Thelma Todd

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
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drednm
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Thelma Todd

Unread post by drednm » Fri Apr 26, 2013 7:52 pm

The hugely likable Thelma Todd died in 1935, usually noted as being "at the height of her popularity," yet look at the lousy films she was in. From 1926 til her death she was in something like 115 films. But a lot of these films were 2-reelers. In most of the features she was a supporting player. When she was the star, the films were usually for poverty row productions. Despite being a very attractive player, I don't see the resume to back up the rather inflated reputation she has. I don't see one A production where she was the star.

Tonight I labored through the hideous Cheating Blondes (1933) in which she starred as twin sisters. The 66-minute film was cut to 48 minutes on this Alpha Video release. There might have been a decent film here but who could tell? Todd sings (rather badly) one number. Supporting cast includes Inez Courtney, Ralf Harolde (playing Lee Tracy), Mae Busch, and Milton Wallis (playing Harry Green).

By the time of her death, Todd had failed to achieve anything close to the stardom of contemporaries who started in silents like Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Jean Arthur, Jean Harlow, Alice White, Loretta Young, etc.

Is Todd's glowing reputation more tied to her unfortunate death than her actual film work?
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by bobfells » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:32 pm

Pretty much my thoughts on Thelma too. Paramount seemed to be grooming her in late silents such as ARIZONA (1927) opposite Gary Cooper. But she seemed too statuesque or something to be convincing as the love interest, and regardless, Paramount didn't pursue it. While she is admired for her tenure with Hal Roach, that would have been considered a step down from Paramount. She did work for the majors in the sound era, most notably at Paramount for the Marx Bros.' MONKEY BUSINESS and HORSE FEATURES, and at MGM in Keaton's SPEAK EASILY, but not leading lady type roles. I agree that her death gave her a kind of post mortem "career boost" in the sense that "rising star cut short" makes a better story than "fading star found dead."
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by entredeuxguerres » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:39 pm

True, true, all too pitifully true, that she appeared in numerous "lousy films" (such as those with The Pitts). Not her, but her incompetant manager, should have been murdered, because she deserved far better--can anyone who's seen This Is the Night doubt it? Or, if not badly managed (by no means unheard of in H'wood), had she earned a reputation for being unreliable, temperamental, difficult to work with? Despite the second- or third-rate material she was too often stuck in, I still think she's delightful...and I never knew anything about her untimely end until long after I'd formed this opinion.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by entredeuxguerres » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:54 pm

bobfells wrote: But she seemed too statuesque or something to be convincing as the love interest, and regardless, Paramount didn't pursue it.
Wise move by Paramount, as "love interests" are a dime a dozen. Thelma was a natural & superb comic.

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Thelma Todd

Unread post by JFK » Fri Apr 26, 2013 9:22 pm

drednm wrote:
By the time of her death, Todd had failed to achieve anything close to the stardom of contemporaries who started in silents like Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Jean Arthur, Jean Harlow, Alice White, Loretta Young, etc.
Is Todd's glowing reputation more tied to her unfortunate death than her actual film work?

No, her glowing reputation was one well-earned, especially for her work in the
Roach, Marx, and Wheeler & Woolsey films.
It is not only the unfortunate death,
but also, the lost potential, that resonate.
Todd was an "aging" 29, but still, younger than Loy, Arthur, and White;
the next few years might have held a late-blooming feature film stardom for her
entredeuxguerres wrote: Not her, but her incompetant manager, should have been murdered, because she deserved far better--can anyone who's seen This Is the Night doubt it?

Yes. The Roach two-reelers (and contract) that allowed Todd to showcase some of her talents, at the same time left other, more-established, studios little time or incentive to build a feature film career around her.
De-camping to England for a film http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/439925/,
and billing herself as "Alison Lloyd" for Corsair ,
are other examples of bad career advice.
Last edited by JFK on Fri Apr 26, 2013 10:06 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by silentfilm » Fri Apr 26, 2013 9:36 pm

She was able to hold her own as a comedy foil against Groucho, Wheeler and Woolsey, Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase and Zasu Pitts. Yes, freelancing between studios probably hurt her star buildup, but it gave her many more film appearances. It's a shame that she didn't live longer, as she would have livened up many more comedies in the 1940s and maybe even TV shows in the 1950s.

