Michael "Mike" Todd (born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen, June 22, 1909 –
March 22, 1958) was an American theater and film producer, best known
for his 1956 production of Around the World in 80 Days, which won an
Academy Award for Best Picture. He is known as the third of Elizabeth
Taylor's seven husbands, and is the only one whom she did not divorce
(he died in a private plane accident a year after their marriage). He
was the driving force behind the development of the eponymous Todd-AO
widescreen film format.
1 Early life
2.2 Theatrical impresario
Widescreen cinema and film productions
3 Personal life
5 Selected Broadway productions
8 External links
Todd was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Chaim Goldbogen (an
Orthodox rabbi), and Sophia Hellerman, both of whom were Polish Jewish
immigrants. He was one of nine children in a poor family, the youngest
son, and his siblings nicknamed him "Tod" (pronounced "Toat" in
German) to mimic his difficulty pronouncing the word "coat." It was
from this that his name was derived.
The family later moved to Chicago, arriving on the day World War I
ended. Todd was expelled in the sixth grade for running a game of
craps inside the school. In high school, he produced the school
play, The Mikado, which was considered a hit. (As Mike Todd, he
would produce a jazz version of the musical on Broadway in 1939. )
He eventually dropped out of high school, and worked at a variety of
jobs, including shoe salesman and store window decorator. One of his
first jobs was as a soda jerk. When the drugstore went out of
business, Todd had acquired enough medical knowledge from his work
there to be hired at Chicago's
Michael Reese Hospital
Michael Reese Hospital as a type of
"security guard" to stop visitors from bringing in food that was not
on the patient's diet.
Todd began his career in the construction business, where he made, and
subsequently lost, a fortune. He opened the College of Bricklaying of
America, buying the materials to teach bricklaying on credit. The
school was forced to close when the Bricklayers' Union did not view
the college as an accepted place of study. Todd and his brother,
Frank, next opened their own construction company.
His first flirtation with the film industry was when he served as a
contractor to Hollywood studios, soundproofing production stages
during the transition from silent pictures to sound. The company he
owned with his brother went bankrupt when its financial backing failed
in early days of the Great Depression. Not yet 21, Todd had lost over
$1 million (equivalent to about $14,649,402 in today's funds).
Having married the former Bertha Freshman on February 14, 1927, he
was the father of an infant son and had no home for his family. Todd's
subsequent business career was volatile, and failed ventures left him
bankrupt many times.
Todd owned a Theatre Cafe in Chicago's Lake View neighborhood in the
1940s that provided dinner with live presentations and music.
During the 1933-1934
Century of Progress Exposition
Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, Todd
produced an attraction called the "Flame Dance". In this number,
gas jets were designed to burn part of a dancer's costume off, leaving
her naked in appearance. The act attracted enough attention to bring
an offer from the Casino de Paree nightclub in New York City. Todd got
his first taste of Broadway with the engagement and was determined to
find a way to work there.
After seeing the Federal Theatre Project's Chicago run of The Swing
Mikado, an adaptation of the
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Mikado
with an all African-American cast conceived by Harry Minturn, Todd
decided to do his own version on Broadway, The Hot Mikado, despite
protests by the FTP. The Hot Mikado, starring Bill "Bojangles"
Robinson, opened on Broadway March 23, 1939. The subsequent
success of Todd's production, at the expense of the Chicago
production, contributed to the financial crisis and ultimate demise of
Federal Theatre Project
Federal Theatre Project unit in Chicago.
Todd's Broadway success gave him the nerve to try taking on showman
Billy Rose. Todd visited Grover Whalen, president of the 1939 New York
World's Fair, with a proposal to bring the Broadway show to the Fair.
Whalan, eager to have the show at the fair, covered Todd's Broadway
early closing costs. Rose, who had an exclusivity clause in his fair
contract, met Todd at Lindy's, where Rose learned his contract covered
new forms of entertainment only. To avoid any head-to head
competition, Rose quickly agreed to promote Todd's production along
with his own.
First act finale from A Night in Venice The production was replete
with a cast of 500 and fireworks.
