Jean-Pierre Aumont, ca. 1940s
Jean-Pierre Aumont, ca. 1940s
Annabella, ca. 1930s
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954)
Thelma Alice Todd (July 29, 1906 – December 16, 1935) was an American actress and businesswoman often referred to by the nickname “The Ice Cream Blonde”, also “Hot Toddy”. Appearing in around 120 feature films and shorts between 1926 and 1935, she is best remembered for her comedic roles opposite ZaSu Pitts and in films such as Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers and a number of Charley Chase’s short comedies. She co-starred with Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily. She also had roles in several Wheeler and Woolsey and Laurel and Hardy films, the last of which (The Bohemian Girl) featured her in a part that was truncated by her suspicious death in 1935 at the age of 29.
Todd was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to John Shaw Todd, an upholsterer from Ireland, and Alice Elizabeth Edwards, an immigrant from Canada. She had an older brother, William. She was a bright student who achieved good academic results. She intended to become a schoolteacher and enrolled at the Lowell Normal School (now University of Massachusetts, Lowell) after graduating from high school in 1923. In her late teens, she began entering beauty pageants, winning the title of Miss Massachusetts in 1925. While representing her home state, she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and began her career in film at Paramount.
During the silent film era, Todd appeared in numerous supporting roles that made full use of her beauty but gave her little chance to act. With the advent of the talkies, Todd was given opportunity to expand her roles when producer Hal Roach signed her to appear with such comedy stars as Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, and Laurel and Hardy.
In 1931, Roach cast Todd in her own series of slapstick comedy shorts, running 17 to 27 minutes each. In an attempt to create a female version of Laurel and Hardy, Roach teamed Todd with ZaSu Pitts for 17 shorts, from “Let’s do Things” (June 1931) through “One Track Minds” (May 1933). When Pitts left in 1933, she was replaced by Patsy Kelly, appearing with Todd in 21 shorts, from “Beauty and the Bus” (September 1933) through “An All American Toothache” (January 1936). These Roach shorts often cast Todd as a levelheaded working girl having all sorts of problems and trying her best to remain poised and charming despite the embarrassing antics of her ditzy sidekick.
In 1931, Todd starred in Corsair, a film directed by Roland West, with whom she would later become romantically involved.
Todd became highly regarded as a capable film comedian, and Roach loaned her out to other studios to play opposite Wheeler & Woolsey, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, and the Marx Brothers. She also appeared successfully in such dramas as the original 1931 film version of The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, in which she played Miles Archer’s treacherous widow. During her career she appeared in around 120 feature films and shorts.
In August of 1934, Todd opened a successful cafe, Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in the Los Angeles coastal neighborhood of Pacific Palisades. It attracted a diverse clientele of Hollywood celebrities as well as many tourists.
Todd continued her short-subject series through 1935 and was featured in the full-length Laurel and Hardy comedy The Bohemian Girl. This was her last film; she died after completing all of her scenes, but most of them were re-shot. Producer Roach deleted all of Todd’s dialogue and limited her appearance to one musical number.
On the morning of Monday, December 16, 1935, Thelma Todd was found dead in her car inside the garage of Jewel Carmen, a former actress and former wife of Todd’s lover and business partner, Roland West. Carmen’s house was approximately a block from the topmost side of Todd’s restaurant. Her death was determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. West is quoted in a contemporaneous newspaper account as having locked her out, which may have caused her to seek refuge and warmth in the car. Todd had a wide circle of friends and associates as well as a busy social life.
Police investigations revealed that she had spent the previous Saturday night (December 14) at the Trocadero, a popular Hollywood restaurant, at a party hosted by entertainer Stanley Lupino and his actress daughter, Ida. At the restaurant, she had a brief, but unpleasant, exchange with her ex-husband, Pat DiCicco. However, her friends stated that she was in good spirits and were aware of nothing unusual in her life that could suggest a reason for her committing suicide. She was driven home from the party in the early hours of December 15 by her chauffeur, Ernest O. Peters.
