Classic historians will tell you that there were only five ‘good’ Roman Emperors. The movie industry, by consensus of the industry itself, produced only one good producer – Sam Goldwyn. So, who was Sam Goldwyn, and in what way was he ‘good? Goldwyn was born Samuel Goldfish, a Pole, of Jewish extraction, with the name of schmuel gelbfisz. In later years, he would become associated with the Goddess of Hollywood, Mabel Normand, an association that was good (kind of) for both parties. Early on, he moved to Germany, where he learned the art of glove-making, then on to Birmingham, England, where he had problems getting on in his trade, and undertook a host of manual jobs, to which he was totally unsuited. In early 1899, seeking the American dream, he sailed for Canada, from where he simply wandered, like Mack Sennett, across the U.S. border.
He made tracks for a place called Gloversville, in New York State, where he slotted into his trade of glove-making. Sam, though, was not a brilliant glove-maker, in fact he was never good at making anything. His mind, however, was razor sharp, as indeed, were the minds of some of his religious compatriots, such as Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor, Lewis Selznick, Carl Laemmle, William Fox, who were plotting their futures at this time. “All refugees from the cloak and suit trade” Mack Sennett was later to observe. Curiously, maybe, Sam’s first job in Gloversville was sweeping the floors for glove company, Louis Meyers & Co. The big problem for Sam was that he was barely able to communicate in English, and those conversing with him, found him not a little comical. Later Sam would use that comicality to his own advantage.
It was around this time that Sam began to think that his best bet was to find and marry a rich girl, and of course, wealthy American heiress. This might happen, but for now, he must get back to gloves. At Lehr and Nelson, he became friendly with Abe Lehr, the boss’s son, with whom he would later be professionally involved. All looked well, but Sam was a loser in the love stakes. Just like Mack Sennett, he was an awkward, tongue-tied guy, with clumsy manners, plus a squeaky voice and heavy accent. Eventually Sam got lucky and went into selling, rather than making, gloves. He was a second-rate glove-cutter, but he could sell sand to the Arabs. Making $15,000 a year in the early 1900s was not too bad. In the meantime, by 1904, several of the Jewish clothing sellers, mentioned above, had recognised and entered the nickelodeon business. Bessie Ginzberg was a girl that Sam chased, but as usual he was unsuccessful in his quest for a wife, but Bessie, now Bessie Lasky, invited the glove man to a party, where he met her husband, Jesse Lasky and his sister, Blanche. Both Sam and Blanche gravitated together, having been previously unsuccessful in their quests for a partner. Then, a strange thing happened, Jesse Lasky spoke to a certain Louis B. Mayer about Goldfish (his name in anglicized form). Mayer had once met Sam, and advised Lasky to break up the Sam/Blanche relationship. Goldfish was a bad lot. However, Sam managed to charm Blanche, as he’d later charm the movies, and eventually married her.
In July 1912, the glove industry was reported to be riding high in New York, just as a company of greying, middle-aged actors and their small dark-eyed leading lady left the city, bound for the west coast, where they’d set up the Keystone Comedy Studio. Sam was now well-established in Manhattan, and might even have passed young Mabel in the street. Perhaps some ‘Mabel dust’ had rubbed off on Sam, for he now began to develop the charm and engaging personality often ascribed to Miss Normand. Like Mabel, Sam could be aggressive and spew out torrents of cutting invective to his enemies, but he could, like Mabel, easily charm any resentment away. One day, the pair would meet in combat on the battlefields of Hollywood. For now, though, Sam rode high, until April 1913, when Woodrow Wilson all but removed customs duties foreign goods. The home-grown glove business was finished, Sam was finished, and so he followed his compatriots into the sordid nickelodeon business. Jesse Lasky had been in the theatre business, and so he began to sell his idea to Lasky. They decided to make movies, of which they knew – nothing. They met with D.W. Griffith, who straightaway turned down the pair, as they were around $250,000 short of what was needed. Lasky brought in his theatre friend, Cecil B. DeMille, who also knew nothing about films. However, they drew up the plans for a company, with Lasky, and his name, at its head. DeMille was voted director-general and Goldwyn would sell the pictures for the company, undercapitalised at 15,000 dollars. Their first film was ‘The Squaw Man’, directed by DeMille, which they decided to make in Flagstaff Arizona, to avoid trouble with the Edison Trust. Flagstaff turned out to be most unlike the wild west of the storybooks, so DeMille, following Mack and Mabel’s trail, headed west to Los Angeles. In L.A. he put up in the plush Alexandria Hotel, rented a barn, hired Hal Roach as an extra, and began shooting. Then he wired Goldwyn “47,000 dollars needed to complete picture.” In the event, the film was well received, and became something of an icon. The Lasky company was well and truly in business, and the’ Squaw Man’ was the first full-length feature film made in Hollywood. Wow! Louis B. Mayer and Adolph Zukor, both came forward, and bought the rights to show the film.
