Raggedy Rose (1926 film)

Mabel Normand

Mabel Normand (November 9, 1892 - February 23, 1930) was an American film actress and the most popular screen comedienne of the silent film era. Her later career was marked by several successive scandals, including the murder of director William Desmond Taylor, whom she was with only minutes before he was shot and killed.

Early life and career

Born Mabel Ethelreid Normand in New Brighton, Staten Island, New York, she grew up in extreme poverty. Her father, Claude Normand, was sporadically employed as a carpenter at Sailors' Snug Harbor home for elderly seamen. Before she entered films at age 16 in 1909, Normand worked as an artist's model, which included posing for postcards illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl image. She met 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. She appeared regularly with Charles Chaplin and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and wrote, directed, and starred in some of Chaplin's early films. She has 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 film's most prominent comedienne. She directed films and made full-length features before either Arbuckle or Chaplin.

In 1914 she starred with Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie's 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 $53,000/week in 2007) with Samuel Goldwyn in 1918 and opened her own film studio in Culver City. During this time she reportedly became addicted to both alcohol and narcotics which damaged her health and 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.


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 police but never considered a serious suspect. Newspapers speculated wildly about Normand given reports of her drug use along with her many past appearances in films with Roscoe Arbuckle, who had also recently become enmeshed in scandal. In 1924 she was involved in yet another scandal when her chauffeur Joe Kelly (an ex-convict whose real name was Horace Greer) shot and wounded Normand's lover Courtland Dines with her pistol.

Later career and death

She continued making films and was signed by Hal Roach Studios in 1926 after discussions with director/producer F. Richard Jones, who had directed her at Keystone. At Roach she made the film Raggedy Rose plus four others which were released with publicity support from the Hollywood community (including her friend Mary Pickford).

In 1926 she married actor Lew Cody with whom she had appeared in Mickey in 1918. They lived separately in nearby houses in Beverly Hills before Cody moved in with her. However, Normand's health was in decline. After an extended stay in a sanitarium she died from tuberculosis in Monrovia, California at the age of 37. She was interred as Mabel Normand-Cody at Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles.

Mabel Normand has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to Motion Pictures, at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard.

Humorous quote

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

Cultural references

A nod to Normand's celebrity in early Hollywood came through the name of a leading character in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, "Norma Desmond", which has been cited as a combination of the names Mabel Normand and William Desmond Taylor. The 1974 Broadway musical Mack & Mabel (Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman) depicted the romance between Normand and Mack Sennett. Normand was played by Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston played Mack Sennett. Stevie Nicks wrote a song called "Mabel Normand". It was never officially released but the demo was leaked and can be found on some Stevie Nicks fan sites. Normand is played by actress Morganne Picard in the motion picture Return to Babylon (2008), and by Marisa Tomei in the 1992 film Chaplin.

Partial Filmography

Further reading

  • Jeanine Basinger (1999), chapter on Normand in Silent Stars, (ISBN 0-8195-6451-6).
  • Betty Harper Fussell (1982), Mabel: Hollywood's First I-Don't-Care Girl, (ISBN 0-87910-158-X).
  • William Thomas Sherman (2006), "Mabel Normand: A Source Book to Her Life and Films," (see http://www.angelfire.com/mn/hp/index.html )


External links

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