Image
Thelma Todd and Charlie Murray in Vamping Venus (1928).

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by Richard Finegan » Sat Apr 27, 2013 12:14 am

drednm wrote:
Tonight I labored through the hideous Cheating Blondes (1933) in which she starred as twin sisters. The 66-minute film was cut to 48 minutes on this Alpha Video release. There might have been a decent film here but who could tell? Todd sings (rather badly) one number. Supporting cast includes Inez Courtney, Ralf Harolde (playing Lee Tracy), Mae Busch, and Milton Wallis (playing Harry Green).
The film wasn't exactly "cut to 48 minutes" deliberately, but is copied from the only known 16mm print that was missing a reel (or two).

Here is a scene from one of the missing reels:
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Cheating Blondes (1933) - Thelma Todd, Inez Courtney (large).jpg
Cheating Blondes (1933) - Thelma Todd, Inez Courtney (large).jpg (164.44 KiB) Viewed 9199 times

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Re: Thelma Todd - Cheating Blondes (1933)

Unread post by Richard Finegan » Sat Apr 27, 2013 12:44 am

drednm wrote: Tonight I labored through the hideous Cheating Blondes (1933) in which she starred as twin sisters. The 66-minute film was cut to 48 minutes on this Alpha Video release. There might have been a decent film here but who could tell? Todd sings (rather badly) one number. Supporting cast includes Inez Courtney, Ralf Harolde (playing Lee Tracy), Mae Busch, and Milton Wallis (playing Harry Green).
I agree it was pretty hideous...but still I was delighted and thrilled to finally get the chance to see a rare Thelma title for which I'd been searching for decades.
Some interesting folks spotted in the supporting cast: in addition to Mae Busch, at least three other Hal Roach Studios regulars turning up unbilled: Lyle Tayo, Harry Bernard, and Bobby Burns.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sat Apr 27, 2013 1:08 am

(sighs, looks at watch)

OK, to begin with, Thelma Todd didn't "freelance", she was under personal contract to Hal Roach from 1929 onward after Paramount dumped her and he made a nice chunk of change (way nicer than Thelma ever got) leasing her services to every studio that wanted her no matter what the role or studio for that matter, all this while using her in support of all his own comedians, then putting her in her own series of two-reelers teamed with Zasu Pitts and later,Patsy Kelly. Though he was concerned about her work in his own comedies, Roach really cared nothin about her career outside of the Lot of Fun, and worked her into the ground on loanouts, pocketing the cash, and paying her her weekly contracted salary regardless of how much he made off her. Thats why she's doing MONKEY BUSINESS with the Marx Brothers one week, then a walk-on in something like THE MALTESE FALCON with Ricardo Cortez the next, then KLONDIKE for Monogram the next. She had no say in what she did, she just went and did it. Her friend Roland West tried to help her break through with CORSAIR, even changing her name to Alison Loyd because the name ThelmaTodd was already associated in the Public's mind with comedy, but it was too little too late, and Thelma couldn't get out from under her contract with Roach.

If you feel the need to denigrate her talents, presence, and vivacity because she didn't have "A feature" creds, it just shows how little you know once again, because her immortality has been assured because of those lowly two-reelers you turn your snobbish noses at, this incredibly beautiful woman holds her own with some of the best comedians of all time with her own looks, abilities, and great comedy timing and when audiences see her in those, she is indelible in their memories, and always will be, and even when one sees something like CHEATING BLONDES, all you remember is her. Thats why she was money in the bank for Roach, who basically exploited her and a number of the other actresses he had under "personal" contract, he had great taste in women, you had to admit at least that.

