I always find it surreal to drive on Pacific Coast Highway and pass the attractive building that once housed Thelma Todd’s Café. It looks just the same as it does in postcards from the 1930s. For years it has been home to Paulist Productions, the company that produced Father “Bud” Kieser’s Insight television show. Now it’s up for sale, the price just shy of eight million dollars.
If Thelma Todd is remembered at all—except by diehard movie buffs—it’s because her untimely death in 1935 remains on every roster of Hollywood scandals and unsolved mysteries. I prefer to remember her as one of movies’ most delightful comediennes. The blonde beauty was a mainstay at the Hal Roach studio, where she appeared opposite Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, and other leading lights, and starred in her own short subject series with ZaSu Pitts and Patsy Kelly. Feature filmmakers generally typecast her as a vamp or femme fatale (she plays Miles Archer’s widow in the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon), but she also worked with all the comedy headliners of the 1930s: the Marx Brothers (in Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), Wheeler and Woolsey, and Joe E. Brown, to name just a few.
Having grown up on the “other” coast, I never dreamed I would wind up in Los Angeles, where one is surrounded by touchstones of Hollywood history. When I learned that an alleyway I passed every day on Cahuenga Boulevard was the spot where Buster Keaton ran from a horde of policemen in his silent comedy Cops, I had to pinch myself. I feel the same way about Thelma Todd’s Café. But until the recent real estate listing HERE I’d never seen the interiors, which preserve its original art deco design.
If I had eight million dollars to spare, I’d buy the place in a heartbeat. First and foremost, it’s beautiful, with an overhead walkway to the beach and a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean. It would connect me to an era I care about a lot…and one of its shining stars. Some people might find that creepy, since Thelma died in the garage of her home, which was perched above the restaurant, but I refuse to dwell on her death. She was radiant onscreen and much-loved by her friends and coworkers; that’s the Thelma Todd I conjure up in my mind, and it makes me smile.