LAWRENCE — They are two guys in love with the same gal. Sort of.
Because of them the torch still burns for Lawrence film star Thelma Todd, who is being honored this week at a four-day festival in her hometown.
The platinum-blond comedienne's young life ended mysteriously at 29 years old more than eight decades ago on Dec. 16, 1935, in a garage near Hollywood.
But the two fellows with Lawrence roots and an abiding affection for Todd have kept her memory alive.
This year, Dave Stevenson and Joseph Bella are combining forces, presenting the Thelma Todd Celebration.
It starts Thursday (actually Wednesday night if you count the pre-celebration cocktail mixer at the Andover Hilton) and ends Sunday graveside with a singing of "Bye Bye Blackbird" at the Todd plot at Bellevue Cemetery.
Festival highlights include a presentation from W.C. Fields' granddaughter Harriet Fields, a birthday bash, movies galore, music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, games, stand-up comedy and tours of Todd landmarks.
The moveable feast's three core days run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The main venue and stepping-off point will be Lawrence Heritage State Park, except for Thursday, when the Thelma fest's base is upstairs at El Taller on Essex Street.
The state park's supervisor, Jim Beauchesne, a Lawrence native, says Stevenson was the architect of the Thelma celebrations and Bella has kept them going.
"They are a celebration. Like-minded people enjoying something unusual that is very entertaining," Beauchesne says. "People think old movies are not as exciting as current ones, but they were very creative."
It's not just movies and talks, but adventure that drives the festival.
Walking tours will visit homes and sites where Todd lived and went to school and church. Her family rented and lived in multiple apartments on Blanchard and Andover and Brookfield and Broadway.
The roving Thelma devotees will go in search of crispellis in the Italian North End, and stop at the great stone Masonic Lodge by the North Commons. There they will hear how the lodge was built from stone left over from Lawrence's Great Dam construction.
Stevenson introduced his Thelma fest in 1997.
It grew from a decades-long tradition of showing Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy movies at his house in Lawrence.
He belongs to the Sons of the Desert, a fraternal organization that has chapters — called tents — worldwide, all devoted to Laurel and Hardy.
Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts were paired by producer Hal Roach as female counterparts to his wildly successful Laurel and Hardy productions.
Stevenson, 59, has personal connections to Todd.
He grew up playing on Todd's uncle's farm (Uncle Henry) and hearing stories about the Lawrence star. Thelma's mother, Alice, lived near the Stevensons.
He was too young to remember Alice, but Stevenson was friends with Todd family relatives.
Stevenson's fests ran six years, through 2002, when he got married and left the area.
Into the void stepped Joseph Bella.
Bella, now of Methuen, has 576 movie still photos of Todd and 50 of her movie posters.
Each year he climbs into a tuxedo and hosts a birthday party for Thelma at the Lawrence Heritage State Park, inviting Todd relatives and welcoming all.
This year will be no different. It's Saturday afternoon, from 1 to 4 p.m., with cake, movies and popcorn.
By all accounts, Todd was a personable woman and kind to her fans.
Bella will have a new item on display this year — a Bible inscribed by Thelma to her mother.
A Todd relative from New Jersey sent it to Bella this year.
The Bible is inscribed: "To Mumma, May I always think of you, serve you, and love you and even then my debt to you will still be unpaid. Devotedly, Thelma, April 8, 1928"
Bella is protective of Todd's memory.
Born July 29, 1906, she was dogged by tragedy but left audiences laughing.
She appeared in more than 100 feature movies and shorts, starring with legends including the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy.
As a child she witnessed her brother's death in a farm accident while the Todds visited relatives in Vermont. William, 7, fell in a hay thresher.
She went to Saunders School, Packard School and Lawrence High, graduating with the class of 1923. She wrote a gossip column for the high school newspaper.
A group photo of the staff shows the other girls in plain solid dresses. Todd stands out, wearing gingham.
She planned to become a school teacher.
In 1925, she was crowned Miss Massachusetts at a beauty pageant where she caught the eye of a movie talent scout. She signed with Paramount and went to film school at Long Island, New York.
In 1926, the students released “Fascinating Youth,” a silent film.
Todd and her family were chauffeured to the premiere in Lawrence at the Palace Theater on Broadway.
In recurring comedic shorts, talkies, she played the straight woman to a pair of ditsy characters played by Patsy Kelly and Zasu Pitts.
Todd married Pat DiCicco in 1932 and divorced in ’34. He later married Gloria Vanderbilt.
Her last film was a Laurel and Hardy comedy, “The Bohemian Girl.”
She died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a Pacific Palisades garage behind the wheel of her running car, apparently trying to stay warm after being locked out of a house at night.
A murder inquiry followed. Her death was ruled as "accidental with possible suicide tendencies."
Todd has a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.
Her memory stirs hometown pride and nostalgia in Lawrence.
The gala is a testament to the hold movies exercise on our imagination and the special bond people feel for Todd.
Todd appeared in at least a few silent movies, one of which was a western, "Nevada."
It's unknown how many silent films Todd was in since only about 2,000 of the 11,000 silent movies made in the U.S. between 1910-30 are listed as available, says Jeff Rapsis, who has accompanied, with live music, 315 of the titles.
He will play to Todd shorts and a full-length this weekend.
He will also chaperone this year's special guest, Harriet Fields, of Washington, D.C. She will speak about her grandfather, W.C. Fields, films of whose will be shown at the festival.
Harriet Fields will talk, in part, about how her grandfather's movie persona was the opposite of his real-life personality as a charitable and kind man.
The four days offer variety and fun — a tribute to a Lawrencian who made it in Hollywood.
2019 Thelma Todd Celebration
The festival runs from Thursday, July 25 to Sunday, July 28.
Optional activity, 7:30 p.m., Andover-Boston Hilton Hotel, cocktail mixer at the hotel bar
9 a.m. to 9 p.m., El Taller Cafe, 275 Essex St., Lawrence (upper room)
Events include Thelma Todd walking tour along Essex and Common streets and rarely seen Todd movie, "You Made Me Love You," shot in England in 1933
9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Lawrence Heritage State Park, 1 Jackson St.
Events include Todd films and special guest Harriet Fields, grand-daughter of movie great W.C. Fields.
9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Lawrence Heritage State Park, 1 Jackson St.
Events include Thelma Todd and the Marx Brothers film, "Horsefeathers" and walking tour.
Optional activities including breakfast at Andover-Boston Hilton Hotel, driving tour and visit to Todd's last resting place near water tower at Bellevue Cemetery.
Events free (except for cocktail mixer and breakfast) and open to the public
For information: 978-794-1655