“I loved Florence Turner and Mary Fuller, but every fiber in my body responded to Flora Finch‘s celebrated comedies; and though I was quite unconscious of it, I can see now that I was always wondering how I would do the funny little stunts she did in her pictures. And, quite likely, figuring my way would be better!
“And to give you a sidelight on another angle of our early history: I had nobody to tell me what to do. Dramatic actresses had the stage to fall back on, the sure-fire hits of theatrical history in pose and facial expression; but I had to do something that nobody had ever done before.
“I had no precedent, nothing to imitate, for Flora Finch‘s art, based as it was on her angularity and candidly exploited homeliness, never would have fitted me. Other comediennes with equal frankness got their laughs with their fat bodies or their somewhat ghastly grotesquery of gesture.
“Since all previous laughs had been achieved through the spoken word and, in our early days, through slapstick hokey, I had to cleave a new path to laughter through the wilderness of the industry’s ignorance and inexperience. I created my own standard of fun, simply letting spontaneity and my inborn sense of what is mirth-provoking guide me, for no director ever taught me a thing.” 45
There are two key elements to Mabel Normand’s screen art. The first of these is her ability to be both romantically appealing and boisterously funny at the same time. Traditionally, though with some exception, the funny women in common stage dramas and vaudeville were of ungainly appearance; their grotesque features and manners being what usually made them amusing. Flora Finch, for instance, the then popular Vitagraph comedienne (with whom Mabel made at least one film), was noticeably tall and thin. Mabel on the other hand demonstrated that it was possible for someone to be both very pretty and not only amusing but even rollicking. The humor here is of a paradoxical kind, arising out of the contrast between her petite prettiness, and her willful, sometimes rowdy conduct. Being beautiful and acting funny perhaps seems easy and simple enough for an attractive actress to do. But pulling it off effectively on screen, in a slapstick environment no less, is a good deal more challenging; for it demands an actress to do nothing less than balance and reconcile the ridiculous and the sublime. This in turn requires a more than normal perceptivity of self and other persons in the immediate surroundings. It is an intuitive and sympathetic kind of intelligence based on a natural understanding of human feelings and character, as opposed to something learned through academic or scientific instruction. Part of what makes it all work is that she avoids trying to upstage other players, indeed, is often empathetic toward them, while not above making herself the object of her humor. For this the audience understood, more easily related to and excused her when she otherwise went wild or acted up.
A newspaper reporter once asked her whether it was hard for a pretty woman to be a success in film comedy:
“‘Yes,’ she answered. ‘Most pretty girls who go into comedy work are content to be merely pretty. The great difference is to put character into acting without either distorting your face or using comedy make-up. Anyone who photographs well can walk on a scene and flirt with the comedian which is all that most good-looking girls are required to do in comedies. It takes very little ability on their part for all they have to do is follow direction. (And here Miss Normand gave an imitation of a comedy coquette flirting according to the commands of her director). But to make a farce heroine more than a mere doll, you must think out the situation yourself and above all you must pay great attention to every little detail in the scene. The little bits of business that seem insignificant are what make good comedy.’” 46
The second key element to Mabel Normand’s film art is her emotional fluidity: that is, her remarkable ability to go from one emotion to another in a credible and convincing manner. The range of feeling she could express was by any standard phenomenal. And despite their rapid frequency, the emotions are authentic and ring true. Indeed, she is even believable when we know her character in the story is merely pretending the emotion.
A nominal instance, of which there really are countless, of Mabel’s agility to skip from one emotion to another with swiftness and ease is in the Keystone short Those Country Kids. She is sitting at the edge of a well with Roscoe Arbuckle, as a rural bumpkin, standing beside her. The two are amicably chatting and laughing together when Roscoe, with his big frame, accidentally knocks into her into the well. She falls backward and almost plummets into the well but that her legs hold to the well’s rim. Roscoe, aghast, apologizes as he helps her back up. After reassuming her seated position, she vehemently gives him a good whack in the face with her hand; to which he responds by bawling. Seeing that she’s made him sad, Mabel immediately attempts to console him, and the two make up. This approximately minute long sequence ends with her putting her arms around the distraught Roscoe and saying (in effect) “There, there, it’s o.k.”
