Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand



Back in 1968, there was a song written by Burt Bacharach and his writing partner Hal David for Dionne Warwick.  Hal David had been stationed near San Jose when he was in the navy, Dionne Warwick thought a song about a town was silly but she changed her mind after a visit; the lyric asked "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" 

 In reading the April 1915 stories of Roscoe Arbuckle returning in triump to a city where in 1904 he had song the words flashed on the screen at Grauman’s Unique theatre for $17.50 a week, this was before going to LA to become a star. The song came to mind.  


Do you know the way to San Jose?
I've been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way.
Do you know the way to
San Jose
I'm going back to find some peace of mind in
San Jose

is a great big freeway.
Put a hundred down and buy a car.
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quck they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas

Fame and fortune is a magnet.
It can pull you far away from home
With a dream in your heart you're never alone.
Dreams turn into dust and blow away
And there you are without a friend
You pack your car and ride away

I've got lots of friends in
San Jose

Do you know the way to
San Jose?
Can't wait to get back to
San Jose.


 Now that you are in the mood, let me tell you the tale of Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand’s visit to Silly Cone Valley

Marilyn Slater

July 3, 2010

Mack Sennett sent Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle along with Elgin Leslie and a whole brunch of Keystone players to use the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco as a backdrop for a couple of reels of mirth. Earlier they had gone to the San Diego Exposition and made “Fatty and Mabel at The San Diego International Exposition.”  

The Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco was a big draw as it was reported that over 15 million people came to San Francisco to view the fair between February 20 and December 4 in 1915. The city had recovered from the devastation of the 1906 earthquake and fire and was ready to celebrate and with the completion of the Panama Canal, the city-fathers had the opportunity to showoff in grand scale.

The company arrived by train in San Francisco around March 25 and was working on what was very much a public relation junket with the camera rolling; a good deal of the footage is still available some in “Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco.” (the footage can be found at the Library of Congress). The Motography, May 1915 reported that Mabel and Roscoe had returned with about a thousand feet of film of the Exposition to be used for education purposes but did not mention any from San Jose.  The article also stated that they had made two comedies, which as we know were Wished On Mabel and Mabel’s Wilful Ways.” When the party alighted from the train, San Francisco Mayor James Rolph was there to meet them and to share the highlights of the exposition with the guests from Keystone.

By Saturday, March 27 Mabel and Roscoe were already at work on “Wished on Mabel” the delightful comedy filmed in San Francisco Golden Gate Park. 

The Keystone players were now considered “movie stars” when Roscoe came back to San Jose on April 7.  There were reports in the local papers that Keystone would make a comedy in Roscoe’s old town. With Roscoe and Mabel were Alice Davenport, (and Miss Johnson?), Edgar Kennedy (born in Monterey), Glen Cavender, William Gilbert, Joe Bordeau and Elgin Leslie, cameraman; they were there extensively to scout locations.  

The company was invited to San Jose by James Beatty, manager of the Liberty theatre and F. R. Granger to look at Alum Rock Park, Mount Hamilton and the valley as a possible setting for a comedy or maybe more than one. They also looked at locations on Market Street and Santa Clara Street; there was even speculation that there might be a chase and perhaps a flight half way up the tower.

The two comedy stars were to appear in person at the Liberty Wednesday evening, April 7. A lunch was planned at the old Antler’s café in the Elks hall for the Keystone guest at noon with a band from the high school and the cheer-leaders “Yellers” setting at long tables one decorated with yellow poppies for the Panama cheer-leaders and the other with red roses for the Pacific team.  There was a noise-making contest between bites during lunch, which the Panama team won.  It had been arranged by the Panama team to have Roscoe and Mabel at the lunch however because of unavoidable delay, Mabel and Roscoe didn’t arrive until after lunch was over, perhaps wise with all the yelling going on. Mabel was given a huge bouquet of yellow tulips. 

It had rained on that Wednesday morning and as much as the people of San Jose had hoped; the sky was too dark because of the showers for Elgin Leslie, to actually shoot any film but the newspaper reported that the company enjoyed the outing at the Alum Park with James Beatty, the manager of the Liberty, his wife and daughter; L.W. Bush, the park manager and landscape architect.  The plan was to show the world in at least one motion picture the value and beauty of San Jose and Santa Clara county. Sadly, in response to a telegram from San Francisco, the party left San Jose Wednesday evening, April 7 as plans had been made to film aboard the U.S.S. Oregon, on April 9 and 10; the ship was to leave Sunday, April 11, 1915.  Frank E. Chapin, manager of the San Jose railroads made arrangement for a special car and under the personal charge of E. F. Shoup, the traffic manager.  It had been Shoup that had taken the party to the park that morning along with Karl M. Stull, president of the board of park commissioners.  The San Jose Mercury headline was “Movie People Will Return Here Monday.” When Monday, April 12 came the movie people were in Oakland working on a comedy entitled “Mabel’s Wilful Way at Idora Park. Roscoe had also worked at the amusement park’s vaudeville theatre for Ferris Hartman.


Keystone didn’t find its way back to San Jose



(these are gifts from William M. Drew)