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The Mysterious Death of Thelma Todd

Thelma Todd

At 10:30 AM on the morning of Monday, December 16th, 1935, Mae Whitehead approached a garage where she was supposed to drop off her personal car and pick up the Lincoln Phaeton belonging to her boss, 29-year-old actress Thelma Todd. Mae was Thelma’s trusted maid who was tasked with picking up Thelma’s car each morning and bringing it down to Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, the restaurant Thelma owned and lived above with her boyfriend at the time, Roland West. Mae noticed absolutely nothing unusual about the scene until she saw her boss slumped over in the car’s front seat, still wearing the same clothes she had been wearing on the night of December 14th when she went to a party at Hollywood’s legendary Trocadero nightclub. Mae said she initially thought Thelma was just sleeping, but she quickly realized that something was horribly wrong.

Over 80 years later, the death of Thelma Todd remains one of Hollywood’s most baffling unsolved mysteries. Although official case records will tell you she accidentally died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the notion that it was an accidental death is very highly debatable. In the decades since her passing, numerous theories have developed about how she could have died, but there isn’t enough evidence to definitively prove any of them. Here are the facts we know for sure:

  • On Saturday, December 14, Thelma went to the party at the Trocadero, which was hosted by Stan Lupino and his daughter Ida. Thelma was the guest of honor and, for the vast majority of the night, seemed to be having a wonderful time.
  • During the party, Thelma had a brief encounter with her ex-husband Pat DiCicco. Sources vary on whether or not that encounter was friendly.
  • Roland West did not go to the party and told Thelma to be home by 2:00 AM. Thelma arrived at the party at 8:25 PM and at 1:50 AM, she asked Sid Grauman to call West and let him know she’d be leaving soon. But Thelma didn’t leave the party until 3:15 AM.
  • Thelma arrived at home at about 3:45 AM. Her chauffeur, Ernest Peters, is the last person definitively known to have seen her alive.
  • Thelma’s body was discovered in her beloved Lincoln Phaeton by Mae Whitehead on the morning of Monday, December 16th.
  • Thelma definitely died of carbon monoxide poisoning and must have been alive when she entered the garage.

At this point, it’s highly unlikely we will ever know exactly what happened to Thelma Todd between 3:45 AM on December 15th and 10:30 AM the following day. Everyone directly involved with the case and the original investigation is now dead and all we’re all left with is evidence and recorded statements that don’t fully line up with each other. But the debate over how she died is still ongoing. Let’s take a closer look at the main theories surrounding this case.


The Theory: Accident

Let’s start with the official ruling on Thelma Todd’s death: accident. At first glance, it seems like a perfectly reasonable theory. The idea that she had gotten locked out of her apartment and walked to the garage to warm herself up in the car, making the fatal mistake of leaving the garage door shut, certainly seems plausible enough. It wouldn’t have been the first time Thelma had gotten locked out of her apartment. Plus, she died on a December night and was dressed in a lightweight evening gown. Even in southern California, December nights can still get awfully cold, especially when you’re right by the ocean like Thelma was.

But under closer scrutiny, the accidental death theory doesn’t quite hold up. One of the main reasons why this theory seems so believable is because it wouldn’t have been the first time someone died of carbon monoxide poisoning by warming a car up in a closed garage. But it’s also partially a reason why this theory doesn’t quite gel. At the time of Thelma Todd’s death, carbon monoxide poisoning was such a widespread problem that there was a rather large media campaign running to warn people not to leave their cars running in closed garages. Thelma was also known to have an interest in cars, so between those two facts, it’s a bit far fetched to believe that she wouldn’t have known how dangerous it would be to turn the car on with the garage door shut.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence against the accidental death theory is the condition of Thelma’s shoes and her hair. It was very windy the night Thelma Todd went to that party at the Trocadero, but when her body was found, her hair was still very neatly styled. If she had spent any significant time outside in the wind, her hair surely would have been mussed, especially if she had walked to the garage.

