent
1927 Rubber Heels Princess Anne Silent
1927 Fireman, Save My Child Uncredited/Silent
1928 The Noose Phyllis Silent
1928 Abie's Irish Rose Part-talkie
1928 The Haunted House Silent
1929 Her Private Life Mrs. Leslie First full length talkie
1929 Seven Footprints to Satan Eve Produced as both a silent film and part-talkie
1929 Unaccustomed As We Are Mrs. Kennedy Short film
1929 House of Horror
1930 Her Man Nelly
1930 Another Fine Mess Lady Plumtree Short film
1931 Chickens Come Home Mrs. Hardy Short film
1931 No Limit Betty Royce
1931 The Maltese Falcon Iva Archer Alternative title: Dangerous Female
1931 Corsair Alison Corning Credited as Alison Loyd
1931 Monkey Business Lucille Briggs
1931 On the Loose Thelma Short subject
1931 Broadminded Gertie Gardner
1932 The Big Timer Kay Mitchell
1932 This Is the Night Claire
1932 Deception Lola Del Mont
1932 Horse Feathers Connie Bailey
1932 Speak Easily Eleanor Espere
1932 Call Her Savage Sunny De Lane
1933 You Made Me Love You Pamela Berne
1933 Fra Diavolo Lady Pamela Rocburg Alternative titles: Bogus Bandits
The Devil's Brother
1933 Sitting Pretty Gloria Duval
1933 Air Hostess Mrs. Carleton
1933 Mary Stevens, M.D. Lois Rising
1933 Counsellor at Law Lillian La Rue
1934 Palooka Trixie Alternative titles: Joe Palooka
The Great Schnozzle
1934 Hips, Hips, Hooray! Amelia Frisby
1934 Cockeyed Cavaliers Lady Genevieve
1934 Take the Stand Sally Oxford
1935 Two for Tonight Lilly
1936 The Bohemian Girl Gypsy queen's daughter

See also


  1. Erickson, Hal. "Thelma Todd". Archived from the original on 2015-12-22.
  2. "Almanac of Famous People". Biography in Context. 2011. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  3. 1910 United states Federal Census
  4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Pedigree Resource File," database,FamilySearch("Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-05-22. Retrieved 2016-06-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) : accessed 2016-06-09), entry for Thelma Alice /Todd/.
  5. 1910 United States Federal Census
  6. "In remembrance Thelma Todd on her would-be 107th birthday". Eagle-Tribune. Retrieved 2015-12-25.
  7. Wright, David (2002). Joyita: Solving the Mystery. Auckland University Press. p. 3. ISBN 1-86940-270-7.
  8. Wallace, David; Miller, Ann (2003). Hollywoodland. Macmillan. p. 21. ISBN 0-312-31614-3.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-12-08. Retrieved 2017-12-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. "Hollywood Historic Photos - Pacific Palisades 1931 #1". Archived from the original on 2017-12-08. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  11. "Hollywood Historic Photos - Pacific Palisades 1931 #2". Archived from the original on 2017-12-08. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  12. "Property that Housed Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Café Sold for $6 Million, Exclusive Look Inside". 2015-05-14. Archived from the original on 2016-11-04. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  13. Louvish, Simon (2002). Stan and Ollie, The Roots of Comedy: The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy. Macmillan. pp. 339. ISBN 0-312-26651-0.
  14. Donati, William (2014-01-10). The Life and Death of Thelma Todd. ISBN 9780786488179.
  15. "Property that Housed Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Café Sold for $6 Million, Exclusive Look Inside". 2015-05-14. Archived from the original on 2017-12-09. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
  16. "Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe - IAMNOTASTALKER".
  17. "Thelma Todd Feared Gangs". The Milwaukee Journal. Dec 18, 1935. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  18. Thelma Todd "Mysteries & Scandals" on YouTube
  19. Donati, William. The Life and Death of Thelma Todd. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012, p. 104.
  20. Donati, William. The Life and Death of Thelma Todd. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012, p. 368
  21. Morgan, Michelle (November 1, 2015). The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd. Chicago Review Press. pp. 211, 212. ISBN 9781613730386.
  22. Donati, William. The Life and Death of Thelma Todd. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012, p. 174
  23. Donati, William. The Life and Death of Thelma Todd. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012, p. 187
  24. "Thelma Todd". The Los Angeles Times. 17 December 1935. Archived from the original on 28 September 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2014.

Further reading

  • Marshall Croddy and Patrick Jenning (2016). Testimony of a Death. Redondo Beach, California: Bay City Press. ISBN 9781530498475.
  • Edmonds, Andy (1989). Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood's Most Sensational Murder. New York: William Morrow and Co. Inc. ISBN 0-688-08061-8.
  • James Robert Parish and William T. Leonard; Gregory W. Mank; Charles Hoyt (1979). The Funsters. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House. ISBN 0-87000-418-2.
  • Morgan, Michelle (2015). The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613730386.
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