Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Favorite Classic Movie Stars - MABEL NORMAND

Mabel Normand was born as Mabel Ethelreid Normand on November 9, 1893 in a house her father built in New Brighton, Staten Island, New York. She grew up in extreme poverty. Her father, Claude Normand, worked sporadically as a carpenter at Sailor's Snug Harbor home for elderly seamen. Before she entered films at the age of 16, Mabel worked as an artists model when she was only 14. Posing for postcards, illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson, the renowned artist, who created the Gibson Girl image.

Mabel first appeared on film as an extra at KALEM Film Studios. She also found steady work in movies at Biograph Studios working with D.W. Griffith and appeared in a large number of Biograph films. She fell in love with fellow actor and sometimes director Mack Sennett and embarked on a tumultuous affair with him. Her first films portrayed her as a bathing beauty, but Normand quickly demonstrated a flair for comedy and became a star of Sennett's short films. Mack Sennett formed Keystone in 1912. He took Mabel with him and together they worked on building the whole genre of slapstick as only Keystone defined it. The California studio was built in Edenale, near downtown Los Angeles. Fred Mace, Ford Sterling and Mabel formed the original core of Keystone Comedies. Mabel appeared regularly with Charlie Chaplin, and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle as well, and wrote, directed and starred in some of Chaplin's early films. She had also been credited with being the first person to throw a cream pie on film -- at Arbuckle in "A Noise from the Deep" (1913) and is often cited as silent films most prominent comedienne. She directed films and made full length features before either Arbuckle or Chaplin.

In 1914, Mabel starred with Chaplin and Marie Dressler in "Tillies Punctured Romance" Normand developed into a major film star. As her relationship with Sennett came to an end, she signed a $3,500 a week contract (equivalent to over $53,3000/week in 2007) with Samuel Goldwyn in 1918 and opened her own studio in Culver City. During this time she reportedly became addicted to both alcohol and narcotics which damaged her health and her career. Nonetheless, her breakup with Sennett seems to have caused Normand to re-evaluate her life and she embarked on a program of self-education, developing keen and lasting interests in reading and books.

The first feature film Mabel made for Goldwyn was "Joan of Plattsburg" (1918) This became a shelved film. Goldwyn was madly in love with Mabel but there is no indication that the feelings were reciprocated. At the Goldwyn Studios, Mabel ran wild: showing up late after nights of partying; being ill prepared; and generally raising havoc.

Mabel was at the height of her popularity; both "Mickey" and "Joan of Plattsburg" were released. However, her fans saw signs of physical changes in the gifted star. How much was in fact due to ill health and how much due to partying is hard to tell. She began to disappear from the studio for days at a time. Even forgetting to cash her payroll checks. Sam Goldwyns feelings toward Mabel cooled and he was ready when Mack Sennett approached him to buy out the five year contract that had another eighteen months left to go. Mabel was also ready to go home to Edendale.

When she went back to Sennett, "Molly O" was presented to the prodigal Mabel as a welcome home gift. She wasn't fooled. She knew that Sennett had first offered it to Mary Pickford. Only when Mary had rejected it, did Sennett negotiate with Goldwyn for Mabel. Dick Jones, Mabel's favorite director, worried about how ill she looked. It was said that he also was in love with Mabel.

Jones did his best to show Mabel at her best, but nothing can hide the effects of time, fast living and perhaps the first signs of TB.

Mabel was having small hemorrhages in her lungs and was self-medicating with a cough syrup she called "Goop", that suppressed her cough but left her groggy. Everything showed on Mabel's expressive face.

The production of "Molly O' (1921) went smoothly, because Sennett surrounded Mabel with a cast and crew who knew how to work with her. However, Mabel was getting too old to play an inexperienced teenage girl. Even with it's shortcomings however; the film is a real treasure. The critics and public were very impressed with the film. Her box office was good and Mack Sennett was making money. Mabel was back.

Director William Desmond Taylor shared her interest in books and the two formed a close friendship. He was murdered in 1922 only minutes after Normand had left his home. She was closely scrutinized by the police but never considered a serious suspect. Newspapers speculated widely about Normand given reports of her drug usage along with her many past appearances in films with Roscoe Arbuckle, who also had recently became enmeshed in scandal. In 1924 she was involved in yet another scandal when her chauffeur Joe Kelly (an ex convict), shot and wounded Normands lover Courtland Dines with her pistol.

At a dinner party, Lew Cody, and actor called the "Butterfly Man" asked Mabel to marry him and Mabel accepted. They eloped to Ventura, California on September 17, 1926 and were married by a justice of the peace. After the wedding, each returned to their respective homes in Beverly Hills. They never lived together as a married couple. During the next four years, there was talk of an annulment, a honeymoon, selling of their separate homes and buying a house together, a divorce, but none of these happened. They just drifted. Lew continued to work and made the transition to sound pictures successfully, while Mabel had retired from films completely.

In February 1927, Mabel was taken to a hospital for treatment of a dangerous bronchial infection. An x-ray disclosed an abscess of the right lung. After several months she was able to leave the hospital. By November, she was well enough to travel to the East Coasr with Lew where he was completing the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit. Mabel's Health began to fail gradually. She grew weaker and lost weight. In March 1929, the public was told that Mabel had tuberculosis ans was being taken to a sanatorium near Los Angeles for seclusion. At the same time, Lew was recuperating in Palm Springs from an attack of influenza.

Mabel's condition was serious. By January 1930, both lungs were infected. She was wracked with pain and fever. Flowers and letters of cheer arrived daily. In February, Mabel was given a blood transfusion, but nothing helped Mabel Normand died on February 23, 1930. She was thirty seven years old. She was interred as Mabel Normand-Cody at Calvary Cemetery , Los Angeles.

Humorous Quote:
"Say anything you like, but don't say I love to work. That sounds like Mary Pickford, the prissy bitch"

1 comment:

Avery said...

Rare, vintage photos, jewelry, furniture from the estate of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Pickfair, their legendary Beverly Hills mansion, will be auctioned off Nov.22-23. The cool thing is you can bid online at You don't actually have to be at the auction. Thought i'd pass along to you fellow Mary Pickford lovers!