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THELMA TODD IN THE NEWS AGAIN AFTER 80 YEARS

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.

 

Thelma and Charley Chase crop (1)

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.

 

Thelma and Norman McLeod crop

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 and Bing Crosby crop

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.

 

Thelma and John Barrymore crop (1)

Here she is with one of her most distinguished costars, John Barrymore, in Counsellor at Law

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