* Having seen what Chaplin said about Mabel in the last post, we now move on to comments Mabel made about Chaplin. At the end we pull it all together, and draw some conclusions about their relationship.
Mabel on Chaplin
From: Liberty Magazine.
Madcap Mabel Normand, by Sidney Sutherland
6th September 1930.
Then I decided to help my new friend. In my little dressing room I had a kerosene stove that autumn and winter, and long after everybody had left the studio, Charlie and I would sit there and talk. “What a lovely memory it is! How the great genius of today crept, humble and discouraged, into my bungalow and told me his dreams and listened to mine; how we planned bits of business and little mannerisms; how he decided to develop the queer shuffling little walk of an old coster-monger he once saw in Whitechapel — the famous Chaplin walk with the big shoes and little skip and hop when he turned aside.
Note: The first part of this statement is a little dig at Chaplin, but she does not overdo it, and says Chaplin was her friend. She says there was collaboration between them, and this seems perfectly logical. Notice Mabel does not claim to have invented The Tramp, as some people think. Mabel would not have considered making such a claim, as everyone then knew that English music hall performers carried many characters in their heads, one of which was the tramp. For this reason, along with their goldmine of gags, and pantomime abilities, music hall stars were much in demand in early Hollywood. Incidentally, the details of the Tramp, the perched derby hat, the tight jacket, and the baggy trousers are almost certainly taken from Sennett’s own film character (a very wise move, Charlie!).
Nappy turned him over to me and I directed several of his pictures, in some of which I also played. And while it would be folly and untrue for me to say I am responsible for very much of his present standing as the screen artist beyond compare, yet I’m proud to say that he held my hand while he found his way through the swamp of learning the game. That Charlie is prompt to acknowledge the strength he found in my arm is one of the happy spots in my life.
Note: Mabel is keen to say that she had directed several films of the world’s greatest comedian. In reality, they were joint directors of the Keystones the pair appeared in (apart from those Sennett personally directed). Mabel never directed Chaplin films in which she did not appear.
Life, before the shadows came to both of us, was one long riot of laughter for Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand in those glorious days. Studio automobiles were scarce, but when Chaplin or I got tired of working we’d wink at each other, sneak off the set when Sennett’s back was turned, beat it out to where the cars were parked, and climb into a big touring car with the top down. The drivers loved me and risked Nappy’s wrath to take me for a ride.
Note: The important thing that Mabel taught Chaplin was how to enjoy life. This was essential for survival in the movie colony. Chaplin later became the life and soul of the party around Hollywood, as Lita Grey, Claire Windsor and Louise Brooks later attested. Note Mabel says that the drivers loved her. At one point she had stated that if a man said he loved her, or said she was beautiful, she knew she had control of him.
It makes me proud to have worked with those two men consummate artists, laugh-evokers without peer, tragic clowns in the misadventures that overtook them (Arbuckle and Chaplin)
Well, I didn’t mind; there were enough laughs to go around, and nobody ever stole a picture from me! And most of the kickers are in oblivion.
Note: That nobody ever stole a picture from Mabel, is true, but, at Keystone, she was always able to ensure that no high-order actresses, or bathing beauties, got into her films (except Tillie’s in which she and Chaplin played supporting roles). It seems the only time that Mabel got angry with Chaplin, was when Sennett (or his partners) gave him the opening scene in Mabel’s Strange Predicament. It is likely that Mabel thought the scene where she enters the hotel was going to be the opening scene (her name, after all, graced the film title). This may be the reason why the pair was kept apart for two months, until Mabel At The Wheel. The bust up in the latter film may have been due to Mabel insisting on her being the director, if she was ever to appear with Charlie again. The battle royal that ensued in Mabel’s Strange Predicament, resulted in a draw, I would suggest, although leading ladies and men are never in direct competition with each other. Considering Mabel’s medical condition at the time, she may have been mentally and physically drained by the end of the one-day shoot.
