Thursday, December 4, 2008
The Christmas Album: Thelma Todd
Day Four of our Holiday sleigh ride finds us encountering funny woman Thelma Todd yukking it up by wearing an umbrella size sombrero with an appropriate sentiment for the season. One of the prettiest girls to come out of Lawrence, Massachusetts, "Hot Toddy", who was Miss Massachusetts in 1925, began making pictures in 1926, using her statuesque beauty and "ice cream blonde" good looks to advantage, working at Hal Roach's comedy factory opposite such accomplished farceurs as Harry Langdon, Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy. With the development of talking pictures, her comedic skills blossomed in a series of shorts with the eternal ditherer, Zazu Pitts, as well as Patsy Kelly, which led to her being loaned out to work with the Marx Brothers, Wheeler & Woolsey, Buster Keaton and Joe E. Brown, among others. In a very brief period, the actress managed to forge a remarkable film career of approximately 125 films. Her comic persona gave the lie to that old saw about a beautiful girl being incapable of humor. She was lovely, and usually found herself in an awkward situation, physically and socially, that led to more and more complex (and failed) attempts to escape her comedic fate on screen.
Todd proved her versatility in talkies by playing it straight in such movies as the first, quite gritty pre-code version of The Maltese Falcon (1931) as Miles Archer's faithless wife, Mary Stevens, M.D. (1932) opposite Kay Francis, and even worked with John Barrymore at his considerable best in Counsellor At Law (1933). A prominent figure on the Hollywood social scene, she was married to a fellow who cut a wide swath himself, Pat DiCicco, from 1932 to 1934, but was reportedly involved in a rocky relationship with director Roland West at the time of her mysterious death at age 29 on Dec. 16, 1935. After being seen partying at the popular nightspot, The Trocadero, with British entertainer Stanley Lupino and his daughter Ida the night before, Thelma was discovered in her car, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in a friend's garage about a block from her restaurant/nightspot, "Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe". The theories about her death, whether accidental or deliberate, abound, but at least her films, several of which have only recently been given a dvd release, are proof positive that she had the gift of laughter.