The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: Thelma Todd

Amazing Predictions for 1961!

  Dec. 31, 1930, New Year's  

dropcap_w_1934hile the rest of the news business spends the final days of December looking back at the major events of the year, the Daily Mirror is peering forward, and for us at least, the future is clear: 1961 brings the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs invasion. “The Apartment” will win the Academy Award as best picture. Gary Cooper will die of cancer and Ernest Hemingway will kill himself.   

We are also looking ahead to the last full year of the evening Los Angeles Mirror and the morning Los Angeles Examiner, both of which folded in January 1962, giving The Times supremacy in the morning market. The reconstituted Herald Examiner (d. 1989) struggled for survival as a feisty, sensational afternoon paper,  racked by labor problems and increasingly irrelevant to Americans’ changing lifestyles and preference for TV news.

What else can we see? 1921 is the year of the Fatty Arbuckle case and 1941 brings us the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II. And in 1981, we have the dawn of the Ronald Reagan era.

As I often say, “so many stories and only one Larry Harnisch.” Where shall we go and what shall we do in the coming year?

Mystery photos? Of course, they’re one of my favorite parts of the blog. Paul Coates and Matt Weinstock? Yes. And Tom Treanor. I’ll try to do more with some other Times columnists who have only appeared fleetingly in the Daily Mirror: Lee Shippey and Timothy Turner, for example. And perhaps the mysterious 1930s film columnist Tip-Off.

The Daily Mirror has evolved quite a bit since I began the blog nearly four years ago. There’s more on Hollywood and film, and a bit less on crime. Part of the reason is my need for variety and part of the reason is what I find – or don’t find -- in the old papers. The crimes of the 1950s are fascinating and 1957 was a great year, but by mid- to late 1959, The Times’ coverage seemed to shift away from detailed reporting on the police blotter, a trend that continued into 1960. Perhaps the crimes weren’t as interesting to The Times editors as they were in the 1940s and early '50s, or The Times was devoting more of its resources to subjects like politics.

One thing I hope to explore in the coming year is a theme I touched on in a series of posts I called “Another Good Story Ruined.” Why is Los Angeles history so hard to get right and so easy to get wrong? I sometimes think the books on Los Angeles are nothing but a catalog of errors.  It might be worthwhile to examine some of the more common mistakes and myths about our past and see if I can find the origins. Authors of books about Los Angeles can expect the Daily Mirror to do a bit random fact-checking, which should fun and, I hope, illuminating.

I do need to pick my shots carefully. Extended coverage like Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to Los Angeles or the 1960 Democratic National Convention is labor-intensive and such projects seem to hold little interest for Daily Mirror readers. I’m not sure why, as they are significant events in local history, but they tend to be a lot of work for very little return.

And now it’s request time.

Daily Mirror readers are a loyal bunch. In fact, statistics show they spend an amazing amount of time on the blog. What would you like to see in the year ahead?

ps. Only four years to the Watts Riots.

E-mail me

Thelma Todd’s Wardrobe sold for $229

  Los Angeles Times file photo  


Oct. 12, 1936: Thelma Todd’s 40 dresses, 57 pairs of gloves, 13 hats, 36 pairs of shoes, 35 bags and other items were sold to dress shop owner Blanche T. Wright for $229 [$3,507.31 USD 2009], The Times says.

Movieland Mystery Photo


  Dec. 15, 2010, Mystery Photo  
  Los Angeles Times file photo  

  March 28, 1936, Thelma Todd  

March 28, 1936: The mayor of Ogden, Utah, says he may reopen the investigation of Thelma Todd’s death based on a tip from an informant who overheard a phone call from “a woman in black” who identified the killer while dictating a Western Union telegram to Los Angeles police.  

Los Angeles police told Ogden Mayor Harmon Perry that Todd committed suicide and that the case was closed.