This made Chaplin very unhappy, so he wrote us asking if the job was still open at seventy-five dollars and a three month’s contract. I ran across the letter a week or so later and scolded Nappy for not showing it to me. After some delay he wrote Chaplin in Denver, offering him seventy-five dollars a week and a three month’s contract.
Note: Mabel had three different versions of the Chaplin coming to Keystone story. This particular one is out of kilter with every other known Chaplin story. Furthermore, Mabel seems unaware that Charlie started on $150 a week. It is highly likely that Sennett kept a letter ‘on ice’, but this was probably the letter from Adam Kessel informing him that they’d signed Chaplin, and for Sennett to see him when he arrived in L.A. Sennett was probably not happy, although Mabel was keen to have a great vaudevillian around the place – she’d got on very well with Raymond Hitchcock, a famous stage actor, much hated by Sennett. Hitchcock had, probably, come to Keystone via Kessell and Baumann, and had had ‘words’ with Sennett in his stage days. The actor was to play a major part, along with his wife, in helping Mabel in her professional squabbles with Sennett.
Charlie left the show and came out to us, and we began a friendship that has never wavered or weakened in the lights or in the shadows that have come to darken both our lives.
Note: Mabel alleges a constant friendship, but alludes to the disasters that fell upon Hollywood’s greatest comedy stars.
From: Mabel’s mini-autobiography.
Los Angeles Examiner, 17th February 1924.
Charlie met Broncho Billy Anderson, who was making pictures for Essanay at Niles, Calif. Mr. Anderson realized Chaplin’s tremendous talent and offered him $500 per week to sign with Essanay. Charlie told me about it at the time and we were both thrilled. But he didn’t want to go to Chicago, where the head office of Essanay was located, and he didn’t give Mr. Anderson a definite answer. The next day I met Charlie on the street and he told me that Essanay had offered him $1000 per week. Well! Neither of us said a word. We just put our hands on our hips and stood and looked at each other. Again I was speechless. And so was Charlie. “Do you think they mean it?” he asked me. “Do you really believe they can be serious? Is there that much money? “It was so amazing that he should jump, overnight, from $100 to $1000 per week that we couldn’t believe it. We thought Essanay were just talking for exercise. But it was all true and Charlie signed the contract and went to Chicago at the first really big salary in the history of motion pictures.
Note: More secrecy from Charlie, he actually got $1,250 a week from Essanay, plus a $10, 000 signing bonus. However, it is clear from this that Mabel and Charlie discussed just about everything. Later, Mabel said they had dinner together, and shed a few tears over Chaplin’s departure.
From Picture Play, April 1916.
Behind The Scenes With Fatty And Mabel
by Wil Rex
For a long time, I directed all the pictures I played in, the best known of which are the Chaplin series. Lately, however, I have given up that end of the game, finding enough to do with acting.
Note: Contrary to what most people think, Mabel had given up directing by the end of 1915. The new feature films coming along, required expert direction from professionals, like F. Richard Jones. Mabel was never given the chance to direct Chaplin films alone. Where she did direct Chaplin films, it was in concert with the self-styled genius. There is, furthermore, no indication that she directed Chaplin films in which she did not appear (she was, clearly, too busy with her own films to direct another actor’s films).
From Motion Picture Magazine, November 1918: Mabel In A Hurry
by Frederick James Smith).
She thinks Charlie Chaplin the screen’s greatest actor.
Note: speaks for itself
From: Los Angeles Herald, January 21, 1919
Chaplin’s Bride In Snow Battle
How would you like to stage a snowballing party in Southern California? Ridiculous, you say. You’re all wrong, and if you don’t believe it write to Mrs. Charlie Chaplin (Mildred Harris) and ask her about one she and Mabel Normand staged. It was on the top of Mount Lowe, the famous peak of the Golden State, and the two screen queens and a party of friends had a royal time battling with each other. Mrs. Chaplin was captain of one of them and Mabel Normand led the other.
