Thelma Todd

Active - 1926 - 1936  |   Born - Jul 29, 1906 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States  |   Died - Dec 16, 1935   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Gorgeous blonde comedienne Thelma Todd was born in Massachusetts, where for two years she was a sixth-grade teacher at Lowell Normal School. After winning the Miss Massachusetts beauty contest in 1924, Todd was selected by producer Jesse L. Lasky to join Paramount Pictures' newly created school for young actors; the school lasted only one year, during which time Todd and her 15 "classmates" (among them Charles "Buddy" Rogers, later the husband of Mary Pickford) appeared in the Paramount film Fascinating Youth (1926). She remained at Paramount until 1927, then moved to First National, where she made her talkie bow in the horror-comedy Seven Footprints to Satan (1929). Though she yearned for dramatic roles, Todd was best suited to comedy, as proven by her long association with the Hal Roach Studios. After appearing as leading lady and comic foil to Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, and Laurel and Hardy, Thelma was given her own starring series of Roach two-reelers in 1931, teamed first with ZaSu Pitts and then with Patsy Kelly. She also appeared with the Marx Brothers in Paramount's Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933); with Joe E. Brown in Broad Minded (1931) and Son of a Sailor (1933); with Buster Keaton in Speak Easily (1932); and with Wheeler and Woolsey in Hips, Hips, Hooray (1934) and Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934). In 1931, she became the protegée and lover of eccentric director Roland West, who decreed that Thelma was too good for mere comic roles and decided to promote her as a dramatic actress. He changed her name to Alison Loyd and starred her in his gangster melodrama Corsair (1931), but the metamorphosis didn't take and soon she was back to comedy assignments with her original name, with a few noncomic roles in such films as the original Maltese Falcon (1931). Late in 1935, Thelma made her last feature-film appearance as the Gypsy Queen in Laurel and Hardy's The Bohemian Girl (1936). On December 14, 1935, hours after leaving a party in an uncharacteristic ill temper, Thelma was found dead in her garage, slumped over the steering wheel of her car. Thelma had died of carbon monoxide poisoning; to this day, it has never been satisfactorily determined whether she committed suicide, was murdered by the gangsters who had recently tried to extort money from her, or died accidentally. Out of respect for their well-liked co-worker, Laurel and Hardy had all but one of Thelma Todd's scenes removed from the final release print of Bohemian Girl.

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  • Wanted to pursue a career as a school teacher at a young age.
  • Was encouraged by her mother to pursue a career as a model in beauty pageants.
  • In 1925, she won the title of Miss Massachusetts, and participated in Miss America.
  • Made her debut as an actress in films when she was 21-years-old.
  • In 1935, she opened the Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Café.