Thelma Todd was born on July 29, 1905 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Early on, she decided to become a teacher and attended college after high school, but ended up entering several beauty contests at her mother's insistence. A day before becoming Miss Massachusetts, she joined the Hal Roach studios and started serving as leading lady to comedians such as Laurel and Hardy. She co-starred with the Marx Brothers twice.

Thelma began a restaurant business in Santa Monica, but quickly became involved in a blackmail racket that was supposedly run by Los Angeles bodyguards. She was found dead, slumped beneath the steering wheel of her car in a garage at 17531 Positano Road on December 16, 1935. The death was ruled accidental due to carbon monoxide poisoning, and soon became an infamous unsolved Hollywood mystery, inspiring magazine articles, a book, and (in 1991) a TV movie.