Monday, June 14, 2021

Thelma Todd (Special "News Notes From Movieland" Tribute--Pt. 1)


From The Thelma Todd Fan Group on facebook.:

On July 29, 1906, Thelma Todd was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. She
would become one of the American screen's most scintillating, beautiful
stars. A master of slapstick comedy in which her natural poise and
elegance was hilariously counterpointed to the frenetic action, she
remains totally unique in her timeless appeal. In commemoration of her
centennial, I am posting a special "News Notes From Movieland" series.
The first part consists of Thelma's own views on acting and her career
as she expressed it in interviews of the period.

NEWS NOTES FROM MOVIELAND (Tribute to a Lovely Lady--Part 1)
Thelma Todd in Her Own Words
Compiled by William M. Drew

On working with comedians: "The woman who works with such comedians as
the Marx Brothers must take all situations seriously. No matter what
happens, her characterization does not permit her to laugh. The Marxes
often insert comedy we haven't rehearsed, which is one of the reasons
for their success. I've had to train myself not to see anything funny
in these spontaneous bits, but I have spoiled many a scene by failing
to suppress my sense of humor. The Marxes, moreover, know my weakness,
and on the set make it a rule to do everything possible to make me
laugh in the wrong places. I've almost bitten off my tongue on
numerous occasions in order to keep a straight face." (From "The
Charleston Gazette," July 31, 1932)

On beauty and acting: "I never heard of a beauty contest winner getting
very far in any other line. I didn't crash the movie gate by way of a
contest, because I was already under contract when I won my title. The
fact that I was Miss Massachusetts had nothing to do with it.
"Building on beauty seems to me the worst thing any girl can do. I
like real people who are sincerely what they appear to me, and since I
am not unique, I believe that most people rate sincerity above looks.
"Did you ever see an emotional scene that really moved you wherein
the actress remained beautiful? No, and neither did I. People aren't
beautiful under the stress of terror or grief or pain. Such scenes
only get over when the actress forgets how she looks and simply feels
the emotion and so reflects it.
"When I first went into pictures, during the old, silent days, my
part called for me to cry. My father, whom I had idolized, had died
and left me to face the world alone.
"'Have you ever done a crying scene?'" my director asked me.
"I never had, and I hadn't wept over my own woes for several years
before that.
"'You'd better go off by yourself and work it up,'" he advised.
"While I was sitting in a corner of the stage, thinking about the
utter desolation of the girl I was to portray, the star of the picture
came up to me.
"'Haven't you ever had a little puppy dog who died, or a kitten who
was killed, or even a relative you loved very much who was taken away?'
he inquired.
"'I don't know--what's that got to do with it?'" I returned.
"'Why, you think of that loss and presently you feel like crying,'
he explained.
"I stared at him. I thought, 'I don't belong in the business if
that's the way you cry!' So I said, 'What's the matter with believing
in what you are doing? If I believe in the girl, I ought to be able to
cry over her grief, not drag in a puppy dog.'
"I went into the room and cried steadily from 10 in the morning
until 6:30 that night, when I was so exhausted with emotion that I had
to be helped out of the studio." (From "Why Beauty Contest Winners are
Failures," interview with Thelma Todd by Alice L. Tildesley, "The
Oakland Tribune," November 1, 1931)

On sincerity and speech: "Sincerity shows in voices even more than it
does in looks. I'm fortunate in coming from a part of the country
where women's voices are usually low pitched and rather sweet, and
where we naturally use good diction. I've never had a voice lesson in
my life and have no intention of taking any. But I watch my voice more
carefully than I watch my facial expression.
"People used to say that truth could be seen in a person's eyes, but
I know that I could look anyone in the face and tell the biggest kind
of a lie without a blink. It's the voice that betrays you.
Spontaneous sincerity is the necessary thing." (From "Why Beauty
Contest Winners are Failures")

