Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand


Remember, awhile back there was a question about an actress that may have committed suicide that had been in films at Keystone and had worked with Chaplin?  The information we had was a reference stating, “Whose face is familiar to thousands of movie fans, who have seen her in films of Charlie Chaplin”


We found an article indicating that it was attempted suicide and her name, Helen Carruthers and that about all I knew until Phil Posner’s research came today.


I just love it when things get resolved and questions get answered.  His material is just wonderful.


As all of you know, Charlie Chaplin spent a year working at Keystone, with our Mabel making around 35 films in 1914; Mabel wasn’t in all of them, perhaps a dozen of them.  Helen Carruthers was a ‘extra, second lead, a bit player’ in 17 of Chaplin’s film according to Phil, beginning with a debut in “His Favorite Pastime” Helen went on to appear in as the patient in “Laughing Gas", Garlico's assistant in "The Property Man", the love interests in "Recreation" and "His New Profession", Clarice the secretary in "The New Janitor" and the landlady in "Those Love Pangs".  Sometimes she was mistaken as Minta Durfee, Norma Nichols, Gene Marsh or Rhea Mitchell.  I checked at IMDb, and Helen’s work doesn’t appear.  “His Prehistoric Past” in the role of one of King Lowbrows’ wives was her last Keystone work. 

It was David Kiehn and Brent Walker that identified Helen.  If you look at Mabel’s Busy Day, you can see Helen in the crown at the racetrack.  She was in “Leading Lizzie Astray” with Roscoe Arbuckle, as an extra in the background.  Phil has put together a list of Helen Carruthers roles in the Charlie Chaplin films at Keystone:


His Favorite Pastime- Member of Household

Caught in the Rain - Chambermaid

Mabel's Busy Day - Spectator

Laughing Gas - Pretty Patient

The Property Man - Garlico's assistant

Recreation - Girl in Park

The Masquerader- Actress

His New Profession- Nephew's girlfriend

The Rounders - Diner

The New Janitor - Secretary

Those Love Pangs - Landlady

Gentlemen of Nerve- Spectator with checkered coat

His Musical Career - Miss Poor

His Trysting Place - Clarice

Tillie's Punctured Romance- Maid and Waitress

Getting Acquainted - Lover in Park

His Prehistoric Past - The Queen

Helen Carruthers not only worked at Keystone in 1914 but also at Selig.  When Charlie left Keystone, so did Helen.  There is an indication that she was up in Niles working at Essanay before she tried to develop a stage act.


May 5, 1915, Helen was just 23, her vaudeville act had failed in Seattle, she was alone, and she was not finding work at any of the studios when she attempted suicide.  She swallowed 30 mercury bichloride tablets, which she had gotten in San Francisco a few weeks before going to Oregon. Bichloride of Mercury was a drug used as a treatment for syphilis. She was staying at the Multnomah Hotel in Portland, in an interview that she gave from her hospital bed at the Good Samaritan, her reason for wanting to kill herself was and I quote, “I was lonesome.” She went on to say, “I didn’t have any sorrow or worries at all to cause me to try suicide.  I am sorry now.”


Helen’s doctor, J. Ettelsen reported that she was in critical condition but the nurses had to fight to keep her in bed, at one point according to Addison Bennett, an Oregon reporter, she got up more than once and went fluttering around the hospital room, it seems that Helen may have damaged her kidneys but didn’t feel any pain from it. While Helen was in the hospital, her interviews continued with Leone Cass Baer, who wrote a classic sob story of Helen laying very quiet all day and of her doctors saying she was near death.   Helen Carruthers recovered and dropped out of the newspaper and doesn’t seem to have returned to films.  


Thank you Phil for identifying the unknown actress, and confirming the name the Steve linked to the face in the film.










Laughing Gas - Pretty Patient

His Prehistoric Past - The Queen

Mabel's Busy Day - Spectator

The Property Man - Garlico's assistant