Marisa Tormei: not really Mabel Material.

Errors of Fact

The film Chaplin brought deep groans from aficionados of Mabel Normand and Keystone who were expecting something reasonably close to the truth. Instead the film turned out to be a travesty of the truth, in relation to Chaplin’s association with Mabel at Keystone studios. As well as this, producer Attenborough makes numerous factual errors in the film, some of which might be put down to producer’s license. Examples of this are the substitution of Butte, Montana for Philadelphia where Chaplin received word from Kessell and Baumann that they wished to sign him up for Keystone. Of course, a muddy cowboy town is a much better setting than a civilized eastern town, at least as far as a movie-maker is concerned. In reality, Chaplin was plucked from civilization and dumped into a lumber yard in a dusty wild west village called Edendale. For some reason Attenborough thought there was a railway running past the Keystone studio. He was thinking of the Essanay studio at Niles, which certainly had a rail-track alongside. On Allesandro Street, running past Keystone, there was only an electric trolley. The mission frontage of the studio was not in existence at the time, and Chaplin is quite clear that the place was surrounded by a green wooden fence, and the entrance was up a garden path, and through a bungalow.


Keystone b4 Keystone

Keystone looked much like this when Chaplin arrived.

Charlie and Mabel

What really destroys the film’s credibility is the complete misrepresentation of the relationship between Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and Mack Sennett. This studio was responsible for getting Chaplin into movies, and giving him exposure to stardom. However, Attenborough implies that Sennett was a compete nincompoop, who did not understand how to make films, or how to present his actors in an appropriate way. This is total nonsense, and, as Chaplin explained in his book, Sennett was a brilliant judge of acting ability, and knew instinctively how to present an actor in a way that would bring the best out of them. As for Syd Chaplin confronting Mack, and pushing for $1,000 a week for Charlie this is a complete fabrication. Syd had just started at Keystone, when Charlie was on his way out, and there was no way he was going to risk his job by antagonizing Sennett. It is clear that Chaplin wished to stay on at Keystone for the $750 a week he was offered – not by Sennett, but by his partners Kessell and Baumann. In reality Chaplin had got a little too close to Mack’s meal ticket and Keystone Girl, Mabel Normand. We might suspect that Chaplin left on the wrong end of a gun barrel, rather than for a fistful of dollars.


Mabel-a -w1

Attenborough’s racetrack is an orange grove (!?). Sennett’s in Santa Monica is closer to reality.


Now we come to Mabel herself. Mabel, in the film is a mere side show, just someone with a screechy ‘Lucille Ball’ voice, who couldn’t act or direct a film. Attenborough has really slipped up here, for it was around this time that Mabel was voted the top comedienne of the silver screen. She was also, at $500 a week, the highest paid movie actress in America – outdoing Chaplin by $300 p.w. A no-good actress? Save me – this girl was no also-ran, she was pantomime comedy personified. The scene where Chaplin goes on strike during Mabel At The Wheel, and sprays the screeching Mabel with a hose is completely erroneous. Firstly, Mabel never screeched, her voice was soft and just a little hoarse, probably as a result of tuberculosis. When Chaplin refused to work, Mabel said few words, and did not raise her voice. If Chaplin had hosed Mabel down, he would have immediately been beaten to death by the rest of the cast. Mabel was their queen, and, more to the point, their bread and butter too. As I have related elsewhere, problems between Mabel and Charlie did not first arise in this film, but in a film made two months earlier called Mabel’s Strange Predicament, during which Chaplin stole the opening scene. In order to avoid this occurring again, Mabel had herself designated director, and insisted Chaplin did not wear the tramp’s costume.


In the aftermath of this unpleasantness, there is no indication that Mabel wanted Chas fired. On the contrary, Mabel, like most women, was attracted to the little limey. His adherents included Mary Pickford (early on), Louise Brooks, and Claire Windsor. Although Chaplin could bring something to Mabel’s films,  she wanted to put him in a position where he would not be able to take over or steal scenes. In other words she wanted him neutralized. Mabel undoubtedly spoke to Mack about this, but not in the way that Attenborough portrayed it. She would also have avoided a direct confrontion with Chaplin, so the scene where Mabel is shown saying to Chaplin “Does Mack ever want to see you” could never have happened. She would never have revealed that she’d been organizing a coup against Chaplin. In fact Mabel hated Mack more than Chaplin at this point, so there was no attempted coup. As in later years, at Goldwyn’s, Mabel did fall out with female stars, who after all, were her direct competitors. However, all the direct confrontations alleged to have occurred were invented by the studios, as was Mabel’s falling out with Marie Dressler.


Does Mack

Bimbo vs Genius. It never happened.


Is the film a true representation of Chaplin’s Life?

This is not an accurate picture of Chaplin’s life, and it does not do justice to those that gave him a start in pictures. One of the faults in Chaplin’s character was his inability, in the early days, to get along with people, and he made several enemies at the Karno company, for which he worked prior to Keystone. Along with this failing, Chaplin had a massive ego, which led him to dismiss everyone as incompetent. He was also a complete introvert, and it was this introversion, which prevented him from getting along with people in a normal way – he could remain silent for long periods, then explode in a complete rage. This all began to change about three months into his stint at Keystone, so we have to look at how this change came about. In around March 1914, following Mabel At The Wheel, Charlie fell in big time with Mabel Normand. They began to spend a lot of time together on the lot, and in Mabel’s bungalow dressing room, which Mack had made out of bounds to most of the company. Mack was apparently furious when he found they were getting together in the bungalow after hours. In the daytime when the pair got bored of working, they would ‘steal’ a company car and head off to town for a few laughs.


Mab_Rosc_ Chap car

“Right, let’s go Mabe, Mack’s busy with the Bathing Beauties.”


Mabel further insisted on bringing Charlie along to the regular night time dinners she had with Mack  at the Athletic Club, and, when old man Mack dozed off, the younger pair would skip off to watch a movie, or a show. All of this gave Charlie a lift in confidence, which enabled him to achieve great things in the future. So how did Mabel instill so much confidence in Chaplin? Mabel herself had been an introvert in her early years, and only attended school briefly. Like Chaplin, she was prone to sudden, short-lasting crazy episodes. Mary Pickford was adamant that Mabel was reserved and shy, when she first arrived at Biograph, but she then gradually became the ebullient, maniacal, but lovable Mabel we all know. One can only imagine that someone had instilled a huge confidence in her, and that someone was probably Mack Sennett, who got to work on the coming Keystone Girl the minute she arrived at the studio. Mabel became equally as egotistical as Chaplin, and a schemer to boot, but was able convince people she was a bubbly, babbling, party animal. She lent an ear to everybody, including the studio carpenter, his wife, and the wardrobe lady’s daughter. This she imparted to Chaplin, who went from party-pooper to the life and soul of, in one smooth movement. In terms of sheer ability Chaplin told Adela Rogers St. John, “She was born with the gift of laughter, knowing more about comedy and comedy routine than any of the rest of us will ever learn.” The implication is that Chaplin never thought himself superior in comedy technique to Mabel (Love, Laughter and tears: My Hollywood Story by Adela Rogers St. Johns, 1978 p28). Finally, someone should have told Mr. Attenborough that Mabel did not give up acting in 1922. In fact she made The Extra Girl for Mack Sennett, starred in a stage play called The Little Mouse, and made a number of pictures for Hal Roach. During the period in which Attenborough says Mabel didn’t work, she somehow earned around 2-million dollars.


Lord Attenbough of Richmond upon Thames, film Director Richard Attenborough pictured at Oxford in 1993.

Film? I don’t remember any film.



Attenborough need not have bothered making this film. He could have stuck to Chaplin’s period at Keystone – that would have been enough to sum the tramp up. If he had read Chaplin’s book properly, he’d have realized that Chaplin never said that Mabel was a complete bimbo. He accuses her of being unable to direct which is a different thing entirely. Further on in the book he reveals his true feelings for her, and remember, nobody in movies was more cut up over Mabel’s death than Chaplin, excepting, perhaps, Roscoe Arbuckle. Chaplin was a movie genius, but he would have got nowhere in pictures if he hadn’t hadn’t been helped by a certain girl from Staten Island.


THE CHARLIE & MABEL STORY: How Screen Comedy Grew Up. Part I.

MABEL’S BUSY DAY – ‘to be or not to be’







Background to the Film

By the time Charlie Chaplin arrived at Keystone in December 1913, Mabel Normand was already tiring of slapstick. Mack Sennett records that Chaplin had difficulty working out what was going on. Meanwhile, he says, Mabel, Chester Conklin, and Ford Sterling were getting sharply into their routines. This sentence was meant to put Chaplin down, but what Mack actually told us, was that Keystone worked to a rigid and tried formula. The actors could get straight into filming with only the sketchiest of scripts, as they had been

Mabels _Busy Slapsk

“I’ve gotta get away from this nonsense.” Mabel’s Busy Day

doing the same old routines for years. Open the film with a scene, where the actors are front on, so the audience can recognize their favorite stars, and start squealing. Then go into the jerky, speeded up nonsense, before finally ending up with a chase. Mabel’s friends were all dramatic actresses, and, although she had beaten them to stardom, it was clear to everybody, especially Mabel, that there wasn’t much stagecraft in what she did.


Slapstick Madness: Mabel’s Strange Predicament (L) Mabel At The Wheel (R).

Following some short-lived ill-feeling in Mabel’s Strange Predicament, and Mabel At The Wheel, Mabel and Charlie began to develop a new type of comedy. They introduced a bit of subtlety and Mabel went back to her tragic hair-tearing days at Biograph. Unfortunately, Mack Sennett blocked most of this, and, in Mabel’s Busy Day, Mack seems to have upped the slapstick and violence to compensate for the small amount of tragedy and tenderness in the film.

Towards the end of Chaplin’s year at Keystone, Keystone big-wheels Kessell and Baumann, had decided to go full out, and scoop up at least one Broadway star, and risk their all on a full length feature film. The Broadway star was Marie Dressler, and the film Tillie’s Punctured Romance. Marie was there to add credence to the film, and she was paid a staggering $2,500 a week for the few weeks it took to make the film. There was a lot of talk that Charlie Chaplin and Mabel were aghast at Marie getting the star part, but the truth is Mabel, at least, was unconcerned. Chaplin was a little annoyed that he’d lost time in which to make his own films, but he had no concerns about Marie herself.


A very normal-looking Mabel sizes Marie Dressler up.


However, Chaplin does not come over well in this film, and we’ll get to the reasons for that later. For Mabel, this was her big chance to appear in a film with some credibility. She dreamed of great stardom in legitimate dramatic films, and clearly thought she could showcase her talents for the benefit of the big studios now coming along. Marie was to be her passport out of the Keystone tip.


“Oh my god! Junior don’t look” 

Will the real Mabel, please step out of the closet.

From the point of view of Mabel, the film is in three parts. In the first part Mabel does not appear. In the second part, Mabel arrives, but this is not the Mabel we are used to seeing. Although Sennett has cleverly named her character ‘Mabel’, the real Mabel plays, not a rag-clad gamin, but a young lady of her own age (or slightly older) on her way to sophisticated womanhood. Of course, there is some recognizable Keystone action, but Mabel, for the first time, is able to develop a character. Her movements are silky smooth, and, in her fashionable attire, she does not, for once, look like a schoolgirl dressed up in her mother’s clothes. Some of Mabel’s actions are straight out of the Keystone manual, like when she and Marie try to dismember Chaplin during an argument over possession. However, Mabel is serene and sophisticated when she encounters boyfriend Chaplin with Marie in a café. Instead of leaping in the air, and Keystone-kicking Marie in the teeth, Mabel merely flicks the fat girl’s nose, as she glides past. Everything is so much more subtle. There is little cutting of the scenes in order to speed up the action in this part of the film.


Slapstick is not long absent in Tillies.

