A Blog For Thelma Todd
Thelma Todd was a star of silent movies and later the talkies. She is remembered as much today for her mysterious death as she is for her films. In this blog, we take a look at Thelma Todd, her movies, and various commentaries.
A little more about Elizabeth Short and Thelma Todd. I haven't read the Donald H Wolfe book that was discussed here, but it does have something about Thelma Todd in it, which is why I posted this in response to what was said at this site.
Reblogged from https://ladailymirror.com/2018/02/18/black-dahlia-blogging-black-dahlia-files-part-17-the-lookies/
Page 22 I really don’t want to get derailed into Thelma Todd as I can’t see what it has to do with the Black Dahlia case. I’m going to take a rain check with the simple proviso that given Donald H. Wolfe’s track record, there are going to be errors and misstatements. I’ll dig into it later if necessary, but this will have to do for now: “Nevertheless, D.A. Buron Fitts insisted that her death was a suicide, though there were rumors among the movieland cognoscenti that Thelma Todd had been murdered by one of her intimate acquaintances—a mob boss who suddenly left town on the night of Thelma’s ‘suicide.’ ”
In fact, Fitts said: “We want it distinctly understood that we aren’t imputing this to be a murder. But there are circumstances that do not satisfy us. We intend to clear them up.” (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19, 1935) Moreover, the Los Angeles Police Department, under the auspices of crime lab chief Ray Pinker (the same man who had his hands in his pockets at the Black Dahlia crime scene), took Todd’s Lincoln and, using a volunteer, sealed the garage and started the engine to see how long it would take to render him unconscious. In 90 seconds, Detective Joe Whitehead was pounding on the door to be let out of the monoxide-filled garage. It should also be noted that Todd’s death was investigated by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury. And in testifying before the grand jury, Pinker said that blood found inside Todd’s car contained carbon monoxide, excluding the possibility that the stains occurred before she started the car’s engine. According to testimony before the grand jury, Todd became unconscious from the fumes and struck her head as she collapsed, causing a wound that bled. Eventually, the jurors found the evidence of suicide or accident so compelling that several of them refused to hear any more testimony. I’ll leave Thelma Todd at this: It’s impossible to say Dist. Atty. Buron Fitts tried to cover up the case when it went before the grand jury. What are the sources for this nonsense? Samuel Marx and Joyce Vanderveen, “Deadly Illusions”; Andy Edmonds, “Hot Toddy”; and the Thelma Todd inquest report. Apparently Wolfe has some aversion to original sources such as newspapers. I’m mildly curious about the source of the Todd inquest. But not enough to go digging for it. Page 24 Oh, more on Uncle Vern, the disgraced former prosecutor who never worked for the district attorney’s office. I don’t have time for this today.
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Actually several of the jurors continued to believe that Thelma Todd was murdered, so not all of them believed it was a suicide, and none of them believed it was an accident as stated. It is not impossible to say that Buron Fitts covered up the case and there was at least reason to suspect it due to not only the way the case was handled, but because of the way they handled several other cases in that period. The work done by the police during their investigation does not prove that the District Attorney himself was free from blame. Finally, the quote was that the DA insisted it was suicide despite rumors that it was actually murder, and the arguments above do not disprove that he insisted it was suicide. Actually the DA's office did call the case a suicide, and focused on this theory with little support from anyone. The case remains unsolved.
This is a novel involving a serial killer who targets movie stars. Thelma Todd is one of the victims in the story, along with such familiar faces from the mystery books as William Desmond Taylor, Ramon Navarro, and Elizabeth Short*. Not having read this book I do not have a lot to say about it, although I recall that some people have thought that there could be some connection between some of those murders. In Thelma Todd's case there was no definite ruling that it was murder, although she is usually thought of as a murder victim today.
*Nicknamed "The Black Dahlia", Short was not a movie star, but had the misfortune to be murdered in Hollywood.
Gloria Vanderbilt has died and her son Anderson Cooper gave this tribute for her on cable station CNN. Thelma Todd is mentioned as having been married to Gloria Vanderbilt's first husband, Pat DiCicco. Some people believed that DiCicco murdered Thelma Todd, something Gloria Vanderbilt had in her book BLACK KNIGHT, WHITE KNIGHT.