Stick with your Jeanette MacDonalds and Lawrence Tibbetts boys, their pomposity suits yours and they're more your speed. The rest of us will happily continue to laugh, love, and lust after Thelma who'll still be wowin' them long after your gone.


RICHARD M ROBERTS (Oh, and if you really need that A Picture that justifies her reputation even to your uninformed standards, it's YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (1933) that teams her with Stanley Lupino in a charming modern re-do of TAMING OF THE SHREW. She absolutely sparkles in that one, and was never lovelier.)

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by drednm » Sat Apr 27, 2013 4:57 am

Richard Finegan wrote:
drednm wrote:
Tonight I labored through the hideous Cheating Blondes (1933) in which she starred as twin sisters. The 66-minute film was cut to 48 minutes on this Alpha Video release. There might have been a decent film here but who could tell? Todd sings (rather badly) one number. Supporting cast includes Inez Courtney, Ralf Harolde (playing Lee Tracy), Mae Busch, and Milton Wallis (playing Harry Green).
The film wasn't exactly "cut to 48 minutes" deliberately, but is copied from the only known 16mm print that was missing a reel (or two).

Here is a scene from one of the missing reels:
Yes thanks. That makes more sense since the entire "story" of the one sister taking over for the other in the show is gone. Otherwise the missing pieces seemed smaller. If this poverty row production (Equitable Motion Picture Corp) looked liked a decent showcase for Todd but otherwise pretty grim. Mae Busch looked awful. I never spotted Edna Murphy but she was probably among the neighbors or in the lost footage.

I have a copy of Todd's Klondike from 1932, which might fare better.....

So other than The Bohemian Girl, which was released after he death, her last feature looks to be Two for Tonight at Paramount in 1932m another supporting role with Bing Crosby, Joan Bennett, Lynne Overman, Mary Boland.
Has anyone seen it?
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Thelma Todd Biographies...and Recordings(?)

Unread post by JFK » Sat Apr 27, 2013 5:20 am

I found the two Todd bios to be poorly written, insufficiently researched, and obsessively focused on her death instead of her films. Most of the brief "interviews" in the more recent bio ("In the course of his exhaustive research, the author interviewed Todd's cousins Bill and Edna Todd, as well as such friends and coworkers as Ida Lupino, Lina Basquette, Anita Garvin, Dorothy Granger, William Bakewell and Greg Blackton.") give the appearance of having been Todd-related observations snipped from lengthier, unrelated chats. It would be interesting if the still-living Gloria Vanderbilt had anything new to add (she was once wed to Todd's brutal ex-husband Pat DiCicco).

Has anyone heard, or does anyone know much about, some pressings/recordings Todd might have made?
Click this tiny link for recording info
http://books.google.com/books?id=YpWIfG ... &q&f=false

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by bobfells » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:18 am

Thelma did nice work in L&H's FRA DIAVALO (1933) trying to make the foppish Dennis King seem sexy. Her character as Mrs. Hardy in CHICKENS COME HOME (1931) offered a persona that a producer might have carried to other films. There she's chic, sexy and funny. Did she play other roles like that one?
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by entredeuxguerres » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:46 am

Richard M Roberts wrote:Stick with your Jeanette MacDonalds and Lawrence Tibbetts boys, their pomposity suits yours and they're more your speed. The rest of us will happily continue to laugh, love, and lust after Thelma who'll still be wowin' them long after your gone.
What a false & nonsensical opposition--great singers vs. great comics--as if a taste for one precluded appreciation for the other. I (along with many of "the rest of us") have no trouble at all laughing, loving, and lusting after Thelma tonight and Jeanette tomorrow, or vice versa. (And Lubitsch, who knew something about the subject, thought Jeanette capable of comedy, though I wouldn't rank her with Thelma.) It's true Jeanette took her singing rather seriously, and cultivated the improvement of it when it really wasn't necessary for her film career, if that's what you choose to call "pomposity," but Tibbett has to be the very least pompous great singer who ever lived, never taking himself as seriously as his giant talent deserved.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by entredeuxguerres » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:55 am