Mabel’s father, Claude Normand, at one time was a small theater and club pianist, and all her life Mabel showed a conspicuous love and devotion to music,47 and this is reflected overtly in a number of her films. In Hot Stuff, A Strong Revenge, and Mabel Lost and Won, we see her dancing, playing piano in Troublesome Secretaries, and singing Caught in A Cabaret. Like Chaplin, the mutability of her gestures and emotions has a pronounced musical quality, with her exaggerated gestures and movements on screen subtly synchronized to and with deeper emotions she herself ostensibly feels within. A comparison might be to dancing in which a dancer’s physical movements change to the movement and beat of the melody and rhythm, and, with respect to acting on screen, as if she were “dancing” to the succession of action and emotions in a given scene. This is easier to understand when we realize that there might be performing musicians, for example violinists, banjo players, pianists, etc., present when a film was being shot.48 Music accompanying filming, however, was only made standard practice by the time of the later Goldwyn and Sennett features, and could not always be had at Keystone except when filming indoors.
Mabel Normand’s basic screen technique (as opposed to her “art”), as found in her slapstick films, also involved two essential aspects:
1. Physical gestures
2. Facial expressions
A simple, general listing suffices to give us a good idea of the kind of comic mime technique she had at her disposal; bearing in mind that each of these gestures or expression is not infrequently used in conjunction with one or more of the others.
1.) Physical gestures:
* Leaning forward and shaking her fist or pointing her finger (as if threatening vengeance)
* Clapping her hands together (to say “oh my”)
* In Fatty and Mabel at the San Diego Exposition, in a fit of vengeful rage, she spits into her hands and rubs them together as if to show that she’s going to “give it” to Roscoe when she gets her hands on him. See also Mabel’s Busy Day.
* Putting her hand into her hair, throwing her head back in utter consternation
* Fluttering her hat in quick, rhythmic palpitation out of excitement or unfounded dread -- see Fatty and Mabel’s Married Life, and Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life
2.) Facial Expressions:
* Disdainful pouting
* Crying or weeping, with accompanying heaving chest
* Smiling, energetic glee
* Mimicking (in an exaggerated or ridiculous way) someone else’s anger or fuddy-duddy disposition.
* Receiving a blackberry pie in the face and crossing her eyes as she looks up
* Making a small circle with her mouth, much like Betty Boop, in a moment of surprise, shock or dismay
* Winking her eye knowingly (as if to say “exactly!” or “you get it?”)
* Looking coyly or skeptically off to the side
* Eyes looking up to heaven (perhaps crossed also) when distraught (as if to say “why me?”)
One device Mabel employed, as pointed out by Sam Peebles, in Classic Film Collector, Aug. 1970, is the screen aside. With this, she would look into the camera and make some kind of facial comment about the action taking place, similar to a stage actor’s aside (to the audience.) Films where we find this include Tomboy Bessie, Mabel’s Married Life, Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life and Wished on Mabel.
For all the fun she created and displayed, Mabel took what she did seriously and usually with affectionate enthusiasm. On screen she is typically very energetic, and this energy tends to inspire and impart itself to those with and around her. She often acts in such a way, usually on films made within the studio, that one can, with little difficulty, imagine a lively audience cheering her on. Somewhat similarly, she is sometimes like a child at play. In Katchem Kate, for instance, she portrays a junior detective who disguises herself as one of a band of male outlaws, and the effect is one of an imaginative child playing “cops and robbers” or “cowboys and Indians.”
A WORD ABOUT THE STUNTS
“I have had to dive and swim in rough ocean scenes. I have fought with bears, fallen out of a rapidly moving automobile, jumped off a second story roof into a flower bed and risked life, limb and peace of mind in innumerable ways -- and all to make people laugh. Some work days I have gone home and cried with ache in body and heart and at the very moment of my misery thousands of theater-goers were rocking in their seats with laughter at some few scenes in which I had worked a few weeks before.
