Mabel Normand starred in at least one hundred and sixty-seven film shorts and twenty-three full-length features, mainly for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company, and was one of the earliest silent actors to function as her own director. She was also one of the first leading performers to appear on film without a previous background in the theatre (having begun her career in modeling), to be named in the title of her films (beginning with 1912’s Mabel’s Lovers), and to have her own studio (the ill-fated Mabel Normand Feature Film Company). That her contributions to early film history are not better known is attributable in part to her involvement in the Hollywood scandals of the 1920s, and in part to our reliance on the self-interested memoirs of her better-known colleagues (especially Sennett and Charlie Chaplin) following her death at age thirty-eight. It is hard to get an accurate picture from such questionable and contradictory recollections, or from interviews with Normand herself, filtered as they often were through a sophisticated publicity operation at Keystone. Film scholars who have worked with these same sources have often proved just as discrepant and unreliable, especially in their accounts of her directorial contributions.
Mabel Normand with doll. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Mabel Normand portrait. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Leah Baird, Flora Finch, Ann Brody, Anne Shaeffer, Anita Stewart, Mabel Normand, Norma Talmadge, Constance Talmadge, Florence Turner, 1926. Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick Library.
Mabel Normand portrait. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Mabel Normand portrait. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Photo of the Mabel Normand Studio. Private Collection.
Mabel Normand sitting by camera. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.
Mabel Normand’s death certificate.
Normand’s early career included stints at the Biograph Company, working with D. W. Griffith, and at the Vitagraph Company, yet it was her work at Keystone that solidified her image as slapstick comedienne. Typical roles featured her as the object of desire, often pursued by Sennett’s country “rube”; as an urban ingénue in films like the metacinematic Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913), in which she becomes a Keystone actress; or as the helpless victim in parodies of period melodramas like Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913), in which she is the iconic woman tied to the railroad tracks. At other times, including the six-reel feature Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), she “gives as good as she gets,” as an accomplice and equal partner with Chaplin in the physical comedy of slapstick. Later, beginning with Mickey (1918), she sought to combine these different character tropes as a tomboy figure who actively works to overcome social adversity.
While Mabel Normand may have codirected at least two shorts with Sennett prior to 1914, including Tomboy Bessie at Biograph (1912), it was in this year that she identified her profession in the Los Angeles city directory as “director,” rather than “actress,” as she did in 1913 and 1915. Moving Picture World reported in December 1913 that the “leading woman of the Keystone Company, since its inception, is in the future to direct every picture she acts in. This will undoubtedly make Keystone more popular than ever, and this will give Miss Normand the opportunity of injecting some of her comedy, which she has never had an opportunity to put over before” (1289). It is hard, however, to definitively distinguish her films from others as they all evidence the studio’s recognizable house style, one that de-emphasized the responsibilities of the director (in those years uncredited on extant prints) and aimed for an apparently spontaneous—but actually carefully crafted—filmic effect. Questions of attribution remain open for most of the films listed below, with directorial credit often given to Sennett, Chaplin, or “Fatty” Arbuckle, her frequent costar following Chaplin’s departure, and they may never be answered, since the popularity of Keystone meant multiple re-edited prints and re-issues. In the absence of definitive information, our filmography has been generated by cross-referencing the listed published and online sources, noting where discrepancies occur.
As an example of the confusion, we might consider 1914’s Mabel at the Wheel, the second film she made with Chaplin, in which she resists the machinations of his character and drives a racing car to victory. Normand is listed as director in company records in the Keystone Collection housed in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, yet Moving Picture World reported in 1914 that “Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett collaborated in the direction of this picture” (680). Among more recent sources, Betty Harper Fussell and Kalton C. Lahue both credit the film to Normand alone, while three other sources list it as a collaboration (Fussell 257; Lahue 145). It was, moreover, in relation to the shooting of this film that Chaplin recalls complaining to Sennett about Normand’s “competence,” after which he claims he was allowed to direct all his films at Keystone (149). Sennett remembered events differently, however, suggesting that Chaplin’s apprenticeship lasted for “a dozen one- and two-reel pictures,” during which time he “learned [to direct] from Mabel Normand” (163–64). Finally, Normand herself later claimed in Picture Play that “For a long time, I directed all the pictures I played in, the best known of which are the Chaplin series” (46). Overall, she made eleven films at Keystone with Chaplin, and thirty-one in 1914 alone; if she did, indeed, direct all of the films in which she starred, this suggests a total directorial output far greater than that with which she is typically credited. Our research indicates that she acted as director or codirector for a total of twenty-six films made between 1912 and 1915; of these, however, our sources are in agreement on only seven titles.