Thelma Todd Death Map

Map showing the area of the garage and Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe

If Thelma had indeed walked to the garage from the spot where her driver dropped her off, it would have been quite a hike. For most people, walking from the garage to their home only takes a matter of seconds, but this was not an average situation. The garage where Thelma’s car was stored was quite a distance from her apartment. For Thelma to get to the garage, she would have either had to climb over 270 stairs or walk through some dark streets through a very hilly area. In either case, it was hardly a little stroll and her shoes surely would have gotten dirty and damaged in the process. But when her body was found, the wear and tear on her shoes simply wasn’t consistent with having walked that sort of distance. During the investigation into her death, an officer with a similar build tried making the walk in comparable shoes and her shoes were much dirtier than Thelma’s. Thelma’s feet were also clean and her stockings were undamaged, so she certainly didn’t try walking without her shoes.

Since the walk to the garage would have been so difficult, some people doubt that Thelma could have even made the walk. She wasn’t known for being a fan of exercise and particularly wasn’t fond of walking due to some old ankle injuries. After all, the entire reason why Thelma and Mae had their system of Mae picking up Thelma’s Phaeton and bringing it to the restaurant for her each morning was to spare Thelma from making that walk every day. During the investigation after her death, investigators had jurors make the walk involved in this theory and it was a very challenging walk even for jurors who were more accustomed to exercise.

It’s also questionable whether or not she was even locked out since her key was found in her handbag. Even if she had gotten locked out, there’s one rather large problem with this theory: she never trekked to the garage when she got locked out before. Instead, she simply broke a window to get the attention of Roland West to let her in.

Thelma Todd Garage

The garage where Thelma Todd’s body was found.

Theory 2: Suicide

If Thelma Todd didn’t die accidentally, could it have been a suicide? After all, if it’s believable that she knew the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, could she have done herself in? Not long before her death, she’d been receiving strange threatening letters. Near the end of the party, she received an upsetting message from an unknown person. She also had an encounter with her ex-husband at the party which, by some accounts, was not entirely pleasant. The chauffeur who drover her home that night said Thelma was unusually quiet and told him not to escort her to the door as he usually did.

Despite the fact that suicide also seems like a very simple explanation, it seems to be the theory that’s most quickly dismissed. According to her friends, all of her behavior indicated that she was looking forward to the future. Her film career was hardly over and she had just signed a new contract with Hal Roach. She was excited about her restaurant and the trunk of her car was full of Christmas presents for her friends and family. Some of her close friends like Ida Lupino and ZaSu Pitts stated that she had been raving about a mysterious new man in her life from San Francisco, although none of them knew who he was. Guests at the Trocadero party said she was in very good spirits that night. (At least she was in a lovely mood until about 1:50 AM when she received that upsetting message.) By all accounts, she hardly seemed to be on the verge of ending it all.

Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe

Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe

Theory 3: Murder

If Thelma Todd’s death wasn’t accidental or a suicide, that leaves either murder or natural causes. Although there was some initial speculation that she may have died of a heart attack, the medical examiner pretty definitively linked the cause of death to carbon monoxide poisoning.  With natural causes off the table, that leaves murder. But officers found no signs of a struggle or robbery in the garage. Thelma was found wearing all the expensive jewelry she had worn to the party and there weren’t any signs of injury, aside from a small amount of blood which is believed to have come from her lip when her head hit the steering wheel. With no sign of a struggle, how did murder become such a popular theory?

The possibility of murder came into the picture almost immediately, when Thelma’s mother Alice arrived at the garage on the morning of December 16th and stated that her daughter had been murdered. However, she later changed her story and said Thelma’s death was accidental. But over 80 years later, murder is still a very strong possibility.