bobfells wrote:Thelma did nice work in L&H's FRA DIAVALO (1933) trying to make the foppish Dennis King seem sexy. Her character as Mrs. Hardy in CHICKENS COME HOME (1931) offered a persona that a producer might have carried to other films. There she's chic, sexy and funny. Did she play other roles like that one?
Haven't seen either of these, alas, but I think she's "chic, sexy and funny" in every film of hers I've seen.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by bobfells » Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:04 am

entredeuxguerres wrote:
bobfells wrote:Thelma did nice work in L&H's FRA DIAVALO (1933) trying to make the foppish Dennis King seem sexy. Her character as Mrs. Hardy in CHICKENS COME HOME (1931) offered a persona that a producer might have carried to other films. There she's chic, sexy and funny. Did she play other roles like that one?
Haven't seen either of these, alas, but I think she's "chic, sexy and funny" in every film of hers I've seen.
Generally speaking, yes. I meant in the sense that she's not the seductress or "other woman" type.
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by LouieD » Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:13 am

Richard M Roberts wrote:Oh, and if you really need that A Picture that justifies her reputation even to your uninformed standards, it's YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (1933) that teams her with Stanley Lupino in a charming modern re-do of TAMING OF THE SHREW. She absolutely sparkles in that one, and was never lovelier.
I'll second that, it's a wonderful picture and she's in TOP form!

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by boblipton » Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:15 am

Another weird thread.

While Thelma Todd never reached the upper heights of Hollywood stardom, how many did? Stardom, after all, is a weird confluence of talent, chance and, during the Studio period, marketing. Miss Todd never hit the spot in terms of what Paramount was looking for, but I never saw her in a movie in which she failed to be an utter delight, whether being climbed upon by all the Marx Brothers or wrangling with Charley Chase. There's not a movie I have ever seen that wasn't better for her being in it. Would I have liked to have seen her get bigger and better roles in major productions and the financial rewards that went with it? Sure. However, I'm happy with what we've got. This industry is full of people who never got any chance whatever or whose careers were cut short. I just wish that people would stop pissing and moaning instead of being pleased for what we've got.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by momsne » Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:50 am

When Thelma Todd died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1935, Thelma Todd was only 29 and had appeared in 119 movies and shorts from 1926 to 1936 (according to IMDb). Her movie career is eclipsed by the circumstances of her death. Just like the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, another blonde haired actress, the cause of Todd's death is in dispute by some decades after her death. "Hot Toddy," Andy Edmonds' 1989 book on "The True Story of Hollywood's Most Sensational Murder," deals with Todd's career in Hollywood and her untimely death.

The investigation of Todd's death reminds me of the Seinfeld episode "The Visa," when Babu Bhatt is describing to a friend how he wound up back in Pakistan. "[Seinfeld] said the wheels were in motion, but there was no motion. There was nothing, and so they sent me back here." Just as in the earlier murder investigation of William Desmond Taylor, the investigation of Todd's death left many unanswered questions.

But we don't have too look far today to see how murder investigations can be covered up. Just yesterday in downtown Manhattan, construction workers found part of the landing gear for one on the 9/11 jets wedged in the side of a building near ground zero. Why would the jet have the landing gear down before impact? One answer I can think of is that the plane was on autopilot for a landing approach, but that is impossible according to the current scenario. There was no Instrument Landing System nearby to direct the pilot to put the landing gear down.

The easy way out for authorities to solve questionable deaths in Hollywood was not to do too much digging. So at the height of her career, as organized crime figures are shaking down her Sidewalk restaurant, the Los Angeles police and D.A. close Todd's death as a suicide or accidental death.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by drednm » Sat Apr 27, 2013 8:00 am

So tell me again why this Roberts person is allowed to spew his juvenile insults and pomposity in these threads?
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by silentfilm » Sat Apr 27, 2013 8:19 am

Richard hasn't insulted anybody in this thread. The Nitrateville moderators will pull a post or lock a thread when personal attacks get out of hand, but none of that has happened here.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by drednm » Sat Apr 27, 2013 8:27 am

I beg to differ.