Back to Reality

Unfortunately, the new Mabel does not last in this film. In the final twenty minutes the slapstick begins to ramp up gradually, until, eventually, we enter the true Keystone-style chase. Once Mabel dons a maid’s outfit, the action and the chase are on. One thing is noticeable in this film, and that is the fact that Chaplin’s character has shrunk. Rather than being the confident tramp, he’s now a self-conscious little guy in a frock coat. Alongside Mabel’s character he seems stilted. Chaplin really did not like this film, and he says so in his autobiography (“it had little merit”). Sennett was trying desperately to get rid of Chaplin, and making the tramp feel uncomfortable was part of the goodbye process. The tramp had two more films to go, and then he was out of there.


Mabel gets a bear-hug.


Who Got What Out of the Film?

The film can be seen as Kessell and Baumann’s idea, although Sennett claimed he was behind it. His elaborate explanation, however, does not hold water, and his failure in the theater makes it unlikely that he ever sought out theater stars, especially those who had been on Broadway. K & B marginally achieved what they’d set out to do, and had at least paved the way to Mabel’s greatest picture Mickey. At that point K & B were happy that they’d gained some small credence in the film world.


Adam Kessell visits the Keystone in 1915. Mabel is far right in white frilly dress.

We can only guess at what Mack Sennett thought about the film, but it is clear that he kept as tight a rein on Mabel and Charlie as was possible. He would have been particularly appalled at attempts to turn Mabel into a mainstream star, as this would have made it very easy for Mabel to slip the leash, and turn up in some other studio like ‘Famous Players’. It is fairly certain that Mabel had secret discussions with K & B about her role in the film, and probably made the point that Chaplin’s tramp character should not appear in it. Mack took up the fight with relish, and succeeded, partially, in making this a slapstick film. His view was that Keystone was unique, and any attempt to join the mainstream could lead to disaster. He was probably right.


From Mabel’s point of view, the chance to show her ability as a dramatic actress was eminently successful. She could now hold her head high among her ‘friends’ that included the likes of Mary Pickford, Blanche Sweet, Florence Lawrence, and other Biograph ‘old girls’. Unfortunately, beyond this film there were only slapstick pictures, one more with Chaplin, and a series with Roscoe Arbuckle. There was, nonetheless, hope in the later film Mickey, and, later, within a new setup under Sam Goldwyn. Finally, in the early scenes of this film we might be glimpsing the real Mabel, as described by her contemporaries – the Mabel of the fancy clothes, the intelligent, scheming Mabel, ever ready to deride those in authority. The twitching, naive, rag-clad Mabel of the average Keystone comedy does not representative the real-life girl from Staten Island.


For Marie Dressler there was only a modicum of success following Tillies, but she did gain real success from 1927. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1930–31, and was named the top film star for 1932 and 1933, but died the following year.

This film never really hurt Chaplin, but it must have occurred to him that staying on at Keystone was a bad idea. He would only flourish if he could gain absolute control. In his post-Keystone future, he would write his own scripts, direct everything, and never cast a true leading lady, let alone one as ambitious, and talented as Mabel Normand.




Edna Purviance.

Everyone will know that, although eternally linked with Keystone, Mabel Normand was only with that studio for two-and-a-half years. When Chaplin departed Keystone after just one year, he signed Edna Purviance to his new studio within Essanay, and she stayed a staggering eight years. Her tenure would have been even longer, had not the Dines Affair intervened. This is mysterious enough, but what, on the face of it, seems even more of a mystery, is the fact that Mabel became Edna’s best friend, notwithstanding the fact that Chaplin had spurned her, as his leading lady. Let’s see what the story is behind Mabel and Edna.

Caught in a Cabaret_2c

Mabel  dreams of Charlie, Ambassador of  Greenland.

Edna Meets Charlie

Edna Purviance was one of the most unusual actresses to be involved with Hollywood. For one thing, she was not someone who dreamed her way into the film industry. She was brought in – by Charlie Chaplin. Edna had no training in acting, or even posing, and never set out to be an actress. She was a secretary who had the good fortune to run into Charlie in a café in San Francisco. It was 1915, and Chaplin needed a leading lady (of sorts) as his original choice had turned out to be a dud. Her name was Gloria Swanson. The odd thing, of course, was that Chaplin could have called upon his Keystone leading lady of just a few weeks before, Mabel Normand. Charlie and Mabel had produced a series of excellent comedies, at the Edendale studios, and it seems certain that Mabel had expected a call from Charlie to play leads at his new studio. That call never came – and for some good reasons. In the first instance, Mack Sennett would have hunted Chaplin down, and killed him. Secondly, Mabel was good, and, it appears, too good. Mabel could carry a scene like nobody else, and would, if needs be, carry an entire film – by herself.


Edna becomes a kewpie doll in Charlie’s hands.

Chaplin, post-Keystone, reasoned that he could become a foil to Mabel’s character, and, for that reason, he had to reject her. Mabel was also untameable, unmoldable, and was far too expensive. Naturally, Mabel was very pretty, but it would easy to find another pretty girl, even if she couldn’t act. Chaplin struck gold – he found a girl with Mabel eyes and a Mabel mouth. Better still, this lookalike had blond hair. Eureka! However, if Chaplin had truly sought a top-rank comedienne, he would have found one with dark hair. Blonds may be great in straight dramatics, but blond hair generally sucks the soul out of comedy (the exception may be Louise Fazenda, but she was cast, somewhat uniquely for those days, as a ‘dizzy’ blond).

Mabel might have been talking about Edna, when she said:

“Anyone who photographs well can walk onto a scene and flirt with the comedian, which is all that most good-looking girls are required to do in comedies.” (Mabel Normand Sourcebook p.37).

If Mabel was upset about Chaplin’s rejection, she certainly did not show it in her daily affairs. She maintained a sound relationship with Chaplin, became good friends with Edna, and later with his several wives. There would be every reason for Mabel to resent Edna’s position in Chaplin’s studio, but it seems she was unconcerned. Mabel’s professional history might serve to explain this paradox.


Coaxing some Mabelescence out of Edna.

Mabel from  Biograph to Keystone

 When Mabel walked into 11 East Fourteenth Street, as someone who had no knowledge of the film industry, or the even the stage, she was, in fact, walking into a nest of vipers. Mabel immediately recognized that she was in New York’s All-Stars company, and would have fled, if she hadn’t been grabbed by Wilfred Lucas. Competition at Biograph was fierce, and Mabel was irreverent to the director down there, so did not progress at a particularly fast rate. Mabel was saved by the intervention of Mack Sennett, who spirited Mabel away to be the Queen of Keystone. Naturally, Mabel was no passive object in this transfer, and had carefully considered the options, then decided that the position of permanent leading lady at an unknown studio was the better option. Many disagreed, and thought that being a big fish in a small pond was not preferable to being a small fish in big pond Biograph. They hadn’t imagined the speed at which ‘The Sennett Madhouse’ would grow. I have covered Mabel’s successful attempts to keep potential stars out of her films in other posts, so it is sufficient to say that Mabel effectively spiked most of her opposition at Keystone.


The grim exterior of 11 East Fourteenth Street NY.


 Charlie Chaplin

The Bathing Beauties were a coming threat, and, as they became more numerous, Mabel developed the idea of leaving Keystone, or agitating for her own studio within Keystone/Triangle. When Charlie Chaplin had arrived he was not a direct threat to Mabel’s status, as he was a leading man. However, Charlie was a scene-stealer, and after he grabbed the opening scene in Mabel’s Strange Predicament, Mabel set about spiking his guns. As related in a previous post, Mabel managed, while shooting Mabel At The Wheel, to get a truce declared with Chaplin, after which all the scenes in their joint films were worked out, so as to give neither of them an advantage.


Mabel spiked Chaplin’s game, by becoming director of Mabel At The Wheel.


Although Mabel resented the way Chaplin had looked her over for his new films, the two remained friends. Consequently, she became friendly with Edna Purviance, who was always good for a laugh. As can be seen in the films, Edna found it hard to stifle a giggle when working with Chaplin. This was of little consequence, as Edna was only there as decoration, and a dupe to Chaplin. It is noticeable that Mabel never came near to laughing in comical moments in her films, and only did so if a scene required it. Edna presented no threat to Mabel, in the way that Geraldine Farrar, Madge Kennedy, and others did at Goldwyn. Farrar and Kennedy were much more rounded performers than Mabel, having been on the stage, and involved in music. However, Mabel held a unique position in films, and should have left it at that. There was only ever going to be one Keystone Girl, and that was Mabel.

M and Madge Kenn

A rare friendly moment for Mabel and Madge Kennedy.


Two strange girls together.

Edna became a true free spirit in the days before actors became lumbered with learning lines, and she could leave all the headaches to Chaplin. Edna was only given a lead part once – in A Woman of Paris (September 1923)The film failed. Mabel was in a different place, trying to maintain her career while fighting off the opposition at the Goldwyn Studio. When she could, Mabel let her hair down with friends like Edna and Mildred Harris. For a fun-lover like Edna, Mabel brought infinite numbers of capers to fill her time – Edna had acquired her own  little clown. However, Mabel always lived on the verge of nervous exhaustion, and beneath her outgoing personality, Edna was also, as Chaplin discovered, ‘a little strange.’ Things changed for Mabel when she left Goldwyn, and went on film-by-film contract with Mack Sennett. Her only worry was the film in hand, and her relationship with Edna strengthened accordingly. They began their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Nevertheless, storm clouds were gathering.

WD_Taylor Hse

W.D. Taylor’s courtyard house on Alvarado Street.


Living in the Shadows.

On 1st February 1922, Edna’s next door neighbor, director W.D. Taylor, was shot dead at his home. Edna had returned home that night, and noticed Taylor’s door was open, but thought little of it. The next morning, Edna heard of the killing, and immediately rang Mabel, and told her the news. Mabel, it transpired, had been the last person to see Taylor alive. There was no evidence that Mabel had anything to do with the shooting, but it was noted by the press that there was a love triangle involved, with the three points being Taylor, actress Mary Miles Minter, and Mabel. Minter, and her mother Charlotte Shelby, were suspects, but so was a certain Mack Sennett. If he had not had an alibi, Mack would have been the prime suspect, as Mabel was clearly using Taylor to clear a path into the director’s studio, the prestigious Paramount. Eventually the fuss died down for Mabel, and she completed her film Suzanna, then went on a European tour, “to forget”.


On Mabel’s return to the States, she fell back in with Edna Purviance, and became involved in another love triangle. This time the triangle comprised Edna, Mabel and oil tycoon Courtland Dines. Now, Mabel’s friend / housekeeper, Mrs Ethel Burns, later attempted to cover up the reality of the triangle, by claiming that the three were firm friends, but not in the way we might expect. She claimed that Dines and Purviance were somewhat disreputable characters who were using the gullible Mabel in order to get laughs at her expense.  Why was this important? It was important, because, on the evening of 1st January 1924, someone shot Dines, at his apartment, with Mabel’s 0.25 caliper pistol. Mabel’s chauffeur, Horace Greer, admitted pulling the trigger of the gun, which he had got from Mabel’s bedroom. The chauffeur’s explanation was that he’d gone to Dines’ apartment to collect Mabel, as he thought she was inebriated. He claimed Dines tried to brain him with a bottle, as he led the tottering Mabel away. Consequently, he shot Dines three times in self-defense. Truly, everyone in the apartment, Courtland, Mabel and Edna, was under the influence of alcohol. Greer (an escapee of the chain-gang, now using the name Joe Kelly) told how he’d taken the pistol from a drawer in Mabel’s bedroom, implying he knew his way around her boudoir. This raised a few eyebrows. Furthermore, it was suggested Greer was madly in love with Mabel. We are now in love quadrangle territory, and the press made attempts to portray Mabel as someone who was predisposed to having relationships with her household staff. She was, it seems, Lady Chatterley five years before Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published.