Sennett’s motivation for encouraging Normand to direct is unclear. He clearly had respect for her talent as an actress, and most scholars agree that he had been in love with her. Although Mabel Normand was their first star, she was also notoriously underpaid at Keystone, and Sennett and his New York partners may have capitulated to her demands to direct in an effort to retain her. Chaplin’s salary famously rose to $1,250 per week after he left Keystone, for instance, while Normand was still paid $175 per week (Fussell 74). The abortive Mabel Normand Feature Film Company, launched in 1916 while the newly formed Triangle Film Corporation was collapsing, seems a belated effort by Sennett to placate the comedienne and to retain her services. Only one feature film, Mickey (1918), was released by the company, however, and only after Normand had already accepted a five-year contract with Samuel Goldwyn. The reason for the extended filming and post-production period for Mickey is, predictably, unclear, although Triangle’s management difficulties and Normand’s developing tuberculosis certainly played a role.
In 1920 Mabel Normand returned to Keystone to work with Sennett again on what was intended to be her come-back vehicle Molly O’ (1921). The release of the film was marred, however, by Fatty Arbuckle’s rape trials, and much of the rest of Normand’s career was similarly affected by scandal: the sensational—and unsolved—murder of close friend (and Motion Picture Directors Association president) William Desmond Taylor in 1922; a shooting two years later by Normand’s chauffeur; and persistent stories of her drug use and alcoholism. Even after her death, scholars have been more interested in the gossip surrounding Normand’s life and romances (including an announced marriage to Sennett in 1915 that never materialized) than her work. Among recent biographers, Fussell has speculated on a stillborn child with Goldwyn, while Simon Louvish’s study of Sennett suggests not only that Normand may have had hereditary syphilis, but also that Sennett may have been gay. Scholars would do well to refocus attention on Normand’s distinctive contribution to early cinema and slapstick comedy, as well as the nature of her directorial work for Keystone.
Chaplin, Charles. My Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.
Fussell, Betty Harper. Mabel. New York: Limelight Editions, 1992.
Lahue, Kalton C. Kops and Custards: The Legend of Keystone Films. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
Los Angeles Directory Company. Los Angeles City Directory. Los Angeles: Los Angeles City Directory Company, 1913-1942.
Louvish, Simon. Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett. New York: Faber and Faber, 2003.
“Mabel at the Wheel.” Moving Picture World (2 May 1914): 680.
“Miss Normand, Director.” Moving Picture World (13 Dec. 1913): 1289.
Rex, Will. “Behind the Scenes with Fatty and Mabel.” Picture Play (April 1916): 46.
1. Mabel Normand as Actress and Director or Co-Director
Foiling Fickle Father, 1913; Hello Mabel, 1914; Her Friend the Bandit, 1914; Love and Gasoline, 1914; Mabel’s Bear Escape, 1914; Mabel’s Latest Prank, 1914; Mabel’s Nerve, 1914; Mabel’s New Job, 1914; Mabel’s Stormy Love Affair, 1914; A Thief Catcher, 1914.
