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The Death of Thelma Todd

Guest Author - Amber Grey

Was it a mob hit? Was it suicide? Was it an accident? Or was it murder? The death of actress-comedienne Thelma Todd has superseded her legacy as a part of the female comedic duo, "Pitts and Todd" because of the mystery and the ongoing suspicion surrounding her death.

The Massachusetts-born actress arrived in Hollywood in 1925 after a talent scout spotted her after she won Miss. Massachusetts. Ironically, Todds did not want to enter the Miss. Massachusetts pageant but it was the singular moment in her life where her life had changed. She originally intended on becoming a school teacher, but once the scout spotted her, her life changed forever. She steadily worked her way through the silent era in supporting roles, her beauty being her main ticket to stardom. But it was with the opportunity to show her acting talent when Hal Roach signed her on to appear in what would be his "female" concept of his successful Laurel and Hardy act. Todd would be a part of this duo with comedienne ZaSu Pitts, thus making them "Pitts and Todd." They made a successful run of 90 films featuring hilarious slapstick comedy. With her provided wealth and popularity in films, Todd opened a restaurant called "Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe" that became as equally famous as the owner.

While she may have been enjoying the benefits from her professional life, her personal life was in shambles. At this point in her short, young life, Todd had divorced her husband of two years Pat DiCicco and was currently having a rocky relationship with director Roland West. There were rumors she was also carrying on an affair with local gangster Charles 'Lucky' Luciano as well.

And it was on the fateful night of December 14, 1935 that Todd's life would come to a dramatic close. That night, Todd was Guest of Honor at a party held by Stanley Lupino and his soon-to-be famous daughter Ida Lupino. The party took place at the famous Cafe Trocadero on Sunset Blvd. Having previously had a fight with West and upon seeing her ex-husband with another woman at the party, Todd began to heavily drink as the party wore on into the night. After the party, her driver dropped the actress off at the entrance to her roadside cafe at around 3 AM.

According to the official report, Todd died sometime in the early morning on Sunday December 15 but Todd was not found until Monday by her maid in the garage, having died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The descriptions of how Todd was found, are varied. Some say there was a suspicious amount of blood; officials say there was only small amount of blood from her nose. Some say she was found with a broken nose and a dislodged tooth but no evidence of struggle; others say Todd was simply slumped over the wheel.

One of the theories as to who may be responsible for Todd's death, points to gangster Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, of whom Todd was having an affair with at the time. Luciano persisted in wanting to use a room at the cafe for "under the tale" gambling but Todd refused. Once, at the Brown Derby when Luciano brought up the subject again, Todd screamed, "Over my dead body!" To which Luciano was heard saying, "That can be arranged." Todd was dead within the week.

Another theory is that Todd was locked out of the apartment by West, when she arrived much later than the prescribed curfew of 2 AM. Todd proceeded to wait in the garage until someone would allow her inside the apartment. It is assumed that with this theory, she kept the car on to keep warm but accidentally died from carbon monoxide poisoning. However, both Todd's maid and West statements confirmed that Todd had a key to the apartment, which was found in her purse. West also said that he heard her plea to let her inside for ten minutes, but he ignored her. It is assumed by most that West followed her out to the car and knocked her unconscious so that she would die by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Todd was only 29 years old at the time of her death. A second autopsy was denied because after her funeral, Todd was cremated. In her will, Todd's bequeathed all of her possessions and her money to her mother. At first, the death was ruled as a suicide but after further investigation, it was officially ruled as an accident. However, theories and questionable evidence has lead to speculation over what happened to live on til this day. Unfortunately, it is most likely that we will never know what really happened to Thelma Todd.
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