The Life and Mysterious Death of Thelma Todd
Thelma Todd was a dish, a dame, a bombshell and also a very funny comedienne and actress. She was one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the late 20’s and early 30’s. Appearing in over 40 movies between 1926 and 1935. Thelma is best remembered for her comedic roles in the Marx Brothers movies, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers. She also appeared with most of the silents and early talkies biggest stars, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and William Powell, to name just a few. In the 1930s, she opened a restaurant, Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, and took up residence in a luxurious apartment above the cafe. Located near the ocean on the Roosevelt Highway at Catellammare, it became a popular place. It was in the garage of the Sidewalk Cafe on December 15, 1935, that she was found in her parked car, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, deceased at the age of 29 – supposedly a suicide, maybe a murder.
Though her death was ruled a suicide by the courts but there were quite a few other possibilities. Why would she kill herself? Thelma was riding high with a string of hits, successfully making the transition from Silents to the Talkies, owned a successful restaurant, dated some of Hollywood’s most famous stars and basically, had it all.
The Grand Jury investigation into her death yielded conflicting results. Spots of blood were found both on and in the car, and on Todd’s mouth. This led to the theory that she might have been knocked out before the car was started.
The first suspect was Thelma’s ex-husband, Pat DiCicco, a self-described agent with underworld connections. After one too many beatings, Todd divorced him. He felt humiliated by all the publicity and may have sought revenge. Hm?
Another suspect was Lucky Luciano, Americas most famous gangster and mob boss. Rumors circulated that Lucky wanted to use Todd’s restaurant as a front for his gambling operation. Allegedly, just days before she was discovered dead, Luciano informed Todd of his interests in her restaurant. The story goes that Thelma pooh-poohed Lucky’s offer and was killed for her refusal and disrespect.
Hard to say. Everybody’s got troubles. Maybe she did call it quits in her garage almost 78 years ago. It’s probably not important any more, so go rent her movies instead, start with Monkey Business.