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About Mabel Normand
Mabel Normand (November 9, 1892 – February 23, 1930) was an American silent film comedienne and actress. She was a popular star of Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios and is noted as one of the film industry's first female screenwriters, producers and directors. Onscreen she co-starred in commercially successful films with Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle more than a dozen times each, occasionally writing and directing movies featuring Chaplin as her leading man. At the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Normand had her own movie studio and production company.
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 with 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.
Early life and career
Born Amabel 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 while at D. W. Griffith's Biograph Company and embarked on a tumultuous affair with him; he later brought her across when he founded Keystone Studios in 1912. 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. Normand appeared with Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe ("Fatty") Arbuckle in many short films.
She played a role in starting Chaplin's film career and acted as his leading lady and mentor in a number of films, sometimes co-writing and/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. Most historians agree it was Normand who persuaded him to give Chaplin another chance.
In 1914 she starred with Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie's Punctured Romance, the first feature-length comedy. Later that same year, Chaplin first played his Tramp character in Mabel's Strange Predicament, although it wound up being the second Tramp film released. 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. 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 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 her lover's murder, but did not know the identity of the triggerman.
On the night of his murder, Normand left Taylor's bungalow at 7:45 p.m. in a happy mood, carrying a book he had given her as a loan. 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. Most subsequent writers have done the same. However, Normand's career had already slowed and her reputation was tarnished by revelations of her addiction, which was seen as a moral failing. According to George Hopkins, who sat next to her at Taylor's funeral, Normand wept inconsolably throughout the ceremony.
In 1924 her chauffeur Joe Kelly shot and wounded millionaire oil broker and amateur golfer Courtland S. Dines with her pistol. At the time Dines was romantically involved with Normand's friend (and frequent Chaplin co-star) Edna Purviance. Ms. Purviance was also the next door neighbor of William Desmond Taylor.
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.
Her film Mabel's Blunder (1914) was added to the National Film Registry in December 2009.
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 rediscovery, as Normand directed this movie as well as starring in the lead role, so it is a showcase for her talents on both sides of the camera.
Say anything you like, but don't say I love to work. That sounds like Mary Pickford, the prissy bitch. (Normand and Pickford were close friends; this was meant jokingly.)
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) fictionalized the romance between Normand and Mack Sennett. Normand was played by Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston played Mack Sennett.
Normand is played by actress Marisa Tomei in the 1992 film Chaplin, by Morganne Picard in the motion picture Return to Babylon (2008), and by Penelope Lagos in the first bio-pic about her life, a 35-minute dramatic short film entitled Madcap Mabel (2010).