The detectives of the LAPD concluded that Todd’s death was accidental, the result of her either warming up the car to drive it or using the heater to keep herself warm. A Coroner’s Inquest into Todd’s death was held on December 18, 1935. Autopsy surgeon A. P. Wagner testified that there were “no marks of violence anywhere upon or within the body” with only a “superficial contusion on the lower lip.” There are informal accounts of greater signs of injury. The jury ruled that the death appeared to be accidental but recommended “further investigation to be made into the case, by proper authorities.”
Subsequently a grand jury probe was held to determine whether Todd’s death was a murder. After four weeks of testimony, the inquiry was closed with no evidence of murder being brought forward. The case was closed by the Homicide Bureau, which listed the death as “accidental with possible suicide tendencies.” However, investigators were unable to find any motive for suicide or a suicide note.
Visitation was held at Pierce Brothers Mortuary at 720 West Washington Blvd in Los Angeles.
Todd’s body was cremated. After her mother’s death in 1969, Todd’s remains were placed in her mother’s casket and buried in Bellevue Cemetery in her hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Constance Campbell Bennett (October 22, 1904 – July 24, 1965), was an American stage, film, radio and television actress. She was a major Hollywood star during the 1920s and 1930s and for a time during the early 1930s, she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood, as well as one of the most popular. Bennett frequently played society women, focusing on melodramas in the early 1930s and then taking more comedic roles in the late 1930s and 1940s. She is best known today for her leading roles in What Price Hollywood? (1932), Bed of Roses (1933), Topper (1937), Topper Takes a Trip (1938), and had a prominent supporting role in Greta Garbo’s last film, Two-Faced Woman (1941).
She was the daughter of stage and silent film star Richard Bennett, and the older sister of actress Joan Bennett.
Constance Bennett was born in New York City, the eldest of three daughters of actress Adrienne Morrison and actor Richard Bennett. Her younger sisters were actresses Joan Bennett and Barbara Bennett. All three girls attended the Chapin School in New York.
After some time spent in a convent, Bennett went into the family business. Independent, cultured, ironic and outspoken, Constance, the first Bennett sister to enter motion pictures, appeared in New York-produced silent movies before a meeting with Samuel Goldwyn led to her Hollywood debut in Cytherea (1924). She abandoned a burgeoning career in silents for marriage to Philip Plant in 1925, but resumed her film career after their divorce, with the advent of talking pictures (1929), and with her delicate blonde features and glamorous fashion style, she quickly became a popular film star.
In the early 1930s, Bennett was frequently among the top actresses named in audience popularity and box-office polls. For a short time, she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. So successful was Bennett during this time, that RKO, Bennett’s home studio at the time, controlled the careers of actresses Ann Harding and Helen Twelvetrees in a similar manner, hoping to duplicate Bennett’s success.
In 1931, a short-lived contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer earned her $300,000 for two movies which included The Easiest Way and made her one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood. Warner Brothers paid her the all-time high salary of $30,000 a week for Bought! in 1931. Richard Bennett, her father, was also cast in this film.
The next year she moved to RKO, where she acted in What Price Hollywood? (1932), directed by George Cukor, an ironic and at the same time tragic behind-the-scenes looks at the old Hollywood studio system, in which she portrayed waitress Mary Evans, who becomes a movie star. Lowell Sherman co-starred as the film director who discovers her, and Neil Hamilton as the wealthy playboy she marries. It was a critical and box office hit at the time of its release. The film Morning Glory had been written with Bennett in mind for the lead role, but producer Pandro S. Berman gave the role to Katharine Hepburn, who won an Academy Award for her performance.
Bennett next showed her versatility in the likes of Our Betters (1933), writer/director Gregory La Cava’s Bed of Roses (1933) with Pert Kelton, After Tonight (1933) (co-starring with future husband Gilbert Roland), The Affairs of Cellini (1934), After Office Hours (1935) with Clark Gable, the original Topper (1937, in a career standout as Marian Kerby opposite Cary Grant, a role she repeated in the 1939 sequel, Topper Takes a Trip), the ultimate madcap family comedy Merrily We Live (1938) and Two-Faced Woman (1941, supporting Greta Garbo).
By the 1940s, Bennett was working less frequently in film but was in demand in both radio and theatre. She had her own program, Constance Bennett Calls on You, on ABC radio in 1945-1946. Shrewd investments had made her a wealthy woman, and she founded a cosmetics and clothing company.