“But the heart-breaking scenes are not everyday occurrences. In many of the pictures the parts we play we love just as much as the audiences that see the finished product exhibited. There is the sweet and the bitter, much the same as in any other profession or business in which a girl makes her living.” 49
There is some controversy about which, if any, of her stunts prior to 1916 Mabel used a double for. Although Sennett’s thriftiness alone might suggest or attest Mabel did most of them herself, both tradition and the extant films themselves also do or seem to support this interpretation. The following are a list of some of these:
Dives off rock cliff into a river -- The Squaw’s Love
Flies aloft in a Curtiss-Pusher 1913 vintage aircraft -- A Dash Through the Clouds
Dives off pier -- The Diving Girl, The Water Nymph
Rides a fast horse -- Cohen Saves the Flag
Is tied to railroad track with oncoming locomotive approaching -- Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life
Engages in brick-throwing fights -- A Muddy Romance, Mabel at the Wheel
Is dragged through the mud while hanging onto a rope -- A Muddy Romance
Goes up alone in a hot air balloon – Mabel’s New Hero
Rides tandem with Chaplin on motorcycle -- Mabel at the Wheel
Drives an auto racing car -- Mabel at the Wheel
Flies up in the air after her auto mobile explodes, then lands hanging by her hands from a tree limb -- Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life
Dives off bridge -- The Little Teacher
Is tied to a rock in the ocean -- My Valet
Rests atop a house floating at sea -- Fatty and Mabel Adrift
There are a few anecdotes related of Mabel pulling pranks in real life, such as when she reportedly tormented Nick Cogley with smoking smudge pots as he attempt to convalesce at home while recuperating from a leg injury50 -- which show that she herself was (at least in her younger days) not above playing roughly. As well, it is common to come across accounts or claims of her using bad language. Presumably there is some truth behind both of these kinds of stories and reminiscences – but exactly how much is easily exaggerated and difficult now to say.
“Chester Conklin: Gloria [Swanson] thought Mabel was rude and coarse.
“Minta Durfee: Mabel was not coarse, and she was not vulgar. She was fun. All the time. It was Gloria who saw herself as a great tragedienne.”51
On Screen with Other Famous Laugh-Makers
“What a lovely memory it is! How the great genius of today crept, humble and discouraged, into my bungalow and told me his dreams and listened to mine; how we planned bits of business and little mannerism’s; how he decided to develop the queer shuffling little walk of an old coster-monger he once saw in Whitechapel -- the famous Chaplin walk with the big shoes and little skip and hop when he turned aside.
“Nappy (Mack Sennett) turned him over to me and I directed several of his pictures, in some of which I also played. And while it would be folly and untrue for me to say I am responsible for very much of his present standing as the screen artist beyond compare, yet I’m proud to say that he held my hand while he found his way through the swamp of learning the game. That Charlie is prompt to acknowledge the strength he found in my arm is one of the happy spots in my life.” 52
Until the arrival of Chaplin at Keystone in early 1914, she was without a screen co-star who could artistically rival her when it came to character probing, finer shading, and depth. Mabel’s screen gesture’s and mannerisms are usually more subtle and understated than either Sterling’s and Sennett‘s. Although Sterling, who worked in the circus before entering films, is often brushed aside a comedian who overacted, he was actually (or could be) a devastating mimic. And in a providing a bouncing energy that livened up the proceedings, he could be quite hilarious, even perfect, in a slapstick film. “Mabel’s” grabbing an attacker’s hand (usually that of a masher) and biting it was evidently a piece of comedy taken from him.53 Unfortunately, however, the Keystone assembly line way of doing things is too frequently in reflected in the quality of his performances, and it was in part and perhaps in recognition of Sterling talent suffering for this reason that Chaplin later demanded for himself greater control over his own films.54 Sennett as comedian could be amusing but only if used in small doses; otherwise he would become tiresome. Fred Mace, on the other hand, was (at least at that time) perhaps more comically adept, or at least had a greater emotional range, than Sennett or Sterling, yet he did not make for a good romantic comic lead (so often required in the stories) or a very convincing villain and was typically cast incidentally as a fatherly or elderly type such as in The Bangville Police – perhaps his best Keystone short.
There’s not much special chemistry between players because there is rarely little nicety or subtlety on the part of the male players. A film like The Ragtime Band, for example, is excellent, but it is a comedy that doesn’t require very much or special interaction between leads Normand and Sterling. While the performances are both good, they are not really dependent on each other. Later, Arbuckle was a considerable improvement over Sterling and Sterling as a comic leading man. Yet it was Chaplin alone, with his raw talent and sheer brilliance, who actually had it in his power to throw Mabel off balance and, as a result, cause her to feel less secure about her superiority.
Despite stories and accounts otherwise, Chaplin comes off as very self-confident in his first films. He may have been a shy person off the set, but on it he apparently had little or no inhibitions. With Chaplin then, she was at last confronted with someone who was more than a screen match for her. At first, Mabel regarded the English newcomer as someone who needed her guidance. And Chaplin did learn much from her, including borrowing certain facial expressions, such as her look of pouting disdain. Yet as time went on, Mabel found that she herself could also benefit and draw from him similarly.