Todd ultimately produced 17 Broadway shows during his career,
including the immensely successful burlesque revue Star and Garter
starring comedian Bobby Clark,
The Naked Genius written by and
starring stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, and a 1945 production of Hamlet
starring Maurice Evans. His greatest successes were in musical
comedy revues, typically featuring actresses in deshabillé, such as
As the Girls Go
As the Girls Go (which also starred Clark) and Michael Todd's
Todd floated the idea of holding the 1945 Major League Baseball
All-Star Game in newly liberated Berlin. Although baseball's new
Happy Chandler was reportedly "intrigued" by the idea, it
was ultimately dismissed as impractical. The game was finally
cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions.
In 1952, Todd made a production of the
Johann Strauss II
Johann Strauss II operetta A
Night in Venice, complete with floating gondolas at the then-newly
Jones Beach Theatre
Jones Beach Theatre in Long Island, New York. It ran for
Widescreen cinema and film productions
Mike Todd for the rights to cover the first anniversary
Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden for Around the World in 80 Days
as a television special in 1957. Todd and his wife Elizabeth
Taylor are seen here at home in a film clip which was used for the
Mike Todd formed
Cinerama with the broadcaster Lowell Thomas
(who founded Capital Cities Communications) and the inventor Fred
Waller. The company was created to exploit Cinerama, a widescreen
film process created by Waller that used three film projectors to
create a giant composite image on a curved screen. The first Cinerama
feature, This is Cinerama, was released in September 1952.
Before its release, Todd left the
Cinerama Company to develop a
widescreen process which would eliminate some of Cinerama's flaws.
The result was the
Todd-AO process, designed by the American Optical
Company. The process was first used commercially for the
successful film adaptation of
Oklahoma! (1955). Todd soon produced the
film for which he is best remembered, Michael Todd's Around the World
in 80 Days, which debuted in cinemas on October 17, 1956. Costing $6
million to produce (equivalent to approximately $54,007,344), the
movie earned $16 million at the box office. In 1957, Around the World
in 80 Days won the Best Picture Academy Award.
In the 1950s Todd acquired the
Harris and Selwyn Theaters
Harris and Selwyn Theaters in downtown
Chicago. The Selwyn was renamed Michael Todd's Cinestage and made into
a showcase for
Todd-AO productions, while the Harris was renamed the
Michael Todd Theatre and operated as a more conventional cinema. The
facades of both theaters survive as part of the Goodman Theatre
complex, although the interiors have been demolished.
William Woolfolk novel from the early 1960s, entitled My Name Is
Morgan, was considered to be loosely based on Todd's life and
Elizabeth Taylor in Belgrade
Todd with daughter Liza and wife Elizabeth Taylor, 1957
At age 17, Todd married Bertha Freshman in Crown Point, Indiana, on
Valentine's Day 1927. He had been interested in Freshman since age 14,
but needed to develop confidence before even asking her out. In
1929, the couple's son, Mike Todd, Jr., was born. The death of his
father in 1931 was a turning point for Todd; he decided to change his
Mike Todd on the day of his father's death. Todd's wife,
Bertha, died of a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) on August 12, 1946, in
Santa Monica, California, while undergoing surgery at St. John's
Hospital for a damaged tendon in her finger. Todd and
his wife were separated at the time of her death; less than a week
before Freshman's death, he had filed for divorce.
On July 5, 1947, Todd married actress Joan Blondell. They were
divorced on June 8, 1950, after Blondell filed for divorce on the
grounds of mental cruelty.
Todd's third marriage was to the actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom
he had a tempestuous relationship. The couple exchanged vows on
February 2, 1957, in Mexico, and the ceremony was performed by the
mayor of Acapulco. It was the third marriage for both the
24-year-old bride and her 47-year-old groom. Mario Moreno, better
known as Cantinflas, was their witness. Todd and Taylor had a
daughter, Elizabeth Frances (Liza) Todd, who was born on August 6,
On March 22, 1958, Todd's private plane the Liz crashed near Grants,
New Mexico. The plane, a twin-engine Lockheed Lodestar, suffered
engine failure, while being flown overloaded in icing conditions at an
altitude that was too high for only one engine working under the heavy
load. The plane went out of control and crashed, killing all four on
board. Five days before the crash, Todd flew on this plane to
Albuquerque to promote a showing of Michael Todd's Around the World in
80 Days. The city is located 78 miles east of the crash site.
This ad for
Trans World Airlines
Trans World Airlines appeared in
Playbill on February 10,
1958, about six weeks prior to Todd's fatal plane crash.
