| 16.2°C Belfast

Hollywood mystery with NI links inspires award-winning song for Belfast jazz band The Mono Trio 

Close

Thelma Todd, whose father hailed from Comber, Co Down and whose suspicious death remains one of Hollywood's great mysteries.

Thelma Todd, whose father hailed from Comber, Co Down and whose suspicious death remains one of Hollywood's great mysteries.

Thelma Todd, whose father hailed from Comber, Co Down and whose suspicious death remains one of Hollywood's great mysteries.

A Tinseltown mystery which has its roots in Northern Ireland has inspired an award-winning song at this year’s Rome Music Video Festival.

The track, 17575 Pacific Coast Highway, picked up Best Jazz Song at the event, much to the delight and surprise of Belfast jazz and blues three-piece, The Mono Trio.

The song, with an accompanying black and white video, pays homage to 1930s film star Thelma Todd, whose death aged 29 sparked one of Hollywood’s great mysteries.

The Laurel and Hardy actress had strong links to Northern Ireland, as her father James Shaw Todd came from Comber, Co Down, before emigrating to Massachusetts, where he become a prominent official.

But it was his famous daughter’s suspicious death just before Christmas 1935 that still poses many questions today. The actress, one of the few who successfully crossed over from the silent era to the talkies, was found dead at the wheel of her car in a locked garage. A Grand Jury decided that carbon monoxide poisoning was to blame along with ‘suicidal tendencies’. However, this has been disputed ever since, with many newspapers at the time, claiming she had been murdered.

Local jazz singer Stephen Dunwoody, of The Mono Trio, said he was fascinated by Thelma’s story and thought it would make a great subject for a song for the band’s upcoming album, Film Noir.

But he said he was genuinely surprised to be told that the song had won the Best Jazz category at the festival in Rome.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

The former journalist said: “When I was working at the Newtownards Chronicle, someone from the Laurel and Hardy fan club, Sons of the Dessert, contacted me, looking for any surviving relatives of Thelma Todd’s in Northern Ireland.

“I remembered her from the Laurel and Hardy movies and from films she did with the Marx Brothers too. Then I read a book about famous Hollywood mysteries and her name popped up again.

“When I started looking for topics to write songs about from the Great Depression era, that one stood out, so I looked into it again. I contacted a few people from The Thelma Todd Historical Society, and they gave me some information.

Close

Belfast band The Mono Trio, who won Best Jazz Song at the Rome Music Video Festival, with their track about Thelma Todd.

Belfast band The Mono Trio, who won Best Jazz Song at the Rome Music Video Festival, with their track about Thelma Todd.

Belfast band The Mono Trio, who won Best Jazz Song at the Rome Music Video Festival, with their track about Thelma Todd.

“It’s one of the great unsolved mysteries of the time. Thelma was the Marilyn Monroe of her day.

“I wrote the song 17575 Pacific Coast Highway, named after the address of the restaurant she used to own and entered it for the Rome Music Video Festival. We were delighted to get shortlisted, let alone win.”

Thelma, who was also known as the Ice Cream Blonde, was born in July 1906. Her Comber-born dad dropped dead from a heart attack some 20 years later, just before her first film release. Throughout her career, she was highly regarded as a comedy actress and starred in over 120 films, including her final one with Laurel and Hardy, The Bohemian Girl. In August 1934, she opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in LA. It was a well-known haunt for Hollywood celebrities. But she often spoke about her Irish heritage.

Following her death, the authorities were accused of a shoddy investigation due to the many inconsistencies outlined throughout the hearings. Friends said she wasn’t distressed leading up to her death and there were also several people who had motive to kill her, including the local mafia.

Dunwoody, who has supported Jools Holland, Vonda Shepard and The Corrs and had a residency at Bert’s Jazz Bar in Belfast pre-Covid, said: “I wrote the track last year, recorded it with my bassist John Convery and drummer Graeme Arthur and shot the video myself.

“It was about finding the right clips from old movies to fit. We’ve a few songs done for the album Film Noir, but this is the one I wanted to focus on because of its visual appeal.

“I only entered it for the festival on deadline day, so you could’ve knocked me down with a feather when I found out we’d won.”


Top Videos



Privacy