Sennett‘s biographer Gene Fowler makes the following perspicacious comparison between Chaplin and Mabel as comics: “Miss Normand has been likened to Charlie Chaplin. Despite the environment of slap-stick with the Ford Sterling genre of muscular comedy, Mabel had the inherent quality of Chaplin‘s grace and expression, his ability to represent pathos beneath the comic veneer. It is no slur on her craftsmanship to suggest that she lacked the masterly understatement which distinguished the performance of the Lime-house Garrick. Perhaps the fundamental difference between these gifted person was that Mabel’s irrepressible personality dominated her art, whereas Chaplin’s consummate art towered above his personality and bent it to the will of genius.”55
One of the biggest impacts Chaplin had on the Keystone films was that with his arrival the films became less of a group effort. His very clever, well defined and prepossessed Little Tramp stands out in stark contrast to the usual ensemble cast. 56 He almost always seems a step a head of everyone else in his ability to come up with a joke or sight gag, with even Mabel having to take a back seat much of the time.
Yet due to his marked individuality and foreign background, he was also deemed something of an outsider at Keystone; and, frankly, too much competition.57 In fact, probably his only and closest friends during his stay there were Ford Sterling and Mabel, both of whom were instrumental in their support of him during his first months as an unknown quantity at the studio.58
In the films of 1914, there is a certain decline in her carefree appearance. One can sense some tension on Mabel’s part, suggesting perhaps the possible strain of Chaplin‘s presence on both her work and then romantic relationship with Sennett, and there is more than a little ill-concealed playful flirting between Chaplin and herself in their films together. Interestingly, some audiences of the time (1915-1918) did tend to think of Chaplin and Mabel as a team, sometimes listing them side by side as among their favorite male and female comedians in movie magazine letters and polls.
The films Mabel made with him are, for a variety of reasons, fascinating to watch, and much of them, hold up very well as entertainment. Probably the best films they made together are Mabel’s Married Life, A Gentleman of Nerve, His Trysting Place, and the feature Tillie’s Punctured Romance.
Tillie’s Punctured Romance, released November 14, 1914, was Sennett’s big gamble at making the first feature length comedy film. At the time, movies were only beginning to gain acceptance by the public at large, and casting well-known stage-actress/comedienne, Marie Dressler, as central lead, was thought to be necessary to give the film the requisite respectability. Sennett then bought the rights to Dressler’s previously successful stage play “Tillie’s Nightmare” and placed Chaplin and Mabel in supporting roles.
One can’t but have some strong mixed feelings about this film. The story line is unduly crass and insensitive, e.g. Tillie is the butt of most of the jokes without having much of any redeeming qualities about her. Though rescued by the Keystone Cops, and though Charlie, the swindler, and Mabel, the bad girl, get their comeuppance, Tillie loses her love and fortune, with nothing but the lesson gained. It is then a rather cynical comedy insofar as no one in the film ends up being happy, and Marie Dressler‘s simply getting kicked around as Tillie, while futilely trying to fight back (the film’s central joke), shows rather poor taste and gets to be tiresome. Dressler herself, this being her first film, tends to over act, and this doesn’t help. As well the picture is rather episodic and choppy, and camera movement non-existent.
Yet in spite of its flaws, “Tillie” has much going for it as a both enjoyable and, in its peculiar way, original film. Chaplin and Mabel, backed by an uniformly and energetic cast, give sparkling performances. Though it is somewhat discomforting to see the two cast in the role of unabashed villains, albeit comic ones, their moments together are nevertheless quite pleasing, indeed something of a joy. In trying to bring join Keystone with the better known world of the stage, Sennett -- no doubt unintentionally -- created an almost surreal vision, merging Keystone roustabout with the theatrical world of the stage. Certainly there’s no other feature like “Tillie,” made before or since; which is a shame as far as Mabel’s films go; since it is a vehicle that presented her in a unique comedic light. The film allows her to be a Keystone caricature while granting her more space to create more depth for herself. The world of Mabel’s later features, by contrast, is much more conventional and realistic than the almost fantastical world of “Tillie.” The high tempo of individual scenes seems to suit her performance well, and we can safely assume that musicians were regularly playing while scenes were being filmed; so rhythmically musical are the movements of the players.