Riding on the crest of a wave, Sam was, nonetheless, uneasy. The great Adolph Zukor might have signed to take his films, but Sam wanted to be Zukor. The bald guy had come late to the business, and this affected his psyche and actions for the rest of his life. If Goldwyn became a big-head, then we should not be surprised, but it is a little curious that his book ‘Behind The Screen’ is more concerned with the stars that he bought up, ‘cornered the market in’. In this way, clearly, he directly challenged the greats, like Zukor. Such was his strategy. Sam did, indeed, need a strategy, for Zukor, after pushing the ‘Lasky Feature Play Company’ together with Zukor’s ‘Famous Players Company’ to form the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, Zukor took control. The new company was under the Paramount umbrella, of which Zukor was soon president. Sam regarded this as an affront, as a coup. Inevitably, Sam would bail out as the company chairman, although retaining his stock. This occurred on 13th September 1916, which is also an important date in the life of a certain Mabel Normand, the Queen of Hollywood, whose own film company was about to come crashing down. The two were now about to become inextricably bound.
Mabel Normand signed for Sam’s new film company, Goldwyn, an amalgamation of the Goldfish name and his partners, the Selwyn brothers. Quite when Sam first approached Mabel is a mystery, as Sam was not at the centre of Tinsel Town. It must have been at a heavily-attended function, and one would like to think that it was at the very opening party (June 1916) of the Mabel Normand Studio. Only someone like Sam would have had the temerity to approach an actress at the height of their fame, and seek to spirit them away. He would have to have wait until her producers were out of earshot. However, this meant running the gauntlet of the giggling girlfriends that always surrounded Mabel. Sam was well used to being ridiculed, and after saying his piece, would have ignored the laughter and jeers that followed him. Mabel might have made her usual quip about Sam “Look, there is goes, bald as a coot and waddling like a duck.” This would have had everyone rolling around the floor, and disarmed her paymasters, Mack Sennett and the Board of the ‘Triangle’ company. Very subtly, Sam would have indicated that he respected Mabel, and if he ever had his own studio, he’d sign her up. Whatever she might have said, it was what she thought that mattered. What she thought was that being first into a new studio would be a very good thing. If the Triangle company looked to be tumbling, she’d contact Sam right away. She’d charm her way into his affections, but it was too late, Sam had already charmed her. In fact, Sennett and / or the Triangle bosses, had already put Mabel under surveillance in August of 1916. They suspected Mabel was putting out feelers in the industry, and Kessell and Baumann, at least, put a private detective on her tail. Unfortunately, the detective had ‘turned’ and told Mabel he’d withhold the information from “the New Yorkers” if she paid him $600. He could not have known about the Goldwyn signing, which did not happen until mid-September, so Mabel put him off and called the cops. She then told the blackmailer to come to her Baltic Apartment rooms, where two cops leapt out, Keystone-style, from a wardrobe and nabbed him.
By the time Mabel signed, in mid-September, the Triangle company was tottering, although not yet fallen, Mack Sennett was losing his shirt, and D.W. Griffith was soon to walk away, owing Triangle a cool one-million-dollars. It was hopeless, but Sennett, his partners Kessell and Baumann and perhaps Triangle boss Harry Aitken, wanted to scoop Mabel from the ashes, for themselves, should their company fail.
