Every so often, I’ll post about books I’ve read. Mostly these aren’t in my writing genre. Why? Everyone needs a break and to read for pleasure. This is one of those reviews. I’m a sucker for old Hollywood bios and this one was no different.
A beloved film comedienne who worked alongside the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and dozens of others, Thelma Todd was a rare Golden Age star who successfully crossed over from silent films to talkies. This authoritative new biography traces Todd’s life from a vivacious little girl who tried to assuage her parents’ grief over her brother’s death, to an aspiring teacher turned reluctant beauty queen, to an outspoken movie starlet and restaurateur.
Increasingly disenchanted with Hollywood, in 1934 Todd opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café, a hot spot that attracted fans, tourists, and celebrities. Despite success in film and business, privately the beautiful actress was having a difficult year–receiving disturbing threats from a stranger known as the Ace and having her home ransacked–when she was found dead in a garage near her café. An inquest concluded that her death, at age just twenty-nine, was accidental, but in a thorough new investigation that draws on interviews, photographs, documents, and extortion notes–much of these not previously available to the public–Michelle Morgan offers a compelling new theory, suggesting the sequence of events on the night of her death and arguing what many people have long suspected: that Thelma was murdered.
But by whom?
The suspects include Thelma’s movie-director lover, her would-be-gangster ex-husband, and the thugs who were pressuring her to install gaming tables in her popular café–including a new, never-before-named mobster. This fresh examination on the eightieth anniversary of the star’s death is sure to interest any fan of Thelma Todd, of Hollywood’s Golden Age, or of gripping real-life murder mysteries.
I’ve always loved the work of Thelma Todd. She’s a riot on screen and one of the gems Hollywood didn’t get to use nearly enough. When I saw this biography was available, I had to read it.
The author did her homework on Todd. I not only loved Todd more, I respected her as a person and businesswoman. Oh, sure. She had her moments, but who doesn’t?
The writing flowed well. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. Nope. I had to know how it would end–okay, I knew…, but I wanted to see how the author put her spin on telling the tale.
My one quibble with the book was the author’s tendency to add speculation into the writing. No one knows exactly how Todd died. There are theories and she did suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, but how she got there…it seemed like the author spent more time wondering than finding more information. Still, it was a good read and I’m glad I did.