A talented comedian in her own right whose work is often underrated by film historians, Mabel Normand was to many in the silent era the Queen of Comedy. Perhaps best remembered as the damsel that the Keystone Kops ineffectively tried to ”save,“ Normand's characters are often cited as some of the first liberated females in film. Her characters could take care of themselves…nothing could stop them for long. Normand could be whatever the part required…tomboy or glamour queen or slapstick action star.
Born into a family of vaudevil-lians, Mabel Ethelreid Normand received her education in a convent in southern New York before moving to New York City with her family. Her first job, at thirteen, was as an advertising model and then an illustrator's model for such artists as Charles Dana Gibson and James Montgomery Flagg, appearing on such magazine covers as The Saturday Evening Post. This association with artists led her to enroll in an art school in New York after high school.
She began working in movies for Biograph as an extra around 1908 but was not included in the company move to the West Coast in 1909. She moved to Vitagraph, where her first feature role was either The Indiscretions of Betty or Over the Garden Wall (both 1910). Many of her early films listed her as ”Mabel Fortesque,“ the marquee name used by studios before they realized the money to be made by allowing the public to identify with their favorite actor.
However, when Biograph returned to New York, Normand went back to her original company and made her first film with Mack Sennett, The Diving Girl (1911). Her athleticism made her a perfect comedian, while her attractiveness offset the absurdity of early comedy. Sennett once called her ”the most gifted player who ever stepped before a camera.“
Her comedy technique made use of physical, often slapstick, gestures as well as facial expressions and her very expressive eyes. She always conveyed high energy and a charming innocence. The first Keystone Kop short was made in 1912, and in the first year of production fifty-three one- and two-reelers were made. Throughout her Kop years (roughly 1912-1916), Normand made other films as well, most notably A Noise From the Deep (1913), in which Normand flung the first movie ”pie-in-the-face“ at Fatty Arbuckle, and Mabel's Blunder (1914).
Called by many a ”female Chaplin,“ Sam Peeples noted in Classic Film Collector that ”a study of her films made before Chaplin came to this country show entire routines, gestures, reactions (and) expressions that were later part of Chaplin's characterizations.“ It is known that she directed at least five of the films that Chaplin made, and they appeared together in the first American feature-length comedy, Tillie ‘s Punctured Romance (1914).
In December 1914 it was announced that Normand would direct all her future films, making her one of the first female directors and the first one to direct comedy. This development is often cited as an attempt by Sennett to placate her after finding him in bed with one of her friends just before their wedding was to take place. It was after this crashing event that Normand became the ”I-Don't-Care“ girl who said in an interview, ”I just live (for) today. I never make plans… no thought for the morrow.“
In 1915 Motion Picture World listed her as female comedian in an article on the idealized ”Great Cast.“ In 1916 she moved into feature-length films with the creation of the Mabel Normand Feature Film Company. Her first feature film was Mickey (1918), a huge hit for her both commercially and critically. It traced her evolution from tomboy to romantic young woman…a scenario that proved popular with her fans and which she continued to use for many years.
However, her behavior became increasingly erratic and her health increasingly poor. By 1922, when she became embroiled in the William Desmond Taylor murder, the public was becoming less tolerant of her purportedly wild lifestyle. Still, when The Extra Girl was released in 1923 it became a moderate hit for her.
Early the next year she was involved in another scandal when her chauffeur shot playboy Courtland Dines. Her films were banned in Ohio and her career began a downward spiral. Her reckless lifestyle and her ill health began to show on her face, and the once vibrant star aged with each film she made. Her final film was One Hour Married (1927).
Always troubled by respiratory ailments, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died only months after checking into a sanitorium. Her funeral was a who's who of Hollywood, where both her friends and her colleagues grieved for the ”I don't care“ comedian.