Movieland Mystery Photo -- Updated

  Dec. 14, 2010, Mystery Photo  
  Los Angeles Times file photo  

Update: This is Thelma Todd and Antonio Moreno. Although there's no further caption information on the back of the print, I believe it's from "Bohemian Girl," as Mary Mallory says.  Please congratulate Eve, Mary and Mike Hawks for identifying him!

  Jan. 26, 1936, Thelma Todd  

Jan. 26, 1936: Thelma Todd’s death forced Hal Roach to virtually eliminate her from “The Bohemian Girl,” Times writer John Scott says.

Continue reading »

Movieland Mystery Photo


  Dec. 13, 2010, Mystery Photo  
  Los Angeles Times file photo  

Jan. 17-19 1936: The foreman of the Los Angeles County Grand Jury says the case of Thelma Todd is still open despite the autopsy surgeon's finding that death was caused by carbon monoxide.

And Gerald K. Burnett writes in the Sunday magazine: Hollywood laughs and the world laughs with it. Hollywood cries and the world is deluged with tears. Hollywood dies and the world rips ink-damped sheets from the arms of newsboys and revels through all the machinations of "the case."

Servants, wealth, armed guards, high fences, isolation -- all avail nothing when tragedy walks abroad.

There is the "case" of Thelma Todd, the concentric ripples of which welled out on the surface of the golden pool where tragedy threw its pebble. "Death by monoxide" the banner lines screamed -- then "death by mystery."

Continue reading »

Movieland Mystery Photo -- Updated

  Los Angeles Times file photo  

Update: This is Thelma Todd and Inez Courtney in a photo stamped Nov. 7, 1932.

  Jan. 4, 1936, Thelma Todd  

Jan. 4-11, 1936: If you’re sick of the Thelma Todd case by now, you have good company: The Los Angeles County Grand Jury.  Some jurors rebelled at hearing any further testimony, saying that they had enough and were certain that Todd’s death was suicide or an accident. Without them, The Times noted, the jury would lack a quorum. 

On Jan. 11, 1936, The Times said: “It also was indicated yesterday that the jury probably will let the Todd matter drop into oblivion without so much as making a formal statement of their conclusions."

Continue reading »

Movieland Mystery Photo -- Updated

  Los Angeles Times file photo  

Update: Mrs. Wallace Ford and her brother George Baker arrive to testify about the Thelma Todd case. "Mrs. Ford said Miss Todd telephoned she was coming to a party at her home 'right away' but never arrived," according to the caption information.

  Dec. 28, 1935, Thelma Todd  

Dec. 28, 1935-Jan. 3, 1936: “The further we go, the deeper this thing gets,” says George Rochester, foreman of the Los Angeles County Grand Jury investigating Thelma Todd's death. “We are not satisfied with all of the evidence we have heard. We are convinced that some of the witnesses are not telling all they know, nor all the truth about what they have discussed.”

Continue reading »

Movieland Mystery Photo -- Update


  Dec. 12, 2010, Mystery Photo  
  Los Angeles Times file photo  

Update: This is Thelma Todd giving a surprise birthday party for Patsy Kelly on the set of "Sing, Sister, Sing." "Because of Patsy's particular fondness for condiments and sauces, Thelma used a 'catsup' motif for the party," according to the caption information. Please congratulate Dewey Webb, Mike Hawks, Gerald McCann, Barry O'Brien, Mary Mallory and Cold in Phoenix for identifying her!

  Dec. 24, 1935, Thelma Todd  

Dec. 24-27, 1935: Rumors, rumors and more rumors in the Thelma Todd case. Did she have lacerations on her throat? Did she appear to be drunk (recall that the autopsy found her blood-alcohol level to be 0.13%)? Who is the mysterious blonde seen in Hollywood?

And what did Todd mean when she said: "A great many changes are going to take place in my life by the first of the year?"




Continue reading »

Movieland Mystery Photo -- Update

  Photograph by the Los Angeles Times  

Update: Chauffeur Ernest Peters, left, talks to Sid Grauman. Please congratulate Mary Mallory and Mike Hawks for identifying Grauman!