Notwithstanding his enormous size, Arbuckle did not dominate Mabel’s films the way Chaplin did. This is in part because there was less friction between the two and since Arbuckle does not seem to have felt romantically toward Mabel in the way Chaplin did. One never thinks of Roscoe’s “Fatty” deliberately pushing or kicking “Mabel” the way Chaplin‘s early tramp might. Roscoe and Mabel, rather, play together more as jolly comrades. Chaplin and Mabel, by contrast, had some degree of personal involvement and this affected their working screen relationship, both for bad and for good. Roscoe, on the other hand, generally approaches “Mabel” more deferentially, as if she were actually his sister, rather than as a potential screen rival or else object of off-screen affection.
Arbuckle was at Keystone a year prior Chaplin‘s arrival. During that time, he was much the innocent babe, and had not acquired that sometime leer in his look and manners that we can assume was not of much help years later when scandal hit. He was originally hired to replace Fred Mace, from whom he ostensibly acquired up a number of comic mannerisms. Mabel made quite a number of shorts with Roscoe; many of which are excellent one and two reelers, the first being Passions He Had Three, released June 5, 1913. When Chaplin, attracted by bigger money and the opportunity of an independent say over production control, departed Keystone for Essanay in 1915, Mabel and Roscoe were officially re-teamed for a special series together. Not that they had been completely apart all this while, only they had been making less films together due to more of her time being taken up with Chaplin‘s films.
By January 1915 when the “Fatty and Mabel” series commenced, production values had improved considerably at the studio. As for Mabel, she seems more noticeably confident and sure of herself on screen than previously. Yet simultaneously this further maturity tended to make her actions somewhat less spontaneous. Still, she is as pretty, if not prettier, than before. On this point, it is hard to say which specific film year between (and including) 1912 and 1916 that she most looks her best. For, though her appearance did naturally change over time, throughout her both very happy and (at the same time) turbulent life she almost always possessed a cheerful, affectionate quality about her. Pictures of her spanning these particular years evince steady emotional growth; yet most of the time she continues to evince a fresh, youthful air.
In the “Fatty and Mabel” films the two title characters have a proclivity for mischief, at the expense of conventional respectability, usually a Keystone Cop or Mabel’s parents. In Wished on Mabel and Mabel’s Wilful Way, “Mabel,” at the park, runs away from her parents respectively to play with flirting Roscoe. Their ideas of fun include feeding a bear an ice cream cone, and going down an amusement park slide.
Yet “Fatty and Mabel” films, in fact, are somewhat risqué, even by later standards, dealing as they do with marital infidelity, in particular Mabel and Fatty’s Wash Day, Mabel, Fatty and the Law, That Little Band of Gold. This, of course, was nothing new itself, and went back to the Lumière and Pathé comedies of France. This plot device was also used in earlier Keystone in films like, Mabel’s Strategem, Mabel’s Married Life, Getting Acquainted. What is unusual in addition is that the philanderers are comic book “Fatty” and girlish “Mabel;” with their childlike qualities comically at odds with their more serious adult behavior. In Wash Day Roscoe plays with Mabel’s undergarments on the clothes-line. As well in Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life there is a surprising sequence where she shoots milk from a cow’s udder at him through a hole in a fence through which he is peeking. These gags reflect an openness and defiance which some would understandably have and did take exception to. Even so, I think one still finds Mabel or Arbuckle likeable, even though we don’t especially care for the gag. Such ribald instances, in any case, are the exception. Most of what is in the 1915 Fatty and Mabel series is done in good taste, and is otherwise innocuous enough as family entertainment.
After the Fatty and Mabel series, Mabel briefly had a new co-star in Owen Moore (Mary Pickford‘s former husband) who appeared with her in Mabel Lost and Won and The Little Teacher. Moore was a change from past co-stars insofar as he played a dapper leading man in contrast to the preposterous characters of Sterling, Chaplin and Arbuckle. This change also permits Mabel herself to be more ladylike and delicate. The Little Teacher is an odd three reeler which has her in the role of a school teacher minding a class of over grown, riotous school children (played by adults.) Though visually obstreperous with Arbuckle and Sennet in the cast, The Little Teacher still manages to be calm and pleasant in parts with Mabel playing the more placid role of a country school teacher.
In the summer of 1915, Sennett and the Keystone company, as part of the New York Motion Picture Company, and in partnership with D. W. Griffith and Thomas Ince became part of the New York City based Triangle Picture Corporation. The formation of Triangle Corporation was a calculated and well-mounted effort to improve the quality of films, while at the same time attempting to more strictly dominate distribution and exhibition -- a scheme which later proved a fiasco and financial failure. The Keystone comedies made in this interval consequently became known as Triangle-Keystone films.