Horace Greer aka Joe Kelly.

What the cops were told.

Reporters were quick to jump on some of the silly and flippant comments that were made by Edna and Mabel just after the shooting. Both were crying over the shot Courtland Dines, but Mabel seemed to recover quickly when the law arrived. When asked what had happened, Mabel said “Well, I guess someone shot him, mister.” Edna always called Courtland Dines “Daddy” and when she arrived at the hospital said to him “Are you hurt sweetie?.” Mabel, rather dispargingly said “Yes, Hoy’s the sweetie?”

However, it then turned out that Edna had told police that she was about to become engaged to marry Courtland Dines. Dines then added that he’d felt sorry for Mabel after the Taylor case, and began to take her to the occasional dinner. He said she was lonely. This revealed the nature of the relationship between the trio. Testimonies from the drunken ‘friends’ did not tally, and, due to the fact that the trial was halted, it was never determined who pulled the trigger, or which testimony, if any, was correct. Mabel, it turned out, was unmanageable when under the influence of alcohol, and Dines revealed she’d broken her shoulder the previous year when she’d fallen over while drunk. The studio had announced that she’d fallen from a horse. The attitudes of both actresses, when giving evidence, were such that they were both castigated by the press. Reporters were particularly vocal over the fact that Mabel had adopted a condescending tone to her speech, which itself had become English aristocratic. Her statement was emphasized by French hand gestures. Could Mabel be the real-life Lady Chatterley?


What’s going on here?


Attention was drawn to some apparently innocent, but silly, pictures taken on a yacht owned by a friend of Mabel. Most of these are, indeed, silly, but there is one which may be seen as disturbing. This particular photo may be seen as a ‘still’ from some kind of play or enactment. In this particular shot, Courtland is seen examining Mabel’s leg, her skirt having been pushed way up above her knee. Edna is lying on the ground, and reaching into her coat, apparently for a gun concealed there. If this was part of some kind of short play, then this was something which was not unusual for movie people to undertake for amusement. Chaplin was famous for his party imitations and charades.


“Charlie, don’t do it, you’ll sink!”


The Dines Affair almost ended the careers of both actresses. Sennett had given Mabel her last big-money picture, The Extra Girl, at the exclusion of another actress. He helped Mabel to promote the film, then, after the Dines shooting, dropped her like a hot potato. Edna Purviance was put on a life-long pension by Chaplin, who rarely used her again. For Edna, continuing in pictures was all but impossible, but Mabel had a choice of filming in England or going on the stage. She chose the latter, made a million bucks, and bought a house in Beverley Hills. The house was not something she would have normally undertaken, as she preferred renting in Bohemian-type districts, where she would be surrounded by artists, writers, and poets. However, she was now looking for a quieter, less complicated life. She finished her storm-tossed career at Roach Studios, where she made several half-decent films, until tuberculosis cut her astonishing life short. Courtland Dines was never heard of again, Horace Greer was put back in jail, and Chaplin himself was soon engulfed in the growing backlash against Tinseltown. Charlie, indeed, forms the link here between Mabel and Edna. In terms of the tramp’s inception, Mabel was instrumental in bringing him to the fore. The malleability, and compliance of Edna, allowed Chaplin to establish himself, and reach professional heights that, perhaps, he might not have otherwise attained. The uninterrupted Edna years were crucial to the tramp’s development.





by Schloss,photograph,1890

Marie Lloyd 1890, aged 20.

Marie Lloyd was an English Music Hall singer and comedienne. Her forte was lewd songs, or more precisely songs containing innuendo. There is no indication that Mabel ever met the great Marie, but the connection is that she’d appeared on Music Hall bills with Charlie Chaplin. As Chaplin greatly admired her, for her professionalism and persistence in adversity, it is certain that he discussed the great lady with Mabel. Mabel is likely to have known Marie’s sister, Alice, who appeared in the 1913 film Popular Players Off The Stage with Ethel Barrymore and Raymond Hitchcock.

Marie Lloyd in America

What makes it more likely that Mabel knew of Marie, is the fact that, just before Chaplin arrived at Keystone, Marie Lloyd was arrested, and jailed by New York immigration officers. She and her companion, Bernard Dillon, had claimed on their entry forms that they were married, but officers discovered they were not. Dillon was charged with offences against the White Slavery Act. It was a big story in the newspapers.

Chaplin Alice Lloyd 1926

Charlie with Alice Lloyd, 1926


Marie was charged with being a ‘passive agent’. In the end they got permission to stay in America until March 1914 (as long as they did not cohabit). There was every chance that, when Mack took Mabel to Los Angeles, he could have been seen to have  contravened the Mann Act. Under this act a person could not carry a female, who was a minor, across state lines for immoral purposes. Naturally, Mabel was a minor, and motion pictures were regarded by the authorities, as being immoral. Mack, like Griffith the previous year, would have made sure that he had documentation, which showed he had the parents’ approval. Furthermore, he’d given Mabel an engagement ring, which would have, perhaps, implied he was her chaperone. He was 12 years Mabel’s senior.

The natures of Marie and Mabel.

It seems that Mabel was not in New York during the period that Lloyd was appearing in the city, so did not see her show. Marie, like Mabel, was an increasingly sick woman, who fought gallantly to continue acting. For this reason Chaplin had admiration for them both. Mabel died at 37, but Marie went on to age 52, before she dropped down dead – almost on stage. Such is the lot of the comedian.


In terms of being ‘unwholesome’, Marie was not lewd, but her act was made popular by its innuendo. She was, nevertheless, considered immoral by the authorities, and was watched closely by the American government. Women’s clubs and the churches had their claws out for Mabel, saying she’d appeared naked in a film, had been seen in a skimpy swimsuit, and was partial to displaying her legs and underwear. Although she appeared, apparently naked, in a long shot in Mickey, she was in fact wearing a skin tight suit. Mabel only showed her legs for comedic effect, never for titillation. There is, it seems, something fundamentally funny about a woman falling on her back, with her legs sticking out from her skirt, while waving in the air. Mabel used this to good effect in Mabel’s Busy Day and Those Country Kids. Louise Fazenda used it in Second Hand Kisses.


Mabel shows her pantalettes in The Extra Girl.

Where she was meant be a swimmer, Mabel wore the swimsuit of an Olympic athlete (she was never a Bathing Beauty). Although Mabel appeared in what we might call today up-skirt shots, she was always wearing long pantalettes, and, in Mabel’s Busy Day, she wore passion-killer bloomers. Undergarments meant a full length underskirt (The Little Teacher) and nightwear meant a long flannelette nightgown, or pajamas. Marie Lloyd never exposed herself, but did wear numerous frilly petticoats, which she ably ‘flounced.’

Although Mabel was careful not to appear promiscuous in her films, she was not so careful in her off-set life, and got into plenty of trouble. Whereas, Marie had much help from her parents in her early stage career, this was not so with Mabel. Mabel was a true free spirit, and refused to have her family involved in her career development. At Biograph, many actresses had ‘stage mothers’ (or in Blanche Sweet’s case, a ‘stage aunt’). After a while, twelve years older Mack Sennett stepped into Mabel’s life. Mack, though, was no role model, and Mabel clearly picked up many bad habits from him. To be honest, Mabel was delinquent, and many a stage mother struggled to keep their daughters away from her, her anti-authoritarian attitudes, and her disrespect for D.W. Griffith. It was after Dorothy Gish and Gert Bambrick slipped their chaperones in L.A., and set off to emulate their heroine Mabel Normand, that D.W. Griffith introduced a rigid  schooling for his young actresses – mainly aimed to prevent corruption of his charges. Bessie Love later recorded that this regime was repressive in the extreme. When Griffith sent Miss Love to Keystone for the promotion of Triangle, he made sure that Mabel was absent at that time.


Mabel never showed respect for the great Griffith.

The English Music Hall in America.

The English Music Hall was seen a storehouse of gags for the fledgling American film industry. The movies began to hoover up British comedians like there was no tomorrow. Marie, being a singer, was unsuitable for silent film, but Chaplin brought many of her attributes to film. Part of Marie’s success was due to her ability to make eye contact with the audience. Of course, on the stage this had to be broad and obvious.

My Hero

Mabel let’s us know Charlie’s about to be knocked out (not). Fatal Mallet.

Chaplin took this up, and made it subtle for film. Normally, he reserved the look for sad occasions, when he had those despondent, hound dog eyes. Mabel developed this eye contact independently, before she met Chaplin. Mabel, however, never made eye contact when she did her famous tragic-comedy scenes. Instead she looked into the camera, when she about to be mischievous (Oh Those Eyes), when she was puzzled (Mabel’s Married Life), or when something spectacular was about to happen. In The Fatal Mallet she smiles into the camera, and turns her palms outwards to indicate that her heroic boyfriend Mack Sennett is about to beat Chaplin up. However, Chaplin knocks Mack out, and Mabel turns with a puzzled expression on her face.


Marie Lloyd at home. 1921.


It is fairly obvious that Lloyd’s act was designed to have a little ‘dig’ at the authorities, as this would appeal to her working class audience. Her combination of the cockney with the aristo in her speech particularly upset the plug hat crowd. Now, this all reminds us of the Keystone films, that were particularly designed to rubbish authority. Men in plug


Spot the difference: Marie and Mabel.

hats were always villains, while the heroes or heroines were rag-clad slaveys, like Mabel Normand. In terms of appearance there was some resemblance between Marie and Mabel. Both had apple round cheeks, although Marie was somewhat plumper than Mabel, who always kept her weight around 99 pounds. They were most alike in their teeth, which were large in both cases. Marie wore her goofy teeth like a badge, but Mabel kept hers mostly hidden, except when needed for effect.


Mae Busch                                                    Bernard Dillon 

Parallel and Divergent Lives.

Marie Lloyd was a huge hit with the American theater-goers, although many might have gone to her Broadway shows, just to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, Mabel’s 1924 stage-show, The Little Mouse, never made it as far as Broadway, and was given up as lost, partway through its U.S. tour. Of course, Marie’s song and dance act would not have made it into motion pictures.

Marie was driven insane by her romantic associations with men. She married Bernard Dillon, who regularly beat her senseless. Mabel had numerous tempestuous relationships, but was smart enough not to marry (except for one sham marriage in 1926). There is a story that Marie discovered her husband, Bernard Dillon, in bed with another woman.  The husband and other woman jumped up, and gave her a severe beating. This reminds us of the famous Mae Busch incident, in which Mabel  allegedly found Mack Sennett in bed with the other actress. Mae Busch supposedly hit Mabel over the head with a vase, occasioning the head injury that ultimately led Mabel to leave Keystone. It is almost certain that the Mae Busch incident never occurred, but we might consider the possibility that Mabel applied the Marie Lloyd story to herself, in order to get a transfer east to Fort Lee. The Marie Lloyd incident was widely covered in a court case, so we can assume it was true.

Lloyd Funeral

Marie Lloyd funeral. 1922

The stress of Marie’s life, meant she became an alcoholic, was ill for many years, and became obese and aged. This probably cut her life short, and she died in 1922, aged 52. Although a resident of Golders Green, London she was buried in Hampstead Cemetery. Residents of Golders Green in later years were Bessie Love and Bebe Daniels. Bebe was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium, and her ashes sent back to the U.S. Bessie Love remains resting under a tree in Ruislip Cemetery, London. Mabel could have beaten Bebe and Bessie to London, as she intended migrating to England in 1925, but the emergence of a big-money stage contract in the U.S. ended the plan. Burial abroad may have been Mabel’s lot, as she died in 1930, aged 37. As with Marie Lloyd, we might think that incidents and scandals in her brief life, could have hastened her death.

Mabel funeral 01

Mabel’s last ride, 1930.

