“Once corrupted-always controlled” (Al Capone)
On December 16, 1935, popular film comedienne, Thelma Todd, known as Hot Toddy was found dead in her car from carbon monoxide poisoning. While there was speculation that she had committed suicide, the coroner ruled Todd’s death as accidental, and that was an outrageous, scandalous finding. She’d received blows so hard that one of her dental fillings was knocked out, and in addition, she had a broken nose and two broken ribs. Why did a wealthy, successful beautiful actress end up dead, and why was the truth covered up?
The book Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood’s Most Sensational Murder by Andy Edmonds reconstructs the mystery surrounding Todd’s death. There are plenty of suspects–including ex-lovers, an ex-husband, and a possibly crooked bookkeeper. In the investigation and subsequent inquest, nothing added up–Todd left a restaurant with friends in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday 15th, and turned up dead more than 24 hours later. What happened to her during the last few hours of her life? The sham of an investigation left more questions than answers, and by piecing together facts and rumours, the author leads us through those last few hours
After setting the scene of Todd’s death, the book moves onto the background of Todd’s early life. A large portion of the book contains fascinating information regarding the rivalry between Al Capone and Lucky Luciano–the latter became Todd’s lover shortly before her death. Edmond’s book recreates the corruption rife within Hollywood–the narcotics and the take over of entertainment-related unions and high profile restaurants.
While the identity of Todd’s killer cannot be proved beyond a doubt, frankly the author’s hypothesis is credible. Unfortunately, the book launches itself into the thought processes of some of the major players, and since the author could not be privy to the intimate thoughts of so many (and it seems unlikely that gangsters would have dropped intimacies so casually), the conclusion is reached that some of the book’s speculation crosses the line. For example, when Thelma’s ex-lover and business partner, Roland West testifies at the inquest, the author writes that West feels “cheap and obvious.” Then when he’s questioned, we are told that West was thinking about his memories of his early relationship with Todd. When Thelma Todd’s mother, Alice is questioned, “her mind drifted back twenty nine years.” Anyway, these additions (plus conversations that supposedly took place between Luciano and Todd) are annoying. So, the book is flawed, but it’s still an interesting read, and it certainly investigates the mystery of Thelma Todd’s death. The text is accompanied by a number of black and white photos.