There’s some evidence to suggest that Thelma may have gone somewhere else between the time her chauffeur dropped her off at home and the time her maid discovered her body on the morning of December 16th. During the autopsy, the medical examiner found that she had undigested peas in her stomach and a blood alcohol level of 0.13 at the time of death. Although Thelma had a couple of drinks at the party, by all accounts, it wasn’t enough to get her drunk. But the coroner who examined Thelma said that kind of blood alcohol level would have “stupefied” her. Also, nobody at the party remembered seeing her eat peas that evening, but during the autopsy, the medical examiner found that the peas in her stomach had only just started to be digested at the time of death, which throws off the theory that she died between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 AM on December 15th. Could Thelma have gone someplace else where she was served peas and more drinks? If someone had picked her up and taken her out again, it could explain how she ended up in the garage with neat hair and shoes.

The idea that Thelma went someplace else after being dropped off at home could also explain some of the encounters with her  that reportedly happened on December 15th. On December 15th, Thelma was set to attend a party thrown by Martha Ford, wife of Wallace Ford. According to Martha, she received a phone call from a person she believed to be Thelma, saying she’d be arriving at the party soon with a surprise guest. Thelma never made it to the party. Could Martha have been mistaken about the identity of her caller? Jewel Carmen, Roland West’s estranged wife, told police she had seen Thelma in the passenger seat of a car being driven by an unknown man, but her claims are highly questionable since she said Thelma was wearing a hat when she saw her, but no hat was found when her body was discovered in the garage.

Although Thelma was a very well-liked woman, sadly, we can’t say she was universally loved. Not long before her death, she was receiving those threatening anonymous messages. (The person responsible for those had been arrested and was imprisoned at the time of her death.) In fact, her chauffeur stated that in the past, she’d asked him to drive as quickly as possible because she was worried about kidnapping attempts. The fact that Thelma had a restaurant which attracted many celebrity visitors also made her a target for gangsters hoping to set up an illegal casino in her restaurant; something she adamantly did not want any part of.  So, who could have had it out for her?

The most popular (and most sensational) theory is that the notorious Lucky Luciano is responsible for Thelma’s demise. Around the time of her death, Luciano was operating out of Los Angeles, trying to gain a foothold in Hollywood’s illegal gambling syndicate. Certainly, Thelma Todd’s restaurant would have been a prime location for him to set up shop. Thelma’s ex-husband Pat DiCicco had mob ties, so it’s certainly plausible that she might have crossed paths with Luciano at some point. Supposedly, Thelma had dinner with Luciano at one point, during which he brought up the gambling and Thelma was overheard firmly telling him no before storming off. Could he have put a hit out on her, carried out in a way that involved picking her up and taking her out to eat before putting her in the garage? After Thelma’s death, Luciano abruptly left Los Angeles and never returned.

Lucky Luciano is hardly the only suspect in her death, though. Roland West later tried to claim he was responsible for her death, but there’s a lot of doubt about that since his version of the events leading up to the discovery of her body are riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. But many of Thelma’s friends had reason to believe West also had ties to the mafia and was more receptive to the idea of letting gangsters run an illegal gambling racket in the restaurant. Some theories suggest that Roland and some gangsters were waiting for her to come home so they could settle the casino matter. If Thelma had run into West and some of his associates after the party, it would explain why she would be willing to dine and drink with them. But when she wasn’t willing to play along with it, perhaps the now heavily-intoxicated Thelma was somehow taken up to the garage by one of West’s associates, who made it look like an accidental death. Exactly who the gangsters were and what West’s role was in the incident under this theory is totally unknown. If the mob was involved, it would explain why some people close to Thelma and Roland West were unwilling to publicly speak about what happened.

Regardless of how Thelma Todd died, one thing is certain: it’s truly tragic that such a talented woman died so young and after all this time, it’s still not clear exactly how she died.

