Mabel Normand

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Mabel Normand
Born Mabel Ethelreid Normand
(1892-11-09)November 9, 1892
New Brighton, New York, U.S.
Died February 23, 1930(1930-02-23) (aged 37)
Monrovia, California, U.S.
Cause of death Pulmonary Tuberculosis
Resting place Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles
Nationality American
Other names Mabel Normand-Cody
Occupation Actress, director, screenwriter, producer
Years active 1910–1927
Spouse(s) Lew Cody (m. 1926; her death 1930)

Mabel Normand (November 9, 1892[1] – February 23, 1930) was an American silent film actress, screenwriter, director and producer. She was a popular star and collaborator of Mack Sennett's in his Keystone Studios[2] films and at the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s had her own movie studio and production company.[3] Onscreen she appeared in a dozen successful films with Charles Chaplin and seventeen with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, sometimes writing and directing (or co-writing/directing) movies featuring Chaplin as her leading man.[4] Throughout the 1920s her name was linked with widely publicized scandals including the 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor and the 1924 shooting of Courtland S. Dines, who was shot by Normand's chauffeur using her pistol. She was not a suspect in either crime. Her film career declined, possibly due to both scandals and a recurrence of tuberculosis in 1923, which led to a decline in her health, retirement from films and her death in 1930 at age 37.[5][6]

Early life and career height[edit]

1917 trading card
1918 portrait
In A Little Hero (1913, Dutch language edition). Collection EYE Film Institute Netherlands.
Mabel's Strange Predicament, the first film in which Chaplin plays the Tramp

Born Mabel Ethelreid Normand in New Brighton, Staten Island, New York, she grew up in a working-class family. Normand's mother was of Irish heritage, while her father was French Canadian.[7] Her father, Claude Normand, was employed as a cabinet maker and stage 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, as well as for Butterick's clothing pattern manufacturers in lower Manhattan. For a short time, she worked for Vitagraph Studios in New York City for twenty-five dollars a week, but Vitagraph founder Albert E. Smith admitted she was one of several actresses about whom he made a mistake in estimating their "potential for future stardom."[8] Her quietly effervescent lead performance while directed by D. W. Griffith in the dramatic 1911 short film Her Awakening drew attention and she met director Mack Sennett while at Griffith's Biograph Company, embarking upon a topsy-turvy relationship with him; he later brought her across to California when he founded Keystone Studios in 1912. Her earlier Keystone films portrayed her as a bathing beauty but Normand quickly demonstrated a flair for comedy and became a major star of Sennett's short films. Normand appeared with Charles Chaplin and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in many short films as well as men who would later become icons such as Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel, and Boris Karloff.

She played a key role in starting Chaplin's film career and acted as his leading lady and mentor in a string of films in 1914, sometimes co-writing and directing or co-directing films with him. Chaplin had considerable initial difficulty adjusting to the demands of film acting and his performance suffered for it. After his first film appearance in Making a Living, Sennett felt he had made a costly mistake.[9] Most historians agree it was Normand who persuaded him to give Chaplin another chance[10] and she and Chaplin appeared together in a dozen subsequent films, almost always as a couple in the lead roles. In 1914 she starred with Marie Dressler and Chaplin in Tillie's Punctured Romance, the first feature-length comedy. Earlier that same year, in January/February, Chaplin first played his Tramp character in Mabel's Strange Predicament, although it wound up being the second Tramp film released; Chaplin offers an account of his experience on the film in his autobiography.[11]

In 1918, as her relationship with Sennett came to an end, Normand signed a $3,500 a week contract with Samuel Goldwyn and opened a film studio in Culver City.


Taylor's murder[edit]

Photoplay Magazine, 1921
Who's Who in the Film World, 1914

Director William Desmond Taylor shared her interest in books and the two formed a close relationship. According to author Robert Giroux, Taylor was deeply in love with Normand, who had originally approached him for help in curing her cocaine dependency. Based upon Normand's subsequent statements to investigators, her repeated relapses were devastating for Taylor. According to Giroux, Taylor met with federal prosecutors shortly before his death and offered to assist them in filing charges against Normand's cocaine suppliers. Giroux expresses a belief that Normand's suppliers learned of this meeting and hired a contract killer to assassinate the director. According to Giroux, Normand suspected the reasons for Taylor's murder, but did not know the identity of the man who killed him.[12][page needed]

On the night of his murder, February 1, 1922, Normand left Taylor's bungalow at 7:45 p.m. in a happy mood, carrying a book he had lent her. They blew kisses to each other as her limousine drove away. Normand was the last person known to have seen Taylor alive. The Los Angeles Police Department subjected Normand to a grueling interrogation, but ruled her out as a suspect.[13] Most subsequent writers have done the same. However, Normand's career had already slowed and her reputation was tarnished. According to George Hopkins, who sat next to her at Taylor's funeral, Normand wept inconsolably throughout the ceremony.[14]

Dines shooting[edit]

In 1924, Normand's chauffeur Joe Kelly shot and wounded millionaire oil broker and amateur golfer Courtland S. Dines with her pistol.[15][16] At the time of the shooting, Dines was romantically involved with Normand's friend (and frequent Chaplin co-star) Edna Purviance. Purviance was also the next door neighbor of William Desmond Taylor.