In the early  days, the film industry paid relatively low wages. Someone who had attained the title of ‘The Biograph Girl’ could earn five, or, perhaps, ten dollars a day. Stage stars earned considerably more. Mabel, by 1915, was earning $500 a week, while in that year Marie made $2,000 (£400) per week. In other words, Marie out-salaried Chaplin in 1915 by 100%. As everyone knows, Chaplin was the highest paid actor in pictures at that time. Later, the tables were turned, and film stars came to rule the roost, as regards earnings. Of course, the Music Hall had never truly penetrated American show business. As Music Hall began to take a tenuous grip in around 1912, the film industry was taking off, so that any further growth in Music Hall was stifled. At this point the movies began to siphon off the Music Hall stars,  leading, to some extent, to Music Hall’s demise in the U.S. and a lingering death in Europe.

When I Take My Morning Promenade Marie Lloyd





Helen Carr_chaplin

The girl next door. Helen Carruthers with Charlie Chaplin

Mabel continues her advice, given through her life in pictures.

Sitting it out for a studio.

I sat in my hotel room for the whole day working out a plan. Eventually, I came up with one. I had a friend at Mutual, and I contacted him about a contract with the company. I was artful, for I knew that Chaplin had just signed with them, and would be directing his own pictures. If he’d fallen out with Edna Purviance, I had a chance. I was now playing a waiting game – waiting for Mutual, or Triangle to get in touch. Of course Triangle did not know where I was, so I rang mother, told them I was staying on in N.Y., and gave her the hotel phone number. If Triangle rang her, she should contact me right away.

As I sat in that hotel room, I began to go crazy. I always worried about being alone – I had so many dark thoughts. To be honest I got suicidal. I recalled that the tragic Helen Carruthers, Chaplin’s one-time leading lady, had sat, not a year ago, in that hotel room in Portland contemplating swallowing those mercury tablets that almost killed her. I was continually being drawn to the window, but was kept away by the thought that I might throw myself out. I could not allow that – I wanted to be a beautiful corpse, and the press would have reveled in printing that Keystone Mabel was now just a sticky mess on a New York pavement. It about five years later that we learned poor Helen, in a fit of depression, had jumped from a 5th floor window, and not two blocks from this hotel. If I died, it would have to be like Cleopatra, by being bitten on the breast by an asp. Now where could I get an asp? For that matter, what is an asp?

Extra G

Mabel’s rendition of the dying Cleopatra. The Extra Girl 1923.

A couple of weeks passed, and nothing had happened. I needed money, so I crept out to the bank in disguise. I asked the teller for a thousand dollars. “I’m sorry Miss Normand, but there’s only fifty dollars in your account.” What! Those bums had stopped my pay-checks. Now I was really in trouble. I could not go to my parents. It would be too embarrassing to tell them that their daughter, the great movie star, was stone broke. I took the fifty, and went back to my hotel room. My head was spinning, what could I do? I knew what to do. Contact Charlie Chaplin. In 1914 Charlie had told me that he owed his success to me. This is what he said:

“I’ve saved up several thousand dollars Mabel, and I owe it all to you. If you ever need any of it, all you have to do is ask, and I’ll come running,”

Good old Charlie, I’ll wire him for some cash, but there was a problem. Charlie never looked at a telegram first, his staff handled everything. Not only that, but, for all I knew, Sennett had spies in Charlie’s studio, and, maybe, even in his house. What to do. Ah, I know – Edna. Now Edna Purviance was a spendthrift like me, so I would be lucky to get a hundred out of her. However, she was well in with Chas. I sent the following wire to Edna:


In big trouble Need cash urgent lots of Please ask Charlie wire cash to West Union office above Desperate

Mabel N

Good old Charlie, good old Western Union. Chas sent me $1,000 within a couple of days, and wired he’d send more if I needed it.


Mutual Make an Offer and Triangle are Forced to Act. 

Now I was set for the wait. Eventually Mutual informed my mother that a meeting had been arranged at their offices. I attended this meeting, and Mr Freuler, the president, told me they could take me on, but I would have to accept the director they gave me. Chaplin was unable to help, as he had a leading lady (Edna) signed up. He would not humiliate me by giving me a lesser role. They offered me $1,000 a week (Chaplin had got 12,500). He then gave me a fat envelope from Charlie, and I signed a letter of intent for them. Mutual told me to leave the press release to them, which was great. Charlie’s envelope contained another $1,000, which angered me a bit, because it seemed like a payoff in lieu of services rendered. However, beggars can’t be choosers.

chaplin1916-mutual0 (1)

The following press release appeared in the newspapers and Variety magazine:

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.

The word ‘Chaplin’ was bound to send Sennett and K & B out of their minds. It was not long after that mother received a call from K & B’s office. “Tell Mabel to call at the Time Square office at 11 o’clock tomorrow, where she will learn something to her advantage.” As I travelled to Time Square, I wondered what “to my advantage “actually meant. Would I receive a new high pay contract, or would I have a studio of my own?

I was met at Charlie Baumann’s office door by Adam Kessell.

“Nice to see you Miss Normand, do come in.”

 I entered, and Kessell came in behind me.

 Baumann was at his desk. “Ah the prodigal Mabel returns.” He said.

I heard an ominous click behind me. That creep Kessell had locked the door! I panicked, and my eyes darted furtively around the room, looking for barrels. I got a grip of myself, “Don’t act scared, Mabel, front them out.”

Baumann continued “Now, where have you been young miss, we’ve been looking all over for you.”

 “She’s been a naughty girl, Mr Baumann” said Kessell.

“Oh, has she? And what exactly has she been up to, Mr. Kessell.”

“She’s been talking to the competition, Mr. Baumann.”

Oh, Oh, I could hear the sound of water lapping on oak staves.

“Well, we don’t like little girls who cheat on us, what should we  do with her, Mr Kessell.”

 “Let’s put her somewhere. Let’s put her in her own studio” came Kessell’s reply.

My god, I’d made it! Even Chaplin and Sennett didn’t have their names over a studio.

For the first time ever I felt like running around the room whooping like that idiotic Keystone Girl. Then I was told the details. Triangle, through K & B was to form a new company called the Mabel Normand Feature Film Company. The studio would be close to Santa Monica Boulevard, away from Keystone, and the man on the spot, overseeing things, would be Tom Ince.

 No Mack, then? I asked.

“Mack owns the land, and will build the studio, which Triangle will rent through the Mabel Normand Feature Film Co.”

“But he won’t interfere in the studio business?”

 “It is simply a landlord and tenant situation.”

 “So, I can stop Mack getting in the door?”

“Legally only Triangle can do that, maybe, as the tenants. In law, you will be a Triangle employee.”

I saw the flaw in all of this. I could not trust Ince, as he was too closely aligned with Nappy. I would be proved right, as it seemed Tom was never intending to run the studio’s business. In no time at all, Mack was to take control of virtually everything. Mack and Tom had turned me over, but they’d also had Harry Aitken and Triangle over.

Wm_Hart Studio1

Mabel’s new studio as it was under Wm. S. Hart.


In spite of everything, I was over the moon, I’d achieved the impossible – I had my own studio! What did Miss Pickford think about that? What did Charlie and Mack think about that? Before you start thinking it’s a good idea to chance your arm like this, be aware that the stress involved could take ten years off your life, or even send you loco. Those producers don’t give an inch, and will only give way if they see a profit looming large on the horizon. Of course, I was now, to some extent, my own boss, but the sharks were already circling. Everyone, from Harry Aitken to Kessell and Baumann, and Mack Sennett was getting ready to take a bite out of The Mabel Normand Feature Film Company.


*I have brought my life story up to the point where I was at a crossroads, as regards my career. I had my own studio, but would I continue onward to greater success, or would I take a wrong turning to disaster? I will return to my story at some later date, and you can find out what happened.










A continuation of Mabel’s advice given through her life story.

Surviving on Staten Island

staten-island North

Northern half of Staten Island

Mother and Gladys had begun to get dinner ready, and I said I’d help.

“There’s nothing you can do here, baby, go and talk to Claude and your dad.”

I threw myself down in chair. “You know Claude, I’m damned useless.”

“You’re a top actress Mabel, I read it in the papers – you’re the biggest thing in motion pictures.”

“Claude, an actress does Shakespeare on a stage. I run around like a demented idiot on a screen.”

Claude tried to tell me I was a good model, but I said I wasn’t. I was far too short, and looked like a dumb dwarf alongside Anna Q. Nillson and Alice Joyce. Mother poked her head around the door and reminded me I’d beaten them both for The Fluffy Ruffles prize. She said she’d seen Alice recently, and she had nothing but praise for me.

“Alice is married, you know.”

“Yes mother, I know, I was at the wedding.”

A Nilsonn Mabel Alice Joyce

‘Fluffy Ruffles’ Mabel looks like a nervous schoolgirl between Anna Q. Nillson and Alice Joyce.

I knew what was coming next. She began to babble on about me getting married. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t marry that nice lad Mack Sennett. Firstly, I told her, he wasn’t a nice lad, and secondly he’d turned me down. I told her straight, he’d bought me off with a $20,000 ring, and I pushed the diamond in her face. “Well, what about that nice Charlie Chaplin.” Chaplin, I told her, didn’t want me, and would soon marry Edna Purviance. Apparently, mother had seen us kissing on screen – as if that meant anything. At this point dad interjected. He thought no-one should reject his daughter, and he was getting the next train to L.A. He’d find swelled-head Sennett and conceited Chaplin, and punch their lights out.

“Dad I don’t want to get married, and Hollywood is full of jerks and bums, so I’ll stay single – forever.”

Gentlemen of nerve

Mother thought they were in love.

At this point Gladys butted in that she loved the movie stars. She had all their pictures on her wall. She began to name them: Charlie Chaplin, Fattie Arbuckle, Louise Fazenda, Mary Pickford, Polly Moran, Wally Reid – note that I was not mentioned. I, of course, was not a star, I was just Gladys’ sister.

“I just love Mary’s dresses. Why don’t you get some Parisian fashions, Mabel?”

“Gladys, I’ve got so many Parisian dresses, I have to give them away to make room for new ones. It’s Mack that keeps me in rags on screen. Let me tell you about America’s Sweetheart, shall I. She’s so tight-fisted, she’s never bought a dress in her life. Her mother makes them for her, or used to until her fingers gave out. Now Mary spends every night on her knees, sewing away on her clothes. Those dresses in the films are just homemade rags! Anyway, her name’s not Mary Pickford, it’s plain old Gladys Smith.”


Mary Pickford: A  dress from Paris or 7th Street?

The next day I got up, and, told everyone I was off to the Manhattan to do some clothes shopping. Gladys volunteered to come with me. Before we went, I took Claude out into the garden with his new still camera, and taught him how to use the light, and avoid the dreaded lightning effect. He already develops and prints his own pictures. Claude wants to be a movie cameraman, and would come to L.A. next year. However, the war interceded, and Uncle Sam sent him off to sample the mud on the Somme. Fortunately, he came back, but did not reach L.A. until 1919.

MC_Pickfd 1919

Mabel with Jack Pickford on brother Claude’s motorcycle. 1919


Back to Manhattan and Reality

The shopping trip went well, and I bought Gladys a new dress and shoes. She was aghast when I opened my purse, and she saw $400 in it. When we left the shop, I mentioned I had to hurry off, as I had to meet Roscoe and Minta. “You mean Fatty Arbuckle and Minta Durfee are here? Mabel, they’re my  favourites!” She bounced up and down like ‘Tomboy Bessie’, and so I had to take her to the hotel. I warned Gladys not to call Roscoe ‘Fatty.’ “He has a name, you know.” She loved meeting her idols, but I had to take her back to the ferry in a very expensive cab. When I got back that double act Kessell and Baumann were at the bar with Roscoe, Minta, and Al St.John.

“Ah, Mabel, said Kessell, we need to have a word.” He steered me to a table in the corner.

