Monday, February 14, 2011

Thelma Todd

BRIMMING WITH STAR QUALITY: Thelma Todd (1906-1935) possessed comedic timing that was as remarkable as her beauty. (Original Hal Roach photo from the author's personal collection.)

Called her, "Hot Toddy,"
the ice cream blonde with a smile
that could melt your heart.

Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd were Hal Roach's female answer to Laurel and Hardy. The duo worked together in 17 comedy shorts before Pitts left Roach Studios in 1933. Pitts was replaced by Patsy Kelly; and, with her new partner, Todd went on to make 21 more two-reelers before 1935.

For The Marx Brothers, Todd provided a luscious alternative to Margaret Dumont, Groucho's usual foil. Pictured with the actress in this still from "Horse Feathers" are Zeppo (left) and Harpo (right).

TWO TOWHEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE: A playful candid of Todd and Harpo Marx. (From the author's personal collection.)

In August of 1934, the actress opened Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades. It became a favorite of celebrities, tourists and much less desirable characters.

Thelma Todd was found dead in the garage above her restaurant on December 16, 1935, a victim of monoxide poisoning. She was 29 years old.

Todd's death certificate.

Thelma Alice Todd was a teacher but her participation as Miss Massachusetts in The 1925 Miss America Pageant brought her to the attention of motion picture talent scouts. With her striking beauty and vivacious personality, Todd exuded a rich sense of comedic timing that made her a natural for the likes of Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers. Ten years later, the rising star with 120 films under her belt was found dead, slumped over in her car inside her garage, from monoxide poisoning. The coroner ruled it an accident but rumors of fowl play still abound. She was 29, a restaurateur, divorced from shady businessman Pasquale "Pat" DiCicco, living with married director Roland West and rumored to be having an affair with mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano. What really happened to Thelma Todd remains one of Hollywood's greatest unsolved mysteries.

With Buster Keaton in a scene from "Speak Easily."

A sexy studio portrait.

In an odd twist, the building is now occupied by Paulist Productions, a company dedicated to producing film and television projects that teach Christian values and tackle modern moral dilemmas. The structure is also reported to be haunted.

The eternally youthful, stylish and lovely Thelma Todd.

Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood's Most Sensational MurderSpeak EasilyMonkey Business 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Burt Mustin

A LATE BLOOMER: Burt Mustin (1884-1977) began acting professionally at age 67. In his 25-year career, he appeared in nearly 400 television shows, 70 movies and dozens of commercials.

Salesman turned actor.
If you wonder where he's now,
he went that-a way.

While attending Pennsylvania Military College, Mustin served as goalie for the school's hockey team. He graduated in 1903.

Although he played many character parts, Mustin always considered himself the "He Went That-a Way" Guy. Here he is as a geriatric Kimba of the Jungle in a 1967 episode of "The Monkees."

One of Mustin's most famous roles was that of Mr. Quigley on "All in the Family." The show's producers paired him with daffy and darling Ruth McDevitt, another popular senior performer.

Shortly after his 92nd birthday, Mustin made a memorable appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." He passed away 10 months later from natural causes.