A Source Book to Her Life and Films
By William Thomas Sherman
A Source Book To
Her Life and Films
Copyright © 2000, 2004, 2006 William Thomas Sherman
Text last updated: 19 June 2013
Copyright © 1921/23/24/29/30 articles from those dates by The New York Times Company.
For First edition: TXu 620-006, 1/27/94
Second Revised Edition, TXu-946-817, 4/12/04
Fifth Revised Edition, TXu-310-601, 6/22/06
ISBN for 5th edition: 0-9787684-2-6 (hardcover version)
ISBN for 5th edition: 0-9787684-6-9 (softbound version)
William Thomas Sherman
1604 NW 70th St.
Seattle, WA 98117
website: http://www.gunjones.com ; see also http://www.scribd.com/wsherman_1
Mabel Normand Home Page can be found at:
http://www.mn-hp.com and or http://www.angelfire.com/mn/hp/index.html
The following individuals either directly or indirectly were of great assistance: Bruce Long, Joe Moore, Marilyn Slater, Jack Hardy, Don Schneider of the Movie Museum (Owosso, Michigan), Sam Gill, Dave Thomas Films, Karyn Lamborn, Jack Thiem, Anthony Slide, William Meyer, David Shepard, George Katchmer, Sam Rubin, Sue Laimans, Anita Garvin Stanley, Joe Adamson, Randy Miller, Eric Stogo, R. E. Braff, Ned Comstock, David Shephard, Robert Birchard, Robert Gitt, Steve Rydzewski, Stephanie Ogle, Don Metcalf, Robb Farr, Chester Clarke, Kenneth Garvick, George and Rebecca Latsios, William Drew, Chris Snowden, Len Corneto, Anthony N. Susnick, Arnie Berstein, Leslie Evans, Pierre Pageau, and Stephen Normand. Also thanks to the staffs of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their help with the Mack Sennett papers; the University of Southern California Library, Special Collections, for their help with the King Vidor and Hal Roach papers, and MGM Archives; the staffs at the Library of Congress, Media Collections; the Downtown Los Angeles Public Library, The Los Angeles County Law Library, The General Research Library of University of California at Los Angeles; American Film Institute Library and the Hollywood Museum.
Dedicated to Marilyn Slater,
whose love and enthusiasm provided this project new life when most needed.
The Mabel Normand Source Book has gone through a number of transformations since its initial inception. And although I knew back in the earliest phase of this project that there is and just about always has been mysteries surrounding Mabel’s story, little did I realize the very strange kinds of difficulties and puzzling questions I would end up encountering.
Probably the most remarkable that came up was the question “were there actually two ‘Mabel Normand’s?’” Or, put somewhat differently, did Mabel have a regular double who at different times performed starring roles under her name? Although I have been understandably reluctant to broach the subject previously, it may after all indeed be the case that Mabel did have a frequent double who was used in some of her films, and who people took, and to this day, take to be Mabel Normand, but who was an entirely different person, and who was or was not actually related to her by family. When I brought this to someone’s attention recently, they thought I might be joking. First then let me be plain – no, I am not joking. To give you a sense of what this is about, take for instance the Mabel we see in Oh, Those Eyes (1912) in contrast to the one in Tomboy Bessie (1912); or the Mabel in The Speed Kings (1913) and the Mabel in Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913); the Mabel in the 1915 “Fatty and Mabel” shorts and the one in Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916); the Mabel in What Happened to Rosa (1921) and the one in Molly O’ (1921) and Suzanna (1922); the Mabel we see in Raggedy Rose (1926) versus the one we see in The Nickel-Hopper (1926); the Mabel of The Extra Girl (1923), and the one photographed in 1927 with Charlie Chaplin at a movie premiere (as shown in an insert in Betty Fussell’s Mabel: Hollywood’s First I Don’t Care Girl, just after page 82.) In viewing these films and photographs you will see a noticeable and significant difference in how “Mabel” appears. Though these discrepancies of appearance do not themselves prove the fact, yet they are, notwithstanding, very striking in what might be their implication. Nor must we rely on mere surface appearances in order to determine if there is or is not something more to this suspicion. For example, one possible thing to look for in attempting to distinguish the one from the other Mabel, and on more reliable forensic grounds, is teeth. It would seem the real Mabel’s teeth have a very slight unevenness; whereas the “other” Mabel’s are more smooth and straight.