“What were you doing in Five Points yesterday, Mabel?”

“You know what, Adam, I was going to Staten Island.” Now I knew I had been tailed.

“Mabel, Mabel, we’re responsible for you, you’re very valuable, and if anything happened to you, Mack and Tom Ince would set every lawyer in New York onto us.”

“Tom Ince? What has he got to do with it?”

“He’s a partner in Keystone. He supplied us with the Bison lot.”

“Hang on, I knew Tom at Biograph, he never had a penny then, had holes in his shoes.”

“Ask no questions, be told no lies, Mabel.”

I was speechless. I started to panic, I’d bared my soul to Tom, and all along he was in with Sennett. Now I understood how Mack always knew where I was, and who I was with. I honestly thought that Tom had started Bison and Inceville from scratch, independently. What a fool I’d been. Of course, Tom was later to supply Mack with an alibi in the Taylor murder case. – he was, it seems, no disinterested witness.

Kessell gave me an ultimatum – take cabs everywhere, or be assigned a driver and bodyguard. I fronted up to Kessell.

“O.K. I’ll take the driver – Charlie or Salvatore, whatever his name is.”

“Uh, uh, Mabel, we only use Charlie for special, non-delicate jobs.”

I had no choice. I promised to use cabs.

Things Have to Change.

At Fort Lee, Roscoe and I were able to make a different sort of film. It was called He Did and He Didn’t. For the first time I was able to play a scarlet woman, a vamp. Roscoe directed me through a close-up scene in which I was having some very unladylike thoughts. He said it was great. However, when we saw the rushes everyone went quiet. I turned to Minta and asked her opinion. After a long pause, she said “Oh, Mabel, it’s just not you, please forget about vamping.” I was devastated, and felt like hanging myself. I’d put everything into that scene, and it was no good. I was, like Mary Pickford, doomed to be the eternal ingénue [Endnote].

Mabel Vamp

Mabel decided to leave vamping to the experts.

The two months at Fort Lee soon ended, and we were due to leave for the coast. In the last two weeks, I’d pestered K & B for a contract in Fort Lee, or preferably, my own studio. The guys mulled it over. They could not poach me from Sennett, but they may be able to get Triangle to set something up for me, with Sennett kept on the fringes. They’d let me know. Then they went AWOL, and were clearly avoiding me.

I’d told Roscoe that I had a mind not to go back to L.A.. Roscoe said he had the same thought, but, because of Minta, he had to wait until he had a firm contract with another studio. I felt sick, I could not face Nappy again, so I bailed. Minta helped me change hotels, by putting my clothes on and getting into a cab. She drove round and round Manhattan for 45 minutes, then returned. In the meantime, I fled the scene, and holed up in another hotel, a good distance away. I had a plan – of sorts.


Sweet Mabel with Mack and Dick Jones. In reality she was ruthless.

The moral of all this is never to think that you’re smarter than the other guy. In Hollywood, you have to distrust everyone, if you really want to get along. It’s advisable to put on a front, and appear sweet and innocent, but always be ready to receive a knife in the back. Do you really think I got on by being the cute, scatter-witted Mabel of the screen? Of course not, I was tough and I was ruthless.

Endnote: The long tentacles of Napoleon Sennett stretched out to this film. He went insane when he heard that Roscoe and Mabel killed each other in the picture. He came up with the idea of it all being a dream (60 plus years before Dallas). Needless to say, he objected to Mabel’s portrayal as a fallen woman. He argued that his greatest asset had been ruined. He was ignored.



* In the next part I tell how I slipped out of Mack’s clutches (almost), and received a sign – over my own studio.




The continuation of Mabel’s combined life story and advice.

I Dodge some Mustachio Petes and take a Ferry Ride.

I was woken the next morning by some massive hammering on my door. I heard Roscoe shouting “Come on Mabel, wake up”. I looked at my clock, it was 11 a.m. My god what does he want at this unnatural hour. Didn’t he know we’d been given a few days off. I crawled out of bed, and opened the door.

“What’s up Roscoe”, I said, as he entered the room.

My fat friend just stood there, staring. 

“What’s the problem Roscoe, haven’t you seen a girl before?”

“Yes, but… where are your pajamas.”

“Pajamas? You’ve been watching too many Keystone films, my good man. I’m a film star, you know, and film stars don’t do pajamas. They wear filmy numbers, like this” and I gave him a twirl of my flimsy nightdress.

“Oh, erm Oh, me and Minta are about to go for an early lunch. You coming.”

“Yeah, I’m game Roscoe. Gimme half-an-hour.”

“O.K. Mabel” He turned to leave.

I called out to him “A movie star usually needs a full hour, but you can have me for half price” He turned his head, and a puzzled expression spread over his face. I burst out laughing. “Go on Roscoe, get outta here.” 


Charlie catches Mabel in her pajamas. Mabel’s Strange Predicament 1914.


I just love to pull the old movie star bit. About a year back, I had the mother of all arguments with Mack. He accused me of being a spoiled brat. Bad idea. I thought I’d show him what spoiled meant.  I arrived at the studio in a chauffeured car, and got out, the chauffeur holding my fur coat, me behind, my butler holding my trunk, and my gardener holding a stack of account books, and we marched in line to my dressing passing by Mack’s office window, me looking, to all intents, like a big movie star. We entered the dressing room and stayed put. Half an hour later, Nappy was banging on the door. “Come on Mabel you’re due on set!” I opened the door slightly, peeped round wearing a comedy mustache, and said “I’m sorry, Miss Normand is presently unavailable, would you mind calling back.” With that I slammed the door in his face. We all laughed our heads off, and I finally got on set at about 2 p.m.


Mabel’s movie-star silk camisole


I eventually made it down to the hotel dining room. Minta was giving me a strange look.

“Morning Minta, I said cheerfully. Her look hardened.

“Why did you let that Kessell maul you, Mabel.”

“Oh, Minta don’t be such a prude, we were just larking about.”

“Humpff” came the reply.

“And making eyes at that Latino?”

I leaned forward menacingly “You want to watch it Minta, he’s a vicious killer, and he might come and cut your little white throat” I said, waving a fish knife under her chin. Roscoe was smirking and trying to stifle a belly laugh.

“Don’t joke with your life, Mabel, I’ve heard all about these New York spicks”

“I know, they’ll cut me up, put me in a barrel, and send me down the Hudson.”

“They will, you know Mabel, they call these mobsters Mustachio Petes.”

“Oh, for pete’s sake Minta, Mustachio Petes only exist in Mabel At The Wheel.”

Roscoe broke in. “Yeah, me and Al St. John got the idea of Chaplin’s mustachios from the real-life ones in New York!”


Chaplin and Mustachio Petes 1914.                                          Barrel Murder N.Y. 1918.


[Author’s note: The next time Mabel heard a whisper about Charlie Luchania, it was in relation to the Taylor murder of 1922. Then he was known as Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano. His mob, Crime Incorporated, were prominent in Hollywood by the early 30s, and left bodies all over Tinseltown and Beverley Hills).

I had my usual Carnation Milk sandwich for lunch, washed down with a couple of gins, then told everyone I was off to Staten Island to see my family. What a boring day it would be. But, chin up Mabel, you’ll be seeing your wonderful brother. Yes, Claude was a great lad, and if I ever meet a man like him, I’ll snap him up and marry him – guaranteed! I set off for Staten Island, but, as usual, I didn’t go directly there. I took myself down to the Little Italy / Five Points / Mulberry Bend area. I wanted to observe the inmates, and get some character ideas. Charlie Chaplin did not invent observation, as some people think. He got the idea from me – and I got the idea from, dare I say it, Griffith! Talking of Griffith, I did wander past the old Biograph building, just for old times’ sake, but the building looked so sad and neglected that I hurried past (Biograph had long since departed). I did look back though, and what did I see, a swarthy Italian-type leaning against a wall on the corner. Did I really see him, or did I have Italians on the brain?



Little Italy: 14 year-old Mabel walked this way to modelling assignments.

Eventually, I ended up down on The Bend, but everything had been spruced up, so I headed towards the Bowery. It was in this area that I spotted the vending girl I had used in Mabel’s Busy Day. She was so proud of the once-fashionable mish-mash of clothes that she’d acquired from a second-hand stall, although she looked, quite frankly, ridiculous. I had a good laugh to myself, thinking she might have got the ‘schmutter’ from the great Adolph Zukor’s rag stall. Oh, by the way, those massive shoes I found in the Keystone prop department – I wore them to upstage my old friend Charlie Chaplin.


Street-vendor Mabel runs amok in her ‘schmutter’. Mabel’s Busy Day.

It was on the Bowery I saw another lurking swarthy Mediterranean type. Was he the same guy from earlier? I shrugged it off. Time was rolling by, so I jumped the subway, and headed to the pier for the Staten Island Ferry. As I got in the carriage, the same swarthy guy jumped in behind me. Oh my god, I’m going to be kidnapped. I held my courage, and stared straight at him. His gaze did not waver, he looked straight through me, as if I wasn’t there. A little later, as I boarded the ferry, I looked around, and, guess what, no spook.

The ferry docked on the Staten Island pier, and I prepared to leave the boat. All of a sudden I heard a band strike up. I looked out the window, and saw a huge banner. It read:

                          “Staten Island welcomes Mabel Normand Home.”

The mayor and all the good burgers of New Brighton had turned out. I was whisked off for a long drive around New Brighton, waving to the crowds in the fading light, and alighted outside my parents’ house.

In New Brighton

MABEHse tysen S

The family home, New Brighton.

The family were at the gate, and I ran to them, as the entourage drove off. “Here sis grab this”, I shouted, as I threw the bouquet I’d been given at my sister, Gladys. We all hugged, then, went inside, as everyone in the neighborhood crowded the pavement.

“I feel like I’m in some kind of freak show” I said. “How did they know I was coming?”

I don’t know, said dad, the mayor’s office rang yesterday, asking what time you’d arrive.

“Kessel and Baumann are behind this.”

Claude_and Mabela

Mabel and Claude.


It was good to see the family again, but I could detect the old cross-currents that had always existed between us. Mother always considered me ‘her baby’ even though I wasn’t the youngest. This caused resentment between sis and me. Gladys and I had the same features, but, dare I say it, she was somewhat ugly, but tough enough to take it. My brother, Claude, looked a little like a masculine Gladys, but he had a wonderful personality. Dad was dad, the strong silent type, and had hopes that I’d be a concert pianist. He was disappointed – I was just a movie star. Mother paid for my painting lessons, hoping I’d be an artist – she ran out of money. It was mother who taught me to read, as I was at school only briefly. I was too weird to fit in.

A row soon broke out between mother and me. I found a recent copy of the L.A. Times in the living room. I was livid, my own mother was keeping tabs on me! I asked her if this was the only one, but Gladys broke in, saying mother had them sent regularly, at 50 cents a time.

“Half-a-dollar! Mother are you crazy. This paper is just a rag, there’s nothing in it but lies.”

“What’s this about you picking up boys in your car, and taking them to the races and the cinema – don’t you know any men?” She asked

“Mother! The papers are just trying to get me on anything, can’t you see that. Why shouldn’t I take orphans to the races – they’ve got no-one else to pay for them.”


How an English movie comic saw Jack and Mabel.

This story had died out, but it could have been worse. Mack found out that a paper was about to run a story that I’d had an affair with Jack Pickford in 1912, when he was 14. It was, of course, a pack of lies, but, nonetheless, Keystone had to pay them off. Claude ended the conversation, “Just be careful, Mabel.”

Gladys wanted me to put banana curls in her hair, so I got some rags, and began to make the curls.

“I want to look like Mary Pickford”, she said.

“Sorry sis, can’t be done”

“How come?”

“For a start you haven’t got Mary Pickford hair, and secondly, Mary uses wooden rollers with spikes in ‘em.”

“You’re kidding me!”