Mabel made five films for Triangle-Keystone, My Valet, Stolen Magic, Fatty and Mabel Adrift, He Did and He Didn’t, and The Bright Lights. Three of these films, My Valet, Fatty and Mabel Adrift and He Did and He Didn’t, are known to survive and all are exceptional for their relatively lavish production values. My Valet features, popular stage actor-comedian gone Hollywood, Raymond Hitchcock. He in turn is supported by Sennett, Mabel, and Fred Mace, the latter having returned to Keystone after his unhappy independent venture. It was one of the first films put out by the Triangle company and proved to be something of a minor box office success.59
Not everything, though, had worked towards the better. In 1915, Mabel had gone through at least two very serious mishaps, one involving a severe head injury she accidentally received at the hands of Mae Busch, and, the other, of course and related to the first, her break-up with Mack Sennett. By 1916, she appears more pallid than before. Although she’s retains her loveliness, the luminous gleam of youth has already started to fade. But if by 1916 Mabel had already begun to look drawn and weary, so as well, of course, had the world itself.
The last three films she made for Keystone, and her last as well with Arbuckle, were high budget two and three reelers. Two of these, Fatty and Mabel Adrift and He Did and He Didn’t are memorable films and represent the polished culmination of the two stars’ auspicious teaming together. Fatty and Mabel Adrift is one of the most well-known of Mabel’s films, and one most frequently replayed for audiences. Its welcome reception over all the years speaks as well as any critic’s praise could with respect to its appeal and long standing merit. He Did and He Didn’t is very much unlike anything else Arbuckle or Mabel had appeared in up to this time, and one is hard put to call it a comedy. The story is one that only could be told through the medium of film due to its use of a dream sequence of two of its characters. In this somewhat somber and unusual film, Mabel plays the wife of affluent doctor, Arbuckle. An old childhood beau of Mabel’s, William Jefferson, stays for dinner and the night, with the result that unvoiced feelings of jealousy are aroused in Arbuckle. He Did and He Didn’t then involves dream sequences which the viewer at first is lead to believe represent reality. Roscoe in a fit of jealous rage strangles Mabel. Thinking her dead, he leaves the room. She awakes and taking a pistol fires at him as he goes down stairs. It turns out, however, that this is all a bad dream that both Arbuckle‘s and Jefferson’s characters are having simultaneously. The film ends with everybody being alive and well, and Mabel found to be sleeping soundly and snugly in her (separate) bed, unaware of all that has transpired. Addressing the theme of jealousy in a more serious way as it does, the film may have been an indirect statement by Arbuckle on Mabel and Sennett’s romantic falling out. It is perhaps more nightmare-like than comic, and, in retrospect, only becomes more so when we recall the harsh difficulties that would in later years distress both Mabel and Roscoe. Suffice to say, it is a very strange, if novel, film.
Becoming ultimately disenchanted by Sennett, his demanding production methods, and what indeed might perhaps be characterized as his narrow minded oversight, Mabel removed herself from Keystone in early Spring 1916. Over the half decade and perhaps unintentionally, Sennett had grown to take her for granted, both personally and professionally. It was only when she and other stars had left that he was forced to take reckoning of his questionable handling of his main players. He subsequently lured Mabel back by offering her her own picture company and studio. The result was the feature Mickey and that in due time turned out to be a surprise runaway hit. With its release, as well as that of a number of Goldwyn pictures, the days of Keystone Mabel drew to a close, while that of Mabel Normand, feature film star, had begun.
The personal romance of Mack and Mabel itself ended sometime back in 1915. And from then on Mabel made it plain that it would be strictly business between them. Yet while marriage between them wasn’t to be, their professional marriage was, it could be said and as it turned out, a kind of triumph.60 For without Keystone, there perhaps would not likely have been that steady and glad tide of outstanding comedians spawned in the twenties and thirties. Keystone and its people, directly or indirectly, made possible the early careers of Chaplin, Arbuckle, Turpin, Keaton,61 Lloyd, Charley Chase, Hal Roach, Our Gang (including the Little Rascals)...the list goes on and on. And without Mabel, it is not likely Sennett would have had any Keystone. She, as much if not more so than himself, was the key ingredient to its comedic success; which, arguably, is why Keystone effectively folded when she left. Creatively and artistically, Sennett himself largely borrowed from the work of others, perchance envisioning himself as the Belasco or Griffith of film comedy. He was clever, ambitious and, most of the time at least, normally had a good eye for picking out new talent.
Mabel Normand, however and when it came to spirit and inventiveness, was a true original.