Now those who have studied silent films stars more closely will know that it is very true, the same person can look very different due to both personal reasons and how they are photographed. Nonetheless, on the basis of such as the film examples given above, and other evidence, such as the inordinately large number of films credited to Mabel, or Keystone contemporary Fred J. Balshofer’s casual yet tellingc remark:
“He [Henry Lehrman] saw the picture with Mabel in the bathing suit, his always nimble mind clicked. He suggested a bevy of bathing beauties for the [Keystone] stock company, and out of this idea grew the Mack Sennett bathing beauties. Among the early bathing beauties to join the company was a beautiful sixteen-year-old who looked enough like Mabel Normand to pass as her twin sister. She not only had the looks but a plan she thought was the path to becoming a star, and she wasted no time in displaying her charms,” (One Reel a Week, page 81)
I believe the question is at least now worth tabling. And even if there is only such as the above to support such radical speculation, could one continue (being acquainted with such anomalies) afford to remain completely silent? As disagreeable as the inference is that there were two “Mabel’s,” I must be honest, and do then state that I myself am inclined to believe there were to some as yet unknown or at least unclear extent. Yet this asserted, I candidly concede I may somehow after all be wrong in this conjecture, and there may be an alternative explanation to these disparities. As well, there is the not unimportant question -- even if there was this second “Mabel,” how frequently was she actually employed (to represent the other?) And, of course, we will not be surprised to find someone who would dismiss such a claim as preposterous to begin with.
Yet others, as well, will perhaps not be so easily satisfied with this Ben Turpin-like solution -- but for other reasons, and might contend that if there were two Mabel Normand’s then this of itself makes her out to be a fraud, and consequently not worth bothering with. Although myself not a little irked, not to mentioned embarrassed, by having to adopt such a conclusion as I do, I think the more sensible course is simply to revise our outlooks, and at least be more cautious and circumspect when we discuss Mabel and or her films. If there was something unethical in what these purported two did, there can be little doubt that they did ultimately suffer for it, perhaps terribly. In and for this we should have compassion, while being prepared to adapt, as necessary, to a major change in our understanding of the silent film comedienne and her career.
For whether it is Mabel Normand I or the alleged Mabel Normand II being viewed, we are in both instances still seeing a very interesting and talented person who, in either case, stands out as someone unique and extraordinary in silent films. Though I can go no further than this preface in addressing this question, and the main text will continue to speak of Mabel Normand as one person, my raising the issue here, it is hoped, will at least dispel some darkness and possible confusion, while assisting others who might in future be better situated than myself at present to look into and consider it.
This said and despite, there is an essential unity to the career of “Mabel Normand” such that I think the Source Book can nonetheless inform and aid in making sense of the facts -- that is as long as we are not willfully blind to what this double theory might suggest or imply. At the very least we’ve acknowledge the possibility of the problem. And though, for example, the remarks and reflections made concerning Mabel in my essays, may after all, pertain to someone different than Mabel proper, nevertheless, who and what I am describing and discussing are real and of value – only we must be wary of and alert to the possible difference with respect to identity – infrequently though this problem might arise. Extremely awkward as this is, far better it than either believing something mistaken or else thoughtlessly tossing aside what is otherwise still of obvious worth, interest, and significance.
Some might understandably be shocked or perhaps even feel some anguish by the suggestion of their being a regular double. Yet, if we stop and think, this is only because the conclusion forces us to admit there is much we don’t know – and which we otherwise thought we did. Granted the additional complication can hardly be seen as something welcome. Yet the simple remedy to this dilemma is patience and further research. In time, what at first seems alarming to accept and difficult to assent to, can be made less perplexing and easier to grasp. So that what was earlier a great novelty will, as a result of being better explained and understood become so familiar to us as to become old hat.
The mystery of the (possible) two Mabel’s is far from being the only controversy that remains. There is still much to be known and understood generally about what was really going on in the gathering, construction, and dismantling of silent era Hollywood, not to mention the “true story” behind many of the more well-known scandals, such as the William Desmond Taylor case. Yet this then is in part what history and biography are all about; namely to make the record more clear and better comprehended. Our erring along the way is only human, and yet pardonable, as long as our quest for the truth is just, sincere and disinterested.
William Thomas Sherman