Bennett was married five times and had three children.
On June 15, 1921, Bennett eloped with Chester Hirst Moorehead of Chicago, a student at the University of Virginia who was the son of oral surgeon, Frederick Moorehead. They were married by a justice of the peace in Greenwich, Connecticut. Bennett was 16 at the time. A New York Times article that reported the elopement noted, “The parents of Miss Bennett were opposed to their marriage at this time solely on account of their youth.” The marriage was annulled in 1923.
Bennett’s next serious relationship was with millionaire socialite Philip Morgan Plant. Her parents planned a cruise to Europe, taking Constance with them, to separate the couple. As the ship was preparing to leave port, however, the Bennetts saw Plant and his parents boarding, too. A contemporary newspaper article reported, “Now the little beauty and the heir to all the Plant millions were assured a week of the cosy intimacy which an ocean liner affords.” In November 1925, the two eloped and were married in Greenwich, Connecticut, by the same justice of the peace who officiated at Bennett’s wedding to Moorehead. They divorced in a French court.
In 1932, Bennett returned from Europe with a three-year-old child, whom she claimed to have adopted and named Peter Bennett Plant (born 1929). In 1942, however, during a battle over a large trust fund established to benefit any descendants of her former husband, Bennett announced that her adopted son actually was her natural child by Plant, born after the divorce and kept hidden to ensure that the child’s biological father did not get custody. During the court hearings, the actress told her former mother-in-law and her husband’s widow that “if she got to the witness stand she would give a complete account of her life with Plant.” The matter was settled out of court.
In 1931, Bennett made headlines when she married one of Gloria Swanson’s former husbands, Henri le Bailly, the Marquis de La Coudraye de La Falaise, a French nobleman and film director. She and de la Falaise founded Bennett Pictures Corp. and co-produced two films which were the last filmed in Hollywood in the two-strip Technicolor process, Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935) filmed in Bali, and Kilou the Killer Tiger (1936), filmed in Indochina. They were divorced in Reno, Nevada in 1940.
Bennett’s fourth marriage was to actor Gilbert Roland. They were married in 1941 and had two daughters, Lorinda “Lynda” (1938) and Christina “Gyl” (1941). They divorced in 1946, with Bennett winning custody of their children. Later that year, Bennett married for the fifth and final time to US Air Force Colonel (later Brigadier General) John Theron Coulter. After her marriage, she concentrated her efforts on providing relief entertainment to US troops still stationed in Europe, winning military honors for her services. Bennett and Coulter remained married until her death in 1965.
She had a major supporting role in Warner Bros’ The Unsuspected (1947) opposite Claude Rains, in which she played Jane Moynihan, the program director who helps prove that radio host Victor Grandison (Rains) is guilty of murder. In 1958, she hosted “The Constance Bennett Show” with Scott Vincent on ABC Radio. She made no films from the early 1950s until 1965 when she made a comeback in the film Madame X (released posthumously in 1966) as the blackmailing mother-in-law of Madame X (Lana Turner).
On July 25, 1965, shortly after filming of Madame X was completed, Bennett collapsed and died from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 60. In recognition of her military contributions, and as the wife of John Theron Coulter, who had achieved the rank of brigadier general, she was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Coulter died in 1995 and was buried with her.
Bennett has a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the film industry. Her star is located at 6250 Hollywood Boulevard, a short distance from the star of her sister, Joan.
Gregory Peck, c.1945
What Price Hollywood?
“You and your imagination! You think every girl’s a dope. You think a girl goes to a party and there’s some guy, a great big lunk in a fancy striped vest, strutting around like a tiger giving you that I’m-so-handsome-you-can’t-resist-me look. And for this she’s supposed to fall flat on her face. Well, she doesn’t fall on her face. But there’s another guy in the room, way over in the corner. Maybe he’s kind of nervous and shy and perspiring a little. First, you look past him. But then you sort of sense that he’s gentle and kind and worried. That he’ll be tender with you. Nice and sweet. That’s what’s *really* exciting.“
The Seven Year Itch (1955) dir. Billy Wilder