She was “Hot Toddy”, and “The Ice Cream Blonde”. Film fans never would have guessed that the beautiful blond in the Marx Brothers films had mob ties that would eventually lead to her demise.
Thelma Todd was born on July 29, 1906. She started out as a teacher before winning “Miss Massachusetts” in 1925. It was here she was spotted by Hollywood talent scouts, and in 1927 she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. Her career began as the silent era was starting to die, and “talkies” were just starting to be produced. She was in a couple of short films before landing her first full-length feature Fascinating Youth (1927). She was in films of every genre, but is best known as a comedienne. She shared the screen with the biggest names in comedy including Laurel & Hardy, (“The Bohemian Girl” & “The Devil’s Brother”), and of course the Marx Brothers (“Horse Feathers” & “Monkey Business”).
With producer Roland West, (director of the great silent horror film “The Bat” go check it out its great), she decided to cash in on her famous name by opening Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, a nightclub/restaurant in Pacific Palisades. The cafe got its fair share of famous customers, but also attracted the criminal element. This criminal element was the mob, led by Lucky Luciano, who wanted Todd and her partner/boyfriend Roland West to sell the place to them. They wanted the place to turn it into an illegal casino, Todd and West refused to sell making enemies with the wrong people. One night Todd went out to party at another nightclub, the Trocadero on Sunset Boulevard, and when she was dropped off at 3:00 am, her driver reported she was “rather subdued.”
The next morning, December 16, 1935, Todd’s maid discovered her body in the garage slouched on the front seat of her Lincoln convertible. She was still dressed in her party clothes, a mink coat and evening dress, and there was blood on her face and clothing, her lip was bruised, her nose broken and a dental filling dislodged, but her make-up was perfect. The autopsy listed cause of death as suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. She was laid to rest in Bellevue Cemetery in Massachusetts.
The sad fact is with this case, is there many suspects:
1) Pasquale DiCicco-Thelma’s ex-husband who she had argued with that night at the Trocadero was angry that she was out partying, to teach her a lesson he locked her in the garage not realizing the motor was on.
2) Roland West– The famed director who was trying to end their relationship (quite a way to do it!!) Oddly enough I’ve read that West confessed on his deathbed, I think he was being a bit of a confessing Sam. However there are rumors of a cover up. Given the fact that all major studio bosses,(under the studio system), were corrupt enough to protect one of their directors even if he had killed somebody, it doesn’t explain how a protected director simply faded into obscurity.
3) Lucky Luciano- the famous mob boss who was trying to persuade Todd to turn part of her restaurant into an illegal casino. He’s my pick! One night at the Brown Derby, while talking about the casino, she screamed at him, “Over my dead body!” to which he replied, “That can be arranged.” She also was having an affair with him, oddly enough, and it was Lucky who got her addicted to amphetamines in order to keep her in line.
4) Another theory was that she committed suicide. Other than the fact that her career was going great, and she owned a popular restaurant, the trunk of her car was filled with Christmas presents-yeah that doesn’t really add up. Why would she go Christmas shopping then kill herself? This theory is a bit ridiculous to me.
“Life isn’t worth the candle. While we’re here we should laugh, be gay and have fun.”-Thelma Todd
Written by: Brian McTamaney 6/7/17