In addition to Todd, those who died in the crash were screenwriter and
author Art Cohn, who was writing Todd's biography The Nine Lives of
Michael Todd, pilot Bill Verner, and co-pilot Tom Barclay. When the
plane's regular co-pilot did not show up, Barclay was his
substitute. Verner was a veteran military pilot who had flown
Curtiss C-46 Commando
Curtiss C-46 Commando cargo planes over The Hump
between India and China. Todd paid for the installation of two
extra fuel tanks in his leased Lodestar aircraft; this made the
aircraft weigh more than its official rating when all the tanks were
full, without the flight crew, passengers or luggage aboard. Verner
had flown the plane overloaded like this before without incident,
including piloting Todd on trips over the Atlantic and around Europe.
The tanks had been filled to capacity prior to the fatal flight.
Todd was on his way to New York to accept the New York Friars Club
"Showman of the Year" award. Taylor wanted to fly to New York with her
husband, but stayed home with a cold after her pleas to come along
were overruled by Todd. Just hours before the crash, Todd
described the plane as safe as he phoned friends, including Joseph
Mankiewicz and Kirk Douglas, in an attempt to recruit a gin rummy
player for the flight: "Ah, c'mon," he said. "It's a good, safe plane.
I wouldn't let it crash. I'm taking along a picture of Elizabeth, and
I wouldn't let anything happen to her."
His son, Mike Jr., wanted his father's body to be cremated after it
was identified through dental records and brought to Albuquerque,
New Mexico, but Taylor refused, saying he would not want cremation.
Todd's mother, who was 91 and a sanitarium patient at the time of her
son's death, was not told of the accident; it was felt that the shock
would be detrimental to her fragile health. Todd was buried in
Forest Park, Illinois, at Beth Aaron Cemetery in plot 66, which is
part of Jewish Waldheim Cemetery. In his autobiography, Eddie
Fisher, who considered himself to be Todd's best friend, stated:
With Frank Sinatra, 1956
There was a closed coffin, but I knew it was more for show than
anything else. The plane had exploded on impact, and whatever remains
were found couldn't be identified... The only items recovered from the
wreckage were Mike's wedding ring and a pair of platinum cuff links
I'd given him.
In June 1977, Todd's remains were desecrated by graverobbers. The
thieves broke into his casket looking for a $100,000 diamond ring,
which, according to rumor, Taylor had placed on her husband's finger
prior to his burial. The bag containing Todd's remains was found
under a tree near his burial plot. The bag and casket had been
sealed in Albuquerque after Todd's remains were identified following
the 1958 crash. Todd's remains were once more identified
through dental records and were reburied in a secret location.
Selected Broadway productions
Call Me Ziggy (Play, Farce, 1937)
The Hot Mikado (Musical, Operetta, 1939)
Something for the Boys (Musical, Comedy, 1943)
Mexican Hayride (Musical, Comedy,1944)
Up in Central Park
Up in Central Park (Musical, Comedy, 1945)
As the Girls Go
As the Girls Go (Musical, Comedy, 1948)
^ Cohn, Art. (1959) The Nine Lives of Michael Todd. Hutchinson of
London. p. 24
^ a b c d e f g h i Cohn, Art (November 19, 1958). "The Nine Lives of
Michael Todd: A Hustler, He Never Looked Back". Beaver Valley Times.
p. 3. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
^ Mann, William J. (2010). How to Be a Movie Star:
Elizabeth Taylor in
Hollywood 1941-1981. Faber & Faber. p. 187.
^ a b DeAngelis, Gina, ed. (2003). Motion Pictures: Making Cinema
Magic. Oliver Press. p. 93. ISBN 1-881508-78-1.