"Stick with your Jeanette MacDonalds and Lawrence Tibbetts boys, their pomposity suits yours and they're more your speed."

"If you feel the need to denigrate her talents, presence, and vivacity because she didn't have "A feature" creds, it just shows how little you know once again...."

"Oh, and if you really need that A Picture that justifies her reputation even to your uninformed standards...."

There is NO need for these kinds of comments.
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by Mitch Farish » Sat Apr 27, 2013 9:00 am

boblipton wrote:While Thelma Todd never reached the upper heights of Hollywood stardom, how many did? Stardom, after all, is a weird confluence of talent, chance and, during the Studio period, marketing. Miss Todd never hit the spot in terms of what Paramount was looking for, but I never saw her in a movie in which she failed to be an utter delight
I have to agree. I first noticed Todd in The Bohemian Girl when I was watching a lot of L & H when I was seven. I love her Marx Brothers appearances. Horse Feathers and Monkey Business are my favorites of theirs. Maybe my favorite Groucho bit is the closet scene with Todd from Monkey Business. She's the kind of actress that makes you wonder why she wasn't featured in more films with better material. Many of these actresses linger in my mind more that the so-called stars of the era. Todd is right there with Lillian Roth and Leila Hyams (can't forget the drum lesson with Roland Young in Ruggles of Red Gap) as one of those who had tons of talent but still didn't make it to the top. And I didn't know anything about the details of her death until years after becoming a fan.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by bobfells » Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:32 am

A simple rule of thumb when confronted with a poster who makes it obvious by his posts that he needs to get a life:

A. If the comments distract from the topic of the thread;
B. If the poster says he dislikes the topic but then comments anyway;
C. If the moderator intervenes to say that the personal attacks "haven't gotten out of hand";

Then I know that N'ville has stopped being fun and I need to move on and stop trafficking with people who have personal problems that I am in no way qualified to address. Try it, it works!
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:53 am

bobfells wrote:Thelma did nice work in L&H's FRA DIAVALO (1933) trying to make the foppish Dennis King seem sexy. Her character as Mrs. Hardy in CHICKENS COME HOME (1931) offered a persona that a producer might have carried to other films. There she's chic, sexy and funny. Did she play other roles like that one?

Yes, in basically every Hal Roach film she ever made.


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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:56 am

drednm wrote:I beg to differ.

"Stick with your Jeanette MacDonalds and Lawrence Tibbetts boys, their pomposity suits yours and they're more your speed."

"If you feel the need to denigrate her talents, presence, and vivacity because she didn't have "A feature" creds, it just shows how little you know once again...."

"Oh, and if you really need that A Picture that justifies her reputation even to your uninformed standards...."

There is NO need for these kinds of comments.

Hmmm, I don't see Ed's name attached to any of the above, if he thinks these shoes seem to fit in some way, that's his business.


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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by entredeuxguerres » Sat Apr 27, 2013 10:59 am

Mitch Farish wrote: Todd is right there with Lillian Roth and Leila Hyams (can't forget the drum lesson with Roland Young in Ruggles of Red Gap) as one of those who had tons of talent but still didn't make it to the top.
Roth has attracted her share of attention--a movie was made about her, after all--but poor Leila has sunk with hardly a ripple. Seems to be better remembered for her very most UNcharacteristic role, the cool, submissive wife of Chester Morris in Red-Headed Woman, than for the many gay & high-spirited roles she played in other pictures. One obscure one I particularly like is Stepping Out, with Charlotte Greenwood. Merely finding her name in a film's cast is all the reason I need to watch it.

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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by drednm » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:01 am

I knew that would be your response. I never said the insults were aimed at me.