Millicent Patrick: The Beauty Who Created the Beast

Creature from the Black Lagoon Poster

If there’s one thing Universal Studios is known for, it’s horror films. Universal made its first big mark on the horror genre with 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera and within a few years, they were producing movies featuring some of what are now the most iconic movie monsters of all time. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Bride of Frankenstein, all of them made their marks on film history through Universal Studios. Universal carried on their horror tradition for decades afterward and in 1954, they introduced yet another unforgettable creature to the world, the Gill Man from 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Gill Man is easily in the same league as Frankenstein or Dracula in terms of instant recognizability. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve inevitably seen the creature elsewhere in the pop culture lexicon. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the most famous examples of the 1950s science fiction/horror genre and the movie’s poster is a masterpiece of poster design. So, who created that unforgettable creature’s design? The movie’s credits would tell you Bud Westmore (of the famed Westmore family) was the man behind the monster, but a woman named Millicent Patrick played a role in the process, too.

Millicent Patrick With Gill Man

To say Millicent Patrick was multi-talented was putting it mildly. Born in 1915 or 1930 (sources vary), Patrick was the daughter of Camille Charles “CC”  Rossi, an architect and engineer who was involved with the construction of William Randolph Hearst’s famed San Simeon estate. As a child, she had a natural gift for music and aspired to become a concert pianist, but later decided to study art at the Chouinard Institute in California. She went on to become an animator at Disney before becoming an actress, acquiring a fairly lengthy resume of un-credited film roles in movies such as We’re Not Married!Limelight, and Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd.

Patrick hadn’t lost her passion for creating illustrations and drawings, though, and began to parlay her talents as an illustrator into a different aspect of the film industry by becoming a makeup illustrator working under Bud Westmore at Universal Studios. David Schow is quoted in a 2011 article on Tor.com as saying that Patrick’s job was basically to take ideas that had been agreed upon by several people in the makeup department and turn them into one cohesive design.

Prior to working on The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Patrick had been involved with the creature designs for It Came from Outer SpaceAbbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But what, exactly, her involvement was in Creature is a bit muddled. Many sources say that Patrick was really the person responsible for creating the iconic monster and Bud Westmore stole credit away from her, the aforementioned Tor.com article reveals that the truth is likely a little more complicated than that. Robert Skotak, noted special effects artist and science-fiction fan, told Tor that the Gill Man’s design was most realistically a collaborative effort between several members of the Universal makeup department, in which Patrick did play an important role.

Millicent Patrick

When some of the heads at Universal realized they had such a beautiful, talented woman working in their makeup department, they had the idea of sending her out on a publicity tour to promote the release of Creature from the Black Lagoon, billing her as, “The Beauty Who Created the Beast.” You don’t have to have a degree in marketing to see the appeal in that idea. It’s a great hook; the sort of thing the press was bound to love. Bud Westmore, however, did not agree.

While it’s a bit unclear exactly what Patrick’s contributions were to the Gill Man, one thing that is known for sure is that Westmore was not even remotely happy about the studio-organized publicity tour and did actively try to deny Patrick any kind credit. As the head of Universal’s make-up department and a huge fan of garnering publicity in his own name, he naturally wasn’t keen on the idea that another person from his team would be out there detracting attention away from him. Westmore basically threw a fit in the classic studio-era employee style — through a series of angry memos culminating with Westmore vowing to never work with Patrick again.

By all accounts, Patrick was a class act on the press tour; she never personally tried to take sole credit for the Gill Man’s design and gave credit to Bud Westmore whenever the opportunity arose. However, that wasn’t enough to satisfy Westmore and he followed through with his promise to no longer work with her. Once she completed her work on This Island Earth, that was the end of her career in the Universal makeup department. She continued to appear in films and television, typically in uncredited roles, until 1968’s The Pink Jungle. What became of her life after that is a bit of a mystery.

 

Dynamic Duos: Greta Garbo and John Gilbert

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Flesh and the DevilIn 1926, Greta Garbo was just a Hollywood newcomer.  She had signed with MGM and made two movies for them, audiences were liking her, but the studio didn’t quite know what to do with her.  They just couldn’t pin-point her type. She wasn’t a “sweetheart” type like Mary Pickford, she wasn’t a flapper like Colleen Moore or Clara Bow, so MGM tried to turn her into a vamp.  But Garbo was already getting bored with the vamp roles so she was less than thrilled at being cast as Felicitas in Flesh and the Devil, another vamp role.  Not only did the role not interest her, she was tired after having completed The Temptress and desperately wanted to go home to Sweden after her sister’s death and MGM refused to let her.

