silent era

Thelma Todd (Dead Blondes Episode 2) by Karina Longworth

Thelma Todd, c. 1930s 

Thelma Todd, c. 1930s 

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Thelma Todd -- a curvaceous white-blonde who predated Jean Harlow -- was a sparkling comedienne who began in the silent era and flourished in the talkies, both holding her own opposite the Marx Brothers and playing straight woman in one of cinema’s first all-girl comedy teams. She was also an early celebrity entrepreneur, opening a hopping restaurant/bar with her name above the door. But today, Thelma is best remembered for her shocking 1935 death, which was deemed an accident but still sparks conspiracy theories that it was really murder.

Thelma Todd and Buster Keaton in Speak Easily (1932) 

Thelma Todd and Buster Keaton in Speak Easily (1932) 

Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Café, c. 1930's, Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Images  

Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Café, c. 1930's, Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Images  

Show notes:

Sources specific to this episode:

With so much misinformation and speculation surrounding Todd’s death, it seemed ultra-important to approach my research for this episode with a critical eye. I ended up using as my main source William Donati’s The Life and Death of Thelma Todd. I was previously a fan of Donati’s biography of Ida Lupino, and his book on Todd seems to me to be the most objective analysis of the facts, with the least amount of speculation and hysteria. As noted in the episode, his informed ability to knock down the Lucky Luciano theory is particularly useful.

Garage where Thelma Todd Died, 1935, Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Images 

Garage where Thelma Todd Died, 1935, Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library Images 

Other sources include:

A Blog For Thelma Todd includes many photos, scanned articles, links and information about Todd and theories about her death.

“Murder Of `30s Starlet Thelma Todd No Longer Mystery” by Frank Sanello, Chicago Tribune, May 05, 1991

“A Mystery Revisited, A building that figured in the unsolved death of actress Thelma Todd is for sale” by Robert W. Welkos, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2002

“A Blonde in Babylon: The Death of Thelma Todd” by Benjamin Welton, Crime Magazine, Feb 10, 2014

Gloria Vanderbilt’s books The Rainbow Comes and the Rainbow Goes and It Seemed Important at the Time contain the most substantial observations of Pat DeCicco and his reputation that I’ve found. My understanding of DeCicco relationship to and work for Howard Hughes stems from my research for my book, particularly depositions and testimony given by DeCicco himself and his cousin, Albert Cubby Broccoli, in 1978 and 1983 as part of the long-running legal battles to determine control of Hughes’ estate. These documents were observed by me in the Texas State Archives in Austin.

Outro song: “She’s Not Dead” by The London Suede

Credits: 

This episode was edited by Sam Dingman, and produced by Karina Longworth with the assistance of Lindsey D. Schoenholtz. Our logo was designed by Teddy Blanks.

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MGM Stories Part Five: William Haines and Hollywood's First Openly Gay Marriage by Karina Longworth

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The rare silent star who made a relatively smooth transition to sound films, William “Billy” Haines was one of the top box office stars of the late 1920s-early 1930s. Beginning in 1926, Haines started living with Jimmie Shields, and the two men became one of the most popular couples on the Hollywood social scene, facing little if any homophobia among the industry’s elite. But as times changed and the heat from the censors began to get hotter, MGM began to put pressure on Haines to pretend to be someone he wasn’t.

Very special thanks to Wil Wheaton, who played William Haines, and Craig Mazin, who reprised his role as Louis B. Mayer.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

The primary source for this episode was William J. Mann’s biography of Haines, Wisecracker. Other sources consulted include:

Bret, David. Greta Garbo: A Divine Star. London: The Robson Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.

Bowers, Scotty. Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2013. Kindle Edition.

Chandler, Charlotte. Not The Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Kindle Edition.

Eyman, Scott Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster, 2008 Kindle Edition.

Eyman, Scott The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 Simon & Schuster, 1997. Kindle Edition.

E. J. Fleming. The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine McFarland & Co Inc, 2004. Kindle Edition.

Golden, Eve. John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Photoplay, Jan-Jun 1927

MGM Stories Part Four: John Gilbert and Greta Garbo by Karina Longworth

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Rising romantic lead John Gilbert signed with MGM in 1924 and the next year he starred in King Vidor’s The Big Parade, the studio’s biggest hit of the silent era. That same year, Louis B. Mayer brought his new discovery to Hollywood: an enigmatic Swedish actress named Greta Garbo. Garbo and Gilbert starred together in the romantic melodrama Flesh and the Devil, and began a relationship in real-life, which was eagerly exploited by the still-fledgling Hollywood publicity machine. Gilbert’s career suffered from his contentious relationship with Mayer, and his increasing alcoholism, while Garbo’s star continued to rise. In 1933, Garbo made it a condition of her MGM contract extension that the studio cast Gilbert as her love interest in Queen Christina. Within three years, Gilbert was dead. Within ten years, Garbo’s career had taken a turn, too

Special thanks to special guest star Craig Mazin, reprising his role as Louis B. Mayer.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

This episode included a clip from the John Gilbert film His Glorious Night, pulled from Kevin Brownlow's incredible silent era documentary Hollywood. Hollywood is watchable in several installments on YouTube.

