Friday, July 27, 2018

Thelma Todd"s Name Back In Lights

Thelma Todd's name is on a theater marque again, at least in her home town of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Reblogged from

Thelma Todd back in lights; Lawrence screen legend's memory to grace state park theater

Lawrence screen legend's memory to grace state park theater

TERRY DATE/Staff photo Joe Bella hangs a Thelma Todd movie poster as part of an exhibit drawn from his vast collection of memorabilia related to the Lawrence-born actress. The exhibit will be part of Todd's 112th birthday celebration on Sunday at Lawrence Heritage State Park.

TERRY DATE/Staff photo Super fan Joe Bella turns on the lights for the new Thelma Todd theater marquee at Lawrence Heritage State Park. The movie theater will be dedicated to the Lawrence star of the early silver scree at her 112th birthday party this Sunday

The star was born more than a century ago and died mysteriously at just 29, but her name is back in lights — gracing the new marquee on Lawrence's last movie theater.  
The Thelma Todd Theater, a modest room behind red curtains at Lawrence Heritage State Park, will be dedicated this Sunday afternoon, July 29, at Todd's 112th birthday party.
Among the guests will be Todd relatives — generations removed — as well as history buffs, proud Lawrencians and at least one infatuated fan.
Super fan Joe Bella's voice catapults when he recounts coincidences that led to the Todd theater.
Last winter, Bella and staff at the Jackson Street state park were lamenting all the vanished movie theaters in Lawrence. The city was once singled out by Ripley's Believe It or Not! for having four cinemas in a row on Broadway. 
Around this same time, Bella, who belongs to an online fan club devoted to Thelma Todd, had read a post from a perplexed fan who wondered why Lawrence hadn't named something for its silver screen legend.
"A lightbulb went off," Bella said. 
He thought of the Heritage State Park theater. Todd movie shorts are shown there most every day. 
"We have one (a theater) here and no name for it," Bella recalled telling park staff, including supervisor Mike Mitchell.
The idea clicked, Mitchell said. The unnamed theater has been part of the state park since it opened in 1986.
Over the years, the park has hosted parties and film festivals in honor of Todd, director Jim Beauchesne said.
A half-dozen distant Todd family relatives attended last year's birthday party, including Julie Todd of Lawrence who shared cake-cutting honors with Bella.
Julie, a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Colorado, said her father, Jim Todd, lived in Lawrence and went to Lawrence High. His father, Bill Todd, was Thelma's first cousin.
Julie said her grandfather and her great Aunt Edna were proud to have been related to the star.
To this day people get excited when they make the connection between Julie and Thelma's shared last name: "Oh, you're related to Thelma Todd," they say.
For her part, Julie, a singer in the Lawrence in Harmony Adult Choir, said the marquee and theater dedication is a testament to the enduring power of art and culture in the city of Lawrence, which she believes is experiencing a revival.
"So I hope that people will draw on this event and Thelma's legacy as a Lawrencian to remain committed to supporting the arts and women in the arts in Lawrence," she said.
Sunday's celebration will include remarks, a movie poster and photo exhibit, birthday cake, popcorn and screenings of some of Todd's short films.
The marquee was made by Amesbury artist Jason Asselin, recommended by the Essex Art Center. Asselin, a visiting lecturer in the art department at Salem State University, was the lead artist on the Food for the World Pantry on Essex Street in 2016.
Bella said Asselin based the marquee representation of Todd on a painting by Lawrence-born artist John Petralia (Bella's cousin), who died at age 99 in 2013.
Petralia painted the Todd oil from a photograph shortly after her Dec. 16, 1935, death. He based it on a photograph of Thelma's mother hugging her, Bella said. 

Thelma Todd, Lawrence and beyond
— Born July 29, 1906, in Lawrence; one of two children.
— Father’s family was from Ireland; her mother’s from Canada, of French-Canadian descent.
— Witnessed her 7-year-old brother, William, killed in a farm accident while the Todds visited relatives in Vermont. 
— Her father served as Lawrence alderman of public health and charities, and her family lived in at least five different South Lawrence apartments.
— Attended Saunders School, Packard School and Lawrence High, Class of 1923, where she wrote a gossip column for the newspaper, the Lawrence Bulletin.
 — Modeled, attended teacher's college in Lowell, performed in movies by Lawrence-area filmmakers Rosario and Peter Contarino, and won Miss Massachusetts pageant title in 1925.
— Attended film school on Long Island, New York, where in 1926 the students released the silent film “Fascinating Youth." Todd and family were chauffeured to premier in Lawrence at the Palace Theater on Broadway. 
— Married Pat DiCicco in 1932 and divorced in ’34. He later married Gloria Vanderbilt.
— In Hollywood, the actress known as the "ice cream blond" had a knack for comedy. Producer Hal Roach paired her with ZaSu Pitts and then Patsy Kelly, seeking a female version of the wildly popular Laurel and Hardy tandem.
— Appeared in 119 films, including early Hollywood talkies, as well as full-length movies such The Marx Brothers' "Horse Feathers" and "Klondike."
— Died Dec. 16, 1935 of carbon monoxide poisoning in her southern California garage behind the wheel of her running car, apparently trying to stay warm after being locked out of a house at night.
— Cremated remains buried in family plot in Bellevue Cemetery Lawrence, a few miles from the theater that now bears her name.

What: Thelma Todd’s 112th Birthday Party, featuring a marquee unveiling and theater dedication
When: Sunday, July 29, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Lawrence Heritage State Park, 1 Jackson St.
How much: Free; courtesy of Friends of Lawrence Heritage State Park and Joseph Bella
More information: Contact Lawrence Heritage State Park at 978-794-1655.



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