Little did Garbo know she was about to meet her perfect leading man in Flesh and the Devil.

While Garbo was still a new name to movie audiences in 1926, John Gilbert most certainly was not.  John Gilbert had been working in films for over a decade by then and his starring roles in prestige pictures like The Big ParadeThe Merry Widow, and He Who Gets Slapped made him one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  Like Garbo, he wasn’t particularly wild about his part in Flesh and the Devil, but the idea of working with this new star intrigued him.

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Flesh and the DevilThe first scene of Flesh and the Devil Greta Garbo and John Gilbert filmed together was the scene at the train station where their characters meet.  The immense chemistry between the two of them was obvious to everybody on set.  There was no denying there was a very real connection with them and as their scenes got more passionate, they had no problem keeping their performances up.  Clarence Brown, the movie’s director, said of them:

“It was the damnedest thing you ever saw. It was the sort of thing Elinor Glyn used to write about. When they got into that first love scene…nobody else was even there. Those two were alone in a world of their own. It seemed like an intrusion to yell “Cut!” I used to just motion the crew over to another part of the set and let them finish what they were doing. It was embarrassing.”

Before the release of Flesh and the Devil, the Garbo-Gilbert love affair had been getting buzz in the fan magazines, but nothing could have prepared movie goers for the unbridled passion they would actually see when the movie hit theaters in January of 1927.  It was a sensation, completely unlike anything audiences had ever seen at the time.  The New York Herald-Tribune said of it:

“Never before has John Gilbert been so intense in his portrayal of a man in love.  Never before has a woman so alluring, with a seductive grace that is far more potent than mere beauty, appeared on the screen. Greta Garbo is the epitome of pulchritude, the personification of passion. Frankly, we have never in our career seen a seduction scene so perfectly done.”

Suddenly, MGM had a big hit on their hands and they finally knew exactly what to do with Garbo — put her in more movies with John Gilbert.  Her next project was to be an adaptation of Anna Karenina with Ricardo Cortez as her co-star, but Irving Thalberg decided to replace Cortez with Gilbert and change the title to Love, so the theater marquees could read, “Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Love.”  The couple also starred in A Woman of Affairs in 1928.

The romance between Garbo and Gilbert was just as potent off-screen as it was on-screen.  Shortly after finishing filming on Flesh and the Devil, Garbo moved into Gilbert’s house and he spent thousands of dollars on renovations to make it more to her liking.  He even built a small cabin for her, surrounded by Swedish pine trees and an artificial waterfall, on his property to remind her of home.

Not only was there a romantic connection between Garbo and Gilbert, he was able to offer valuable career advice.  He helped her become a better actress, taught her how to be more sociable off-set, taught her how to get what she wanted at MGM and she even started working with his agent.  Garbo later told journalist Åke Sundborg:

“I don’t know how I should have managed if I had not been cast opposite John Gilbert…Through him I seemed to establish my first real contact with the strange American world.  If he had not come into my life at this time, I should probably have come home to Sweden at once, my American career over.”

However, their relationship was not meant to last.  Gilbert kept pushing marriage and Garbo simply wasn’t interested.  After making several proposals, the idea of Garbo and Gilbert getting married at the same time as director King Vidor and actress Eleanor Boardman came up and Garbo said yes to it.  But on the day of the wedding, Garbo left Gilbert standing at the altar.  Gilbert was understandably angry, but the relationship managed to carry on for a bit longer.