  Photograph by the Los Angeles Times  

  Photograph by the Los Angeles Times  

  Dce. 21, 1935, Thelma Todd  

Dec. 21-23, 1935: The Thelma Todd story dwindles and falls off of Page 1. Notice that the case prompted crank mail, like the 1947 Black Dahlia case. 

On Dec. 23, The Times reported on tests by LAPD chemist Ray Pinker to see how quickly someone would be overcome by monoxide fumes from Todd's 12-cylinder Lincoln. Detective Joe Whitehead volunteered to sit at the wheel with a stopwatch while the engine was started and the garage door closed. Whitehead lasted about 90 seconds before pounding on the door to be released.


Ray Pinker on the Daily Mirror

Continue reading »

Movieland Mystery Photo -- Updated


  Dec. 9, 2010, Mystery Photo  

  Los Angeles Times file photo  

Update: This is Charley Chase and Thelma Todd in a photo by Agnes O'Malley. Please congratulate Mary Mallory, Mike Hawks, Cold in Phoenix and Brent Walker for identifying them!

  Dec. 20, 1935, Thelma Todd

Dec. 20, 1935, Thema Todd

Dec. 20, 1935: Thelma Todd's body is cremated after a funeral attended by hundreds at Wee Kirk o' the Heather at Forest Lawn in Glendale. An estimated 10,000 admirers passed her casket in a single-file procession that lasted more than five hours, The Times said.

On the jump, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. wishes everyone …  what’s this? “Season’s Greetings?”  Yes, it’s true. “Season’s Greetings” isn’t a new expression.

Continue reading »

Movieland Mystery Photo -- Updated


  Dec. 8, 2010, Mystery Photo  
  Los Angeles Times file photo  

Update: Roland West, Alice Todd, center, and May Whitehead enter the church at Forest Lawn for Thelma Todd's funeral.

  Dec. 19, 1935, Thelma Todd  

Dec. 19, 1935: A "swarthy man" always seems to figure in Hollywood mysteries and one has emerged in the Thelma Todd case.

"Alive -- driving in her death car with a dark-complexioned man -- in Hollywood -- Thelma Todd was reported seen at 11 o'clock Sunday night by Jewel Carmen, wife of Roland West, the dead actress' business partner," The Times says.

Dr. A.F. Wagner, county autopsy surgeon, testifies that in his opinion, Todd died sometime early Sunday.

"He added that his opinion was based on medical examinations, facts and the material circumstances surrounding the case.

"Miss Todd's death, Dr. Wagner testified, in his opinion was due to carbon monoxide poisoning. An analysis of her bloodstream, he said, indicated between 75% and 80% carbon monoxide saturation.

"There also were traces of alcohol in the brain of the actress, he testified, but only about 0.13% by saturation, which would not be sufficient to cause death."

By today’s standards, with a 0.13% blood-alcohol level, she would be considered drunk. 

Continue reading »

Movieland Mystery Photo -- Updated II


  Photograph by the Los Angeles Times  

Update: And here’s a mystery photo! 

Update II: This is Zasu Pitts and John E. Woodall. Please congratulate Mary Mallory, Karen and Dennis Gilliam for identifying our mystery couple and Steve Stoliar, Zabadu and Stacia for identifying our mystery woman.

  Dec. 7, 2010, Mystery Photo  

Photograph by the Los Angeles Times  

  Dec. 18, 1935, Thelma Todd  

Dec. 18, 1935: Above, people crowd into the inquest in the death of Thelma Todd.

The Times says: “Steeped in mystery, the death of Thelma Todd, screen actress, last night remained a tragic riddle which authorities will seek to unravel at a coroner's inquest.

“From tangled evidence shot through with contradictions, police hope to learn whether Miss Todd was the victim of an ingeniously contrived murder prompted by cunning jealousy, or substantiate a preponderant belief that she died in an almost unbelievable accident.”


Continue reading »

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