2. Mable Normand as Actress
Indiscretions of Betty, 1910; Over the Garden Wall, 1910, Willful Peggy, 1910; The Changing of Silas Marner, 1911; His Mother, 1911; Picciola , 1911; How Betty Won the School, 1911; Saved From Herself, 1911; The Strategy of Ann, 1911; The Subduing of Mrs. Nag, 1911; Two Overcoats, 1911; When a Man’s Married His Trouble Begins, 1911; Ambitious Butler, 1912; At It Again, 1912; The Beating He Needed,1912; Brown’s Séance, 1912; The Deacon’s Troubles, 1912; A Desperate Lover, 1912; The Drummer’s Vacation, 1912; The Duel, 1912; A Family Mixup, 1912; The Flirting Husband, 1912; Kings Court, 1212; Mabel’s Adventures, 1912; Mabel’s Lovers,1912; A Midnight Elopement, 1912; Mr. Fix-It, 1912; The New Neighbor, 1912; Pat’s Day Off, 1912; Pedro’s Dilemma, 1912; A Race for a Life, 1212; Tempermental Husband, 1912; Baby Day, 1913; The Battle of Who Run, 1913; Brothers, 1913; The Doctored Affair, 1913; A Double Wedding, 1913; Faithful Taxicab, 1913; Father’s Choice, 1913; Fatty at San Diego, 1913; Fatty’s Flirtation, 1913; For Lizzie’s Sake, 1913; For the Love of Mabel, 1913; The Foreman of the Jury, 1913; Gypsy Queen, 1913; The Hansom Driver, 1913; Heinze’s Resurrection, 1913; Her New Beau, 1913; Hubby’s Job, 1913; Just Brown’s Luck,1913; Love and Courage, 1913; Love and Pain, 1913; Love Sickness at Sea, 1913; Mabel’s Heroes, 1913; Mistaken Masher, 1913; On His Wedding Day, 1913; Passions, He Had Three, 1913; Professor Bean’s Removal, 1913; Professor’s Daughter, 1913; Red Hot Romance, 1913; The Rube and the Baron, 1913; The Rural Third Degree, 1913; Saving Mabel’s Dad, 1913; The Sleuths at the Floral Parade, 1913; The Speed Queen, 1913; A Tangled Affair, 1913; The Telltale Light, 1913; A Twelve O’Clock, 1913; Two Widows, 1913; The Waiters’ Picnic, 1913; Zuzu, the Band Leader, 1913; The Alarm, 1914; A Gambling Rube, 1914; Glimpse of Los Angeles, 1914; In the Clutches of the Gang, 1914; Lovers Post Office, 1914; Mack at It Again, 1914; A Misplaced Foot, 1914; A Missing Bride, 1914; Shotguns that Kick, 1914; The Sky Pirate, 1914; Where Hazel Met the Villain, 1914; Rum and Wall Paper, 1915; Stolen Magic, 1915; Back to the Woods, 1918; Dodging a Million, 1918; The Floor Below, 1918; Joan of Plattsburg, 1918; Peck’s Bad Girl, 1918; A Perfect 36, 1918; The Venus Model, 1918; Jinx, 1919; The Pest, 1919; Sis Hopkins, 1919; Upstairs, 1919; Pinto, 1920; The Slim Princess, 1920; One Hour Married, 1927.
3. Mable Normand as Herself
Charlie’s Life, 1916; Stake Uncle Sam to Play Your Hand, 1918.
C. DVD Sources:
Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology. DVD. (Flicker Alley US 2017) - contains Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914)
Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers. DVD/Blu-ray. (Kino Lorber US 2018) - contains Caught in a Cabaret (1914), Mabel's Blunder (1914), Mabel Lost and Won (1915), andMabel and Fatty's Wash Day (1916), and other special features
Les Pionnières du Cinéma. DVD/Blu-ray. (Lobster Films France 2018) - contains Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914)
Early Women Filmmakers 1911-1940. DVD/Blu-ray. (BFI UK 2019) - contains Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914)
Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive (1914-1929). DVD. (NFPF US 2013) - contains Won in a Cupboard (1914)
The MoviesBegin. DVD. (Kino Video US 2002) - contains The Bangville Police (1913)
Slapstick Encyclopedia. DVD. (Image Entertainment US 2002)
Chaplin at Keystone. DVD. (Flicker Alley US 2010)- contains Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914), Mabel at the Wheel (1914), Caught in a Cabaret (1914). The Fatal Mallet (1914), Her Friend the Bandit (1914), Mabel's Busy Day (1914), Gentlemen of Nerve (1914), Getting Acquainted (1914), and Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914).