While sitting in a doctor’s waiting room yesterday I glanced at a TV monitor tuned to CNN. Imagine my surprise to see a 1935 newspaper clipping about the death of Thelma Todd, a longtime favorite of mine. The reason was simple: heiress and fashionista Gloria Vanderbilt just passed away at the age of 95. She and Thelma were both (unhappily) married to Pasquale “Pat” DiCicco, a shady fellow with possible mob ties who was also an abusive husband. Vanderbilt ended their marriage in 1941 and later remarried, giving birth to a boy we know as Anderson Cooper. The notion that America’s most recognizable newscaster is only two degrees of separation from an actress who died more than eighty years ago is rather incredible.
A publicity shot of Charley Chase and Thelma Todd. The smiles are genuine
It makes me sad that many people only know of Thelma Todd is because of her untimely death and the ongoing mystery surrounding it. With each passing year, it seems, someone new weighs in with theories about her demise.
Lying down on the job: Thelma relaxes with director Norman McLeod between takes on The Marx Brothers feature Horse Feathers. (Grouchophile Steve Stoliar notes, “That appears to be (uncredited writer/producer) Herman Mankiewicz hovering over them, with Zeppo on the chair and writer Arthur Sheekman in the background.” Wow!) I prefer to think of her as she was onscreen, a buoyant actress who could play serious roles but made a lasting mark in comedies alongside Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, Wheeler and Woolsey, and Joe E. Brown, to name just a few of her comic costars. Everyone who worked with the actress say she was a lively and fun-loving young woman. (I show my favorite two-reel comedy short, The Pip from Pittsburgh, starring Thelma and Charley Chase every semester to my students at USC and it always gets a positive response.)
Thelma was typecast playing “vamps” in movies like Two for Tonight with Bing Crosby
Allow me, then, to pay tribute to Thelma Todd, not as the subject of a lurid headline but as a radiant star of Hollywood’s past. She deserves it.
Here she is with one of her most distinguished costars, John Barrymore, in Counsellor at Law
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Leonard Maltin is the author of the books MOVIE COMEDY TEAMS and THE GREAT MOVIE SHORTS. In these books he expressed the opinion that it was sad that many people only knew of Thelma Todd because of her untimely death, and he says it again here.
I can understand how he might feel that way. but a focus on the perceived failings of others is not necessarily a good thing.
There are some who say that others have a preoccupation with Thelma Todd's death in order to seem superior, and the making of such statements gives them something to fight over. And those who harp on this theme are guilty of what they claim to be against. They are preoccupied with Thelma Todd's death.
To get back to Leonard Maltin, he had both the Lucky Luciano and Roland West stories as possible solutions to the mystery in his book LEONARD MALTIN'S MOVIE ENCLOPEDIA, and he had the Roland West story in his audio commentary on the DVD of THE DEVIL'S BROTHER. Leonard Maltin hasn't always given out the same story. It might have been better if he had, since none of them have ever been proven, which is what he said to begin with.
I'm afraid that I did not even know who Anderson Cooper was when I read Maltin's missive. Not everyone watches CNN. I don't, myself. Cable television cannot be considered universal as long as it isn't watched universally.
Leonard Maltin used to host a program called "Leonard Maltin Presents" on the Odyssey Channel, in which he would present classic comedy shorts. Not having had access to the Odyssey Channel, I haven't seen that, either.
This isn't the first time we've run this rare photo of ill-fated comedic legends Carole Lombard and Thelma Todd, but now we have some new information about it.
First, the description: Lombard, standing, and dancer-actor-future U.S. senator George Murphy greet Todd and her mother who are in a sedan chair. The eBay seller initially believed this picture was shot in Santa Monica, where vehicles of this type were then not uncommon, but it's since been learned it was taken down the coast at Balboa Park in San Diego in 1935 for the California Pacific International Exhibition. (Thelma was on its planning committee.)
Now about the exhibition, shown on a commemorative map above: It was a semi-revival of a successful 1915-16 event held at Balboa Park, using many of its buildings that were still standing in addition to an array of new ones. Like the rest of the U.S., San Diego was working its way out of the Depression, and it was believed this quasi-world's fair (21 nations participated) would boost the city, just as the Century of Progress exhibition did for Chicago in 1933-1934. (Many Chicago exhibitors headed west for the event.)
Here's an aerial view of Balboa Park during the exhibition; in the foreground is the Ford Building, now home to the San Diego Air & Space Museum:
We've written about the exhibition before, as Lombard (in puppet form!) was part of a Hollywood-themed display (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/684009.html). But the pic is the first indication her flesh-and-blood self attended the event -- not really a surprise, as Carole had regularly crossed the border into Mexico while married to William Powell.
The exhibition opened May 29 and closed Nov. 11, and was a rousing success, so much so that it was held over (with some changes in exhibits) for 1936. By then, Todd was gone, victim of a mysterious death in December 1935.