If you haven't yet read Part One, I encourage you to scroll down and read it before going forward.
Part Two: The period from the beginning of 1933 until Thelma's tragic death in 1935.
As soon as Thelma had recovered from her automobile accident she returned to Hal Roach Studios where they were waiting on her to start filming "The Devil's Brother" starring Laurel and Hardy and Dennis King. Once filming wrapped, Hal Roach sent Thelma and the other stars of the picture off to London to promote the film. Thelma set sail for Europe in April, leaving her husband and their flailing marriage behind. By now Pat had used Thelma's contacts to edge his way into the studio as an agent and cameraman. Thelma wasn't thrilled as he pushed to represent her career. To his dismay, the strong willed Thelma wasn't having any of it. She welcomed the trip abroad, traveling with actress Sally Eiler as her wreck of a marriage stayed behind.
As the promotional tour wrapped up, Thelma was offered a role in the British adaptation of "Taming of the Shrew" titled "You Made Me Love You" Her co-star would be the well respected stage actor Stanley Lupino, also the father of actress Ida Lupino. Ida, already a stage actress at 15, grew to adore Thelma and idolize her. This would be the first time she got to spend any quality time with an actual Hollywood star.
Shortly after filming began on "You Made Me Love You", Thelma had a fainting episode which led to her being diagnosed with a heart condition. It was after this diagnosis that Thelma felt she would not live that much longer. All the more reason to end her marriage to Pat once she returned to the United States. She was hoping to end things without hassle so she could focus on her career and get back to spending time with her mother, Alice. The one thing that Thelma thought to do before marrying Pat was to get him to sign a prenuptial agreement, one that he agreed to without any fuss, to her surprise. Surely things were going to be okay now that she had made up her mind on the path her life would take going forward.
"Air Hostess", Todd's first film of 1933
Well, Thelma thought she had things all planned out then all hell broke loose. The gossip rag, The Hollywood Reporter came out with a story linking Thelma to actor Dennis King while in London. Of course the story wasn't true but Pat DiCicco didn't care. He was furious and demanding his wife return at once. Knowing Pat's temper, Thelma did her best to quash the rumors by giving interviews once she arrived back in New York. She raved about her husband, how she looked forward to seeing him again, that the rumors were baseless, her husband was very supportive of her career, hoping it would work to cool Pat off before she arrived back in Los Angeles.
Of course Thelma knew better than to go back to LA immediately so she made a detour to Boston then her hometown Lawrence where she gave even more interviews, professing her love for her husband over the 4th of July holiday. By the time she returned home Pat was there to meet her, pose for pictures as they embraced. Little did anyone know that while she made it clear she wasn't headed for a divorce, that's all she could think of.
Having returned to Villa Celia with Pat, Thelma set out to start another picture with Patsy Kelly but not before meeting her attorney to draft her Will. In it she made sure to leave Pat $1 so he couldn't contest it. The rest of her estate would be left to her mother, Alice Todd. She had an uneasy feeling and the constant fighting with Pat behind closed doors as well as his continued insistence that he manage her career, replacing her long time agent Jerry Mayer. This caused Thelma constant embarrassment. Before meeting Pat she managed to stay out of the gossip magazines and that's the way she wanted it. (If only Lana Turner would have heeded the same advice just a few short years later!)
As 1933 drew to a close, Thelma was drowning her sorrows in a bottle as the town celebrated right along with her. It was the end of Prohibition. No longer appearing together in public, the DiCicco's were separated with Thelma moving out and into a small bungalow that she shared with Charlie Chaplin's secretary, Catherine Hunter. She didn't want to live alone and the little cottage was closer to the studio where she managed to stay busy and focused despite her misery. By now Lina was divorced again and an eager companion as they hit the night spots just like old times. Her friend Stanley Lupino and his impetuous daughter had also arrived in Hollywood where they gave lavish parties, were a fixture at the Trocadero and Coconut Grove, even with Ida being only 16 approaching 30 with her wild ways.