“I’m telling you, that bitch is so vain, she puts up with the pain at night, by putting her hand between her head and the rollers. Look at her right hand in her next film, it’s virtually paralysed due to nerve damage.

“Oh, go on, you’re lying”

“I kid you not, sis.”

Mother interjected again, saying I ought to wave the top of my hair like America’s Sweetheart. Now I really blew my top! How could I do that, when I’ve got a headful of wire. That’s not hair on my head, it’s electrical cable! How long do they think it takes me to get my hair right in the morning? So long, everyone thinks I’m lazy, and don’t want to work. My eyebrows are caterpillars, and need constant attention. If left, they join in the middle, making me look like a murderer.


Miss wavy hair, Mary Pickford.


“Well, I’ve seen the stills for Fatty and Mabel Adrift” said mother, “And your hair looks lovely.”

“Yes mother, but I did a ten hour day, four of which were spent doing the scenes with Al, and six that were spent doing and redoing my hair.”

I’ll tell you a secret. When we made the film, I demanded that I have an on-lot hair-stylist, as I was tired of looking dishevelled. Mack refused to pay, and said I had to do it out of my own funds, so I took a whole day off to get my hair done – he soon capitulated.


Mabel is radiantly beautiful in this scene with Al St. John Fatty and Mabel Adrift 1916.

[Author’s note: The story goes that when Virginia Cherrill tried the same stunt on Charlie Chaplin, he fired her on the spot, but had to reinstate her in order to complete the film City Lights. Virginia had only done this to get a day off].

Lord save me, I had a night, and another day to go here. How would I survive? Well, survive I did. You will now understand that scatter-brain Mabel was able to manipulate her way out of any situation.  I would not be going back to Mack Sennett.


* In the next part I tell how to get on in hum-drum Staten Island. I do a disappearing act, and put a cunning plan into operation.







Continuing Mabel’s advice given via her autobiography.

Striking Back at The Empire.

Life post-Chaplin became very miserable for me at Keystone. I’d staked my future on the tramp and now he didn’t even answer my phone calls and wires. Me! Mabel Normand, the great film star! I’d got Chas all the pay rises he wanted from Mack, and now he treats me like a cheap tart from the Follies. Well, I still had Roscoe, and I’d show Mr. ‘Big-Head’ Chaplin what great films we could make. Except – we couldn’t! Mack was emphatic that the days of bringing subtlety to comedy were gone with the tramp. I stood in Mack’s office ranting and stamping my feet. When that didn’t work, I switched to sitting on his desk fluttering my eyelashes and twinkling my legs. That didn’t work either. In the end I said I was leaving now – straight away, this minute. “O.K.” said Mack, “I’ll send for Fazenda.” This had the desired effect.

Loui Fazenda2b

Louise Fazenda

That damned Louise Fazenda, the coming comedy star – she was good, real good. But no way would she step into my shoes. I would not allow her to become The Keystone Girl. I stayed put, but Miss Fazenda came anyway. Poor Louise, I was positively beastly to her, but she was a good homely girl, who had no desire for stardom. Stardom found her, but she never let it go to her head. She called me the ‘Scarlet Tanaga’, which was far better than what I called her. As usual, I told Mack not to put Louise in my films, and he told me he was going to put Louise with Mack Swain, to do Ambrose pictures. I would mainly be with Roscoe and Minta.

_studio-being-remodelled-reel-life-march-20-15 (1)b

Mack looks crestfallen during Adam Kessell’s visit in 1915. L to R: Mack, Mabel, Adam Kessell, Ford Sterling.

Adam Kessell comes to Town.

My times with Roscoe and company were good, but neither my ideas nor Roscoe’s were accepted. We could direct only under Mack’s strict supervision. It was slapstick all the way. Part way through 1915, the studio had a visit from Adam Kessell, who announced to the assembled company that Keystone and New York Motion Pictures, along with Tom Ince and D.W. Griffith were now part of the Triangle Group, and we were really ‘going places’. Things were going to change, Keystone would be smartened up, and the carpenters would no longer be able to throw lumps of wood on the ground with six-inch nails sticking out of them (we all cheered, everyone of us had shoes ruined and feet speared by these damned nails). I had to snigger, when Kessell turned to Mack and said “This place is a disgrace!” Old Nappy shrank to the size of Mary Pickford. As the assembly broke up, and Mack trudged back to his office, I seized my chance, and grabbed Kessell. I asked the boss if he could find time to see me, so we could discuss the changes, as they related to me. “Of course, my dear”, he said, “Meet me for dinner in the lobby of the Alexandria Hotel, at 8 ‘clock”. I turned up at the hotel at precisely 7.55, hoping to god that one of Mack’s private dicks wasn’t tailing me. Kessell had just come down from his room, and immediately put me on his arm, and we walked into the dining room like Tsar and Tsarina. I nodded regally to some of my friends there, who were amazed to see me with, not Mack Sennett, but the big boss-man himself. Kessell was a true gentleman, and I


The Lobby, Hotel Alexandria L.A.

enjoyed his company more than that of boiler-working, roughneck Sennett. Of course, Mack had warned me to steer clear of Kessell and his partner Baumann. “They’re gangsters, you know, Mabel, and if you ever cross them, you’ll be found floating down the Hudson, with a knife sticking out of your back.”  I told Mack not to be so melodramatic, but I had, indeed, read in the papers that people (dead of course) were found in barrels, floating down the Hudson River in New York. It was reckoned to be the mob, the Mustachio Petes, that put them there. Nevertheless, I asked Kessell if there was any possibility of getting transferred to the NYMP studio in Fort Lee. “I would love to have you there, my dear”, he said, “but, firstly, Mack would accuse me of poaching, and secondly, we are in such a mess at Fort Lee over this Triangle kerfuffle that we could not accommodate one more extra, let alone a leading lady.” He promised to do all he could, when things were sorted out at his studio, but it would be at least six months before I heard from either him or Baumann. “So be it”, I thought.


Roscoe lobs a brick. Two second later Mabel is knocked spark out by a return brick. Those Country Kids 1914.

Fatty and Mabel

The year ground on, and we were producing good films, but still in the true slapstick vein. People loved our Fatty and Mabel series, but I got well beat up. Roscoe was a dangerous partner, and if he ever fell on you, well, you were kaput. We usually arranged it so that I fell on him, and bounced off his belly. So confident did I become with Roscoe that I began to do 108s, which we girls were usually exempt from performing. If you look at Those Country Kids you will see that I do 108s by tripping backwards over Roscoe, and usually when Al St. John throws bricks at me. At the end of the day I often crawled up to bed on my hands and knees, shedding tears all the way, because of the pain. Roscoe was a wonderful man, an opera singer and a good dancer. I have mentioned Louise Brooks, the professional dancer, who once told me she loved hitting the dance floor with Roscoe. “It was like dancing with a giant doughnut”, she said. Louise, I think, was a sad case, and, although a ‘tart’ I could never hate her. She seemed so vulnerable.


A long way from the beach aren’t you girls? The Bathing Beauties.

Life with The Bathing Beauties

By July 1915, I had had just about enough of Mack, and his dumb studio. That creep had just started on his Bathing Beauties kick, and I was not amused to see scantily clad girls wriggling around the lot. Those creatures never left the studio, let alone got near the water! Let me say right now that Bebe Daniels was never truly a bathing beauty. She was a girl of about 13, whose mother was the wardrobe lady at Keystone. Bebe was always on the lot, pestering us to film the little stories she came up with. Sometimes we filmed her in the background for atmosphere, but one day I determined to show Mack how ridiculous his Bathing Beauties were. Bebe had always wanted to be a Bathing Beauty, so I dressed her up in a little swimsuit, gave her a parasol, and started to film her. Mack came tearing out of his office screaming like a small-town preacher. “Get that kid off the set!” he shouted “We’ll have the cops down on us!” Well I told him she looked no worse that the so-called beauties he had wobbling around his lot. He slunk back into his office, cursing as he went. As I related in an earlier post, things reached a head when he started grooming Mae Busch for stardom. Yes, I did blow my top, but there was never any vase, or anything, other than a huge row.


Wedding Scene: Fatty and Mabel Adrift. released 1916.

A Lucky Shoe Gets Me Away From Keystone.

In late October 1915, we were filming scenes for Fatty and Mabel Adrift. During the wedding scene, I received a shoe in the head, throw for luck. Some luck, I was knocked senseless. That was it, I’d had enough. Without waiting for anything else, I left the studio, accompanied by Roscoe and Minta, who were to drive me home. Instead, I suggested they drive me to their beach-house at Santa Monica. “That’s it I quit” I said when we reached Santa Monica. Roscoe said he’d ring the studio, and let them know the current situation. No, I said, ring so-and-so, who was my tame journalist at the L.A. Times. Roscoe rang the paper, anonymously , saying I was being treated by a doctor, but was not expected to live. He left the phone number of the ‘doctor’. It was Roscoe’s number.

1916 acc

Mabel gets a knock on the head. This time in 1916.

That afternoon Mack Sennett was on location in L.A. directing a picture. Suddenly a newspaper boy on the corner began shouting “Read all about it – movie star dying!” I wonder who that could be? thought Mack. The paper boy shouted again “Read all about it – Mabel Normand not expected to live.” “What the f…” mouthed Mack at Dell Henderson. He sent a car back to the studio to find out what had happened. The car returned, the driver saying l had a head injury, but could not be found anywhere. To cut a long story short, I stayed holed up for a couple of weeks, feeding stories to the press, while, to avoid suspicion, Roscoe and Minta went to the studio every day as normal. Everyone was searching for Mabel, even Kessell and Baumann had flat-foot store dicks out looking for me. Eventually, I wired Adam Kessell at his N.Y. office. The telegram said:

Apologies. Been in hospital last 2 weeks. Can’t go back to Keystone. Sennett not caring if we get killed. Grateful let me know when I can move to Ft Lee.


Mabel Normand

Kessell replied that he was coming to LA that week on Triangle business, and would set everything to rights. In the meantime I should return to Keystone, until everything was

04 01 St John Arburckle unknown Mabel and Minta with soda1c

“Dear Mack, glad you’re not here.”

sorted. To cut a long story short, I made one more picture, completed Fatty and Mabel Adrift, then headed east with Roscoe, Minta, and a small company. The drawback was that we were only on loan to Triangle/NYMP, and Mack insisted we be returned to him within two months. Although we were to make films in Fort Lee, our main job was to promote the Triangle brand. Keystone, Griffith, and Ince were doing the same.

Heading East

We left just after Christmas 1915, and what a gay company we made. We were free, and worried not that we were leaving the orange groves for the frozen wastes of New York. We had a Triangle promotional camera team along, and we ‘stole’ one of the pictures they took of us, got it printed on card, and sent it to Mack, as a postcard. The message was ‘Having a great time, glad you’re not here’. Poor old Minta was shaking like a leaf, and begged us not to send it, but Roscoe and I could not resist the pun. Mack must have gone out of his mind when he read it!

Fort_Lee S1

A less homely facility than Keystone. Triangle, Fort Lee.


We greatly enjoyed the trip, everyone in their own little way. Minta went all Mary Pickford on us, and, with some others, occupied the observation car, oohing and cooing  at the scenery, all the way to N.Y. Along with Roscoe, I hit the bar – we were city people, and didn’t care one jot about scenery. We just got blind drunk. Horses’ Necks, Martinis, scotch on the rocks, straight gin, we downed the lot! By the way, don’t believe the Mack Sennett story that I was so stupid I thought a Horse’s Neck was a bit of old dobbin. It’s not true. Mack, as you know, had a whole repertoire of ‘scatter-brain Mabel’ stories, designed solely to put me down, and keep me down.

