Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mabel Normand: Retrospective

Today's guest post is written by Imogen. Many thanks to her for a great piece that I know that you will enjoy.

Mabel Normand (1892 – 1935) was probably one of the most prolific silent comedy actresses the world ever saw and died tragically early. In a career that spanned some sixteen years she made two hundred and twenty films in total. She was most well known for her work with the irrepressible Mack Sennett and his Keystone Studios and becoming noted for her work with Charlie Chaplin and latterly Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (another maligned character who also died far too young).

It is less well known that she was a fine director and producer too, shining in a typically male dominated industry. Here are some of Mabel’s finest celluloid moments. It’s good to see films that were made long before any real technological developments took place. Just think, these movies were made long before the internet, viral marketing and things like YouTube existed (which incidentally has just had it’s seventh birthday recently – Happy Birthday YouTube!)

Mabel’s Blunder

In this film (not forgetting this was a time when a “full feature” was probably little more that fifteen minutes), Mabel is engaged to Harry (played by Harry McCoy), who happens to be her boss’s son. In a strange twist, the boss also takes a shine to Mabel – though he doesn’t know his son is courting Mabel and as a result, hilarious consequences ensue. This film was, staggeringly Mabel’s one hundred and seventy second movie – it was produced in 1914 and she’d only been in the business little over four years.

Mabel's Blunder Part One

Mabel's Blunder Part Two

Mabel’s Dramatic Career

A young man (played here by the man himself, Mack Sennett!) is attracted to his upper-crust mother’s kitchen maid, Mabel. His mother does not like this one bit and conspires to pair him up with another girl who she feels would be better suited to him. Mabel leaves her position and ends up as a film star on the silver screen, when her former paramour finds out about this he becomes upset.

Mabel's Dramatic Career

Mabel’s Strange Predicament

This film has the bonus of another early appearance of Charlie Chaplin. His character is drunk in a hotel reception and ends up entangled in the lead of a lady’s (Normand) dog that he has just encountered. The film revolves around the scrapes the lady and Chaplin’s character become embroiled in. This film was made in 1914 and also features an appearance from another silent great, Chester Conklin.

Mabel's Strange Predicament

Mabel and Fatty’s Wash Day

Mabel worked on a series of very successful films with the one and only Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and the following are examples of the work they did together. Their outings were always very popular indeed. In the first of these clips from 1915, Fatty plays a henpecked husband who escapes to the park to indulge in a little light romance with his next door neighbour, Mabel. Fatty offers Mabel the use of his mangle, Mabel’s husband gets jealous.

Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day

Mabel’s Wilful Way

In this film (again from 1915, and another outing from the Keystone Studios), Mabel escapes the house where her parents (played here by Glen Cavender and Alice Davenport) live and goes to have some adventures on the fairground with two possibly unsuitable male paramours, played here by Roscoe Arbuckle and Edgar Kennedy.

Mabel's Wilful Way

Mabel and Fatty’s Married Life

Another film from 1915. When Fatty has to leave town to go on an outing, Mabel becomes paranoid that there are gangsters on the lookout for her after they had previously had a nasty meeting in the park with an organ grinder. When Fatty returns home unexpectedly, Mabel thinks he is a burglar – later on when the organ grinder happens to turn up in their neighbourhood, Mabel’s nerve breaks!

Mabel and Fatty's Married Life

The Extra Girl

This is one of Mabel’s later films, made in 1923. She plays a character called Sue Graham who is desperate to make it in the movies. Sue wins a contract with a film company when a picture of another prettier girl is sent in with her name attached to it (ironic, given that Normand herself was incredibly beautiful!). When she gets to Hollywood to make her fortune, the mistake is realised and she has to take a job in the props department of a studio instead!

Mabel Normand - The Extra Girl