The small bungalow on Fountain Avenue where Thelma moved upon her separation from Pat in 1934. As they look today. I'm sure they were adorable back then. (Click on photos for a larger view)
In February of 1934, Thelma received her divorce from Pat DiCicco. He exited the marriage with nothing the same way he came into it. It was also during this time that Thelma reunited with Roland West who by now was buying up property near his mansion in Castillo Del Mar, along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Thelma was still working steadily throughout 1934, with 15 films from shorts to feature length films. She was still in high demand, with a very large fan base. The Ice Cream Blonde was popular and ready for her life to change. Like so many starlets before her, Thelma knew she would one day be replaced, offered less roles and she wanted to make changes to insure she would have steady income, something to keep her busy when that day came. This is where Roland West came in to the picture on a permanent basis.
As Thelma approached 28, she set her focus on a business that she could invest her time into. Roland West, now separated from his wife Jewel, was eager to help. Just down the hill from his Mediterranean mansion that he now lived in alone, he found a property that sat right on the Pacific Coast Highway. With it's easy access to the beach and it's location just a short distance from Santa Monica where the Hollywood elite were starting to move to, it was the perfect site to open up an upscale cafe.
Within a few short weeks, Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe was drawing in customers by the car full. With a casual atmosphere on the lower level and fine, private dining on the upper level, which was named Joya's Room. Reservations were required upstairs, and it was always filled to capacity with Roland and Thelma's Hollywood friends like Joe E. Brown, Walt Disney, Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, Lyle Talbot, Jeanette MacDonald or Patsy Kelly. They spared no expense on the menu and the liquors that were imported from France and Italy, being just a few feet from the ocean there was always the freshest catch of the day. Roland's brother in law Rudy Schafer was the cafe manager. Quite convenient since he lived right up the road above Roland's second garage, but more about that garage and Rudy a bit later.
Thelma had never been happier. Roland even took up residence part time in the large apartment to the back of the cafe. Double doors separated his private suite from Thelma's. This was now her full time residence where she worked alongside Roland to greet their guests when not at the studio. She moved briefly to a rambling Spanish style home close to the Cafe for just a few short weeks, she would keep the residence after she started staying above the cafe full time. West put up all of the capital for Thelma's new venture, sparing no expense on the decor and kitchen with it's high tech equipment.
Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe as it appeared in 1934. Thelma's private residence can be seen on the second level.
An aerial view of the Cafe as it appeared recently, when occupied by Paulist Productions. Scenic views of the Pacific Ocean.
Thelma, celebrating her 28th birthday at the Cafe.
Thelma's residence just a short distance from the Sidewalk Cafe that she moved to when she reunited with Roland West. She kept the residence after moving to the apartment above the cafe. This is how the house appears today.
Thelma's Cafe apartment as it appears today. Accessible off PCH during the 1930's but now the side entrance has been sealed off. The largest part of the residence can be seen to the exterior and accessed from Castelammare Road.
Although Roland was now separated from Jewel who had just suffered from a nervous breakdown, he wasn't quite ready to get a divorce from his wife of over 20 years. It didn't seem to trouble Thelma as Roland was with her every night, looking out for her and loving her the best way he knew how. They were very private about their relationship and Thelma was quick to describe Roland as her business partner only. Who's to say if they were intimate but Thelma loved Roland and she was never seen out with another man once they moved in together, regardless of the fact that they had separate sleeping quarters and their own sitting rooms under the same roof.
When Roland didn't feel up to hitting the night clubs, he was fine with Thelma venturing out with friends or alone as long as she was driven by her full time chauffeur. The only thing that Roland seemed to mind is that Thelma get proper rest and avoid heavy drinking the night before she was to report to the studio.