On personality, hair color and independence: "I think I must have a
brunette personality. I always think of blondes as soft and pliable,
ready to cling to the nearest male for support and protection, just
wanting to be taken care of and very sweet and easy to deal with
because they are so amiable. None of which qualities belong to me.
"I am a fighter. I have made my way alone and can stand up for
myself. I think I am the sort of person who can take a great deal from
one I care for and forget it, but there is a limit; beyond that, and
it's all over. You see, I'm not a real blonde inside or I'd be
steadfast under any circumstances. No brunette was ever a doormat.
"Anita Loos is to blame for all the fair heads you see bobbing
about. She said that gentlemen preferred blondes and girls took her
"It's silly, but it's true that complexions and hair follow the
current fashion. In earlier days all our vamps were raven-tressed:
Theda Bara, Barbara La Marr, Nita Naldi. The little girls with golden
curls were all so sweet and good.
"Then along came the redheads. Clara Bow, Margaret Livingston and
Alice White, among others. You thought of red-headed women as
skyrockets. They were incalculable and therefore interesting.
"They even made Greta Garbo a redhead in her first picture. Which
was a crime. Her personality is anything but red-headed.
"Then they got tired of flaming hair. Alice White became blonde
and so did Margaret Livingston, let alone Bebe Daniels, Joan Crawford,
and now even Clara Bow.
"The blonde hussy and the blonde heroine are reigning side by
side--for the moment, anyway." (From "Why Beauty Contest Winners are

On her beginnings in films: "I didn't take pictures seriously at first.
Shortly after I signed my contract the studio told me they were
putting me into the Paramount school. They needed a group of
youngsters and I hadn't been cast for a production, so they thought I
might as well go to school.
"I was the black sheep of the class. My teachers thought me quite
terrible and I agreed with them. But I considered the class silly and
the things they had to do a waste of time. In the class picture they
had Buddy Rogers doing a graybeard and me an old lady--parts we'd never
be allowed to do on the screen. I still think they should have cast us
all as extras and let us work up into bits and then parts. Actual
experience is real. The other was unreal. I rebelled.
"When I came to Hollywood I saw that fooling around was no way to
stay in pictures. It took me a while to make up my mind to work, but
now I'm determined to learn my job and get somewhere. Watch me."
(From "Why Beauty Contest Winners are Failures")

On her dramatic lead under the name of Alison Loyd in Roland West's
1931 film, "Corsair": "I have always wanted to play dramatic roles.
But you know how it is out here. Casting directors have a way of
keeping players in certain grooves and never letting them out. Once
you make a good impression in a certain type of role, there is
practically no chance of getting away from it.
"Everyone has always thought of Thelma Todd as a rowdy comedienne.
She never could get a chance to do anything else. But as Alison Loyd I
at least have a chance of being dissociated from my past roles.
"If I happen to score a success in 'Corsair,' I am sure my new name
will identify me with dramatic roles. Yet, even after establishing
myself as a dramatic actress, should a comedy role come along that I
want to play, I at least will be able to get some consideration because
of the years I spent as a comedienne." (From "How Thelma Became a New
Woman" by Dan Thomas, "The Helena Independent," October 11, 1931)

On working at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer: "Having played in slapstick comedy
for so long, I walked into the studio with a large chip on my shoulder,
just waiting for a fight; I hoped someone would make some sort of
remark about my comedy days, but--probably to my
disappointment!--everyone was charming to me. They're a grand bunch,
and I like them all here, although, of course, the little Roach studio
is swell. We are like a large family there--without the family
squabbles!" (From "Please, Teacher!," an interview with Thelma by John
Paddy Carstairs, published in the British magazine, "Film Pictorial,"
September 10, 1932)

On Hollywood: "I think the picture game is grand. I love it, but there
are some queer people in it--and some funny ones, too. But if you get
used to Hollywood, you kid them along, and pretend that you are a
little dumber than you actually are--as a matter of fact, you have to
be pretty smart in this business.
"One thing they tried on me was to come up with a sarcastic smile
and say: 'Well, Miss Todd, we are working late tonight!' Then they
used to wait and see my face drop. Instead I would say, 'All right,
that's fine!' They know how disappointed most artistes are if they
have to work late, but I don't mind in the least. After all, I get
paid for it and it's my job, so what the heck?" (From the "Film
Pictorial" interview, "Please, Teacher!")

On comedy vs. drama: "When I first started out on the screen I played
serious leads. Then I did comedy with the Four Marx Brothers and
haven't been permitted since to play anything but comedy in Hollywood.
I did play straight roles in England last spring and discovered it's
much more difficult to make an audience laugh than to cry. So perhaps
I'd better be content with my burlesque roles. I want to change but
the public won't let a comedienne change." (From "The Hammond Times,"
February 21, 1934)


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