In the spring of 1917, Mabel was sitting in a hotel room in Manhattan, getting ready to join Sam at his Fort Lee studio, New Jersey. However, something was weighing heavily on her. She’d been duped by Sam, who’d already begun to sign numerous stars, his second being Mae Marsh. This would have had Mabel spitting blood, for she regarded little Mae as a ‘blackleg’, somebody that had betrayed her own kind at Biograph, when she’d ‘stolen’ parts from the established stars, Mabel, Mary Pickford, and Blanche Sweet. On top of that Sam was signing established theatrical stars, which would have poured fuel on the flames. For the first time Mabel, had been outmanoeuvred by the sharpest brain in the industry. Mabel, in shades of her coup of the previous year, called a press conference in which she expressed the desire to work for any producer that could afford her exorbitant fee. Sam’s response was immediate. He obtained a legal injunction that “prevented Mabel Normand from working for anyone but Goldwyn Pictures.” The studios froze in fear, but one producer came in on a different angle. Mack Sennett could not make a straight offer, but he sent Mabel an olive branch, in the guise of respected New York attorneys. The attorneys’ brief was to renegotiate the Goldwyn contract to a level that Sam could not afford. This did not work, and Mabel herself threw in the towel at $1,500 a week. She was furious that Mack did not come himself to New York, although Mack was busy pulling himself from the wreckage of ‘Triangle’. Seeing Mabel was in a distressed state, Sam sent her to Florida for a while, to reset for her film work. Mabel sent Mack the following terse message:
Sam, by now, was well on his way to building his empire. His stars came to include Maxine Elliott, Geraldine Farrar, Madge Kennedy, Mae Marsh, Pauline Frederick et al. With all of his preening and cantankerous stars, Sam developed a way of handling them, with a steel gauntlet wrapped in velvet. Miss Normand, naturally, was not at all happy to be surrounded by self-opinionating thespians, and loudy expressed the view “Hmph! Five minutes in pictures and those jumped floozies think they know it all.” Sam was keen to placate Mabel, and he became one of the long list of movie folks that became frequent visitors to her dressing room. Mabel was a great teller of stories and jokes, not all of which were blue. Sam was very interested in two things: a) tales from the period before he had entered the movies b) an insight into the mind and work of Charlie Chaplin. On the first count, he was most receptive to stories that seemed to denigrate the guy that had slighted him, movie genius D.W. Griffith. We can imagine what Sam said:
“Mees Normand, please tell me the story again of when Greeffith was screaming for you, and you were sprawled in a basket of costumes, behind the scenery, calmly reading The Police Gazette.”
It wasn’t so much what Mabel said, but the way she said it. Tales of Griffith were legion, but Sam loved stories, like the day Mabel threw a seventy-dollar diamond bracelet back in Mack Sennett’s face, the recounting of which, always had her rolling around in stitches. The subject of Charlie Chaplin was more serious. Everyone wanted to know what went on in Mabel’s dressing room. Had Charlie and Mabel’s relationship been more than professional? Well, Sam wasn’t interested in that. When Sam finally went to Hollywood, he found that the Chaplin brothers had a studio right alongside his own, out in Culver City. The two men spoke often, and Charlie regaled Sam with tales of his own one-upmanship, and how he’d taught the producers the way to make films. “He simply loves power” Sam later said. Speaking with an intolerably upper-crust accent, and bearing a massive psyche, Charlie had upset many people, who told Sam that Charlie was a loser. He had, they informed him, learned everything from a girl, Mabel Normand by name. Sam quizzed Mabel (was the guy really such a genius?) but her reply never changed:
“Chaplin was as good as some have claimed, but others were unable to see what the fuss was all about. I understood perfectly, when Charlie plucked a violet and smelled it, as he was being dragged along on one leg by Mack Swain.”
Well she might have understood, for such things Chaplin had learned in the Mabel Normand Academy of Arts, down on Allesandro Street. Sam knew the story of how Charlie had treacherously walked out on her at Keystone. Mabel, however, never squealed on Charlie the rat. With his very acute mind, Sam realised that Mabel might be waiting to call in a favour from Charlie. He would not have to wait too long to find out.
Behind the Screen.