The final day of Thelma Todd's Life:
Leading up to Christmas, Thelma was busy doing last minute shopping so she could insure her packages would arrive in time to her cousins back in Lawrence. The second weekend of December was also the night Thelma had committed to a party at the Trocadero Night Club, honoring her good friend Stanley Lupino. The Saturday morning of the party, Thelma ran errands, did a bit more shopping with her mother Alice before they headed back to her apartment over the Cafe. By now it was early afternoon as Thelma spent a bit of time downstairs with Roland as he made preparations for another fully booked night at the restaurant. Thelma had wanted him to attend Lupino's party but Roland declined, he needed to watch over things there. Sometime that afternoon, pesky Ida Lupino called to let Thelma know that she had ran into Pat DiCicco who she invited to the party. Thelma didn't care either way as she started getting ready for the drive over to the Tracadero.
The Trocadero Night Club as it appeared in 1935. The place where Thelma would spend her last night alive.
This is where cars and garages come in to play. Two streets behind the cafe and about 5 blocks over was Roland's mansion as well as a smaller garage that sat on a curve down the hill in front of it. It was inconvenient but the only place that Thelma and Roland could keep their cars at night. They had a system which made things a bit tolerable in regards to their parking situation. Each morning during the week, Thelma's housekeeper, Mae Whithead, would drive her own car over to the garage, move Thelma's Phaeton out, park her own in it's place then drive Thelma's car to the front of the cafe so Thelma would have quick access to it. At night around midnight, the bartender, Rogers would drive Thelma's car back over to the garage, always backing it in so that Mae could easily switch cars the following morning. Thelma seldom had to go the 5 blocks to retrieve her own car or put it away at night. Roland drove a Hubmobile that he kept in the garage next to Thelma's.
The garage where Thelma and Roland parked their cars at night (G) with a view of Roland's large mansion directly behind it on Revello Drive. (The same home that he built with wife Jewel Carmen shortly before starting an affair with Thelma Todd) It pretty much looks the same as it did back in 1935. Images courtesy of Google Earth.
Aerial view of the cafe, as it appears today. You can see the private apt and the exterior exit that led to the garage where Thelma and Roland kept their cars.
Thelma left that Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. for the party with her mother being driven by her chauffeur Ernest Peters in the rented limousine. Thelma had him stop at a local florist where he went in and purchased a small camellia flower that she would clip to her evening gown. After dropping Thelma off at the Trocadero he drove Alice to another store before delivering her home to her apartment at the Knickerbocker. Peter's arrived back at the Trocadero by 9 p.m. where he would wait on Thelma until she was ready to go back home. She looked radiant that night in full length mink coat over a robin's egg blue evening gown with it's shimmering overlay and matching blue open toe heels. With diamond hair clips accentuating her short curls and diamond rings on three fingers, she glowed as she entered the party which by 8 p.m. was just getting started.
When Thelma left for the party that night, her Phaeton was still parked in front of the cafe. She would have entered her private residence where you see the bus benches, then a stairway leading up to her apartment. Of course by the time she arrived back home from the Trocadero Club, Rogers had taken her Phaeton to the garage and backed it in.
Although it was the coldest night of the year so far in California, with high winds, the guests at Stanley Lupino's party didn't notice. The band was playing, cocktails were being replaced as soon as they were emptied and the food was spectacular. Thelma was having a great time dancing and chatting with old friends as the night wore on. She didn't even mind when she noticed her ex husband, Pat DiCicco over on the dance floor with his date, actress Margaret Lindsay. Of course Ida Lupino who was immature and always blowing everything out of proportion felt Pat was rude to appear at the same club but ignore their party. As the night wore on and 1:30 a.m. approached Thelma recalled a passing conversation that she had with Roland before she left for the evening. He joked that she needed to be in by 2:00 a.m. which she countered with "2:05"!
Knowing that Roland would be closing up the cafe by 2 :00 am at the latest, Thelma asked Sid Grauman to call the cafe for her to let Roland know that she was getting ready to leave the party. Thelma stayed a bit longer, talking to the Skouras Brothers before getting into the chauffeured limousine to make her way home. By the time Ernest pulled up to the front entrance of the cafe, all the lights were out so he offered to walk her up the side stairs to her apartment door as he did every night he dropped her off late. It was such a cold night that Thelma declined, exiting the car and making her way up the side stairs as Ernest pulled away onto PCH. Most likely once Thelma reached the apt door then realized Roland had bolted it, therefore causing her to need two keys, she either lightly wrapped on the door and didn't get an answer or decided to walk down to the garage to pass some time before daylight approached. With the high winds that night it's doubtful than Roland, known to be a sound sleeper would have heard her knocking.