|1910||The Indiscretions of Betty; Over the Garden Wall; Willful Peggy|
|1911||The Diamond Star; Betty Becomes a Maid; The Troublesome Secretaries; Picciola; When a Man's Married His Troubles Begin; His Mother; A Dead Man's Honor; The Changing of Silas Warner; The Subduing of Mrs. Nag; The Diving Girl; How Betty Won the School; The Baron; The Squaw's Love; Her Awakening; The Making of a Man; The Unveiling; Through His Wife's Picture; A Victim of Circumstances; Why He Gave Up; Saved from Himself; A Tale of Two Cities; Two Overcoats; The Strategy of Ann; The Revenue Man and the Girl; Italian Blood; The Investor's Secret; Their First Divorce Case; Saved From Herself|
|1912||The Eternal Mother; The Mender of Nets; The Fatal Chocolate; The Engagement Ring; A Spanish Dilemma; Hot Stuff; Oh, Those Eyes; Help! Help!; The Brave Hunter; The Fickle Spaniard; The Furs; When Kings Were the Law; Helen's Marriage; Tomboy Bessie; Neighbors; Katchem Kate; A Dash Through the Clouds; The Tourists; What the Doctor Ordered; The Tragedy of the Dress Suit; An Interrupted Elopement; Mr Grouch at the Seashore; He Must Have a Wife; Cohen Collects a Debt; The Water Nymph; The New Neighbor; Pedro's Dilemma; Stolen Glory; The Ambitious Butler; The Flirting Husband; At Coney Island; The Grocery Clerk's Romance; Mabel's Lovers; At It Again; The Deacon's Troubles; A Temperamental Husband; The Rivals; Mr. Fixit; A Desperate Lover; Brown's Seance; Pat's Day Off; A Family Mix-Up; A Midnight Elopement; Mabel's Adventures; The Drummer's Vacation; The Duel; Mabel's Stratagem; Riley and Schultz; The Beating He Needed; A Voice from the Deep; The New Baby; Race for Life; King's Court|
|1913||The Cure That Failed; The Mistaken Masher; The Deacon Outwitted; Just Brown's Luck; The Battle of Who Run; Mabel's Heroes; Heinze's Resurrection; The Professor's Daughter; A Tangled Affair; A Red Hot Romance; A Doctored Affair; A Rural Third Degree; The Sleuths at the Floral Parade; A Strong Revenge; Foiling Fickle Father; The Rube and the Baron; At Twelve O ‘Clock; Her New Beau; Hide and Seek; Those Good Old Days; Father's Choice; The Bangville Police; The Ragtime Band; A Little Hero; Mabel's Awful Mistake; Hubby's Job; The Foreman of the Jury; Barney Old-field's Race for a Life; Passions He Had Three; The Hansom Driver; The Speed Queen; The Waiter's Picnic; For the Love of Mabel; The Telltale Light; A Noise from the Deep; Love and Courage; Professor Bean's Removal; The Riot; Baby Day; Mabel's Dramatic Career; The Gypsy Queen; The Faithful Taxicab; When Dreams Come True; The Bowling Match; The Speed Kings; Love Sickness at Sea; A Muddy Romance; Cohen Saves the Flag; The Gusher; Fatty's Flirtation; Mabel's New Hero; The Champion; Zuzu; The Bank Leader; For Lizzie's Sake; Brothers; Near to Earth; On His Wedding Day; Fatty at San Diego; Teddy Tetzlaff and Earl Cooper; Love and Pain; Saving Mabel's Dad; Mabel's Stormy Love Affair|
|1914||Mabel's Blunder; Hello Mabel; Gentleman of Nerve; Lover's Post Office; His Try sting Place; Tillie's Punctured Romance; Fatty's Wine Party; The Sea Nymphs; Getting Acquainted; How Heroes Are Made; A Misplaced Foot; A Glimpse of Los Angeles; Won in a Closet; Mabel's Bare Escape; Mabel's Strange Predicament; Love, Luck and Gasoline; Mack at It Again; Mabel at the Wheel; Where Hazel Met the Villain; Caught in a Cabaret; Mabel's Nerve; The Alarm; The Fatal Mallet; Her Friend the Bandit; Mabel's Busy Day; Mabel's Married Life; Mabel's New Job; Those Country Kids; Mabel's Latest Prank; Fatty's Jonah Day; In the Clutches of the Gang; A Film Johnnie; An Incompetent Hero; A Missing Bride; A Gambling Rube; Between Showers|
|1915||Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day; Fatty and Mabel's Simple Life; Fatty and Mabel at the San Diego Exposition; Mabel; Fatty and the Law; Mabel and Fatty's Married Life; That Little Band of Gold; Wished on Mabel; Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco; Mabel's Willful Ways; Mabel Lost and Won; Small Town Bully; My Valet; Stolen Magic; Their Social Splash; The Little Teacher; Rum and Wall Paper; Fatty's New Role|
|1916||Fatty and Mabel Adrift; He Did and He Didn't; Bright Lights; Gaumont Graphic Newsreel #39|
|1918||Dodging a Million; The Floor Below; Joan of Plattsburg; The Venus Model; Back to the Woods; Mickey; Peck's Bad Girl; A Perfect 36|
|1919||Sis Hopkins; The Pest; When Doctors Disagree; Upstairs; Jinx|
|1920||Pinto; The Slim Princess; What Happened to Rosa|
|1922||Oh Mabel Behave; Head Over Heels|
|1923||Suzanna; The Extra Girl|
|1926||Raggedy Rose; The Nickel Hopper|
|1927||Anything Once!; One Hour Married; Should Men Walk Home ?|