^ "The Hot Mikado". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved October 4,
^ a b Federal Reserve Bank of
Minneapolis Community Development
Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve
Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
^ Latham, Caroline; Sakol, Jeannie (1991). All About Elizabeth:
Elizabeth Taylor, Public and Private. Penguin. p. 299.
^ Frumkes, Roy (1995). "
Mike Todd, Jr.
Mike Todd, Jr. Interview". Classic Images.
Retrieved July 12, 2010.
^ "Michael Todd Agrees to Bankruptcy Move". Billboard. Nielsen
Business Media, Inc.: 31 May 1980. ISSN 0006-2510.
^ Frankel, Noralee (2009). Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose
Lee. Oxford University Press. p. 106.
^ Hatch, James V. " The
Great Depression and federal theatre" in A
History of African American Theatre by Errol G. Hill and James V.
Hatch, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2003, pp. 325-326
^ "The Theatre: New Play in Manhattan: Apr. 3, 1939". Time. April 3,
1939. Retrieved March 25, 2011. (pay-per-view)
^ Cohn, Art (November 10, 1958). "The Nine Lives of Michael Todd: A
Hustler, He Never Looked Back". Beaver Valley Times. p. 13.
Retrieved March 25, 2011.
^ Cohn, Art (November 12, 1958). "the Nine Lives of Michael Todd:
Billy Rose Head On". Argus Leader. p. 3. Retrieved January
5, 2017. (subscription required)
^ Doll, Bill (July 6, 1953). "Press release for A Night in Venice".
Retrieved February 8, 2015.
^ "Michael Todd Producer, Theatre Owner/Operator". Internet Broadway
Database. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
^ Traubner, Richard (2004) . Operetta: A Theatrical History. New
York: Routledge. p. 256. ISBN 9781135887827.
^ Cohn, Art (November 25, 1958). "Mike Todds' last Coup". Beaver
Valley Times. Retrieved July 6, 2014.
^ "Cinema: The Third Dimension". Time. July 2, 1951. Retrieved March
25, 2011. pay-per-view)
^ Hecht, Jeff (October 1996). "The Amazing Optical Adventures of
Todd-AO". Optics & Photonics News. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
^ Gunther, Roy C. Jr. (October 14, 1985). "Hollywood Comes to American
Optical Co". The Southbridge News. Retrieved July 12, 2010. part
one of 5
^ Woolfolk, William. "My Name Is Morgan". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved
October 5, 2013.
^ Cohn (1959) p. 24
^ "Cut Finger Proves Fatal". The Pittsburgh Press. August 13, 1946.
p. 14. Retrieved June 12, 2010.
^ "Analysis Ordered of Body of Producer's Wife". Spartanburg
Herald-Journal. August 13, 1946. p. 3. Retrieved March 24,
^ a b "Lung Blamed for Death of Producer's Wife". Pittsburgh Press.
August 22, 1946. p. 15. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
^ "Obituary Todd, Bertha nee Freshman". Chicago Tribune. August 15,
1946. p. 34. Retrieved March 25, 2011 – via
^ "Sues For Divorce". Spokane Daily Chronicle. August 8, 1946.
p. 9. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
Joan Blondell Weds Mike Todd". Evening Independent. July 5, 1947.
p. 13. Retrieved June 12, 2010.
Joan Blondell Divorced". Spokane Daily Chronicle. June 9, 1950.
p. 6. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
^ "Liz Taylor Weds
Mike Todd As Eddie, Debbie, Stand By". Youngstown
Vindicator. February 2, 1957. p. A-10. Retrieved March 25,
^ "Liz Taylor,
Mike Todd Wed In Mexico". Toledo Blade. February 3,
1957. p. 4. Retrieved July 1, 2014.
^ "Milestones-August 19, 1957". Time. August 19, 1957. Retrieved March
25, 2011. pay-per-view)
Civil Aeronautics Board
Civil Aeronautics Board Aircraft Accident Report: Lockheed
Lodestar, N 300E, near Grants, New Mexico, March 22, 1958.