Later career and death[edit]

Photo by Fred Hartsook, ca. 1918

Normand 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 films Raggedy Rose, The Nickel-Hopper, and One Hour Married (her last film), all co-written by Stan Laurel, and was directed by Leo McCarey in Should Men Walk Home?. The films were released with extensive publicity support from the Hollywood community, including her friend Mary Pickford.

Crypt of Mabel Normand, at Calvary Cemetery

In 1926, she married actor Lew Cody, with whom she had appeared in Mickey in 1918.[17] They lived separately in nearby houses in Beverly Hills. However, Normand's health was in decline due to tuberculosis. After an extended stay in Pottenger's Sanitorium, she died on February 23, 1930 from tuberculosis in Monrovia, California, at the age of 37.[18] 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.

Her film Mabel's Blunder (1914) was added to the National Film Registry in December 2009.[19]

In June 2010, the New Zealand Film Archive reported the discovery of a print of Normand's film Won in a Closet (exhibited in New Zealand under its alternate title Won in a Cupboard), a short comedy previously believed lost. This film is a significant discovery, as Normand directed the movie and starred in the lead role, making it a showcase for her talents on both sides of the camera.[20]


  • Say anything you like, but don't say I love to work. That sounds like Mary Pickford, the prissy bitch. Just say I like to pinch babies and twist their legs. And get drunk.[21] (Normand and Pickford were close friends; this was meant jokingly.)[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

Movie theatre audience members Roscoe Arbuckle and Mack Sennett square off while watching Mabel Normand onscreen in Mabel's Dramatic Career (1913)
Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett and Charles Chaplin in The Fatal Mallet (1914)
  • 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 film also frequently mentions Normand by name.[22][23]
  • The 1974 Broadway musical Mack & Mabel (Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman) fictionalized the romance between Normand and Mack Sennett. Normand was played by Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston portrayed Mack Sennett.
  • "Hello Mabel" is a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band released in England on their second album The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse (released as Urban Spaceman in the US.) in November 1968.
  • Normand is mentioned during Series 2 Episode 1 of Downton Abbey by ambitious housemaid Ethel Parks. Daisy Mason (née Robinson), the kitchen maid, inquires what she is reading and Ethel responds, "Photoplay about Mabel Normand. She was nothing when she started, you know. Her father was a carpenter and they'd no money, and now she's a shining film star."[24]
  • Singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks wrote a song about the actress entitled "Mabel Normand", which appears on her 2014 album "24 Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault".

Fictional portrayals[edit]

Normand is played by actress Marisa Tomei in the 1992 film Chaplin opposite Robert Downey, Jr. as Charles Chaplin; by Penelope Lagos in the first biopic about Normand's life, a 35-minute dramatic short film entitled Madcap Mabel (2010); and by Morganne Picard in the motion picture Return to Babylon (2013). Normand was played on television by Andrea Deck in Series 2, Episode 8 of Mr Selfridge in 2014. Normand was most recently portrayed by Kristina Thompson in the film Mabel's Dressing Room.


Selected filmography[edit]