We are proud to welcome our new sponsor, Audible.com! Get a free audiobook and a 30-day trial at Audible.com/remember

Sources:

Basinger, Jeanine. Silent Stars. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 2012

Bret, David. Greta Garbo: The Divine Star. London: Robson Press, 2012. 

Conway, Michael; McGregor, Dion & Ricci, Mark. The Complete Films of Greta Garbo. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1991.

Eyman, Scott Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. 2008

Eyman, Scott The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. 1998

Golden, Eve John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars (Screen Classics) The University Press of Kentucky. Kindle Edition. 2013

Krützen, Michaela. The Most Beautiful Woman on the Screen: The Fabrication of the Star Greta Garbo. Berlin: Peter Lang, 1992.

"Garbo's Last Days" by Michael Gross. New York Magazine, May 21, 1990

MGM Stories Part Two: Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst and Citizen Kane by Karina Longworth

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Marion Davies is enshrined in memory as the gorgeous but questionably talented mistress of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst -- thanks in part to the depiction of a Davies-esque character in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. But Davies’ involvement with the much older Hearst both ensured she would have a movie career, and perhaps doomed Davies to ridicule and limited stardom. This episode will explore how Davies and Hearst hooked up, the mutually beneficial working relationship between Hearst and Louis B. Mayer, the souring of that relationship over MGM’s (mis)use of Davies and Mayer’s effort to block the release of Kaneon Hearst’s behalf

Special thanks to Larry Herold, who reprised his role as Orson Welles. This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky. Our research intern is Allison Gemmill. 

Sources for this episode:

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution by Scott Eyman

The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst by Marion Davies

Marion Davies by Fred Guilles

Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies by Louis Pizzitola

Silent Stars by Jeanine Basinger

This is Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich

MGM Stories Part One - Louis B. Mayer vs. Irving Thalberg (YMRT #56) by Karina Longworth

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Welcome to the fifth season of You Must Remember This! This season, called MGM Stories, is going to tell 15 tales about people who worked at the same movie studio over the course of five decades and counter-culture-hastened decline.

Established in 1924, MGM was the product of a merger of three early Hollywood entities, but the only person working there who got to have his name in the title was studio chief Louis B. Mayer. For the first dozen years of its existence, Mayer’s influence over the company would be at least matched by that of producer Irving Thalberg, who was perceived as the creative genius to Mayer’s bureaucrat. This episode will trace the rise of MGM through the 1920s and early-mid 30s, covering Mayer’s long-evolving working relationship with Thalberg, the creation of the MGM “star factory” identity and unique power within the community of Hollywood, and the in-fighting which would end with Mayer poised to seize his crown as the most powerful man in Hollywood.

Special thanks to Dan Saraceni and Liz Lui, who contributed ideas that inspired this episode in our forum, and Craig Mazin (screenwriter and co-host of the Scriptnotes podcast), who guest stars as Louis B. Mayer. This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky, and our research intern is Allison Gemmill. The outro music to this ep is "We're a Happy Family" by The Ramones.

As you may have noticed, the podcast has a new distribution partner, Panoply. You can find the whole family of Panoply podcasts at itunes.com/panoply. If you subscribe to the show on iTunes, it should feel like nothing has changed, but if you have any problem finding or listening to episodes, please contact me using the link at the top of the page. 

This season, as promised, was inspired by suggestions made by our listeners on our Forum. As the season continues, we'll be contacting listeners whose ideas influenced specific episodes. This season, which will last until the end of 2015, is fully scheduled, but you can continue to use the Forum to suggest ideas for future seasons, and also to discuss this current season or past episodes with other listeners. 

The primary sources for this episode were Lion of Hollywood by Scott Eyman, The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger, and a number of oral histories accessed at Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript archive, including the recollections of Dore Schary, Anita Loos, and Sheilah Graham.

If you're new to our show, check out our four previous seasons -- including the series Star Wars and Charles Manson's Hollywood - on iTunes.