Charlie Chaplin Marathon (1914-1917). DVD. (Delta Entertainment US 2002)
Charlie Chaplin Collectors Classics (1914-1925). DVD. (Front Row Entertainment US 2002)
Keystone Comedies, Vol. 2. DVD. (Grapevine Video US 2007)
Tillie's Punctured Romance (with Mabel's Married Life). DVD. (Image Entertainment US 1999)
The Extra Girl. DVD. (Kino International US 2008)
Mickey. DVD. (Grapevine Video US 2009)
The Actors: Rare Films of Mabel Normand, Volume 1. DVD. (Classic Video Streams US 2010) - contains Troublesome Secretaries (1911), Mickey (1918), and Raggedy Rose (1926)
The Actors: Rare Films of Mabel Normand, Volume 2. DVD. (Classic Video Streams US 2010) - contains The Water Nymph (1913), A Strong Revenge (1913), That Ragtime Band (1913), Mabel's New Hero (1913), A Muddy Romance (1913), Hide and Seek (1913), Speed Kings (1913), Mabel's Blunder (1914), Little Teacher/Small Town Bully (1915), The Nickel Hopper (1926), and Anything Once (1927)
The Actors: Rare Films of Mabel Normand, Volume 3. DVD. (Classic Video Streams US 2010) - contains Cohen Saves the Flag (1913), Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco, Cal. (1915), What Happened to Rosa (1920), and The Extra Girl (1923)
Sennett Classics (1911-1928). DVD. (Alpha Video US 2012)
The Mack Sennett Collection Vol. 1. DVD (Flicker Alley US 2014)
Fatty ArbuckleFestival (1913-1915). DVD. (Mill Creek Entertainment US 2005)
What Happened to Rosa (with Mabel's Blunder and The Little Teacher. DVD. (Grapevine Vide US 2008)
In compiling this filmography, we have referred to the following sources: Keystone Company release records for March 1913 to April 1914, in the Sennett collection at AMPAS; FIAF database; filmographies for Normand and Keystone appended to Fussell and Lahue; Kemp Niver’s catalog for the Library of Congress's Paper Print Collection (for Biograph releases); Brooks Bushnell, Directors and Their Films, 1895-1990 (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Co., 1993); and a web-based Normand filmography on Angelfire. A large number—but by no means all—of the discrepancies we note here stem from a desire on the part of Normand’s celebrated male co-stars Chaplin and Arbuckle (as well as their subsequent champions) to claim shared directorial credit as well as joint top billing. Additional sources used to track Normand’s acting career include the Braff Papers, Paul Spehr’s company credits, Denise Lowe’s Encyclopedic Dictionary and the AFI catalogue. Specific issues are listed below: Tomboy Bessie is listed as being co-directed by Normand in Fuseell, but all other sources list Sennett as the sole director. Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life lists no director, but the film is usually credited to Arbuckle or Arbuckle/Normand. Those Country Kids. Is listed as the as being directed by Eddie Dillon in FIAF, but most other sources and filmographies list Arbuckle as the director. The Gusher is listed at 1913 in all sources including filmographies about Arbuckle and Sterling, however it is listed as 1912 in FIAF. The Speed Kings is sometimes credited as Teddy Tetzlaff and Earl Cooper. The director is also listed as Mack Sennett in some sources as as Wilfred Lucas in others. Her Dramatic Debut is listed in FIAF, but with no cast or crew information, however the film is credited in most sources as Mabel’s Dramatic Career, and credits were culled using the second title. The director of A Little Hero is usually credited to Mack Sennett, however the FIAF record lists George Nichols. Some sources list Mabel Normand as appearing as an extra in the D.W. Griffith short Near to Earth (1913), which seems unlikely as by 1913, Normand and Sennett had both left Biograph. The Deacon Outwitted lists the year of release as 1914 in Braff, 1912 in FIAF, and 1913 in Denise Lowe’s Encyclopedic Dictionary. The Fickle Spaniard is credited to Mack Sennett in all sources, however, FIAF also lists Dell Henderson and co-director. A Voice from the Deep is not listed in FIAF, Braff or Spehr, however, it is listed in Lowe and Fussell. The Baron is credited on FIAF as being directed by D.W. Griffith, however, it is credited to Mack Sennett is most other sources.
Joyce, Simon; Jennifer Putzi. "Mabel Normand." In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. <https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-e84a-he64>