By 1929,  Gilbert was still longing to get married and Garbo still wasn’t interested. That was the final straw for Gilbert, who impulsively got engaged to actress Ina Claire instead and married her on May 9, 1929.  The day before the wedding, Garbo made a tear-filled phone call to Harry Edington, who was to be Gilbert’s best man, begging him to put a stop to the wedding.  He told her that she was the only one who could stop it, but not wanting to cause a scandal, she chose not to.

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Queen ChristinaThe couple reunited on screen one last time in 1933’s Queen Christina.  By then, the tables had turned.  Garbo was still one of MGM’s most bankable stars, but Gilbert had fallen on very hard times.  His career had gone downhill, he was depressed, and had become a very heavy drinker, but Garbo insisted that he be cast opposite her in Queen Christina. The chemistry between them was as good as it ever was and the movie was a hit, but it wasn’t enough to revive Gilbert’s career.

Queen Christina was the last hit movie for John Gilbert and he made only one more movie after it, 1934’s The Captain Hates the Sea, before dying at the age of 38 in 1936.  Garbo continued to act until 1941, but never had another co-star who even came close to matching the chemistry she had with John Gilbert.

Dynamic Duos Blogathon

John Gilbert and Greta Garbo are just one of many unforgettable duos being highlighted this weekend in the Dynamic Duos blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen and Classic Film Hub.

1928-1929: Oscar’s Most Awkward Year

Mary Pickford Oscar

Mary Pickford with her Oscar.

As popular as the Academy Awards are, they can be a very controversial topic amongst movie lovers.  I think virtually every cinephile has their own list of movies that they think got robbed at the Oscars.  Some may even have their favorite and least favorite Academy Award years.  But one thing I think we can all agree on is that the nominees for the second Academy Award ceremony (covering 1928-1929) definitely weren’t the strongest group of movies ever nominated.

It’s not so much that 1928-1929 was a completely terrible year for movies, but the film industry had been turned completely upside down that year.  During the first Academy Award ceremony, The Jazz Singer was given an honorary award for revolutionizing the film industry.  By the following year, the impact of The Jazz Singer was undeniable.  The movies eligible for the 1928-1929 Oscars were part of the first wave of movies to come out in the wake of The Jazz Singer and the nominees that year are a better reflection of how in flux the industry was at the time than what the best movies really were.

Even though studios were scrambling to hop on the talkie bandwagon, the production of silent films didn’t come to an immediate halt.  Some truly excellent silent films were produced that year, but you’d never know it by looking at the list of nominees.  However, if some of those silent films had been nominated, that year would probably now be looked back upon more favorably.

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Dueling Divas: Joan Crawford vs. Norma Shearer

The Women_Joan and Norma

Bette Davis may be Joan Crawford’s most notorious rival, but personally, I don’t think Joan had nearly as much to fear from Bette as she did from Norma Shearer.  One thing you have to remember is that Bette and Joan only spent six years working together at the same studio, so for most of their careers, they at least weren’t directly competing for roles.  They may not have liked each other very much, but at least they were out of each other’s hair for the most part. On the other hand, Norma and Joan spent seventeen years together at MGM, so on many occasions, they were vying for the same material.  Plus, Norma had the advantage of being married to Irving Thalberg, MGM’s head of production.

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The Death and Afterlife of Rudolph Valentino

In 1926, it looked like Rudolph Valentino was back on track to reclaiming his title as one of the top stars of the silent screen.  The last few years of his career had been riddled with studio contract disputes and box office disappointments.

But then he started a new contract with United Artists and things started to look up again.  His first film for United Artists, The Eagle, brought in good reviews and did modestly at the box office.  Then in 1926, Valentino had the opportunity to do The Son of the Sheik, a sequel to his 1921 sensation, The Sheik.  Even though he loathed being known for The Sheik, he was in no position to turn down something that he knew would be a smash hit.  He was right and when The Son of the Sheik was released in July of 1926, it was extremely well received.  Some even hailed it his best film.  Just over a month later, Valentino was dead at the age of 31.  However, he would prove to be even more notorious dead as he was alive.