2-0038" (PDF). Civil Aeronautics Board. April 17, 1959. Archived from
the original (PDF) on April 3, 2015. (a text version is also
(if links above fail to load report, visit
http://dotlibrary.specialcollection.net and select "Historical
Aircraft Accident Reports (1934-1965)", then retry report links)
^ a b "Producer
Mike Todd Dies In Plane Crash". Sarasota
Herald-Tribune. March 23, 1958. p. 2. Retrieved July 1,
^ "Showman Was Headed for Award". Waco Tribune-Herald. March 23, 1958.
p. 7. Retrieved January 5, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
Mike Todd is Victim of Plane Crash". The Dispatch. March 22, 1958.
p. 1. Retrieved June 12, 2010.
^ "Showman Was Headed for Award". Waco Tribune-Herald. March 23, 1958.
p. 1. Retrieved January 5, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
^ "3 Refused Ride in Todd Plane". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. March 23,
1958. p. 1. Retrieved June 12, 2010. "
^ a b "Todd Grave is Robbed in Illinois". Schenectady Gazette. June
28, 1977. p. 4. Retrieved June 12, 2010.
^ Bacon, James (March 24, 1958). "Liz Taylor Leaves For Mike Todd's
Funeral". Luddington Daily news. p. 1. Retrieved July 1,
^ Matt Hucke. "Gravesite-Mike Todd". Matt Hucke. Retrieved June 12,
^ Matt Hucke. "Jewish Waldheim cemeteries". Matt Hucke. Retrieved June
^ James Bacon (March 26, 1958). "Brother Stirs Fuss at Rites for Mike
Todd". Gettysburg Times. p. 4.
^ Fisher, Eddie; Fisher, David (2000). Been There, Done That.
Macmillan. p. 157. ISBN 0-312-97558-9.
^ "Body of film producer snatched from cemetery". The Berkshire Eagle.
Pittsfield, MA. UPI. June 27, 1977. Retrieved December 8, 2016 – via
^ a b "
Mike Todd reburial in an undisclosed location". Ellensburg
Daily Record. June 30, 1977. p. 6. Retrieved June 12, 2010.
^ "Bag of Bones Identified as Todd's". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. June
30, 1977. p. 2-A. Retrieved June 12, 2010.
^ "Theft of Todd's body baffling". Beaver County Times. June 28, 1977.
p. A-4. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
^ "The Theater: New Musical in Manhattan November 22, 1948". Time.
November 22, 1948. Retrieved March 25, 2011. (pay-per-view)
Dictionary of First Names, ISBN 0-304-36226-3
City of Light : The Story of Fiber Optics,
Cohn, Art. The Nine Lives of Michael Todd. Hutchinson of London, 1959.
Walker, Alexander. Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor. Grove
Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8021-3769-5
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mike Todd.
Mike Todd on IMDb
Mike Todd at the
Internet Broadway Database
Internet Broadway Database
Quotes by Mike Todd
Mike Todd - Accident Report Aviation Safety – March 22, 1958
Michael Todd at
Find a Grave
Find a Grave - for a photograph of the former,
pre-vandalized burial site
Husband of Elizabeth Taylor
Husband of Elizabeth Taylor
(by order of marriage)
Producer of Academy Award for Best Picture
Around the World in 80 Days
Year awarded: 1957
The Bridge on the River Kwai
This Is Cinerama (1952)
Cinerama Holiday (1955)
Seven Wonders of the World (1956)
Search for Paradise (1957)
South Seas Adventure (1958)
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
Holiday in Spain (1962)
How the West Was Won (1962)
The Best of Cinerama (1963)
Cinerama's Russian Adventure (1966)
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Circus World (1964)
Mediterranean Holiday (1964)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
The Hallelujah Trail (1965)
Battle of the Bulge (1965)
Grand Prix (1966)
Custer of the West (1967)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Ice Station Zebra (1968)
Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)
Song of Norway (1970)
The Great Waltz (1972)
To the Moon and Beyond (1964)
Former: Indian Hills Theater
Merian C. Cooper
Hazard E. Reeves
Cinerama Releasing Corporation
Super Panavision 70
Ultra Panavision 70
Waller Gunnery Trainer
ISNI: 0000 0001 1761 9887