Books Featuring Thelma

Sadly it seems Thelma has been forgotten by many silent movie fans but she has recently been featured in some wonderful books.

Slapstick Divas by Steve Massa has a detailed biography and several photos of Thelma

Mack Sennett's Fun Factory by Brent E. Walker has a brief biography of Thelma and information about many of her movies

Thelma Hill's Story

Thelma Hill was born Thelma Floy Hillerman in Emporia, Kansas on December 12, 1906 (her actual birth date might be 1903). Her father Clifford Hillerman was a musician and railroad worker and her mother Gussie was a housewife. When she was an infant her parents divorced and her mother was given full custody. Sadly her father Clifford, passed away in 1914. Soon after Thelma and her mother moved to California and opened a cafe. They lived at 1723 Sunset Boulevard which was just a few blocks from the Mack Sennett studios. Thelma dreamed of becoming an actress and hung around by the studio gates trying to getting noticed. While working in her mother's cafe she met actor Fatty Arbuckle who helped her get a screen test. Sixteen year old Thelma became one of Mack Sennett's famous bathing beauties. She was just five feet tall and weighed only 100 pounds. Mack Sennett said she was "the ideal bathing girl" of her time. Thelma was very popular at the Sennett studios where everyone called her "Pee Wee".

She appeared as an extra in dozens of movies and worked as Mabel Normand's stand-in. Thelma befriended actress Marie Prevost who became her mentor. After she posed in a mah jongg themed bathing suit Thelma was nicknamed the "Mah Jongg Bathing Girl". She starred alongside Ben Turpin a several comedy shorts including The Prodigal Bridegroom and The Pride Of Pikeville. In 1927 she landed a supporting role in the Marion Davies movie The Fair Co-Ed. The following year she was chosen to play the lead in a series of short films based on the comic strip Toots And Casper. Mack Sennett signed her to a new long term contract in 1929. Thelma seemed destined for stardom but her career stalled with the talkies. She appeared in a few more short films and had a small role in Frank Capra's The Miracle Woman. Thelma fell in love with St. Elmo Boyce who had directed her in several movies. Unfortunately Boyce was an alcoholic and during their romance Thelma started drinking.

 The couple planned to get married but tragically on September 30, 1930 St. Elmo Boyce committed suicide. Thelma was devastated and began to drink even more. In 1934 she quit making movies and married John W. Sinclair, an actor and stunt double for W.C. Fields. The couple moved into a modest house at 8229 Blackburn Avenue in Los Angeles. Thelma tried to start a new life as a housewife but she and her new husband were both alcoholics. In the spring of 1938 she entered the Merrill sanitarium in Santa Monica. She was suffering from chronic alcoholism and malnutrition. Sadly Thelma died from a cerebral hemorrhage on May 11, 1938. She was only thirty-one years old. Her body was cremated but her were ashes were never buried. Today Thelma's remains are being kept in a storage closet at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Thelma Hill was a beautiful woman and a talented actress but sadly she could not overcome her personal demons.

The Toots And Casper Movies

In 1928 Thelma was cast as Toots in the short film Fooling Casper. The movie was based on the popular comic strip Toots and Casper by Jimmy Murphy. Bud Duncan played the role of her husband Casper. Thelma and Bud would make eleven more Toots and Casper shorts including Big Hearted Toots, The Family Meal Ticket, and Casper's Night Out. Several of the films were directed by Thelma's fiance St. Elmo Boyce. The final short in the series was Don't Say Ain't released in 1929. Thelma had to wear a blonde wig in all of the films. Unfortunately most of the Toots and Casper movies have been lost. Fooling Casper and Smile Buttercup Smile are the only two currently available to watch.

 With Bud Duncan in Fooling Casper

Scenes from Smile Buttercup Smile

Thelma's Bathing Beauty Pin-Ups

Thelma became one of Hollywood's most popular bathing beauties. In 1924 Mack Sennett declared she was the "ideal bathing girl of the times". She was just five feet tall with measurement of 34-24-35.

With Elsie Tarron                                                                             

 With Elsie Tarron

Thelma is in the middle                                                                                  
                                                                    With Betty Byrd                                                                          

Thelma's Husband ~ John West Sinclair

In 1934 Thelma married actor John West Sinclair. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee on January 6, 1900. John appeared in more than thirty-five films including The Barber Shop and High Gear. He also worked as a stunt double and gag writer for W.C. Fields. Unfortunately both Thelma and John were alcoholics. They lived in a small house on Blackburn Avenue in Los Angeles and remained married until Thelma's tragic death in 1938. A few years later John remarried. Sadly John continued to struggle with alcoholism and died from cirrhosis of the liver on February 13, 1945. He is buried at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood.

John West Sinclair

Magazine & Newspaper Clippings

Thelma became a popular actress during the 1920s. Here are some vintage magazine and newspaper clipping about her ...

How Marie Prevost Helped Thelma

Actress Marie Prevost helped Thelma when she was starting out on the Mack Sennett lot. They first met in 1924 when Thelma appeared as an extra in one of Marie's films. Marie. who had also been one of Sennett's bathing beauties, befriended Thelma and taught her how to put on make-up.

Marie Prevost