Who Was Hot Toddy?

Born in 1906, Thelma Todd was an actress and businesswoman. She appeared in 120 short subject and full-length movies between 1926 and 1935, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers and Speak Easily with Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante. Her last role was in The Bohemian Girl with Laurel and Hardy, which was truncated due to her death. Under contract to Hal Roach Studios, she was frequently loaned out to work for other studios. The nicknames she acquired over her career were Hot Toddy and the Ice Cream Blonde.

In August 1934, Todd opened a successful restaurant, Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in the Pacific Palisades. Todd’s partner in this venue was her lover, the director Roland West and husband of silent movie star Jewel Carmen. Todd and West had met when he directed her in Corsair (1931).

Thelma Todd and Pat Dicicco

Her husband Pat DiCicco (whom she was married to from 1932 to 1934) was a movie producer and a mob enforcer for crime boss Lucky Luciano (with him Todd also reportedly had a tryst). Roland West was no peach either.  He was jealous, possessive, and had a volatile temper. Not winning combination by any means. Still, this was the kind of guy that Todd went for. The only thing she liked more than abusive men was possibly getting sloshed with a bottle of hooch.

Roland West

At approximately 10:30 the morning of Dec. 16, 1935, Hollywood starlet Thelma Todd`s body was found in the garage next to the Sidewalk Cafe by Mae Whitehead, her maid. Every weekday Whitehead would pull out Todd’s empty 1933 Lincoln Phaeton convertible from the garage and once Todd was ready for the day’s filming she would then drive her to the Hal Roach Studio in Culver City. Todd’s corpse was slumped over the wheel of the brown convertible.

“I went around to the left side of the car, the driver’s side and I thought I could awaken her, that she was asleep.” – MaE Whitehead

Mae Whitehead, Zasu Pitts, and Thelma Todd

On December 18, 1935, the coroner ruled her death a suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning.

She was 29.

Thelma Todd with Groucho and Chico Marx on the set of Horse Feathers (1932)

Even now, that is the official cause of death for Thelma Todd. Suicide.

What really happened and the events that led up to Todd’s death will be explored fully below.

What Happened

On December 14, a Saturday night, Todd went to the Trocadero, a nightclub on the Sunset Strip. She had been there to attend a party thrown by actress Ida Lupino and her father Stanley. Here she ran into her ex-husband Pat DiCicco and the pair got into a brief and booze-fueled altercation.

That evening Todd had worn a metallic blue sequined evening gown with matching cape, blue silk slippers, a fur coat, and about $20,000 worth of diamond jewelry. Whitehead would find her 2 days later wearing these same items.

Todd left the club shortly around 4 AM in good spirits in her chauffeur-driven Lincoln. In the evening hours she was not driven by Whitehead instead she was transported by Ernest O. Peters. Typically Peters would walk Todd up to the door of her apartment but on this evening she declined his offer and headed upstairs alone for the very last time.

1933 Lincoln Phaeton convertible

On the Tuesday morning after Todd’s body was found, December 17, Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives came to Roach’s studio office. The deputies explained to Roach that West had confessed to Thelma Todd’s death. The detectives went to Roach to get advice on how they should handle these events.

In 1987 Roach told writer Marvin Wolf what had happened between West and Todd.

“West was very possessive, very controlling. He told Thelma she was to be back by 2 a.m. She said she’d come and go as she pleased. They had a little argument about it, and then Thelma left for the party.

Apparently when Todd returned at almost 4 a.m., she declined her chauffeur’s offer to walk her upstairs because she knew there would be a scene with West. When she found the door locked, she shouted at him, and they had another argument through the door. West told her he didn’t want her going to so many parties. Todd, still a bit drunk, screamed that she’d go to any party she pleased. She was invited to one later that day, at Mrs. Wallace Ford’s, and she said she’d just go to that party now.” – Hal Roach

Hal Roach (1920)

Todd then went to the garage with West hot on her tail. She hopped in the car and started the engine. West went to the garage door and locked it.

“He wasn’t thinking about carbon monoxide, just about teaching her a lesson about who was the boss. So he left and went back to bed.” – Hal Roach

A few hours later West went into the garage and found the engine of the Lincoln still running, the garage filled with carbon monoxide fumes, and Todd’s lifeless body.

“He didn’t know what to do. So he did nothing. He closed the door — but didn’t lock it — and went back to the cafe. All that day, when people called for Thelma, he said he didn’t know where she was. If he really hadn’t known where she was, he would have been calling all over trying to find her. That’s the kind of man he was.” – Hal Roach

Roland West with Thelma Todd’s Lincoln on December 16, 1935

When the police asked Roach what should be done with this confession, the Fatty Arbuckle scandal still burned in his mind, he didn’t hesitate to give them an answer.

“I told them I thought they should forget about it. He wouldn’t have gone to jail anyway, because he’d have the best lawyers, he’d deny everything in court, and there were no witnesses. So why cause him all that trouble?” – Hal Roach

The next day Todd’s death was ruled a suicide.

West died in 1951. He allegedly confessed to his role in Todd’s death on his deathbed to his close friend, the actor Chester Morris. Morris committed suicide in 1971.

Hal Roach the last known person to have any involvement in Todd’s death or the cover-up that followed died in 1992.

Thelma Todd

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