Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand



and we talk and talk


9798 – 01 14 2013 jayraskin1




In a scene in "Mabel's Married Life," Mabel is in her house talking to the camera and complaining about the holes in her husband Charlie's shoes. She suddenly does a perfect imitation of Chaplin's walk for about four seconds and exclaims something like, "Oh, why did I ever marry him?"

I believe that this is the first time anybody ever did an imitation of Chaplin on film. "Mabel's Married Life" was shot at the end of May and beginning of June, 1914 and released June 20th. It was Chaplin's 21st film and the 7th film that she had done with Chaplin.

While this was Chaplin's 21st film, he had only played in the Tramp character costume in 12 of them at this point. In this film, he was playing in his Tramp character costume for the fifth time with Normand. The other four films were - "Mabel's Strange Predicament, "Caught in a Cabaret," "the Fatal Mallet," and "Mabel's Busy Day,"


At this point, Chaplin's films had been playing less than five months.  Because Keystone did not put the actor's names on film credits, it is probable that most film goers did not know who Chaplin was.


Chaplin was not yet really a star and it is unlikely that anybody had thought to imitate the Tramp's unique walk before this time.

I think we can give Mabel credit for being the first Chaplin imitator onscreen.



Posted By: belmontwitch

Mon Jan 14, 2013 3:20 pm 

LOL! How interesting!  now I have to run to you tube to watch it!



Posted By: jayraskin1

Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:05 pm


Hi molliebean,

You can see it on youtube here: Mabel's Married Life 

The shot where Mabel imitates Chaplin starts at 6:54, but you really have to watch the whole movie to see how hilarious her imitation is.  Jay



Posted By: avtanner11

Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:39 pm


Oh my goodness! Mabel had Charlie spot on!  Loved this- she is sooooo under rated today.  She was marvelous and I think we see a lot of the real Mabel Normand in this- you can just imagine her spitting in her hands, making a fist, and taking on Mack! Thank you for the clip info and I think we can agree that we have another first credited to our dear Mabel Normand!  April


Posted By: belmontwitch

Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:54 pm


So funny. I had seen that several times but I guess never so clear a copy.   

My daughter and I laughed til we cried at Mabel, Charlie and the punching bag thing.  She was so funny mimicking Charlie!


Posted By: still looking for Mabel

Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:14 pm 


This is an interesting and fascinating area to explore but perhaps it can be looked at as Mabel Normand the mentor of Charlie Chaplin and only for argument sake that she was not imitating but helping him develop. Yes my bias is shinning though…


Posted By: jayraskin1

Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:21 am

Hi Marilyn,

I'm not sure it shows mentoring, but I would say it does point to the fact that

Mabel Normand was essential to the success of Chaplin and the Tramp Character.


My general argument Mabel's contribution would be more along these lines.

Chaplin became a movie star by doing 35 movies at Keystone in 1914, 11

co-starring with Mabel Normand. (Incidentally, besides Edna Purviance, Mabel co-starred with Chaplin in more films than any other actress.) In 21 of his Keystone films, Chaplin played more or less the tramp character in costume and he played nine of those films with Mabel Normand.


People describe Chaplin's character often as "the Loveable Little Tramp," but in a number of the tramp films at Keystone, the tramp can hardly be described as "loveable." He is often quite nasty (hitting people with bricks), drunk, or simply amusingly annoying (often disrupting movie productions, as in "A Film Johnnie"). There are perhaps 10 films where he can be described as loveable and Mabel co-stars with him in 7 of these.


It is Mabel who really makes the tramp "loveable." Mack Swain, Chester Conklin and others were also doing great slapstick and creating very funny, costumed characters that same year at Keystone. I would argue that without Mabel, Chaplin's tramp character would have been only another one of a half dozen funny little characters developed by comedians at Keystone that year.  Jay


Posted By: still looking for Mabel

Tue Jan 15, 2013 11:27 pm


You are the 4th person in the last year that has been exploring the relationship between Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin in the development of the Tamp.  You are the ONE that found the visional proof! Wow, thank you so much.


Rob Foster called it the Mabel Effect in his book WHEN SILENCE WAS GOLDEN: Pre-talkie Comedy Beyond Charlie Chaplin (Legendary Laughter Series). There is a post in Mabel’s Log at Looking for Mabel: WHEN SILENCE WAS GOLDEN: Pre-talkie Comedy Beyond Charlie Chaplin (Legendary Laughter Series) by Rob Foster. There is a post in Mabel’s Log at Looking for Mabel:



Who Invented Chaplin's Tramp? by Jon Boorstin



MABEL NORMAND | Silent-film star deserved to be heard

Immortality achieved in black and white

Rudy Cecera August 3, 2012



Posted By: wrigglyeyes

Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:45 am


WHO?  WHAT??  WHERE???  HUH????

(Did I miss something, Marilyn?)


Posted By: still looking for Mabel

Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:35 pm


What Jay Raskin has found in "Mabel’s Married Life" is the TRAMP WALK done by Mabel and in my opinion done better than Charlie’s version at this point in his on-screen character development. Although Jay refers to Mabel’s walk as: “being the first Chaplin imitator onscreen”.  I personally think it is visual proof that Mabel had a hand (perhaps more) in the creating of the “loveable” TRAMP … When you watch the comedy look close at Mabel at around 6:55 minutes, the whole reel is very funny and the restoration is wonderful. And so Jay has helped in adding more to the history of those pioneering years.   We owe him a big THANK YOU.