When Roland went downstairs to the bar area he asked Rogers which car Thelma took that day but nobody ever thought to walk up to the garage to check. Since it was Sunday, Mae was off so there was no need for her to stop by the garage and exchange cars. As Sunday wore on and the restaurant started to fill up, Sid and his party arrived, Roland began to worry a bit when Thelma didn't even call. By midnight he closed up, walked their dog then dead bolted the doors before retiring to bed. There was still no word from Thelma.
At around 9:30 on Monday morning, Mae Whithead arrived at the garage on Posetano Road just as she did every week day. She opened the garage expecting to pull Thelma's Lincoln Phaeton out of the garage, pull hers in, then drive Thelma's car down the hill as she did five days a week. As she stepped into the garage she noticed the drivers door of Thelma's car open, and Thelma slumped over partly behind the wheel with her head down on the front seat. Thelma was still wearing her fur coat and the evening gown, same heels that Mae had set out for her on Saturday evening before the party. It was apparent that her boss was dead. She got into her car and drove down to the cafe, waking Roland West.
Roland dressed quickly and rode back up to the garage with Mae. By now it was approaching 10:00 am and West's brother-in law who lived above the garage in an adjoining apt, was awake. Realizing quickly that calling the cops from the cafe would cause a scandal, Roland instructed Schafer to drive down the road and summon the police. It took Roland just a quick glance to know that Thelma had been dead for some time. The Phaeton was still pulled in trunk first as Roger's had done on Saturday night before going home. Knowing Thelma couldn't back it in that way, she never left to go anywhere. Roland's Hubmobile was parked next to her in the same spot on the left side of the garage. (You can view a photo of Thelma Todd as she was found by clicking HERE.)
A further back view via Google Earth. Roland West's Mediterranean mansion can be seen above.
When the police arrived on scene they noted that Thelma Todd had been dead for some time. Crime scene photos were taken and all parties on scene were questioned. Nobody had conflicting stories and Thelma did not appear to have been involved in any kind of altercation. Other than a small drop of dried blood on her lips and a couple of drops on the drivers side seat, she appeared to have fallen asleep at the wheel, most likely dying from carbon monoxide poisoning as the ignition key was on but the battery was dead. Once Thelma's body was removed and sent to the coroner's office, the police noticed that the gas gauge was close to empty and they drove the Phaeton down and around the neighborhood to determine if there was in fact any gas left in the tank. They also noticed a discolored and wilted flower attached to Todd's dress with a pin.
Thelma's purse was open on the seat next to her. It contained her lipstick, a compact, some loose change as well as one lone house key. (This one key would play an important role in deciding the events that lead up to Thelma ending up in her car late on that very cold night in December.)
There were two separate doors and two separate locks to the doors of Thelma's exterior apt. Early on Saturday, Mae made sure that Thelma took her key ring with all keys but Thelma was carrying a small evening clutch that night so she asked Mae to pull off one single outer door key which she put in her purse, the same key that was found beside her in her open purse. Roland was not present when this happened so unaware that Thelma didn't take the key to the deadbolt, he locked it that Saturday night after walking the dog and going to bed long before Thelma arrived back home.
After doing hours of exhaustive research I can only conclude that Thelma, arriving home long after Roland went to sleep, being a bit tipsy and also courteous, upon realizing that she couldn't enter the apt and not wanting to wake Roland. She decided to walk up and over to the garage, perhaps to warm up before driving it down to the cafe, buying time until Roland awoke. It's obvious from her state of dress, the wilted flower on her dress that she never entered the apt to change, nor would she have gone out anywhere else in her evening gown from the night before. Considering it was a good 5 blocks over to the garage whether she took the 200 plus stairs directly behind their apt over to Posetano Road or she walked the longer route on Castelammare Road which she could easily get to via their back gate, leading down and around a cul-de-sac. She ended up at her car and in the closed garage.