Year Film Role Notes
1910 Indiscretions of Betty
1911 Her Awakening The Daughter Directed by D. W. Griffith
1911 Why He Gave Up The Wife Co-directed by Mack Sennett
With Fred Mace
1912 The Water Nymph Diving Venus Alternative title: The Beach Flirt
Directed by Mack Sennett
With Mack Sennett and Ford Sterling
First Keystone comedy
1912 The Flirting Husband Directed by Mack Sennett
With Ford Sterling
1912 Mabel's Lovers Mabel Directed by Mack Sennett
With Fred Mace and Ford Sterling
1912 At Coney Island Alternative title: Cohen at Coney Island
Directed by Mack Sennett
With Ford Sterling and Fred Mace
1912 Mabel's Adventures Mabel Directed by Mack Sennett
With Fred Mace and Ford Sterling
1913 The Bangville Police Farm Girl With the Keystone Cops
1913 A Noise from the Deep Directed by Mack Sennett
With Roscoe Arbuckle and the Keystone Cops
1913 A Little Hero With Harold Lloyd
1913 Mabel's Awful Mistakes Alternative title: Her Deceitful Lover
Directed by Mack Sennett
With Mack Sennett and Ford Sterling
1913 Passions, He Had Three Alternative title: He Had Three
With Roscoe Arbuckle
1913 For the Love of Mabel
With Roscoe Arbuckle and Ford Sterling
1913 Mabel's Dramatic Career Mabel, the kitchen maid Alternative title: Her Dramatic Debut
Directed by Mack Sennett
With Mack Sennett and Ford Sterling
1913 The Gypsy Queen Directed by Mack Sennett
With Roscoe Arbuckle
1913 Cohen Saves the Flag Rebecca Directed by Mack Sennett
With Ford Sterling
1914 Mabel's Stormy Love Affair Mabel Director
1914 Won in a Closet[25] Director
Alternative title: Won in a Cupboard
1914 In the Clutches of the Gang With Roscoe Arbuckle and the Keystone Cops
1914 Mack at It Again Directed by Mack Sennett
With Mack Sennett
1914 Mabel's Strange Predicament Mabel Alternative title: Hotel Mixup
With Charles Chaplin
(First film with Chaplin as the Tramp although the second released.)
1914 Mabel's Blunder Mabel Director
With Charley Chase and Al St. John
Added to the National Film Registry in 2009[19]
1914 A Film Johnnie Mabel With Charles Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle
1914 Mabel at the Wheel Mabel Co-directed by Normand and Sennett
With Charles Chaplin
1914 Caught in a Cabaret Mabel Director, Writer
With Charles Chaplin
1914 Mabel's Nerve Mabel Directed by George Nichols
1914 The Alarm Alternative title: Fireman's Picnic
With Roscoe Arbuckle and Minta Durfee
1914 Her Friend the Bandit Mabel Co-directed by Normand and Chaplin
With Charles Chaplin
1914 The Fatal Mallet Mabel Written and directed by Mack Sennett
With Charles Chaplin and Mack Sennett
1914 Mabel's Busy Day Mabel Writer, Director
With Charles Chaplin and Chester Conklin
1914 Mabel's Married Life Mabel Directed by Charles Chaplin
Co-written by Normand and Chaplin
With Charles Chaplin
1914 Mabel's New Job Writer, Co-director
With Chester Conklin and Charley Chase
1914 Tillie's Punctured Romance Mabel Directed by Mack Sennett
With Marie Dressler and Charles Chaplin
1914 The Sky Pirate With Roscoe Arbuckle and Minta Durfee
1914 The Masquerader Actress Uncredited
Written and Directed by Charles Chaplin
With Charles Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle
1914 Mabel's Latest Prank Mabel Alternative title: Touch of Rheumatism
Co-directed by Normand and Sennett
With Mack Sennett and Hank Mann
1914 Hello, Mabel Mabel Director
Alternative title: On a Busy Wire
With Charley Chase and Minta Durfee
1914 Gentlemen of Nerve Mabel Alternative titles: Charlie at the Races
Some Nerve
Directed by Charles Chaplin
With Charles Chaplin and Chester Conklin
1914 His Trysting Place Mabel, The Wife Written and directed by Charles Chaplin
With Charles Chaplin
1914 Shotguns That Kick Directed by Roscoe Arbuckle
With Roscoe Arbuckle and Al St. John
1914 Getting Acquainted Ambrose's Wife Written and directed by Charles Chaplin
With Charles Chaplin and Phyllis Allen
1915 Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day Mabel Directed by Roscoe Arbuckle
With Roscoe Arbuckle
1915 Mabel and Fatty's Simple Life Mabel Alternative title: Mabel and Fatty's Simple Life
Directed by Roscoe Arbuckle
With Roscoe Arbuckle
1915 Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco Mabel Directed by Normand and Arbuckle
With Roscoe Arbuckle
1915 Mabel and Fatty's Married Life Mabel Directed by Roscoe Arbuckle
With Roscoe Arbuckle
1915 That Little Band of Gold Wifey Uncredited
Alternative title: For Better or Worse
Directed by Roscoe Arbuckle
With Roscoe Arbuckle and Ford Sterling
1915 Wished on Mabel Mabel Director
With Roscoe Arbuckle
1915 Mabel's Wilful Way Mabel Co-directed by Normand and Sennett
With Roscoe Arbuckle
1915 Mabel Lost and Won Director
With Owen Moore and Mack Swain
1915 The Little Teacher The Little Teacher Alternative title: A Small Town Bully
Directed by Mack Sennett
With Roscoe Arbuckle and Mack Sennett
1916 Fatty and Mabel Adrift Mabel Alternative title: Concrete Biscuits
Written and directed by Roscoe Arbuckle
With Roscoe Arbuckle and Al St. John
1916 He Did and He Didn't The Doctor's Wife Written and directed by Roscoe Arbuckle
With Roscoe Arbuckle and Al St. John
1918 The Venus Model Kitty O'Brien Directed by Clarence G. Badger
With Rod La Rocque
1918 A Perfect 36 Mabel Directed by Charles Giblyn
With Rod La Rocque
1918 Mickey Mickey Directed by F. Richard Jones and James Young
1919 Jinx The Jinx Directed by Victor Schertzinger
1920 What Happened to Rosa Rosa Directed by Victor Schertzinger
1921 Molly O' Molly O' Directed by F. Richard Jones
With George Nichols
1922 Head Over Heels Tina Directed by Paul Bern and Victor Schertzinger
With Raymond Hatton and Adolphe Menjou
1922 Oh, Mabel Behave Innkeeper's Daughter Directed by Mack Sennett
With Mack Sennett and Ford Sterling
1923 Suzanna Suzanna Directed by F. Richard Jones
With George Nichols
1923 The Extra Girl Sue Graham Co-written by Mack Sennett
Directed by F. Richard Jones
With George Nichols
1926 Raggedy Rose Raggedy Rose Co-written by Stan Laurel
Directed by Richard Wallace
1926 The Nickel-Hopper Paddy, the nickel hopper Co-written by Stan Laurel
Featuring Oliver Hardy (uncredited)
1927 Should Men Walk Home? The Girl Bandit Directed by Leo McCarey
With Eugene Pallette and Oliver Hardy
1927 One Hour Married With Creighton Hale and James Finlayson