Obs Car_1900s

A car for Scenery-philes


We had many stops on the way, and I could have killed Harry Aitken (the boss of Triangle) who had told every hick town mayor in the mid-west that we were coming, At one point we suddenly began to slow down, right in the middle of the prairie. “Oh no” I said to Roscoe, “we’ve broken down in the middle of nowhere!” Suddenly I noticed a few houses. Then I saw a huge group of rednecks assembled at the trackside. Every plainsman, and his wife for miles around had turned out to see us. There was no station, so no platform, and the hicks piled up crates, so we could step down. One guy introduced himself , as the mayor, and it was all I could do to stop myself laughing. How could you have a mayor of nothing! Anyhow, it was terribly embarrassing, we could not understand a word these cowboys said.  We might just have well been in Outer Mongolia. This brings me back to my  ‘friend’ of later years, Brooksie. Another actress, Dorothy Mackaill, told me she’d worked with the luscious Louise on one of her early pictures. During a break the actors were talking in a group, when someone asked Brooksie where she came from. It turned out she hailed from Wyatt Earp territory, Wichita, Kansas. “What the hell did you find to do there!” someone asked. “I mulked the keeows.” replied Louise. Well, everyone was rolling around the floor laughing, and I’m glad that I was not at that studio, I would have made her life a misery forever more, I could not have helped it. What she meant, of course, was she ‘milked the cows’. So much for hicksville.


Mayor-given bouquets were numerous on the company’s trip east.

The Return of the Prodigal Daughter.

I would love to tell you more of our adventure, but there isn’t time. Suffice to say we eventually landed in the Big Apple, home sweet home, for what it’s worth. We were met by Kessell and Baumann, and, you’ve guessed it, a whole bunch of dignitaries. Triangle were really pushing the boat out. I was glad to see Chas’ brother, Syd, there – he was such a clown. In any event, K and B had several cars waiting to take us to our hotel. Adam Kessell took great pains to direct Minta and I towards his car, and I saw Baumann glaring at Adam out of the corner of my eye. The driver got out of the car, and opened the rear door for us. He was a young good-looking Latino, and as I got in, I turned to him smiling, and said “Thank you, kind sir” (I think my eyelashes might have fluttered, just a little bit). I looked back and saw Baumann’s car looking decidedly lop-sided, and I knew where Roscoe was. I sat between Adam and Minta, and my producer put his arm around my shoulders, leaned over, and said, “Well Mabel, how do you like being in New York again?” I like it fine Mr. Kessell, the further I’m away from Mack Sennett the better.” He sort of smiled, and I could feel his other hand moving over my leg. I carried on smiling, while moving his hand away. I could see dollar signs before my eyes, but in my peripheral vision, I could see Minta frowning disapprovingly.


Mabel did not want to end up here.  Slums in the East Side.

When we arrived at the hotel, my Latin friend opened the door, and let us out. We made eye contact again, which Kessell noticed. While the Roman lover unloaded the car, we stepped into a barrage reporters in the hotel lobby. Triangle really meant business. After a couple of minutes with the notepad scribblers, we were ushered to our rooms by Kessell and Baumann.  Roscoe and Minta had one room, and I had my room next door. I exchanged smiles again with the driver, as he dropped my bags, and then left. When I turned round both Kessell and Baumann were standing in the room – oh I get it, neither trusted the other to be alone with me.

“Who’s the driver” I asked nodding towards the door.

“Now how did I know you would ask that?” said Baumann.

“His name’s Charlie” retorted Kessell, “And you don’t want to know him.”

“Oh, don’t I now – how come he’s called Charlie, when he’s so obviously an eytie.”

” His real name’s Salvatore” replied Kessell “Salvatore Luchania.”

I got brazen, “You know Mr Kessell, I just might look this Charlie up.”

” NOW YOU LISTEN TO ME, MABEL!” (his voice got sinister). We don’t promote film stars, so they can become two-bit whores in some run-down joint down on the Bowery.”

“Whatever do you mean Mr. Kessell?” I asked

“He means” said Baumann “That Charlie does not just do work for us, he does work for others, and they are an evil, nasty bunch. Get involved with them, and you’ll be found, in a couple of years time, as a drug-sodden wretch holed up in the slums of the East Side.”

Kessell finished the conversation “Sorry Mabel, but you’re a hot property now, and a victim of your own success. Leave it at that.”

Lord save me! I’d gone full circle, and ended up with two Macks instead of one.

I’ll leave off here, with a moral statement: Sometimes you get what you wish for, and it might not be pleasant. During the course of 1915 and early 1916, I had steered myself from one bad situation into another. On top of that I was close enough to my family that they could watch my every move.


*In the next post, I tell how I learned to live on the fringes of the mob, try to put myself between K & B and Triangle, and have a huge row with my mother.



Happy daze. Charlie and Mabel

Mabel continues with her combined advice and autobiography.

In my last post I explained my increasing attachment to Charlie Chaplin. Following Mabel at The Wheel, we began to discuss in detail our plans for the future of comedy, and Charlie revealed that he aimed to form his own studio. This shook me somewhat, because Chas was only just starting in pictures. Apparently, he’d been planning this for two years, and that got me thinking – what if I could could throw in my lot with Chas, as I had done with Mack? Together we could achieve great things that would completely eclipse Keystone. Along with K & B, I considered Chas and I, as something of a dream team, but so did Mack, and he soon threw a stick into our spokes. He told K & B that he needed to put us into separate films, and would only pair us in the occasional picture. He didn’t want to make a team of us, in case we took that team elsewhere. I was already

0Race 4 Life2c

A typical day at the office.

established with other Keystone players, but poor old Charlie, who was now directing, had to find a leading lady. I determined to fix it so that Chas did not get anyone too good, and I whispered to Mack that he might try Peggy Page (real name Helen Carruthers). She was a lovely girl, and attractive, if plain, but would never make stardom. Chaplin was ambivalent, because, although Helen could respond well to him, she could not initiate any action herself. This suited me just fine. However, an actress arrived on the scene who, I’m sure, Mack was going to make into a virtual Mabel. Not only did she resemble me, but Mack began to coach her to act like me. Her name was Dixie Chene. Dixie began as atmosphere, but Mack threw her into Gentlemen of Nerve, with Chas and myself. When I watched the film’s rushes, I thought I detected a spark of something between them, as Chas secretly sipped from Dixie’s pop bottle. She was excruciatingly pretty, so I

Dixie Mab Chas

“Get any closer dearie, and I’m gonna slug ya.” Mabel, Chas and Dixie.

set out to fix her. I accused Mack of slipping Mabel lookalikes into my pictures, and I warned him that if he gave Dixie leads, I’d walk. It worked, and Dixie did not get a good part until I’d left Keystone. She got a couple of leads in Mack’s pictures in 1915, and then left to do straight dramatics. Sadly, Dixie bombed, probably due to her being unusually tall for a 1910s actress. She towered over Chaplin, and most other leading men of those days.

Time went by, and I continued working on Chas, and even kissed him once. How lucky was he, millions of men worldwide would love to have been kissed by The Keystone Girl. You may know that I kept many men on a string over the years, when I thought their influence might be useful. Poor old Paul Bern, who I cultivated at Goldwyn, became almost suicidal, when I turned down his proposal of marriage. Don’t believe the story that he threw the intended engagement ring into a canyon. He threw the ring, with its huge diamond, at me, and I picked it up, and added it to my massive collection of engagement rings. Paul was even more emotionally unstable than I was, and I worry that he may commit suicide one day [author’s note: he did!].

edna purviance

Edna Purviance

In the end Charlie left Keystone – alone. He told me all about his $1,000 a week salary at Essanay [Endnote 1]. On his last day we had dinner together, and we had a little cry. He mentioned nothing about a leading lady, and I did not broach the subject. I felt sure he would have to phone me with an offer, but he never rang. When I next saw him, he said he’d struggled to find a lead for his films, and had tried out a moody girl called Gloria Swanson – the diva herself. She later came to Keystone, and fell in with that creep Wally Beery, who beat her up real good. I laughed myself hoarse when I heard. Well, she’d said publicly that I was crude and vulgar. I may use cuss words liberally in my sentences, but I am not vulgar. Anyway, I was very upset that Charlie had thrown me over, and whenever I saw him in a restaurant or somewhere, I shouted over to him “Charlie! I’ll be your leading lady yet! This greatly embarrassed the great man, and I heard from some

Mt_Lowe Pick

Jack Pickford was a little scamp. Here he puts snow down my back on Mount Lowe. What the Doctor Ordered (1912).

girlfriends that Chas later bitterly regretted the way he’d treated me. In any case our association would never have worked out – we were much too alike, and World War 11/2 would have broken out. He found his leading lady in the moldable Edna Purviance, who became my long-term friend. Edna was a good, fun girl, but I detected something deep in her that was a little disturbing. Chas was of the same opinion, and, after a little fling, he ended the emotional relationship he had with her. Edna did not mind, but she was extremely upset when she heard he’d married Mildred Harris. What did I think of this? I was over the moon – through Chas I had gained another girlfriend, one who was as crazy as me, and being only 15, had my immature outlook on life. Oh what fun we had, and, remembering the romps through the snow I’d had with Jack Pickford (then aged 14), while making What the Doctor Ordered, I organized a snowball-fight party way up on Mount Lowe. Along with Chas, Mildred and a whole load of friends we had a whale of a time. As you know, Chas had a whole series of wives, who I mainly adored. Mary Pickford, however, resented them, for the following reason.



When Mary married Doug Fairbanks, she was unaware that she’d married Charlie Chaplin as well. Every Sunday, when ‘The Sweetheart’ thought she would have a peaceful day in with Doug, Chaplin turned up at Pickfair, with whatever juvenile wife he had at the time. While the boys went off into the hills to hunt, Mary was left, as she later told me, doing the baby-sitting. It was such a shame, Mary was used to having mega-sized bores, like Albert Einstein and Randolph Hurst, round for dinner. I just laughed, because, you know what, that prissy bitch never, ever invited me round to her house.

I could write forever about Chaplin, but I will keep it brief. Due to my influence, Charlie became something of a party animal. Although he did not drink, Chas was always the life and soul of the party. I was at a do one night, and Charlie was there (he never held Hollywood parties at his own house). As usual he was doing charades, imitating film people, and we would have to guess who they were. I think he had done Sam Goldwyn and Ford Sterling, when he suddenly went into a dance routine, and then swooshed across the room swinging his hips in a funny sort of walk. I had noticed a pretty young girl with an amazingly fit body at the far end of the room. She suddenly broke down and burst into tears. Me being me, I ran over to the girl, and tried to console her, and asked her what was up. “It’s Charlie” she said “He’s imitating me!” At that moment Charlie came over saying “Now, now Louise, calm down, I wasn’t imitating you.” All fell into place. I knew I’d seen a girl do that walk in a film recently – her name was Louise Brooks, and she was a former Follies dancer [Endnote 2]. I was somewhat intrigued with this


Louise Brooks. She was from another planet.

girl, and stayed with her, as Charlie left to circulate in the throng. I said to her “You’re Louise Brooks aren’t you, oh I do like your hair – I think I’ll get mine bobbed like that”. Don’t bother”, she sobbed, “it’s the world’s most stupidest haircut, and as soon as I can get out of films it’s coming off, and I’ll never do that stupid walk again either.” She continued “Please don’t cut your curls, you’re my idol.” I was somewhat taken aback, and said “Why, who do you think I am?” “You’re Mabel Normand, the big film star.” Well, what can you say. When I recovered, I asked how she knew Charlie. She told me she’d met Chas in New York, while he was promoting The Gold Rush. Then, just like that, she said they’d had a two-month long affair. I did some quick calculations, and worked out that Chas’ wife, Lita Grey, was in L.A. having his child at that time. Now normally, I’d have slapped the slut’s face and stormed off in a huff. However, I was so intrigued that I determined to learn some more. Louise turned out be just about the strangest girl I’d ever met. She was unashamedly frank about what she did at the Folly (more or less a brothel), and told me she had been a call girl before that. She said she wasn’t interested in films, and was determined to meet a millionaire, and just put her feet up. Louise had been quite happy in the New York apartment, waiting for Charlie to come home every night. At the end of the two months Chas went home, leaving her a check for several thousand dollars. My god, I thought, this girl has no ambition whatsoever. I looked the gorgeous Louise up and down, and just as I thought I could even fancy her myself, she hit me with another bombshell. She said she was a lesbian! Jesus Christ, affairs with Chaplin, a cheap New York whore, and now she’s a lesbian! My head was spinning, but I tried to remain calm. “Think, think –  oh my god, she’s as mad as a hatter!”


