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Mabel Normand
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Mabel Normand

Mabel Normand was a US film actress, who was a popular comedienne in silent films. Born Mabel Ethelreid Normand in Staten Island, New York, she lived in extreme poverty -- her father was partially employed as a carpenter at Sailors' Snug Harbor home for elderly seamen. Before she entered films 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 Fatty Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin and wrote and directed some of Chaplin's early films. She is frequently credited with being the first person to throw a cream pie on film and remains universally acclaimed as silent cinema'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. She developed into a major film star, and as her relationship with Sennett came to an end she signed a contract in 1918 with Samuel Goldwyn and opened her own film studio in Culver City.

However, by this time she was becoming increasingly capricious and volatile. Her alcoholism, combined with an addiction to narcotics, damaged her health and career. She became involved in several love affairs, none of which were with anyone notable. 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.

Career Destroyed

Director William Desmond Taylor shared these interests and also tried to help in her battle against addiction. The two formed a close relationship. However he was murdered in 1922 just fifteen minutes after Normand had left his home. As the last person to see him alive, Normand was closely scrutinised by police and the media. The murder was never solved.

Reports of her drug use became public and her reputation suffered. Her past appearances in many films with Fatty Arbuckle, who was also involved in a widely reported scandal, did further damage. The following year she was involved in yet another scandal when her chauffeur Joe Kelly (an ex-convict it turned out whose real name was Horace Greer) shot and wounded Courtland Dines, one of Normand's many lovers, with her own pistol.

For a few years she made no films but was signed by Hal Roach Studios in 1926 after director/producer F. Richard Jones, who had directed her at Keystone, offered her a second chance. At Roach, she made the film Raggedy Rose plus four others. Despite publicity support from the Hollywood community (including her friend Mary Pickford), moviegoers did not respond and after more than 250 films her career was essentially over.

She also married actor Lew Cody in 1926, but her health was in decline. After an extended stay in a sanitarium she died from tuberculosis in Monrovia, California at age 38, and was interred in the 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.

In 1974, the musical Mack & Mabel (Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman), chronicling the romance between Normand and Mack Sennett was produced on Broadway. Normand was played by Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston played Mack Sennett.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2007.

Mabel Normand Facts

Birth NameMabel Ethelreid Normand
BirthdayNovember 16, 1892
BirthplaceNew Brighton, New York, USA
Date of deathFebruary 22, 1930 (age 37)
Height5' 1" (1m55)  How tall is Mabel Normand compared to you?

Selected Filmography

Not available.