His family moved to Chicago. 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. He eventually dropped out of high school and worked a variety of jobs including as a shoe salesman and store window decorator.
At the age of 17, Todd married Bertha Freeman on Valentine's Day 1927. . In 1929, she bore him a son, Mike Todd, Jr.. Freeman died in 1946, and Todd remarried, to actress Joan Blondell July 5, 1947. They were divorced June 8, 1950 after she alleged that he abused and extorted her. He went on to marry actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he had a tempestuous relationship. The couple exchanged vows February 2, 1957. The couple had a daughter, Elizabeth Frances (Liza) Todd, who was born 7 August of that year.
On 22 March 1958, Todd's private plane, Lucky Liz, crashed near Grants, New Mexico. The plane, a Lockheed Lodestar, was downed by engine failure while being operated grossly overweight at the limit of its altitude capability, and the crash killed all four on board. These included Todd; screenwriter and author Art Cohn, who was writing Todd's biography "The Nine Lives of Mike Todd"; pilot Bill Verner; and co-pilot Tom Barclay. Todd is buried in Chicago at Beth Aaron Cemetery in plot 66. In his autobiography, Eddie Fisher, who considered himself to be Todd's best friend, stated that no fragments of Todd had been found, and that his coffin contained only his ring.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 1977 that Eddie's story was false -- remains of Todd were indeed found and buried. Todd's remains were desecrated by robbers, who broke into his coffin looking for said ring. The bag containing what was left of Mike Todd was found under a tree near his plot.
Todd's business career was volatile, and failed ventures left him bankrupt many times.
In 1952, Todd produced an extravagant production of the Johann Strauss II operetta, "A Night In Venice," complete with floating gondolas at the newly constructed Jones Beach Theatre in Long Island, New York. It ran for two seasons.
In 1950, Mike Todd formed The Cinerama Company with the broadcaster Lowell Thomas (who founded Capital Cities Communications) and the inventor Fred Waller. The company was created to exploit Cinerama, a film process created by Waller that used three film projectors to create a giant composite image on a curved screen. The first Cinerama feature was This is Cinerama, which was released in September 1952.
Soon after its release, Todd left the Cinerama Company to develop a new 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 1955 film adaptation of Oklahoma!. Todd later produced the film for which he is most famous, Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days, which debuted in cinemas on October 17 1956. Costing only $6 million to produce, the movie earned $16 million at the box office. In 1957, "Around the World in 80 Days" won the Best Picture Academy Award.