The reason we know so much about Sam Goldwyn and his studio, is because he, very early on, wrote a book called ‘Behind the Screen’. As many people know, Sam once said: “No-one should write their autobiography until after they’re dead”, so we should say here that his contribution to the work was his story of the stars, which was written, like Mrs Griffith’s book, to put a human face on Hollywood, following the various scandals. As with Mrs D.W. Griffith, we are greatly indebted to Sam for this cornerstone of movie scholarship, in which he explains his thinking and the characters behind his stars. Mabel Normand, of course, was a big thorn in Sam’s side, but there were others, stage artists, that were, perhaps, much worse — those preening prima donnas that made his sets and stages into gross catwalks, where they paraded and polished their out-sized egos. Sam, we must say, had found them that way, but by his technique of attracting stars, he boosted those egos to ridiculous size. The way he lured big stars, from top dogs like Adolph Zukor, by cultivating their conceit, was undoubtedly a pleasure to witness. At Sam’s warehouse of drama, unfortunately, there waited a shark with big teeth called Mabel Normand. Not for Mabel was handbags at dawn, as a fight between Geraldine Farrar and Pauline Frederick might have been, but instead a cursory glance from those cutting, stiletto eyes, as Mary Pickford called them, allied to some equally cutting invective would have them cowering in a corner, or running petrified to the boss. Sam knew it was hopeless — if he arrived at Mabel’s dressing room, there sat Mabel, sweet and innocent, with eyes as doleful, as those in a Keystone film. “Yes, Mr. Goldwyn, no Mr. Goldwyn”, then, as soon as Sam had gone, the stars were again treated to the wicked, dirty laugh of Mabel, as they performed some dramatic love scene. Heavy screens did not help, for buckets of water rained down from atop the sets, on the likes of Gerry and Pauline, effectively cooling their ardour. It was in 1918 that Mabel’s greatest film, Mickey, was released, and its success stunned the Goldwyn studio. How should they address Mabel now. Perhaps a curtsy and “Your Majesty” would do.
Making Pictures the Goldwyn Way.
Sam Goldwyn’s methods of making films were entirely based on the “Never mind the quality, feel the width” kind of back-street tailor sentiment. He paid vast fortunes for top stories, and equally vast fortunes on publicity and promotion, but forgot about the middle bit — making the films. He was, as we know, a salesman and a businessman, and in these respects he was sharper than any tool in the Hollywood box. Unlike Griffith and Sennett, though, Sam was not a ‘hands on’ producer — he liked to leave the directing to directors and the supervision to supervisors of the calibre of Abe Lehr. Mack Sennett was, in a way, fortunate, for he only ever had one top movie star to contend with. The others, in the main, Mack scooped off the street — shopgirls, typists and street vendors. Many a Goldwyn star was reduced to tears, when they saw how their films had been stitched together. In the earliest days of film, the actors all gathered at the end of the day to watch the rushes, and they would throw in their advice and recommendations from the sidelines. This was the Griffith way, that was taken up by Mack Sennett, and it was rare for a performer to be shocked or humiliated at a premiere, but this happened with Sam. Mary Garden, the Scottish opera singer always blamed Goldwyn for just about destroying her, with her first film. Sam, naturally, was incredulous, and, it seems, could not tell a good film from a bad one. Mabel Normand found herself in a bad situation, when she began to be directed by professional directors. At the Mabel Normand Studio, she had been directed by various directors, until she finally grasped the young and fresh F. Richard Jones. She’d rejected several, including big guy, George Loane Tucker, and it wasn’t entirely because Tucker was an older guy. At Goldwyn, she again came into contact with the big guy. However, Mabel’s and some other Goldwyn stars’ careers weren’t all ruined. They were saved by Sam’s slick promotion, and as far away as Merry England, Mabel had her own comic strip. Jack Pickford, now hired by Goldwyn, appeared with Mabel in the funnies, and Sam was quick to bring the pair together for a photo shoot on Claude Norman’s Indian motorcycle in 1919.
