Thelma Todd was a huge star in 1930s Hollywood. She was the “ice-cream blonde” with a talent for comedy.
Tragically, Todd who had earned the nickname “Hot Toddy” in Hollywood was found dead in her car on the morning of December 16, 1935. She was 30 years old.
Todd at the time of her death had starred in 40 films most of them comedies. She worked with all the great comedians of the time --the Marx brothers in--Horse Feathers and Monkey Business, Laurel and Hardy--The Devil’s Brother, Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily to name just a few. She starred in the 1932 film Gary Grant made his debut in --This is the Night.
Todd’s death set off a media frenzy that would easily rival the O.J. Simpson case sixty years later. The main reason for this is because the cause of her death, despite the official report, remains a mystery.
Climb to Success
Todd was a happy grade school teacher in Massachusetts. To make extra money she worked as a fashion model on the side. This led to her entering several beauty contests.
She won the title of Miss Massachusetts in 1925. During her reign she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and began attending Paramount Picture’s acting school in New York City.
She came to Hollywood just as the industry was transitioning from silent films to talkies. She eventually landed at Hal Roach studios where she worked up until her death.
Todd had a successful career but her personal life unfortunately did not follow the same path.
Todd was attracted to exciting but dangerous men. She married a man by the name of Pat DiCicco who worked in Hollywood under the guise of being an “agent.” DiCicco abused Todd and she divorced him.
|Todd with husband Pat DiCicco|
In 1931, Todd starred under the name “Alison Lloyd” in a crime thriller entitled, Corsair directed by Roland West. Todd was branching out from the typical comedies she starred in.
|Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe|
in Pacific Palisades
West became Todd’s occasional lover. The two opened a successful restaurant--using Todd’s fame-- off the Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Malibu called Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café.
This café was located on the ground floor of a large 3-story 15,000 square foot building. West and Todd also ran a private nightclub on the second floor called Joya’s--this establishment quickly became the playground for Hollywood’s rich and famous.
The two frequently fought because Todd didn’t like being tied to this nightclub and Café--she liked to go out. But West insisted she was his “magnet.”
“You’re my money maker, and if you are not here, I’m not making money.”
Roland West, his ex-wife and Todd lived in ritzy ocean-view apartments on this building’s upper floor. There were sliding doors between West and Todd’s apartments so they could carry on a discrete affair.
During this time the gangland boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano approached Todd. He knew Todd through her connection with DiCicco. He wanted to place a gambling casino above the Café. Todd refused his request.
On the night of her death Todd had attended a party given in her honor by Ida Lupino’s father Stanley at the famous Sunset Strip Trocadero nightclub.
Her ex-husband DiCicco was at the party and the two became entangled in a bitter fight. After this, Todd spent the rest of the evening drinking heavily.
|Thelma Todd's body|
She was taken home in a chauffer driven car and arrived at the Cafe at 3:35 a.m. Her maid later found her dead in the Café’s two-car garage. She was slumped over on the passenger side of her brown 1934 Lincoln Phaeton convertible. The car was still running and the garage doors were closed.
It was determined that Thelma Todd died of monoxide poisoning and her death was officially ruled a suicide.
This might have been the end of it but the condition of Todd’s body when discovered has kept this elusive mystery in the forefront for 80 years.
When Todd’s body was discovered she had bruises on her lower lip and according to exaggerated news reports of the time she had a broken nose and ribs. Blood was also found on her face and in the car.
Several theories have been suggested as the real cause of Todd’s death. Here are just two.
One states that Todd’s ex-husband Pat DiCicco followed her home after their argument at the party. DiCicco was not a Hollywood agent but instead he was one of Lucky Luciano’s right hand-men.
Some theories speculate it was personal for DiCicco--it was widely known he was bitter about the fact Todd divorced him.
Others speculate that he might have been working on Luciano’s behalf because Todd had rejected his request to use her establishment for a gambling casino. Todd had gone to the DA when Luciano became persistent.
A second theory involves Roland West. He was obsessed with the success of the two businesses he and Todd started together. He also was often angry when he couldn’t control Todd.
Witnesses reported hearing Todd and West having a loud argument in the wee hours of the morning she was found dead. One account states West was angry Todd have returned so late from her party.
Some feel that he killed Todd in a moment of rage and then placed Todd’s body in the convertible with the engine running to make it look like an accident.
Regardless of whether it was a suicide or a murder Thelma Todd’s spirit appears not to rest easy.
The area where Todd died has been considered haunted since her death.
Witnesses have reported seeing Thelma Todd wearing a gown, mink and covered in jewels walking around.
She is often seen on a staircase in the building were she once lived. Witnesses who have seen her state she never speaks.
In the garage where she was found dead other witnesses have stated they hear a car running. Yet others state they smell carbon monoxide in this area.
The reason these two reports are considered unusual is the fact this double garage has not been used to store cars in years.