The day of Valentino’s funeral has been dubbed “The Day Hollywood Wept.”  It wasn’t the first time a big-name star had died, but it was the first celebrity death that turned into a total spectacle.  There were reports of fans committing suicide.  Speculation swirled about how he died.  Surely a young man with Valentino’s reputation must have gone out in some fantastically scandalous way, right?  Perhaps a heartbroken lover was out for revenge.  (Of course, the truth is far less exciting.  He died from complications following surgery for a perforated ulcer.)  When his body was laid out for viewing in New York, over a hundred thousand fans lined the streets for the chance to have one last look at their idol.  Rumors circulated that the staff of the funeral home was so worried about his body being damaged by fans throwing themselves on the coffin that they secretly replaced his body with a wax mannequin for the viewing.  Fans began to riot outside the funeral home and extra police had to be brought in to keep the crowd under control.  Pola Negri, who claimed to be engaged to Valentino at the time, repeatedly fainted during the funeral service.  The list of pallbearers read like a short list of who’s who in Hollywood and included names such as Douglas Fairbanks, Adolph Zukor, and Marcus Lowe.  And that’s was just at the New York funeral.

After his east coast memorial services, he was put on a train for a five day trip back to Hollywood.  At every stop the train made, people came out to pay their respects.  Once he made it back to Hollywood, there was another star-studded funeral and once again, thousands upon thousands of fans were there.  Of course, there had to be a little behind the scenes drama as well.  Given that Valentino died so young and so unexpectedly, he hadn’t come up with a burial plan for himself.  Not only that, he was in quite a bit of debt at time of his death so not only did his estate not know where to put him, they didn’t have any money to do anything with him, either.  June Mathis, who had written some of his most memorable films, offered the use of a mausoleum crypt she owned to hold him temporarily until a proper memorial could be built elsewhere.  However, those memorial plans never materialized and the temporary solution became a permanent one. Valentino remains in that crypt to this day.

Now, you might think that all the hullabaloo surrounding his death would die down after a while, right?  Oh, no.  Legends surrounding his death just kept on being born.  On the first anniversary of his death, a mysterious woman dressed completely in black was spotted bringing flowers to his crypt and continued to do so every year after that.  People wanted to know who she was and what compelled her to do this.  Was she a devoted fan?  A former lover?  Or possibly just the creation of a press agent.  The most accepted story is that The Lady in Black had met Valentino once when she was very ill and he assured her that she would go on to outlive him.  All he asked is that she remember him when he was gone, so bringing him flowers was her way of honoring that request.  Over the years, there have been several Ladies in Black and to this day, Ladies in Black still bring flowers to his crypt.

This August will mark the 86th anniversary of Rudolph Valentino’s death and interest in Valentino’s death still hasn’t waned.  Hollywood Forever Cemetery has hosted a memorial event on the anniversary of his death every year since 1928.  He has also become a pretty popular target for paranormal investigators.  The first person to kick off this trend was actually Valentino’s second wife, Natacha Rambova, who wrote a book about her life with him and how she believed his spirit would contact her.  If you do a YouTube search for “Rudolph Valentino Ghost” you will find videos of ghost hunters trying to get EVPs of Valentino’s ghost.  I once watched a show called Haunted Hollywood that basically suggested half of Hollywood is haunted by Valentino.  Nearly nine decades later and people are still fascinated by the idea of making contact with The Great Lover.

This is my second contribution for the Gone Too Soon Blogathon hosted by Comet Over Hollywood. Please head on over there and check out some of the other wonderful contributions!

Fashion in Film: All About Eve

All About Eve is a movie that I firmly believe deserves every accolade it’s received over the years.  While there is no shortage of acclaim for its acting, direction, and writing, the costuming by Edith Head and Charles Le Maire absolutely can’t be ignored.  This is a prime example of how costume design can be so much more than pretty dresses.  Here, we’ve got costumes that say so much about the characters and what they’re feeling at the time.

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