More of Chaplin.
it was in 1919 that Sam began to see more of Chaplin in his office. Was Charlie tiring of his wife, Mildred Harris? Although Charlie was speaking, he seemed somehow distant, melancholy. Sam learned that Mabel was now getting close to Mildred, although they’d been kind of friends for some time. We might wonder if Mabel sometimes appeared in Sam’s office, but only when Charlie was around. Perhaps, she’d always want to speak to Sam about some trivial matter, and would soon turn any serious discussion into a comedy riot. Sam noted that Mabel, although being totally vivacious, always tried to embarrass Charlie. “Oh Charlie do you remember when Sennett asked you if you could ride a motorcycle, and you said “yes”. As the cameras whirled, I climbed on behind, and you went roaring off, completely out of control, and I was cast into a ditch. Didn’t it take half-a- hour for them to extricate you from the cycle, and didn’t Sennett dock $100 from your pay? Charlie would, perhaps, look sheepish, and Mabel would look at him, nonchalantly, and gently say: “You know Charlie, I will be your leading lady, one day.” Sam would smirk at this, thinking he’d like to have Charlie at his studio, but it is clear that Mabel had in mind, an entirely different location. Charlie and Mildred’s first-born was named Norman, although the child lived but a few days. Sam sent his condolences to Charlie, but Mabel arranged a cheer-you-up snowball party for Charlie and Mildred, up on Mount Lowe. Naturally, Sam cautiously quizzed Charlie about his curious love/hate relationship with Mabel, although Charlie remained firmly reticent. Sam, understandably, formed the opinion that the tramp was afraid of the Keystone Girl, something confirmed by the other Hollywooders he spoke to. Eventually, Charlie gave up Goldwyn’s office for the safer, Mabel-free environs of another place — ‘Pickfair’.
In a way, Mabel was a ‘sleeper’ in Goldwyn’s studio, as she was on good terms with most of the producers, even to an extent, with D.W. Griffith. Adolph Zukor and Louis B. Mayer featured prominently on her party list, although Sam was uneasy about both of these producers. He probably sympathised, when Charlie told him that wife Mildred was negotiating a contract with Mayer. Charlie told Mildred the contract was bad, but Mildred insisted it was good, and a close friend had told her this was the case. Well, the friend might have been Mabel, and eventually Charlie had to give up and let the contract stand. Goldwyn was later to say this about Chaplin: “Charlie is no businessman, he just knows that he cannot take less.”
The Dressing Room Conundrum.
With so many stars, not to mention giant egos, aboard the straining Goldwyn ship, it is unsurprising that the usual battle for dressing rooms developed into a full-scale war. Star studded doors stretched to infinity here, but if an actress got a silver, rather than a gold star on her door, there was hell to pay. In the theatre, a star dressing room did not mean much, except smashed mirrors, make-up smothered walls and rude messages scrawled everywhere — all carried out by stars angry with a failed performance or the sound of “You stink” in her ear. In the movies, failure only came long after the action had been shot, and so, most of the time at least, dressing rooms remained intact, and luxuriously appointed. Some of the big theatrical stars at Goldwyn began to demand bigger and better dressing rooms. Geraldine Farrar and co. made ridiculous demands, to which Sam gave way. Mabel Normand, whose dressing room had been to die for at Keystone, and on Fountain Avenue had been palatial, was soon demanding the same, or more.
Calculating the cost of decorating the thespians’ dressing rooms, Mabel demanded that $3,000 be lavished on her boudoir. Sam’s supervisor, Abe Luhr, told him about the demand, and Sam sucked on his teeth. “Best to give it to her boss, or there’ll be trouble.” Said Abe. “Oh, alright” Replied Sam “Anything to keep her quiet.” Theatrical comedienne, Madge Kennedy, soon demanded the same, and Sam suggested she move in with Mabel while the work was carried out. Sam was always trying to soothe the savage breasts of those that had only glared at each other across the lot. So, Madge moved in with Mabel, and never left.
