Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

updated November 15, 2016


The Story of The Slim Princess


Marilyn Slater


‘The Slim Princess’ is one of the not yet found, OK, one of the lost Samuel Goldwyn films, which  starred Mabel Normand.  We know a great deal about ‘The Slim Princess’ story and there are a huge number of photographs of Mabel taken during the 1920 production.

 The life of ‘The Slim Princess’ began in the fertile imagination of the humorist George Ade, (1866-1944) Ade’s humor is very much in the traditions of Mark Twain.  Ade was a master of American Slang, and has been said to purvey the American colloquial vernacular with sheer masterly turn of phase, his ‘Fables in Slang’ was one of the important Chicago satires. This story of Princess Kalora came from a different time and in many respects was written in a very different language.


His writing was ironic, ambivalent as to the traditional rural virtues and the craftiness of the boomtown

 Chicago was becoming, during the heady first decade of the twentieth century; he was a moralist without preachy-ness. Humor in silent films is hard to be carried by the mocking satire nor could the ‘American Slang’ always be translated easily on the dialogue cards. The Goldwyn film had a problem with getting across the satire.   Ade was a playwright as well as an author,   He wrote a number of musical comedies and yes, he wrote the first American play about football.

Ade first wrote ‘The Slim Princess’ in a multi-part story for the Saturday Evening Post in 1906.  It was one of a series of stories that he penned dealing with the cultural integration of the American culture and those of older societies. American vacations in Europe (1901); Sultan of Sulu; an original satire in two acts (1903); Sho gun, an original comic opera in two acts (1904); Round about Cairo, with and without the assistance of the dragoman or Simon Legree of the Orient (1906); Slim Princess (1907);  Hoosier hand book and true guide for the returning exile (1911).


The story published in the Saturday Evening Post was turned into a very sucessful musical comedy in 1911, with music by Leslie Stuart and Henry Blossom.    According to the Internet Broadway Database appearing with Elsie Janis in the original cast of "The Slim Princess" was Wallace McCutcheon.  I have found nothing in the written record that Mabel actually saw the comedy of Broadway but I am pretty sure she saw the 1915 film starring Ruth Stonehouse.  Samuel Goldwyn purchased the rights to turn this story again into a silent film for Mabel. So no chorus sang  When the Guards Go Marching By; I Like 'Em Plump; My Yankee Doodle Girl; I'm Glad My Home Is in the States; The Land of the Free; Queen of My Dreams; For the Lord’s Sake, Play a Waltz(composed and song by Else Janis). Mabel had to play Princess Kalora without words or music!


On Broadway, the Slim Princess, Kalora was played by Elsie Janis, it was produced by Charles Dillingham.  It was the first time that Elsie is credited with writing for a Broadway musical stage.  Elsie (Beerbower) Janis (1889 – 1956) was not just a performer but Lyricist, Director, Writer, Composer, Producer.

She had been performing since she was 2 ½ year old, working on many vaudeville stages as "Little Elsie" and she had starring roles in New York, London and Paris. She was a charter member of ASCAP in 1914 but she is most fondly remembered for entertaining the troops on battlefields during World War I in both France and England. 


It was back in 1896, that Elsie had her professional debut, she was seven years old.  Her mother, Jennie (Beerbower) Bierbower was a quintessential stage mother, she was infamous (Charlotte Shelby and her hatpin had nothing on Jennie). Jennie was her daughter’s constant companion until she died in 1930.   


The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in New York prevented Elsie from appearing on the New York stage, however Florenz Ziegfeld asked her to replace Anna Held in the touring troupe of ‘The Little Duchess.’ When Elsie turned 16, she was given her first Broadway role.  

She did move on to working in films, she was soon acting, writing for films and supervised productions. It is interesting to note that that both Mabel and Elsie were very active in the production of their films.  There were even stories that Mabel was writing music but Elise had written music since she was in her teens for her own performances as well as for others.  Elsie is also the author of books, poems and a number of magazine articles.


Two years after the death of her mother, Elsie married Gilbert Wilson, 16 years younger than she was, they lived in New York until she moved to Hollywood were she lived until her death in 1956. She made her last film in 1940 with Wendy Barrie and Peter Cushing called ‘Women in War.’  The Hollywood Walk of Fame placed Elsie Janis’ star at 6776 Hollywood Blvd.









The Slim Princess first became a filmed made at  the Essanay Film Company in Chicago and released in May 1915 directed by E. H. Calvert and starred Ruth Stonehouse. The cast of this production is very impressive but sadly, it is also lost.  Francis X. Bushman was the American slang-talking millionaire hero and Popova, the tutor was played by Wallace Beery.

Ruth Stonehouse (1892 – 1941) was a Western girl from Denver Colorado; it was written that she stared as a short story writer for Chicago newspapers and magazines.  She was a rather good comedy actress noted for her androgynous looks. Again, along with Mabel Normand, Elsie Janis; Ruth Stonehouse was also one of the early women directors. In 1917, Ruth directed a number of Westerns, Daredevil Dan, A Walloping Pair, Tacky Sue’s Romance.  Ruth worked for Essanay, Triangle and  Universal Studios between 1911 and 1928.   She seems to have a liking for the outdoors, fast cars, gardens and good food.



















