Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

My first reaction to the reference in Daniel Bernardi’s Filming Difference to the interview with Kimberly Peirce regarding the shooting of William Desmond Taylor was that slightly tighten lipped smile and than the groan and moan.   

Prof. Bernardi is an academic with a powerful curriculum vitae, which includes teaching film, television and new media at UCLA, UC-Riverside, University of Arizona and Arizona State University. The award of the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, a UC President’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship and a declined Fulbright Fellowship, so by any standard a substantial reputation.  There is a bit of whimsy in his background too as he worked for the Science Fiction Channel for a couple of years.  His area of special interest seems to be cultural studies, early cinema, critical race theory, contemporary television and new media, all with an emphasis on race in historical formation of meanings. (I wonder what he thinks of “The Squaw’s Love”)

Any book written by Daniel Bernardi is to be taken seriously, which becomes a bit of a problem, how responsible is the author of a book for what is in it?  In Filming Difference: Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers on Gender, Race and Sexuality in Film. 2009. University of Texas Press., he includes essays and interviews by filmmakers about how they represent race, gender and sexuality in their work. You can contact Prof Bernardi at Arizona State University (480)965-6493 Daniel.Bernardi@asu.edu

It was in an interview a few years ago that director Kimberly Peirce spoke about her William Desmond Taylor project; “...We solved the murder mystery. We figured out who did it, how they did it, and how and why it had to be covered up.” She did not identify who she thought the killer was at that time but inferred it was Mary Miles Minter.  Kimberly Peirce had spent several years preparing to make a movie on the William Desmond Taylor case, to star Annette Bening, Hugh Jackman, Ben Kingsley and Evan Rachel Wood. The canceled project had been for Dream Works. You may be aware of her very well received feature film of ten years ago “Boys Don’t Cry.” She has also directed an episode of The L Word for Showtime television and in 2008 Stop-Loss for Paramount.

So here it is she does think that Mary Miles Minter did the deed. It is in Filming Difference, she told the interviewer, the story as she understood it; “You know the story, right? William Desmond Taylor, Paramount film director, was killed.  Found dead in his bungalow, Mary Miles Minter, who was the greatest star of the day and Mabel Norman (d), a beautiful comedian and heroin addict, were both there.  Both their careers were destroyed by this incident.  They both had been involved with him.  It could have been the drug dealers because he was clearly involved in the drug trade.”  Pg 318

Kimberly Peirce statement in the book if she were writing a fictional murder mystery than a story is a story but she said when speaking of history that "I don't believe in fictionalizing."

She says: "Adolph Zukor decided that he needed an icon of innocence...So he went out to the vaudeville circuit and did a nationwide search. Like 'American Idol.' He brought all these girls in to determine who could be America's next sweetheart. He chose this girl, Mary Miles Minter, who had been tripping around vaudeville with her mother."

Kimberly Peirce states that Zukor had Mary Miles Minter sign a …"binding contract not to fall in love, not to have sex."

Kimberly Peirce further says… "He [Taylor] opened her [Minter] up to a sensual life she'd never experienced...He opened up a part of  her...romantically and sexually, that she has never experienced."

Have you read enough nonsense? Kimberly Peirce also said … "Mary picked up a gun and shot Taylor, and it was the smartest thing she could have done because it was the only way to stop Zukor. It was a dramatic, brilliant act of freedom."

 Oh dear oh dear, so many errors so little truth. 

 And for my part:

Damn, if you are going to call Mabel a HEROIN ADDICT , at lest know her name…, it is acknowledged that Mabel had a problem with substance abuse but NOT heroin, where did that come from?  After the death of WDT, Mabel continued her career, should her success in Suzanna (1922 Sennett), The Extra Girl (1923 Sennett), Raggedy Rose (1926 Roach), Nickel Hopper (1926 Roach) and to a lesser degree, One Hour Married (1926 Roach) Anything Once (1927Roach), Should Men Walk Home (1927 Roach) to be wiped from memory?  and when, oh where did WDT become “clearly involved in the drug trade?

Read the book and you will understand why this is upsetting to any serious human being, who values truth.