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From a 1920 magazine
|Born||Thelma Floy Hillerman
December 12, 1906
|Died||May 11, 1938
Culver City, California
|Cause of death||Cerebral hemorrhage caused by alcoholism|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park|
Early life and career
Born Thelma Floy Hillerman in Emporia, Kansas, she was one of the few Sennett Bathing Beauties to make it into featured roles. Hill was widely known as the "mah jongg bathing girl" because of the mah jongg bathing suit she was photographed in.
When she was a child her parents divorced and her father died. Thelma and her mother moved to California where they opened a cafe down the road from the Sennett studios. She was discovered by Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle when she was serving him and dropped soup in his lap. Arbuckle introduced her to Mack Sennett who made her one of his bathing beauties. In a 1924 article Sennett declared she was the "ideal bathing beauty of her time".. The petite actress was just five feet tall and weighed only 100 pounds.
She started working as an extra at the Sennett studios in 1919 and appeared in dozens of comedy shorts including Picking Peaches (1924) and The Hollywood Kid (1925). She was a talented comedienne and quickly moved on to featured roles. Hill starred opposite Ben Turpin in A Prodigal Bridegroom (1926) and with Billy Bevan in Hoboken From Hollywood. Mack Sennett saw her potential signed to her a long term long contract. As she became older, Hill began to double for Mabel Normand.
From 1927 to 1929, she co-starred with Bud Duncan in Larry Darmour's series of silent Toots and Casper comedy shorts and was Laurel and Hardy's leading lady in Two Tars (1928). She was under contract at FBO in 1927 and was signed by MGM for a role in The Fair Co-Ed (1927). She appeared in a handful of talkies including The Old Barn (1929) and The Naughty Flirt (1931) with Alice White. Her final role was in the Hal Roach comedy Mixed Nuts (1934).
Thelma's parents were married in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1899. They relocated to Emporia, Kansas before Thelma was born and divorced when she was a baby. Her mother Augusta "Gussie" Hillerman was given full custody after alleging her father, railroad worker Clifford Hillerman, had abandoned them for another woman. Clifford Hillerman died in 1914 after suffering an accident at work. Thelma was engaged to director St. Elmo Boyce until he committed suicide in 1930. In 1934 she married John West Sinclair, a stunt man and gag writer for W.C. Fields. By this time Thelma was suffering from alcoholism.
By 1935 she had retired from movies and was living with her husband at 8229 Blackburn Avenue in Hollywood. Unfortunately she was suffering from depression and alcohol abuse. After having a nervous breakdown she entered Edward Merrill Sanitarium in Culver City, California in early 1938. Her diagnosis was alcoholism, a vitamin deficiency, and malnutrition. She died on May 11, 1938 at the age of 31 from a cerebral hemorrhage.
She was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Although newspapers reported she had a funeral her ashes remain in a storage closet at Forest Lawn's Great Mausoluem. Her widower John West Sinclair would also succumb to alcoholism a few years later.
- Up In Alf's Place (1919)
- Picking Peaches (1924)
- The Hollywood Kid (1924)
- Pie-Eyed (1925)
- Hoboken To Hollywood (1926)
- The Divorce Dodger (1926)
- The Fair Co-Ed (1927)
- The Pride Of Pikeville (1927)
- Fooling Casper (1927)
- Crazy To Act (1927)
- The Chorus Kid (1928)
- Two Tars (1928)
- The Old Barn (1929)
- Two Plus Fours (1930)
- The Miracle Woman (1931)
- The Naughty Flirt (1931)
- The Dentist (1932)
- Wild People (1932)
- Mixed Nuts (1934)
- Los Angeles Times, Additions To Cast, August 13, 1924, Page A9.
- Los Angeles Times, Bathing Girl Given Lead In New Comedy, August 17, 1924, Page B33.
- Los Angeles Times, Thelma Hill, Former Sennett Player, Dies, May 12, 1938, Page A20.