Why are we leading off today's entry with a picture of Carole Lombard pitching? Actually, the baseball term we want to use is "on deck," since Carole will be the next biographical subject of our good friend Michelle Morgan. But that book won't come to bat until next fall. Meanwhile, Michelle has Thelma Todd at the plate with this book...
...and from the reviews, Michelle's again hit it out of the park. (She's a British author, incidentally, but I hope by now she gets all these baseball references.)
At amazon.com, "The Ice Cream Blonde" garnered a collective 4.3 out of five stars; the lone two-star review's prime complaint was that "the mystery [of Todd's death] remains unsolved" (though he noted that was the main reason he bought the book). The other reviewers lauded Morgan for her work in going beyond Todd's demise to paint a descriptive portrait of the person -- something she's earned deserved praise for in her several books on Marilyn Monroe, and one reason I'm delighted she took the Lombard assignment. (As one reviewer comments, "I'm happy to report that 'The Ice Cream Blonde' is part of a growing trend of solid biographies that actually realize their subjects were real people.")
No wonder Michelle is smiling.
Another reason? A notable review recently came from renowned entertainment columnist Liz Smith at the "New York Social Diary" site (http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/guest-diary/2015/liz-smith-what-really-happened-to-hollywoods-delicious-ice-cream-blonde). Smith takes the angle of comparing Todd to Monroe -- certainly not in terms of levels of stardom, but in their shared cynicism towards the industry and their mysterious early demise. Thelma gave this quote about Hollywood, but Marilyn could've said it as well:
"Things are so extreme here. I can't quite get Hollywood. People here have no sense of values. They don't know how to live. Everything is done for effect. There's no sincerity -- no balance."
(Todd hailed from Lawrence, Mass., while Monroe was a native Angeleno, but the latter's upbringing certainly wasn't directly tied into "Hollywood" as a state of mind.)
Smith notes Morgan's book describes Todd's rise to "the middle," leaving her "famous, but unfulfilled." One could argue that Thelma was her era's equivalent of Toby Wing, with "two-reel comedies" in place of "chorus girl." Perhaps Lombard was fortunate to work with Mack Sennett rather than Hal Roach, as she eventually was able to graduate to features and a seven-year contract with Paramount.
Despite small roles in films such as 1931's original "The Maltese Falcon" with Ricardo Cortez (a better film than it's often given credit for) and serving as a comic foil in two Marx Brothers films (providing a needed sex appeal in roles ill-suited for Margaret Dumont), Smith writes Thelma rarely got starring parts in features. The lone exception was a little-known British feature, "You Made Me Love You."
Instead, she was best known for her two-reelers with Zasu Pitts and Patsy Kelly. They're as enjoyable to watch as other comedy shorts of the era -- and were a revelation a few years back when Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. showed them as part of a 24-hour Todd celebration on "Summer Under the Stars" -- but Thelma never quite progressed beyond them.
A year-and-a-half ago, Liz was nice enough to plug Carole & Co., Alison Martino's Facebook site "Vintage Los Angeles" and mother Judi Martino's FB site "Stewardesses of the 1960s and '70s" (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/703018.html). Next fall, I'm looking forward to her thoughts on Michelle's biography of Lombard.