Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

Transcription by: Marilyn Slater


September 24, 2014


A.D. Kessel Jr. C. O. Bauman, Charles Kessel.  These are the names on the door of an office in the Longacre building, New York – an office that has played a very considerable part in the affairs of motion pictures.

          The uninitiated, passing by, might suppose that Ad Kessel, Jr., was some smart young man who had taken his uncle Chas. Kessel and one C. O. Bauman into partnership with him and was trying to edge into the picture business.

          But those who know anything at all about picture know of Kessel and Bauman – of Kay – Bee and Keystone and 101-Bison and Triangle and New York motion picture fame, and that far from edging into the business they have had a very large edge in it for the past eleven years – ever since in fact, they came up one day from Sheepshead Bay and discovered it.

          And A. Kessel Jr., is not Charley’s nephew but is older brother; in Ad. Is the older brother of all the Kessels, and an uncle to the film business.  He’s the man who put the Kay in Key – Bee and the K into Keystone and a lot of others big things we can’t mention here.

          As we entered the office we spied a box marked “A. Kessel, Jr., Keeseville, N.Y.

          As a reporter we are something of a sleuth if we do say it, not our hat to the famous boy sleuth of the business; and right away we scented a big story.

          “Aha!” we said.  Then right on top of Ad’s desk almost as conspicuous as a copy of Motion Picture News we sleuthed a book entitled “Modern Farming.

          “Aha!” we said again.  And then the truth came out.

          Ad. Kessel has gone to the cows and chickens! Yes, sir!

          Filmer once but famer now!  He’s deep in it.  You wouldn’t say that he has hayseed in his hair; it seems to be inside his head. He started talking farm and we thought he’d never get to film.

          “Were you born in the country” we asked, “that you enjoy it so much?”

          “No,” said Ad. Honestly, “I was born in Brooklyn.  But that’s not for publication.”

          Ad further admitted that he wasn’t strong for the real old-fashioned country stuff – the old water trough and chilblains and cottage cheese and other inconveniences.

                   His place on the shores of Lake Champlain is modernized – electric lights, modern plumbing, push buttons, hot and cold water, hot and cold rum, hot and cold anything you want.  You can press a button and turn on a light in the cow pasture, get a fresh egg by trolley from the hen house or order anything from a cocktail to a cabaret.

          Ad goes up there in his yacht, takes a crowd of at least sixteen fellows along, turns them loose and then sails back to Times Square and films.

          He says hr’s mostly out of the film business (accounting thereby for his handsome estate and ability to maintain it).  Perhaps we should say he’s safely out.  He’ll never be wholly out.

          But he’s stopped working eighteen hours a day and he doesn’t worry any more over stars’ salaries.  And he’s done a lot of work and worry of  this kind.

          Ad Kessel, by the way, has been uncle to more stars than any other man in the business.

          We started to count up the ones he brought into films.

          “Well,” said Ad, “there’s Chaplin, Fairbanks – each did his first picture for us – Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, William S. Hart – “  “Mary Pickford?” we suggested

          “Well, Mary came to us from Biograph – that’s when we owned the Reliance at 540 West 21st Street – Stanford White’s old studio.  We started in there with Arthur Johnson, James Kirkwood, Tony Sullivan, Henry Walthall, Marion Leonard, Gertrude Robinson – Then Mack Sennett came along and proposed making comedies.  And a little later Thomas H. Ince came up from Florida where he had made a picture for Carl Laemmle and ‘Doc’ Willatt  -

          ”And – well I can’t count ‘em all.”

          We referred to a call we once made at which time we bumped into DeWolf Hopper in the elevator, stepped on Willie Collier’s corns in the hall and on entering the office saw Eddie Foy – hat on side of his head – whispering confidentially to Mr. Kessel, Weber and Fields cracking jokes – real ones, and over in one corner Raymond Hitchcock talking to his own wife, Flora Zabelle.

          “It gives me a headache,” said Mr. Kessel, “to think of them.  They cost all the way from $2,600 to $6,000 a week.”

          We have spoken of A. Kessel, Jr., as uncle to many stars.

          “Uncle” is right.  He’s the man who paid the bills.  And he has stood a tremendous bombardment.

          “Honestly, Johnson,” said he, ”I got so I couldn’t open a telegram.  I’d hand it to Charley and say: ‘Here, read it.  My heart is broken!’

          “Why those fellows used to wire in; ‘Send me $40,000 for next week’s payroll,  and then along would come another; ‘No, make it an even hundred thousand.’  You know – just like you’d ask for a dime.”

          Kessel and Bauman have always been plungers.  They plunged in pictures when others didn’t dare; and they plunged right – almost always – because they made it their business to make pictures the public was hanking for.  They worked night and day and they knew their business.

          One day Bauman wired Kessel; “Can hire Miller’s 101 Ranch for winter season at $2,100 a week.”

          That was back in the days of small expenditures and struggling bank accounts.  When A. Kessel, Jr., got the telegram he fell backward out of his chair.  Then he wired back: “If you think it’s a good bet, take a chance.”

          That sentence tells the story of Kessel and Bauman.

          And we close with it – though we could write all day about Ad. Kessel and what he knows about the making of pictures that pay.


The Miller Bros 101 Ranch Wild West Show (Circus) was nationally known in 1918, thanks to the movies of Tom Ince, etc.



Ince's story

 Ad. (Adam) Kessel, in 1918 told William Johnson about the early years, and in 1919 Thomas Ince explained his connection, here is a link to something he wrote....





also Brian Taves, tells the story of Tom Ince's business relationship with the Kessel Brothers, etc in his fabulous 2012 book - Thomas Ince - Hollywood's Independent Pioneer.