Much happened in 1918, as the Goldwyn Studio did its bit for the war effort. Mabel made ‘Joan of Plattsburg’ and sold a ton of War Bonds in her ‘Buy A Bond and Get a Kiss from Mabel’ stunt. In the movie houses everyone was raving about ‘Mickey’, Mabel’s film of 1916, finally released. Released, but in the middle of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. While Sam’s competitors, just a couple of hundred yards away, were able to push their films through their distribution networks, Sam had to withhold some of his films. The problems deepened into 1919, when he held out against a consortium of producers that wanted to crush the star system. Sam held firm with his all-star outfit, and got a little help from a surprising quarter, when Fairbanks, Pickford, Chaplin and Griffith created United Artists. The stars were here to stay, and the big-shots didn’t get their star-free monopoly. Sam’s over-leveraged studio continued with his attitude of spend, spend, spend. At one point, he’d been retaining $1,000 a week from Mabel’s pay, towards a trust fund for her, as, due to her extravagant spending, he worried that she might become destitute, should her career end. When Sam was at his lowest ebb, and just about bankrupt, Mabel came into his office and tipped $50,000 worth of War Bonds on his desk, saying “There you are Sam, if this will help, you can have them.” Sam was grateful for the offer, but declined — he was two-million in the red, and 50k would not help much. Naturally, Mabel had also cost Sam money, mainly by her habit of being perpetually late on set, and disappearing for days on end to go water-skiing and diving in Long Island Sound. Abe Lehr (or ‘Mr Leer’ as Mabel said it) called her to his office one day, to inform her that her lateness to the studio had cost the company $36,000. Mabel turned on the charm, fluttering her eyelashes, sitting on his desk twinkling her legs and smiling sweetly. It made no difference, Abe had to report the losses to Sam. Mabel looked hurt, and offered him her new $8,000 car, if he didn’t tell Sam. Abe couldn’t do it. Then, a remarkable change. Mabel’s eyes, once so doleful, glared at him like daggers, going straight to his heart. Mabel made a series of threats, before clearing his desk of papers, phone etc, and launching a paperweight at Lehr’s head. Finally, she broke down in tears, and fled screaming into the corridor. Unwisely, perhaps, Abe followed her, and was met with a cold shower from a fire bucket. Mabel ran into her dressing room, Abe followed, to be met by another shower, this time of perfume from a spray. Mabel’s face hardened, as she said “There, take that stink home to your wife!” Mr ‘Leer’ had discovered what so many had discovered — make Mabel an enemy and the whole world becomes your enemy. Representations to Goldwyn would have been useless, and damaging to his career.
Things did improve for Goldwyn into 1920, although he began to jettison stars, empty out his ‘Old Ladies Home’, as some cruelly said. The stars, naturally, felt betrayed by Sam whose films failed to live up to his advertising. Some stars, like Mabel, he felt he had to hang on to, if only to save face, although she was his greatest moneyspinner. It was while Sam was busy re-financing his business that tragedy hit, with the deaths of Clarine Seymour, Bobby Harron and Olive Thomas. Mabel had been friends with all three, and went into a period of dark depression. Then, news came that Mabel was sick, very sick, a victim of the dreaded Spanish Influenza. Newspapers reported that a priest have given her the last rites. If Sam had any hair he would have pulled it out. Life had dealt him a bad hand. He couldn’t visit Mabel, and all he got were messages from his star’s private nurse. Abe Lehr probably forwarded the view that Mabel was laying it on, was having time off at Sam’s expense. The details of the events that followed are not at all clear.
Some strange goings on.
Mack Sennett says he approached Sam with a wad comprising 30,000 dollars and straightaway asked for Mabel. This was clearly not the way to approach a razor-sharp brain like Goldwyn’s, and Mack would not have been that foolish. Legend has it that Charlie Chaplin became the go-between for Mack and Sam. It is known that Charlie said “Mabel belongs with Mack. They are both as Irish as the banshees, and understand each other perfectly.” With Mabel’s position at Goldwyn looking shaky, it was incumbent upon Charlie to help her out. The thought of signing Mabel himself, would have sent shivers down his spine, but he would certainly help Mack acquire Mabel. Probably, gently and slowly, he put forward the view that Sam could pass Mabel over to Sennett, and save face by making a nice bit of money at the same time. Initially, Sam would have said, indignantly, “Mees Normand ees not for sale!” However, he did warm to the idea of renting Mabel out. Someone then approached Mack, perhaps Charlie’s very forward brother Syd, with the proposition. Mack could loan Mabel for one picture — the price was $30,000. A lot of money, but there was a huge pent-up demand for more Mack and Mabel films. Mack mulled it over. With Mabel he could finally do a big picture, one as big as Mickey, one that would wipe the smirk off the faces of Griffith and Mayer. A feature would cost $200,000, add 20,000 for Miss Normand’s excesses, and 30,000 rental, well, the figures were scary, but he could make a fortune. Mabel feigned disinterest, but Sam was jubilant. “Some deal, eh” He is supposed to have said. In his autobiography, Mack says that he promised Mabel a clean sheet for the film, and she could have as much dramatics and as little slapstick as she wanted, plus 25% of the net profit. He was true to his word, and the picture, ‘Molly O’ was, indeed, great and very much like a production of ten years later.