If one cannot join a discussion without being condescending and insufferably obnoxious, one should keep one's opinions to oneself.
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:04 am

momsne wrote:When Thelma Todd died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1935, Thelma Todd was only 29 and had appeared in 119 movies and shorts from 1926 to 1936 (according to IMDb). Her movie career is eclipsed by the circumstances of her death. Just like the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, another blonde haired actress, the cause of Todd's death is in dispute by some decades after her death. "Hot Toddy," Andy Edmonds' 1989 book on "The True Story of Hollywood's Most Sensational Murder," deals with Todd's career in Hollywood and her untimely death.

The investigation of Todd's death reminds me of the Seinfeld episode "The Visa," when Babu Bhatt is describing to a friend how he wound up back in Pakistan. "[Seinfeld] said the wheels were in motion, but there was no motion. There was nothing, and so they sent me back here." Just as in the earlier murder investigation of William Desmond Taylor, the investigation of Todd's death left many unanswered questions.

But we don't have too look far today to see how murder investigations can be covered up. Just yesterday in downtown Manhattan, construction workers found part of the landing gear for one on the 9/11 jets wedged in the side of a building near ground zero. Why would the jet have the landing gear down before impact? One answer I can think of is that the plane was on autopilot for a landing approach, but that is impossible according to the current scenario. There was no Instrument Landing System nearby to direct the pilot to put the landing gear down.

The easy way out for authorities to solve questionable deaths in Hollywood was not to do too much digging. So at the height of her career, as organized crime figures are shaking down her Sidewalk restaurant, the Los Angeles police and D.A. close Todd's death as a suicide or accidental death.

Well, yes and no, both Hal Roach and Roland West on his deathbed verified that the accidental death version of what happened was basically true. The whole organized crime story is basically late biographer-created sensationalism that falls apart when confronted by facts. Thelma Todd's death was a tragedy that also apparently ruined Roland West for the rest of his life. The continuing tragedy is that it continues to overshadow the rest of her life and work, even in the minds of some writers who have attempted to chronicle it all.


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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by drednm » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:06 am

Getting back the the original thread. Todd is so often mentioned as dying at the height of her popularity, yet her career sure looks as if it were in a major decline by 1935.

But I agree with C.M. Seeing Thelma Todd's name in the credits is enough reason to watch the film.
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Re: Thelma Todd

Unread post by Richard M Roberts » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:19 am

Mitch Farish wrote:
boblipton wrote:While Thelma Todd never reached the upper heights of Hollywood stardom, how many did? Stardom, after all, is a weird confluence of talent, chance and, during the Studio period, marketing. Miss Todd never hit the spot in terms of what Paramount was looking for, but I never saw her in a movie in which she failed to be an utter delight
I have to agree. I first noticed Todd in The Bohemian Girl when I was watching a lot of L & H when I was seven. I love her Marx Brothers appearances. Horse Feathers and Monkey Business are my favorites of theirs. Maybe my favorite Groucho bit is the closet scene with Todd from Monkey Business. She's the kind of actress that makes you wonder why she wasn't featured in more films with better material. Many of these actresses linger in my mind more that the so-called stars of the era. Todd is right there with Lillian Roth and Leila Hyams (can't forget the drum lesson with Roland Young in Ruggles of Red Gap) as one of those who had tons of talent but still didn't make it to the top. And I didn't know anything about the details of her death until years after becoming a fan.

I do love this concept that someone like Lelia Hyams can have a ten year career of solid work in a very large number of top films, then wisely retire from a business where most careers barely last a decade at any level and marries well and happily to become a top and very well-off member of Hollywood Society, but this is considered "not making it" by the standards of people who have never come close to anything resembling that sort of success. And interestingly, of all the old actresses I met over the years, the happiest and least-delusional ones seemed to be those who got out while the going was good.

Thelma Todd made over a 100 films in less than a decade and wthe only thing that stopped her career was her tragic death, yet we're still talking about her seventy-plus years after she died. She was busy working up to the day she died and was a popular comedy star for the top Comedy Producer of the time.Try it sometime before you start considering that sort of success a failure.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

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