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How Did Thelma Todd Die at 29? We May Finally Have the Answer

If you are a fan of Hollywood’s early comedies, then you’ve likely seen Thelma Todd several times! She appeared in over 120 short films and feature films from silent comedies to the screwball comedy films featuring the Marx Brothers.

She wasn’t from a show business background, but she managed to carve out a successful career in Hollywood in a short span of time. Had she lived longer, she’d likely have become Hollywood Royalty.

Her life was tragically, and unexpectedly, cut short at the age of 29. Her official cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, and some theories claim that this was a case of suicide. However, there are also theories suggesting that Thelma Todd murdered.

So how did this happen? What occurred behind the scenes that led to Thelma Todd’s sudden death?

Let’s look back at Thelma Todd’s incredible but short life and career and her mysterious death


Thelma Alice Todd came into this world on the 29th of July, 1906, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Her mother, Alice, was a Canadian immigrant and her father, John, was from Ireland. John Todd had several jobs – working as an alderman, superintendent of streets, and had even served as Lawrence’s commissioner of health and charities for one year.

She had one older brother, William, who died in 1910 when Thelma was only 4 years old. She grew up in humble surroundings and had big dreams to become a Hollywood star.

However, her first ambition was to become a teacher. She was a brilliant student in school and wanted to train as a schoolteacher while in university. During her time at Lowell Normal School – now part of the University of Massachusetts – she began modeling and participating in beauty pageants to earn some money on the side.

In 1925, when she was 19, she won the titles of Miss Lawrence and Miss Massachusetts. These laurels helped her gain the attention of a Hollywood talent scout. This led to her becoming a part of the Paramount Players School. This was an acting school ran by Paramount Studios that trained aspiring actors in acting, singing, dancing, diction, athletics, and etiquette. It prepared them for a potential career in the film industry.

Of the 16 students in her class, Thelma Todd was one of only 2 students who managed to land roles in films.

Her early roles were in silent feature films and shorts. In her early work, she didn’t get a chance to do much acting – and the focus was more on her beauty than her acting talents. However, her luck changed when the silent film era came to an end and the talkies were born.

Producer Hal Roach realized that Thelma had incredible acting talents and would be perfect for supporting and larger roles. He also realized that she’d be great for comedy films.

She began appearing in short and feature films alongside comedy stars Charley Chase, Harry Langdon, and Laurel and Hardy. She became so popular that she and ZaSu Pitts cast in a series of comedy short films. This duo intended to be a female version of ‘Laurel and Hardy.’ Thelma Todd the serious and posh girl who had to deal with ZaSu Pitts’ silly antics and clumsiness!

As the roaring twenties continued to progress, Thelma Todd was becoming a major star. She also began to enjoy the glamor that came with show business. On the surface, everything seemed fine. But behind the scenes something darker was emerging…

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By the mid-1920s, Thelma Todd began landing larger roles in feature films. Her early major roles were in films such as Fascinating Youth, Rubber Heels, Nevada, The Shield of Honor, The Gay Defender, The Noose, Vamping Venus, Heart to Heart, Naughty Baby, House of Horror, and The Bachelor Girl.

In 1931, Thelma landed a lead role in crime film Corsair directed by Roland West. In the film, she played socialite Alison Corning who convinces her lover John Hawks, played by Chester Morris, to find a job that’ll help him make ‘big money.’

The movie released during the Prohibition Era and dealt with alcohol bootleggers. The film major hit and helped further catapult Thelma Todd to stardom. She also became romantically involved with the director Roland West during the making of the film.

In addition to her feature film work she continued to appear in several short films. While she’s a versatile actress, known mostly for her work in comedy.

A mention should made of Thelma Todd’s work with the Marx Brothers. She appeared in the films Monkey Business and Horse Feathers. Horse Feathers focused on a college football match between two rival universities. It was a classic screwball comedy and gave Thelma Todd to once again, showcase her excellent comic skills. She managed to stand out and could rival the talents of the famous Marx Brothers.

Monkey Business was one of the earliest Marx Brothers’ films and the first that was based on an original screenplay. In the film, Thelma Todd plays Lucille Briggs – the wife of the notorious mobster Alky Briggs.

In the film, she is seduced by Groucho as he tries to evade Alky Briggs! While The Marx Brothers were obviously the stars of this film, Thelma Todd received much praise for her role on the film. Interestingly enough, life would imitate art as she would later form a relationship with a notorious mobster…



Before we get into the mystery of how Thelma Todd died, we’ve got to look into her love life. As mentioned earlier, she involved in a relationship with Roland West – the director of Corsair. With Roland West, she opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café. This café – located in Los Angeles – became a huge attraction for tourists as well as many Hollywood celebrities.

Thelma Todd also briefly married to Pat DiCicco who had a brief career as an actor and film producer.

But her most famous partner, was the notorious mobster Lucky Luciano. Before we get into how this happened, we’ve got to look deeper into Thelma’s personal life.

While on the outside, Thelma Todd’s life seemed perfect – she had an extremely troubled personal life. During her childhood, she didn’t have the best relationship with her father. It’s alleged that he beat her. It’s speculated that this is what caused her attracted to violent and dangerous men.

Her husband Pat DiCicco may not have been a prominent figure in the film industry, but he did have relations with the underworld. One of his acquaintances was Lucky Luciano.

On screen, Thelma Todd gained a reputation for not only being a talented and beautiful actress, but one who had a knack for seducing men. Behind the scenes, she had also garnered a reputation as being a party girl. She required to keep a certain weight in order to keep receiving roles in films.

This led her addicted to alcohol and partying often. This behavior must have attracted the wrong kind of men who gravitated toward her. Sadly, she also gravitated toward them.

It’s rumored that Lucky Luciano got Thelma Todd addicted to amphetamines. It’s also alleged that he beat her regularly.

Little is known today of how public their relationship and Thelma’s addiction problems. She’s one of the most popular celebrities of her time and there was seldom a party that she wasn’t invited to attend.

On December 14th, 1935, the 29-year-old Thelma Todd attended a dinner party at the Trocadero Café. At this dinner party, she bumped into her ex-husband Pat DiCicco. He’s with another woman, and it rumored that he intentionally brought a date hoping to make Thelma feel envious.

There are also rumors that the two of them had a brief serious argument during the dinner party.

At around quarter to 2 AM, Thelma called Sid Grauman – a theater manager who was housesitting her apartment. She told him that she’d be back home by 2 AM. However, Thelma didn’t leave the party right away.

She left at around 3 AM and a chauffeur had taken her to the café she owned at around 4 AM. Thelma’s apartment was above her café, so she was essentially going home. After the driver went away, it’s unclear on what happened to Thelma later that day.

The next morning, Thelma Todd was discovered by her maid slumped in the driver’s seat of her career. At first, the maid simply thought Thelma was sleeping.

However, the maid soon realized that the car’s engine was running! She called the police to investigate what had happened. Thelma Todd was declared dead from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

How this happened remains a perplexing mystery to this day. One school of thought was that she fell asleep with the car’s engine on and thus, her death was accidental. There are also beliefs that perhaps it was intentional and that she wanted to commit suicide.

But there are also rumors that she was killed. One belief is that her lover Roland West hated Thelma for going out and having relations with other men and that this was a crime of passion. There are also rumors that she was ordered to be killed by Lucky Luciano who wanted to take over her popular and lucrative café.

We wish we had the answer…but it still remains a mystery…

Now, let’s hear from you:

Did you know about Thelma Todd?

In fact, here’s what we’d like to know:

Do you think that her death was a suicide?

Or is this inexplicable death actually a murder that’s been covered up?

Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

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