The Mabel period for Sam had been troublesome, although she wore her heart on her sleeve, for all to see. Mabel’s excesses and craziness were, to some extent, a tonic for Sam and those around him. Mary Pickford could be troublesome for Adolph Zukor, but there was no merriment in the troubles, and both parties were drained by the confrontations. If Mary did not feel like working, she’d complain that her shoes hurt her feet. Mabel would simply ‘steal’ a company car and disappear, off to lord knows where, which brings us neatly to the subject of Norma Talmadge, Mabel’s long-term friend. At some time in 1918, Joe Schenck, Norma’s husband, approached Sam asking him to give Norma a go at his studio. Joe was already filming Norma at his / Norma’s studio, but thought that Sam could do better. Norma, in those days, was not a big star, so although Joe offered Sam 25% of the profits of Norma’s films, the canny Pole turned him down. Could it be, though, that his deep questioning of Mabel on ‘the good old days’ had brought him to the conclusion that having both Norma and Mabel at his studio was not a good idea. The terrible twins of Vitagraph studios, would probably have carved a swathe through his old thespian ladies, and possibly have crashed his studio. Regret his rejection, though, Sam did, for Norma soon become a huge star. Many of the stars, though, that Goldwyn signed, eventually became a liability. Mae Marsh, who D.W. Griffith, in Hollywood legend, had taken from street to movie-star in just one day, turned out to be a damp squib outside of the Griffith universe. Ditto Blanche Sweet, who, at the Lasky studio, had been unable to function, without the Griffith element. Mabel, of course, never quite threw off the influence of the ‘movie genius’ although quite able to function without him, if given the option of choosing her own director.
Like some eastern European phoenix, Sam, troubled by back-stabbing associates, arose from the ashes, as Mack congratulated himself on securing a meal ticket for the next ten years. Sam’s ride over the next decades would be rough and tough, but always he rode it out as an independent guy, and the inclusion of his name in the film company logo Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer merely signifies that his company was bought out in 1924, to form MGM. Sam was always thought of as the ‘good guy’ of movies, although he was as ruthless as any other producer in the business. However, his manner and his apparent vulnerabilities, such as mixing up his words (Goldwynisms) and his wobbly legs, undoubtedly endeared him to many people. Despite his continual ill-health, Sam Goldwyn lived to be 94 years of age.
Behind the Screen by Samuel Goldwyn (1923).
King of Comedy by Mack Sennett (1954).
Love, Laughter and tears: My Hollywood Story by Adela Rogers St. Johns (1978).
Sunshine and Shadow by Mary Pickford (1956).
Mabel Normand: A Source Book to her Life and Films by Wm. Thomas Sherman (2006)
When the Movies Were Young by Linda Griffith (1925).
Mabel Normand’s Own Life Story by Chandler Sprague. Los Angeles Examiner (February 17, 1924).
Looking For Mabel Normand: http://www.freewebs.com/looking-for-mabel/. Site maintained by Marilyn Slater.
Charles Chaplin: My autobiography by Charles Chaplin (1964).
Mabel Normand: http://themabelnormand.com
Personalities I Have Met: Mabel Normand. By Mary Pickford. Syndicated article, July 1916.
New Year’s Eve On The Train. By Mary Pickford. Syndicated article, July 1916.
Madcap Mabel: The True Story of a Great Comedienne by Sydney Sutherland. ‘Liberty’ 1930.
Mabel Normand Says Goodbye, by James R. Quirk, Photoplay May 1930.