The one drop of blood on her lip and on the seat can be explained by being overcome by carbon monoxide then hitting her lip on the steering wheel as she succumbed to the gas. Considering it was such a cold night in December, perhaps she decided to warm up in her car for a few minutes before driving it down the hill. There's no indication that she knew about the dangers of running a car inside a closed garage. As for Schafer, he went to bed early on Saturday night and he didn't hear any kind of commotion, see any strange vehicles parked outside the garage. Thelma's fingernails were intact, there were no tears to her clothing, her makeup wasn't smeared nor were her shoes scuffed.
An aerial view of both routes that Thelma could have taken over to the garage that night. Back in 1935 there were older and steeper stairs that provided a short cut on to Posetano Rd to the garage. (I've marked as G in the photo) They have been replaced with newer stairs which I've diagrammed to the upper left. Closer to the PCH, Castelammare Rd was accessible directly behind Todd's apt. It was a road you could take around a curve without taking the stairs, eventually leading to the garage. Two separate routes. Unfortunately both roads were turned into dead in streets that no longer go through. Most likely to prevent gawkers and constant sightseers. You can see the garage where Thelma died to the right, center of the photo. Courtesy of Google Earth. (Click images for a closer view)
The steep stairs as they appeared in police photos in 1935. Accessed from the rear entrance of the Cafe Apt onto Castelammare Rd.
The back exit from Todd's apartment. The route she would have taken that night to her car.
Just like any mysterious death in Hollywood, Thelma's was investigated, a criminal inquiry was convened. After months of calling witnesses it was determined that Thelma died due to an accident. Of course there were daily write ups with crazy theories like the mob had her snubbed out. People came forward with the absurd story that Lucky Luciano had her killed after she refused to allow him to permit gaming at her cafe. It didn't take long for the Feds to realize that Luciano was not only under FBI observation and located in Kansas when Thelma died but he had never stepped foot in California, nor had he ever met Thelma. Besides, Thelma didn't own the cafe or have control over the day to day operations, that was Roland West's job. Thelma's ex husband, Pat DiCicco was quickly ruled out as a suspect as was Roland West.
There have been books written about Thelma Todd, adding circumstances of her death that were not only exaggerations but stories made up to sensationalize her death in order to sell books! Kenneth Anger and that writer I shall not mention who wrote the fictitious Hot Toddy to name just two. Shoot, in doing research for this post I came upon at least three blogs that have written articles on Todd's death with outlandish accusations. I refuse to write an article based on rumors that have been embellished over the years so I've just stated the facts as they were noted in the police investigation as well as eye witness reports, interviews and information that came out during the criminal inquiry.
Perhaps it's the fact that I've treated at least 20 patients who have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning over the years while working as an ER RN. The facts just aren't there to indicate there was foul play and I have no reason to believe that Thelma Todd was suicidal. As a matter of fact, her mother Alice received a bill from contractors just a few weeks after her death. Thelma had made a down payment on property that she had commissioned builders to build a new garage and retaining wall just several feet from the back entrance of the Cafe. That really is heartbreaking as she was making arrangements to insure she and Roland would have a more convenient parking place.
This Google Earth image and my note shows where Thelma had purchased land, hired contractors to build a new garage and retaining wall just a 100 ft from their apt. (seen left at PCH) The purchase was discovered by her mother just weeks after her death.
Thelma's autopsy revealed no injuries other than the very superficial scratch to her lip. Her official cost of death was ruled as accidental due to carbon monoxide poisoning. She also had undigested food in her stomach from her evening meal at the Trocadero. Her blood alcohol level also showed she was slightly intoxicated at the time of her death.
