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The Life and Death of Thelma Todd [Kindle Edition]

William Donati
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

American film favorite Thelma Todd was much more than the beautiful blonde of the 1930s who played opposite Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. Todd's tragic death transformed her into an icon of Hollywood mystery: The photograph of the 29-year-old actress slumped in her luxurious Lincoln Phaeton shocked fans in 1935. How did she die? Was it murder, suicide, or an accident?
This definitive biography covers a fascinating era in Hollywood history. In the course of his exhaustive research, the author interviewed Todd's cousins Bill and Edna Todd, as well as such friends and coworkers as Ida Lupino, Lina Basquette, Anita Garvin, Dorothy Granger, William Bakewell and Greg Blackton. Also examined is Hollywood's first major sex scandal of 1913, involving Jewel Carmen, the future spouse of director Roland West--the man Thelma Todd loved.

Product Description

About the Author

William Donati is a professor in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4830 KB
  • Print Length: 248 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (5 Jan. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006Z4A1YA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #624,509 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant 26 Dec. 2014
By queenie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book, i loved it. Recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue biography 18 Jan. 2012
By Rene Rondeau - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At last, a serious biography of a remarkable actress whose death has generated almost as many conspiracy theories over the years as JFK's.

William Donati is to be commended for writing a book which is scholarly -- heavily footnoted in the back section -- but without being at all stuffy. Unlike the only previous full length bio of Thelma Todd, "Hot Toddy", published in 1989 (or the dreadful TV movie based on that book, "White Hot" with Loni Anderson), "The Life and Death of Thelma Todd" sticks to documented facts, with no invented verbatim conversations or other such fanciful artifice.

One of the most striking and valuable parts of the book, in my opinion, is his lengthy republishing of the entire coroner's inquest testimony. "Hot Toddy" used extracts, eliminating testimony that inconveniently contradicted the author's strained premise while interjecting entire paragraphs impossibly telling the reader what witnesses were thinking, or plotting. That bit of chicanery was shockingly dishonest. Donati lays it all out, from start to finish, letting the reader draw his own conclusions. But for those who still want to believe fanciful conspiracy theories, Donati's concluding chapters do a masterful job of debunking them, point by point.

Every quote in the book comes from original source material, not fabricated like most of "Hot Toddy." Donati did extensive research in archives not only in Hollywood, but in Todd's hometown of Lawrence, Mass. He also had access to previously unseen letters, photographs, and other materials which were in family scrapbooks. Many of the photos in the book have never been published before; many others, while made as publicity shots, are rarely seen today. He clearly avoided larding the book with the most commonly-found pictures of Thelma, and that is a very big plus in itself.

Certainly, some of the quotes taken from magazine and newspaper articles published in the 1920s and 1930s may not have been 100% accurately transcribed by the original writers, but they are a far more direct connection to Thelma Todd's real comments than anything invented from thin air by modern writers or bloggers. She comes across as a smart, savvy, worldly young woman who was clearly not the easily-manipulated airhead some writers would like you to believe.

Donati has also authored a biography of Lucky Luciano, which gives him a far more knowledgeable perspective about Luciano's purported involvement with Thelma Todd. The fundamental premise of "Hot Toddy" is quite thoroughly shot down by the use of original documents covering Luciano's whereabouts in late 1935.

All in all, this is a great read for anyone who has any interest in Hollywood in its prime. I doubt that it will convince everyone; just as with JFK's assassination, questions and doubts will never go away. But it is unquestionably the best and most honest look at Thelma Todd ever published, on paper or online.

My only reservation is the slightly high price for a paperback, but it's such a good book that I have no regrets. I recommend it highly.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive 26 Jan. 2012
By Baby Blue - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A must read for Thelma's fans. Astounding research with documentation. Readers not only get Thelma's life in detail but also the entire Coroner's Inquest. The book's tone toward Thelma is warm and respectful, similar to Donati's memorable biography of Ida Lupino. Donati uncovered fascinating interviews with Thelma in her hometown that capture her personality and rise to fame. The book has intimate details about the private life of Roland West and Jewel Carmen, including the shocker that they were never married. Donati explodes tht myth that Thelma was murdered by Lucky Luciano. Among the numerous disclosures: Thelma appeared in two hometown silents before entering the Paramount School; Roland West's famous actress aunt died of gas poisoning; Thelma had a prenuptial agreement with Pat De Cicco, called a "toad" by Donati. Donati uncovered the fact that Thelma was building a garage for her Lincoln Phaeton at the time of her death. Donati even provides her will, the name of her physician, dentists, and list of her jewelry. The interviews with her cousins and colleagues are incisive.

As for her death, Donati logically explores every angle based on massive documentation to draw conclusions. Great photos, especially the ones of Thelma as a child and adolescent, and posed in the Lincoln. Donati writes that Thelma had class, so does this
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most complete biography of a star who shined all too briefly 16 Jan. 2012
By Big Mike - Published on
It has taken years since Andy Edmonds wrote the first book about Thelma Todd - "Hot Toddy" to get another, perhaps more detailed and exhaustive work on her life and the mysterious way in which she died at the age of 29 in December 1935. Thelma Todd was really just getting started on a career that could only have led her on to bigger and better things. Sadly, she remains mostly unknown today and is the least famous of the Hal Roach stars such as Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang/The Little Rascals. She teamed with Charley Chase, Zasu Pitts and Patsy Kelly (each individually) to make a number of very entertaining short comedy films that are mostly still in existence but little-seen today. She also had roles in several of Laurel and Hardy's films and also in two Marx Brothers films. Thelma Todd's untimely passing remains as one of Hollywood's most famous unsolved deaths to this day and has long been the subject of speculation on everything from a Mob-related execution masterminded by gangster Lucky Luciano, to murder at the hands of a jealous ex-husband or boyfriend, to suicide and tragic accident. Thelma Todd may have lived only 29 all too brief years, but her life is still being examined from every possible angle and this new book is a very welcome addition to the saga of a star who burned out long before her time. She had beauty, charm and talent as an actress and a comedienne. If only she had survived she might very well have become a major star. Sadly, all we can do is to enjoy the films she made, lament and wonder at just what might have been.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book but what's up with the price?? 27 Aug. 2013
By penny kaufman - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
$18.50????? I bought this book for my Kindle in December of 2012 and the Amazon Kindle price was $3.99. Now (it's August 2013) it's $18.50. What's up with that???????????????? I am very interested in the lives of old Hollywood stars but with Kindle prices like I've seen -- forget it!!!! Four stars for the book. Minus ten stars for the price-gouging.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Far Less Sensationalized Look At The Comedienne 16 Jun. 2012
By G.I Gurdjieff - Published on
Unlike Hot Toddy by Andi Edmonds, this book is really a biography and film study as opposed to a sensationized take of Todd's unfortunate death. As is often the case when a prominent person dies under questionable circumstances, theories abound. In the case of Thelma Todd, multiple theories abound from Todd's death by the mob to being murdered by a spurned lover. Author Donati does a good job of debunking the conspiracy theories, but does not use Todd's death as the main topic of this book.
The author does a credible job at looking at Todd's life from her early years in Massachusetts to her professionl years at the Hal Roach Studio doing everything from comedy shorts with Patsy Kelly to movies with Laurel and Hardy and then onto "A" movies with the Marx Brothers. At the time of her death, her future in Hollywood was bright. She was young, talented, and beautiful and she was also well known within the film community.
This book manages to do a great job of marrying the personal Thelma Todd with her public image while tracking her professional accomplishments and taking a hard look at a career and life cut short.
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