With Roscoe in Fatty and Mabel Adrift.

As I’ve already said, I could wax lyrical about Mr. Charlie Chaplin, like forever, but you can only write so much without becoming a bore. Suffice to say that Charlie had left me in the lurch at Keystone at the end of 1914. I so much wanted to bail out of the Keystone Madhouse, but, when you’re earning $500 a week, it’s hard to walk away. I was put with Roscoe Arbuckle quite a lot, and we began to make good films. His wife, Minta (or Mintatraffie as I called her) became my close friend, and I’d visit the couple at their Santa Monica beach-house every Sunday, then swim with Roscoe to Venice and back. Minta’s family also visited, and sometimes they stayed days at a time. I heard that Roscoe was getting a bit uptight about having so many people round, so in the end I started going elsewhere. I loved visiting my married friends, their lives seemed so more serene than mine. Of course, I was just kidding myself – movie marriages seldom last.


Mabel never found out what Minta thought about this. (Adrift).


I’ll end this post with one last thought.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I led Charlie Chaplin by the nose, but I couldn’t keep a hold on him. Quite frankly, no-one could. Did I worry? I should jolly well say not (as Chaplin used to say). My mind was forever restless, and I began to plot my escape from the clutches of that control-freak, Mack Sennett, and go on to match Chaplin’s paycheck.



1. Chaplin actually signed for $1,250 per week. Charlie thought Mabel earned $200 per week at Keystone. She actually received $500 per week by the end of 1914.

2. The film was It’s the Old Army Old Game (1926).

In the next post, I tell how I used Kessell and Baumann to lever myself out of the Edendale Tip, and into – a near disaster.



Mae Marsh


Mabel continues with her combined advice and autobiography.

In August 1913, I attended a small studio party, where I met up with my old nemesis Gladys Smith, or Mary Pickford as you may know her. Although I always harbored some small resentment against her, I was always friendly towards Mary – just for old time’s sake. And, of course, those old times (just two years back) were what we always talked of. One subject that always came up, when we Biograph girls got together, was that little minx Mae Marsh. You are all undoubtedly aware that one way directors and producers seek to boost their films is by introducing scantily dressed women. However, we Biograph actresses were staunch Edwardian girls, and the whole idea of showing even a bare ankle, was anathema to us (yes I did appear in a swimsuit twice, but as an athlete, not a bathing beauty). One day Griffith approached Mary Pickford, saying he was going to star her in a film called Man’s Genesis. “You mean you want me to prance around in a grass skirt” replied the indignant Mary. “Well I won’t do it!” Mary called all the actresses together, and we all agreed to turn the part down. Later, Griffith came to us, saying that, as we had behaved so despicably, he was giving the part to the new girl on the lot, Mae Marsh. What was more annoying was the fact that she was starred in the next film ‘The Sands of Dee’. Of course, she later did the big one, ‘The Birth of a Nation’. We blackballed Miss Marsh for many years after, until she finally said this to the press:

 “Of course, I was thrilled, and she (Pickford) was very much hurt. And I thought, Well, it’s all right with me. That is something. I was, you know, just a lame-brain.”

Naturally, I have forgiven her long ago. One thing that came of this incident was an agreement between the Biograph girls that we would do only wholesome films, and we would never disrespect each other in public. We remained firm and resolute, and it was only in the late 20s that the likes of Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, and Dorothy Mackaill, began to kow-tow to the directors, and expose themselves to the detriment of the industry. I feel these actresses will soon fall [author’s note: they could and did].


Flappers and Flashers: Bow, Brooks, Mackaill

Having got that off my chest, I will tell you of the rest of my discussion with ‘America’s Sweetheart’. I told Mary that we’d received word from Adam Kessell that he was about to sign a certain Charles Spencer Chaplin, as part of his program to give us credibility by taking on actors from the legitimate stage. I had seen Chaplin perform, and knew he always had star billing (separate from his company, Karno). Mary had not seen him perform, but, amazingly, had seen him in real life – in a restaurant. The ‘Sweetheart’ went all dreamy eyed, as she described his bohemian appearance, his tousled hair, and his small, delicate hands that moved in deliberate, but subtle ways. Her companions, all silly young girls, thought he must be a Greenwich Village poet, an artist, or a writer. They were gobsmacked when told he was Charlie Chaplin, the famous vaudevillian. “Of course, you spoke to him” I said. “Well no”, she replied “, we had not been introduced!” Typical prissy Mary.


Chaplin Billing

I have to admit that I dreamed about ‘Bohemian Charlie from Bow’ for the next few days. When I was young I’d been a strange, lonely girl, and often wandered the Greenwich area hoping to meet a bohemian artist who’d want to put me on canvas. I imagined he’d whisk me away to some South Sea island, where we’d spend long hours on the beach painting each other (didn’t all artists do this?). As you know, I did become an artist’s model, but under a more commercial circumstance, and in wet and windy New York to boot. Getting back to Charlie, I was sitting in Mack’s office one day in September, casually looking through a pile of letters on his desk. I noticed one from Kessell and Baumann instructing him to get down to a certain L.A. theater and meet Chaplin, who they had now signed. “Why didn’t you tell me about this”, I shouted at Mack, “when are we going to see him!” “We’re not”, he replied. I knew why – Mack had been rejected by the theater in his early days, and had harbored a grudge ever since. However, I had no problem persuading Mack to go, as K & B would be furious if he didn’t. When the day came, we went down, and saw Charlie’s show, but I was too nervous to go backstage and meet him. I stood outside on the pavement, and Mack brought Charlie out to see me. Both Charlie and I were most embarrassed, and more stared at each other, than spoke to each other. As the great master, Griffith, always warned  – “never meet your idols”. I had come to idolize Chaplin on the stage, and he had idolized me in my films. Mack broke the ice, and suggested we all go to dinner at a restaurant. As we sat at the table I saw a great change come over Mack’s face. He’d obviously detected some chemistry between us, and thought Charlie could easily sweep me up, and gallop away, like some Arab sheik. I can understand his concern, as, if I had left Keystone in 1913 or ‘14, the studio would have been done for (Ford Sterling was already about to leave). Mack was still sulking, as he dropped me off at home, but things were obviously worse the next day, when I heard him shouting, while dictating a telegram to Adam Kessell. “I won’t have that egotistical limey here”, he raged. Of course, he was out-voted by K & B, so had to comply.

Mabels-Dramatic C8aa1

“Where’s that tin-type!” Mack on the hunt in Mabel’s Dramatic Career.


As you know Chaplin eventually arrived, but before he did so, Mack put me in Mabel’s Dramatic Career. The film was the usual Keystone nonsense, in which I am abducted by rejected suitor Ford Sterling, and tied to a barrel of gunpowder. This is, however, all on a film, shown within the actual film, and Mack is seen watching the picture. I was his former love, and Mack loses it, and fires his pistol at the screen. I remember making a scene, which I thought was the final one, in which the ‘villain’  (played by Ford Sterling) and I are married, and have three children – the usual happy ending. For some reason, I never saw all the rushes, and only saw the completed picture at a cinema with some of my friends. We were all shocked, for scenes had been inserted, which showed Mack hunting down the ‘villain’ to our house, then, seeing me and the children with him, he prepared to kill us all. In those days such things were not portrayed in comedies, and the inference was clear. If Chaplin ever laid a finger on The Keystone Girl, Mack would kill him (and, in all probability, me too).


Could Chaplin be the Sheik?

When the day came, and Chaplin did arrive, I kept well clear of him, and Chaplin, who must have seen the film, made no attempt to see me. Mack tried to keep us apart professionally, but eventually had to bring us together. We were stuck for some gags in an early scene for Mabel’s Strange Predicament, and Mack called Charlie over to provide some of his English Music Hall gags, for which he was well known. Charlie complied, and did his now famous tramp routine for the first time. He ran through his one minute long repertoire, which had us all in stitches, and then did a 13 second filmed scene with me.


Chas and Mabel get personal in a hotel minus a roof.

He was then whisked away to shoot a short picture in Venice, under Pathe Lehrman. We continued filming without Chas, but, on his return, we shot more scenes with him. Chas seemed more confident in his new costume, got up to speed, and finished up chasing me around the hotel in my pajamas. I felt obliged to keep up with the tramp for professional reasons, but the tuberculosis, which I was now suffering from, was sapping my energy. I ended up mentally and physically exhausted by the film’s end. Again, things happened in the film, of which I was totally unaware. It seems Chaplin was given an extension to the hotel lobby scene, in which I appeared for 13 seconds, making the scene almost a minute long. My scene where I pause outside, before entering the hotel, was meant to be the first scene, but was relegated to the third scene. I was absolutely furious, and charged into Mack’s office, ranting and stamping my feet, as I did in the park scene for His Trysting Place. I told Mack to keep the limey tramp out of my pictures.


I nearly got killed riding on the back of Chaplin’s sickle. Mabel at The Wheel.

Two months went by, and K & B decided I should be paired with Chas for the two-reeler, Mabel at The Wheel. This was my big one, as two-reelers were a new innovation. I had the expected big argument with Mack, telling him the limey would steal my picture. Mack simply shrugged his shoulders, saying “Orders is Orders.” O.K.”, I said, ” I’ll do the film, but I must have directorial control, and there is to be no tramp costume!” Alright, alright”, said Mack, and we set to making the picture. Poor old Chas was completely unsettled, when he saw me behind the camera, out on location in Santa Monica. Of course, he got all shirty, and began trying to change all the scenes. Nevertheless, we got a lot done, but Chas went on strike mid-afternoon. This was disastrous, as it was an expensive film, and we could not afford any hold ups. With so much film shot, I could not fire ‘Mr. Ego’, so I ordered everyone back to the studio. Of course Mack soon spotted that we were back two hours early, and flew out of his office. “What the..” he ranted. “That Englisher refused to work”, I said. Mack charged into the dressing room and confronted Chas, threatening to fire him. Of course he could not fire Chas, and in the ensuing long-distance wire, Kessell told him to smooth things over with the tramp, who was making


Part way through this scene Chas went on strike.

them a whole load of bucks. Things were smoothed over, and we both realized that a leading lady is never in competition with her leading man. Consequently, we combined our efforts, and directed each other in our joint films. In effect, we had both won. Mack was never happy about Chas, though, and even put private dicks on my tail, to see if I was meeting up with the tramp. He had heard that we were getting together in my dressing room, and sometimes ‘stealing’ a company car to go into L.A. when we were bored with filming.

Dining every night with Mack at The Athletic Club was becoming very tiresome, and his friends there were also un-charismatic and dull. Chas had taken a room at the club, and I suggested we should have him along with us. Mack agreed, only because he would know where we were every night. Fortunately, boring old Mack always fell asleep after dinner, so we two would skip off to see a show or a picture, waking the old boy up when we returned. Oh, how young, and how gay we were, in those days before the storms hit us.

The lesson in all of this is not to dismiss any person or their views, you can always learn something from your fellow actors. Your enemies are in the studio office, not on the set. Furthermore, never head for the dressing room as soon as you’ve done your bit – those bums might be filming you right out of the picture.


* In part 4 I tell how Chas and I learned advanced comedy, and I get to understand how to manipulate the studio system.