  1. ^ Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors (Illustrated ed.). Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-55783-551-2. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  2. ^ Harper Fussell 1992, pp. 50–52.
  3. ^ Harper Fussell 1992, pp. 71–73.
  4. ^ Harper Fussell 1992, pp. 64–70.
  5. ^ cite magazine article Films in Review September 1974 Mabel Normand A grand Nephew's Memoir Normand, Stephen
  6. ^ Ward Mahar, Karen (2006). Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood. JHU Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-8018-8436-5. 
  7. ^ Sherman, William Thomas. "Mabel Normand: An Introductory Biography". Retrieved June 14, 2013. 
  8. ^ Smith, Albert E. in collaboration with Phil A. Koury, "Two Reels And A Crank", Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1952.
  9. ^ Chaplin, Charles (1964). My Autobiography. Penguin. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-14-101147-9. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 
  10. ^ Harper Fussell 1992, pp. 70–71.
  11. ^ Chaplin, Charles (2003) [1964]. My Autobiography. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-101147-5. 
  12. ^ Robert Giroux, A Deed of Death: The Story Behind the Unsolved Murder of Hollywood Director William Desmond Taylor, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1990.
  13. ^ "Press Film Star For Taylor Clew; Police Conduct 'Long And Grueling' Examination, Working on Jealousy Motive. Mabel Normand Speaks Tells Reporters Affection For Slain Director Was Based on Comradeship, Not 'Love.'". (New York: New York Times). February 7, 1922. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 29, 2010. A motion picture actress was subjected to what the police termed a "long and grueling" examination at her home here tonight in an attempt to obtain a clew to the murderer of William Desmond Taylor. 
  14. ^ Giroux (1990), page 236.
  15. ^ Milton, Joyce (1998). Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin. Da Capo Press. p. 221. ISBN 0-306-80831-5. 
  16. ^ Basinger 2000, p. 92.
  17. ^ McCaffrey, Donald W.; Jacobs, Christopher P. (1999). Guide To the Silent Years of American Cinema. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 84. ISBN 0-313-30345-2. 
  18. ^ Vogel, Michelle (2007). Olive Thomas: The Life and Death of a Silent Film Beauty. McFarland. p. 9. ISBN 0-7864-2908-9. 
  19. ^ a b "Thriller and 24 Other Films Named to National Film Registry", Associated Press via Yahoo News (December 30, 2009)[dead link]
  20. ^ "A Happy Homecoming For Long-Lost Silent Films". NPR. April 16, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  21. ^, Mabel Normand Quotes. Retrieved December 24, 2007.
  22. ^ "Taylorology" (about William D. Taylor & era), (, September 2003, webpage: LitWeb-WDTaylor.
  23. ^ Staggs, Sam: Close-up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond and the Dark Hollywood Dream. St. Martin's Griffin Books, 2002
  24. ^
  25. ^ Kehr, Dave (June 6, 2010). "Trove of Long-Lost Silent Films Returns to America". (New York: New York Times). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 29, 2010. 

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