Note: Undoubtedly suggested by Mabel, who had a great time in 1912, exchanging snowballs with 15-year old Jack Pickford on Mount Lowe (What The Doctor Ordered). Notice she does not disapprove of Chaplin’s ‘child marriage’. As well as maintaining friendship with Charlie, she became good friends with Mildred Harris (in social terms Mabel also had the mindset of a 15 year old, even when approaching 30).
From Albany NY Times Union, November 25, 1921
by James W. Dean
Mabel Normand’s latest
Mabel Normand’s Art
Mabel Normand ranks closer to Chaplin than any male comic artist. She has a little walk all her own, mannerisms of expression that are individually hers. Her features are plastic. Pathos sweeps across her face like a cloud shadow sweeps across the water on a sunny day. Her every gesture means something. Her acting is realism caught by the camera and projected across the screen.
Note: Mabel was always the mistress of pathos, as can be seen in her Biograph work. Under Sennett, she had little opportunity to combine pathos with comedy. However, with the advent of Chaplin, Mabel made good of combining the two. Mabel’s Busy Day and His Trysting Place are just two examples.
From Movie Weekly, April 19, 1924
“Would I Have Been Happier If I Was Married?” Asks Mabel Normand. Speaking of the Dines’ shooting, and how she has had to fight for herself all alone since that tragic New Year’s afternoon, the little comedienne pointed out that Charlie Chaplin protected Edna Purviance in a very efficient manner.
“But there was no one to fight for Mabel Normand,” she said sadly. Suddenly her slenderness tautened; her eyes blazed. Mabel was once more the courageous girl who has dared to go up and down the long, long trails alone, unaided and unshielded, “I’m not going to be the goat in this case. I’m not going to be led to slaughter. It isn’t fair!” she cried.
Note: Louise Brooks was patently aware that Sennett could have done more to help Mabel following the W.D. Taylor and Dines affairs. However, he seems to have dumped Mabel after Taylor’s death, although somehow Mabel fought back, had Phyllis Haver removed from The Extra Girl, and the star role handed to her. Mabel felt he owed it to her, especially as it was her last chance to play a star role, and the last chance to make real money. Brooksie notes that Chaplin helped Edna Purviance, following the Dines affair, in which she was a co-witness with Mabel.
From Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1930
[Extract of article “The Evolution of the Wild Party”]
…Mabel Normand, whose death we are now all mourning, was queen in those days. If she was in a café, the party was a success. I remember seeing her one night at [Al “Pop”] Levy’s when Charlie Chaplin was there. She delighted in embarrassing the modest, little English comedian. She sat across the room from him and every time she could catch his eye, she would wave gladly and sing out, “I’ll be your leading lady yet!”…
From: Variety, March 17, 1916
Mabel Normand with Mutual
It was stated that Mabel Normand had signed a contract with the Mutual Film Corporation on Tuesday afternoon of this week. Miss Normand was closeted with President Freuler for almost an hour late that afternoon, and is said to have affixed her signature to a contract. There is a possibility that she will work in the Chaplin releases.
Note: We can well imagine that Mabel was extremely upset that Charlie did not call for her to be his leading lady at Essanay in 1915. However, she never gave up, and her chance came after Chaplin’s 1916 signing with Mutual. Mabel was in a no lose situation, if the strategy worked with Mutual all was well and good, if not, then, New York Motion Pictures might be so wound up about Mutual, that they would give Mabel her own studio. Nothing came of the Mutual deal, possibly because Chaplin did not want Mabel, who was unpredictable, troublesome, and very expensive. Chaplin always chose actresses he could obtain at a peppercorn rate, and mould into the shape he wanted. Mabel, nevertheless got her studio, albeit briefly. Further note that, by taking an aggressive stand, she had her name above a studio long before Sennett, Chaplin and Pickford.
