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Barney Oldfield Race for a Life


Motography, March 15, 1913


Barney Oldfield in Keystone Speed Film


            Mack Sennett, the Keystone director, finished a picture recently in which speed is shown to an exaggerated degree. Barney Oldfield races his Benz at ninety miles an hour against a Santa Fe train, traveling at the rate of sixty five miles an hour, and rescues Mabel Normand, who is tied to the tracks.


            Through the courtesy of E. W. McGee, general passenger agent for the Santa Fe, the Keystone director was granted the use of the old Redondo road and a late model locomotive, baggage car and passenger coach. A special permit was granted by the authorities of Inglewood, for Barney to go the limit in the speed line.


            The villain, Ford Sterling, ties Miss Normand to the tracks, climbs into the cab of the locomotive and with a blow on the head renders Engineer McNeil of the Santa Fe, unconscious and with the throttle wide open dashes down the track.


            Mack Sennett, the lover, discovers Barney’s car. He calls the speed king and asks him to help him save the girl. Oldfield jumps into the car and pulling Sennett into the seat beside him, dashes down the road in pursuit.


            Lee Bartholomew, standing on the running board of the locomotive photographs every move of the villain at the throttle, while Walter Wright with another camera, catches the race between the train and the automobile and the rescue.


            The climax comes when Oldfield rounds a curve at fifty miles an hour, stops the car and Sennett jumps out and rescues Miss Normand from the shadow of the approaching train. The race continues along the road and from the cab Sterling throws bombs at the car which gradually pulls away from the train as Barney hits the ninety mile pace.



Transcribed by William Thomas Sherman in Mabel Normand Source Book


Who was Barney Oldfield?


Berna Eli or as we know him Barney Oldfield was from Wauseon, Ohio born January 29, 1878.  Not only did he work with Mabel Normand in “Barney Oldfield Race for a Life” at Keystone in 1913 but back in 1906 he was in the Broadway musical “The Vanderbilt Cup” and went on to be a technical advisor for the Vanderbilt Cup sequence in the feature film Back Street (1941). Barney was an early pioneer of automotive history, a fabulous successful race car driver, he would race against anything, planes, trains or automobiles.  He was a self-promoter and wonderful entertainer, much married (Bessie Gooby, Mrs. Hulda Rae Braden and Bessie Gooby) and a winning entrepreneur; dying in Beverly Hills, October 4, 1946.


Marilyn Slater

December 24, 2013