Thelma's funeral was grand and fitting a star of her stature. Her close friends and co-stars throughout the years attended the funeral after her adoring fans were permitted to view her body at the funeral home. You can see her funeral photo HERE. Thelma was cremated per her wishes and her remains given to her mother, Alice.
Post funeral and the main players as we roll the credits:
Alice Todd gave many of Thelma's belongings away before leaving California for Massachusetts. She even sold Thelma's Lincoln Phaeton for less than $1,000, the car she died in as well as the diamond jewelry that Thelma was wearing the night she died). Now 58, she was heartbroken and lost without her daughter. She had stood by Roland West after Thelma's death, not once thinking Thelma's death was anything but a tragic accident. Thelma had left her estate to her mother, many bonds and stock in various companies. Alice would never have to worry about anything but she would have traded Thelma's hard earned fortune for even one day with her precious daughter. Alice passed away in 1962 at the age of 92. Thelma's ashes were buried with her in Lawrence Mass.
By 1939 Jewel Carmen was living back in her mansion overlooking the pacific ocean as well as the site where Thelma Todd's body was discovered. It's beyond me why she never had the garage and that concrete wall demolished. I certainly can't speak to what went on in her tortured mind. (Just Google Jewel Carmen to understand her insane mind, which led to her scandalous life in Hollywood long before Thelma Todd came into the picture). Towards the end of 1939, after many court battles with Roland for spousal support, Roland West was finally granted a divorce from his estranged wife Jewel. Well kind of! You see, Roland and Jewel were actually never legally married. (I can only imagine what Thelma would have done if she had known this back before she agreed to marry that cad Pat DiCicco on the rebound!)
Pat DiCicco, still a dreg but a charming liar, convinced the heiress Gloria Vanderbilt to marry him before she turned 19. He was 32 at the time. It was 1941. It's hard to believe that the heiress fell for DiCicco but he knew she was going to inherit over four million dollars on her 21st birthday so he laid on the charm. He worked for Howard Hughes into the late 1930's while conning Gloria as he did Thelma. The best man at their wedding was Bruce Cabot with Errol Flynn, Howard Hughes and Franchot Tone as ushers. (OH, and Pat's cousin, Albert Cubby Broccoli). It didn't take long for Gloria to realize that Pat was a bully and a fraud, as Thelma learned the hard way a few years before. Luckily she suffered only mild abuse before divorcing Pat before he was able to strip her of her inheritance. DiCicco remained in Hollywood where he would find mild success, producing "Avalanche" in 1946. Pat died of cancer in New York in 1976.
Roland West kept the Cafe, tried to keep it afloat even after marrying actress Lola Lane in 1946. Lola claimed after Thelma's death that Roland said he considered himself a father figure to Thelma, that he loved her but he never considered marrying her. He also claimed that they never fought although he grew concerned when she started to drink heavily during the last year of her life. His main focus was to watch out for Thelma and to insure she didn't ruin her reputation, get herself involved in any scandals that would disrupt, damage her career. When Roland West died in 1952, Lola Lane inherited the cafe which she refurbished, the restaurant and the apartment where she resided herself until marrying businessman Robert Hanlon. Lola who was connected to her Catholic Church invited them to use the first floor of the cafe for their films. In the mid 1950's it was used as Paulist Productions until just a year ago when an attorney's office bought the property. When Lola Lane died in 1981 the cafe and it's property was left to the Paulist church. Roland also did the same to Jewel that Thelma had done for Pat. He left Jewel $1 in his Will so she couldn't contest it. Jewel had already taken him to court several times after Thelma's death to try to get a larger divorce settlement.
Lina Basquette survived heroin addiction and many well publicized scandals before dying in 1994 from cancer. She lived a long life, although one that was filled with heartbreak and severe mental anguish.
Thank you for joining me for Part Two of this post. I hope you learned something new about Thelma Todd, the blonde who's talent we never got to see the full potential. She was kind, smart, funny and beautiful. Rest In Peace Thelma!
*If you missed Part One of this two part article you can read it by clicking HERE
*If you missed Part One of this two part article you can read it by clicking HERE