From: The Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1921
Mabel Normand Plans
Will Go Abroad To Make Film Next Year
By Grace Kingsley
I cried when I told Douglas and Mary good-bye, and I cried again when I said good-bye to Charlie Chaplin,” said Miss Normand, “and I’m determined to go abroad within the next few months. I want particularly to make a picture in Spain.
Note: Although Mary Pickford had been a friend of Mabel for more than 10 years, many would be surprised that she would cry over Chaplin going away to Europe. We can be sure that Chaplin coached her on what to see London and Paris. Unfortunately, he seems to have told her to visit an East End pub in London. Poor little Mabel was almost killed in the rush of drunken fans wishing to see her.
From Photoplay, May 1930
MABEL NORMAND SAYS GOOD-BYE
By James R. Quirk
Away from Sennett, she ceased to be the great artist of the screen and became commonplace. Mostly I think it was a matter of understanding. Sennett, as Irish himself as the banshees, alone knew how to get the best from Mabel’s wayward, rebellious Irish heart.
Note: This, Charlie Chaplin told Sam Goldwyn (Goldwyn’s autobiography).
What can we deduce from the mass of available evidence on the Charlie and Mabel relationship? Firstly, we can say they remained lifelong friends, although neither was above giving the other a dig in the ribs. Charlie was fiercely egotistical, but, in her own way, so was Mabel. However, Mabel was responsible for toning down Chaplin’s ego, and making him recognize that he had to get on with people to advance his career. What Charlie brought to Mabel was the notion that she could combine both her skills in tragedy and comedy, if she challenged Mack’s idea that she should always act like a crazy, run around like someone possessed, get kicked in the rear, and receive a faceful of pies and bricks.
Mabel never, as we might have expected, criticised Chaplin for having such young wives, and she was on good terms with a couple of them. However, this may be just part of the Hollywood experience – one should never openly criticise your peers. This would bring the press down on them, but, in all likelihood, the whistle-blower would be next on the list (note that the old Biograph / Vitagraph crowd who ruled Hollywood for almost 20 years, never publicly ‘dissed’ each other). Louise Brooks, who had a two-month long affair with Chaplin in 1925, had nothing but praise for him, but had scathing criticism for his wife, Lita Grey, who was then having Chaplin’s child. By being a friend of Mabel, Chaplin was admitted to the exclusive ex-Biograph circle, an honour that not all stars were to receive. Notably, the overtly-sexual ‘It Girl’, Clara Bow, along with some others, was excluded.
Chaplin’s criticism of Mabel in Mabel At The Wheel was of little consequence, as he was only critical of her directing skills. A year or so later, and she had ceased directing in any case. What Chaplin bitterly regretted for the rest of his life, was the apparently callous way in which he rejected Mabel as leading lady in his films – twice. Unfortunately, Mabel had become un-mouldable, and was doomed to be the eternal Keystone Girl, although she was, thankfully, re-modelled, and updated, by super-director Dick Jones. Chaplin had been entirely responsible for getting Mabel released from Goldwyn, and transferred back to Sennett and Jones, where she was able to produce three wonderful films, before W.D. Taylor, and Courtland Dines intervened. After 1925 Charlie and Mabel only met up very occasionally, at industry functions and the odd party, but this applied to most other friends she’d known down the years. Chaplin, however, never forgot her, and some years after Mabel’s death, he seems to have resurrected her in Modern Times, as the gamine played by Paulette Goddard (but somewhat toned down to suit a modern audience).
‘Mabel Normand: A Sourcebook of Her Life and Films’ by William Thomas Sherman
http://looking-for-mabel.webs.com/ Site maintained by Marilyn Slater
http://www.angelfire.com/mn/hp/ Site maintained by William Thomas Sherman
‘The King of Comedy’ by Mack Sennett (1954)
‘Madcap Mabel’ by Sidney Sutherland (1930)
‘Lulu in Hollywood’ by Louise Brooks (1982)
‘Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography’ by Charles Chaplin (1964)