Samuel Goldwyn developed a reputation for taking popular musical comedies that had name recognition and creating happy and fluffy silent situation comedy films out of them. Here Goldwyn had placed Mabel in a remake of not only a successful stage comedy but a success 4 reel comedy.  Mabel was the star of a number of the retread material.  The translation from stage to screen was not always successful.  As each of the media offer different ways of telling a story...  Mabel was able to portray Kalora, she was able to bring a big name above the title to the screen, Mabel Normand and the Slim Princess brought Fat! Tons and tons of it. ‘Bumping, wheezing, bouncing about the harem of the ruler of Morovenia in the shape of dozens of enormous women!’ As one promotional piece stated, ‘the little Princess Kalora was a violet in a garden of peonies.  But in the eyes of the Morovenian lounge lizards she didn’t have a chance --- and never would until the day when she could boast of at least three chins.’








One of the most complete reviews of the film that I was able to locate was in WID’s Daily, July 4, 1920.


They Weighed Beauty by the Pound



Mabel Normand in




DIRECTOR: Victor L. Schertzinger

AUTHOR: George Ade

SCENARIO BY: Gerald C. Duffy

CAMERAMAN:  George Webber

AS A WHOLE: Very weak comedy plot made fairly entertaining by star’s work

STORY: Little to it

DIRECTION:  Has handled comedy sequences skillfully and given entire picture tasteful



LIGHTINGS:  Effective

CAMERA WORK:  Very good

STAR:  Gets over very good comedy business but story doesn’t give her opportunities.

SUPPORT:  Tully Marshall registers some laughs; Hugh Thompson is leading man

EXTERIORS:  Contain good “mythical kingdom” atmosphere


DETAIL:  All right

CHARACTER OF STORY:  Troubles of slim princess in country where to be beautiful is

to be fat

LENGTH OF PRODUCTION:  About 5,000 feet


“The Slim Princess” gets over as a fairly entertaining comedy because of Mabel Normand’s very capable work in a few sequences where she is given opportunities for the type of horseplay, which she can do so well.  The story of this is very weak as slim as its leading character in fact and doesn’t hold up the interest at all times the way a good comedy should.  However, the work is aided considerably by the rather fanciful production given it.  The exteriors, the majority of which are laid in one of those mythical kingdoms, Morovenia in this instance are attractive and the interiors no less tasteful.  As a result, “The Slim Princess is always appealing to the eye and now and then to the visibilities.





          The best sequence in the entire picture comes when the heroine, the slim princess; who has the

misfortune to live in a kingdom where to be beautiful is to be fat dons an inflated rubber suit and

endeavors to match her ample sister before the eyes of admiring swains.  A subtitle which uses the

line...”a full blown woman” also adds to the gayety.  There are also some good bits in this sequence

between the star and Tully Marshall who appears as her tutor.




 The plot is simple in the extreme.  Kalora, the slim princess, is unfashionable because she is under weight.  Under the law of the kingdom, her younger and exceedingly stout sister cannot marry

until she is disposed of.  The rubber suit is tried on Kalora and things are going famously until she bumps into a plant with sharp leaves.  Thereupon she actually shrinks before the horror-stricken eyes of the young man who previously admired her.

          Kalora meets Pike, an American, who is the first one to admire her for her lack of fat.  Later Kalora is sent to America by her father, who thinks possibly that some new-fangled health food will improve her.  She again meets Pike there and their romance develops.  There is a good laugh when Kalora returned home decked out in all the latest styles with her tutor wearing checks in his suit.  And then they conclude with another good sequence when Pike comes to ask for her hand.  The father mistakes which daughter he means and trots out fat one at first but matters are finally straightened out and everyone is happy.





          They have left this story just about, as George Ade wrote it and certain it is that he never wrote it

for a picture.  The rest of the cast including Hugh Thompson, Russ Powell, Lillian Sylvester, Harry

Lorraine and Pomerny Cannon performs averagely but evince small comedy spirit.



Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor


You will be able to get by with this with the average crowd while before admirers of Mabel Normand and

those who have a fondness for George Ade’s stuff; you ought to make a very good impression.  It

seems that they have adhered to the original plot pretty strictly.  A more liberal course embracing a few

changes and additions might have been advisable.  They have changed better known stories and plays

than.  “The Slim Princess.”

          The premise of the picture offers you amusing advertising possibilities.  Use a line such as “In

Morovenia THIS was considered Beauty and THIS ugliness. above the first “this” a picture of the

fattest woman your artist can draw, above the second something as shapely as Mabel Normand.  Any

other ideas on this line will prove attractive.  Play the star big and don’t forget the author’s name.





Although George Ade is still a very famous and respected humorist, it is a little hard to read his original story
setting here in the 21st Century.  History has moved on. We have changed how we understand the culture 
of  the Middle East and the predominate religion of the area.  His usage of the common stang of his
era not ours so as you read his period language, think of it in the way you think of period clothing or 
automobiles. It belongs to 1908 not 2008.  Things that seemed humorous a hundred years ago, we now 
understand are offensive.  I personally believe that we need to understand the past.  It is our history not 
are present nor our future.  Therefore, if you can mentally travel back a hundred year here is the story 
of The Slim Princess by George Ads.











link to Ada's story


Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, George Ade, Elsie Janis, Ruth Stonehouse

Internet Movie Database, The Slim Princess, Mabel Normand, Elsie Janis

Internet Broadway Database, Elsie Janis

Find A Grave, George Ade, Elsie Janis


Project Gutenberg, Works by George Ade

1906 The Saturday Evening Post of Philadelphia,

copyright, 1906, by the Curtis Publishing Company.

1911 Jan 2, The Slim Princess, Musical, Comedy, Original, Broadway in three acts

TCM website includes, reprinted from the AFI catalog of feature films, for both the 1915 and 1920 Slim Princess movies.

Additional information and help from my friend, William Drew (he knows everything)!


Update March 7 2016

From Brazi; via Jorge Finkielman




(the photos from these pages of A SCENA MUDA are in the Slim Princess photo album)

undated November 15, 2016