Posted By: sunshine5ra

Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:53 am


I prefer the remastered version on chaplin.pl


You can watch it on fullscreen and the music  makes it even more funnier. :)


A friend of mine always says how much Edna affected the Tramp to become more lovable. It is probable that Mabel had her fingers in the creating process of the Tramp figure on screen. But to say that other people, rather than Chaplin himself, had more to do with creating the character is demeaning of his talents. Nobody speaks of his influence on them, he had more theatrical experience than any of them. Yes, they were his friends (both Mabel and Edna), they were close and they worked together, they're all people and not to be affected by each other would be inhuman. Together they created above average movies and it is the multitude of their qualities that makes those movies so special. It perhaps wouldn't had happened with any other actors. What I'm trying to say here is that acting is down to earth, human process, rather than the philosophical creation most people think it is, and is affected by all realms of life, not just co-workers and friends. To say that there wouldn't be the Tramp as we know it today without those two women falls under the territory of fortune telling and speculation which can hardly be measured or proven by any statistical means and philosophical arguments. Though, I could be wrong. :)


Posted By: wrigglyeyes

Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:48 am  | 


Thank you, Marilyn. I wasn't sure what was going on.  I do remember Mabel doing a quick & silly Chaplin impersonation in one of the early films.  I'll be sure to catch it one of these nights.  And thank you, Jay! Nice work.  SteveR


Posted By: still looking for Mabel

Thu Jan 17, 2013 8:04 pm  | 


This kind of discussion is what I love about recreational thinking with friends! Each of us can add a dimension to a theory, what I was so excited about was Jay’s visual proof that while Mabel and Charlie was making “Mabel’s Married Life” the on screen character of the TRAMP was being developed.


As the movie is a collaborative art form each adds to the whole.  Charlie came to Keystone at the very end of 1913 fresh from the stage.  Sadly a large number of stage performers (great talents) were unable to learn the special style of performance needed for camera work. Mabel had the opportunity to learn from the amazing John Bunny-timing, the power of the camera from brilliant D. W. Griffith. By the time Mack Sennett became the production supervisor for the comedy division of Biograph; one of the New York Motion Pictures Companies in 1911, Mabel Normand’s on screen persona was set. In split reels (+/- 7 minutes) or one reels (+/- 15 minutes); there is not much time to have the audience relate and understand the characters. Keystone by 1914 had it set of players and comedy stylings – the Kops, the park, etc.


When Frank Williams started to crank the camera on “Mabel Married Life”, I think that Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin were still working on ‘writing’ this comedy skit. The drunk in the bar is pure Chaplin but the park interaction with the fantastic Mack Swain with Eva Nelson playing Swain’s wife was very much the type of thing Mabel had done before.  Did Mack Sennett direct it; well did anyone direct this in the sense of anyone telling Charlie or Mabel to play against each other?  The best Keystone Comedies are very much improvisation, perhaps just the known personalities doing ‘their thing’. 


If it can be said that Mabel gave the TRAMP heart while teaching him the power of the small perhaps Charlie gave Mabel permission to be more acrobatic.


Charlie’s genius was his ability to see what worked and run with it.  He was never able to work things out off camera; 100s and 100s of feet was used once he left Keystone after his year with Mabel. He walked away with that hilarious wonderful walk.


Edna came in 1915 after Charlie was Charlie, as they didn’t work together until Charlie was in control. He of course was not still doing his KARNO on stage performance as stage stuff didn’t work in the movies; he had to unlearn the stage and learn to move on screen.


Posted By: still looking for Mabel

Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:14 pm  | 


Jay, Your point maybe right-on as I ran it passed the film historian, William Drew and he found an April 1914 article (pre-Mabel's Married Life)...I'll post the article at Looking for Mabel later but Jay - you are the "man"


In a Midwestern newspaper, the "Rolfe Arrow" for April 13, 1914, I found the following comment: "There was never another walk like the Chaplin walk." Chaplin's costume and walk, described in the little paragraph that ends with this sentence, was already becoming so well known that it would be quite likely that Mabel would have consciously mimicked it in a film made a month and a half later. Assuming that many of the moviegoers at the time looked at the newspapers and the theatrical advertising, it's a virtual certainty that a large number of them would have known Chaplin by name in the spring of 1914.



and more


I am questioning why you think Charlie Chaplin was not a star by the time of "Mabel's Married Life"? When Charlie and Mabel were doing "Mabel at the Wheel" they got into an argument and many including Charlie thought he would be fired..he was not but unbeknownst to him Mack Sennett had received word from the head office to push more Chaplin films out therefore he could not fire him....even though he was not on the movie posters he was becoming known.. I am not taking anything from Mabel she was wonderful but many of "the tramps" movements he had learned on the stage with Fred Karno Troupe he had been with for over 6 years before Keystones.

Anne  04:49 PM on January 22, 2013 


Your comment is just the type of thing, which was going on in the discussion with many opinions and ideas being exchanged that I posted.  The focus was the Mabel mimicking of Charlie’s walk… the newspaper from April 1914 (at the end of the post) would indicate that he had indeed been noticed by the public prior to the release of the June 1914 reel.  “Mabel at the Wheel” was an important 2 reels released in April.  The back-story of the problems that Charlie had with taking directions is indeed part of the Keystone saga; usually as part of making a feminists point.  

I think there are a few agreed upon facts such as Mack Sennett was looking for a replacement COMIC not another director or definitely not a genius with his own ideas; Mabel nicknamed Mack, Napoleon. Mack wanted the vaudevillian to become part of the existing troupe. Not the young rather handsome Chaplin, with his own ideas, who was more and greater on film than even Charlie; himself could have imagined.  Only a few people had seen him on his US 1910 tour or the 1913 shows, the world came to see him on film.

As a lot of stage performers could never get over the linear continuity paradigm of the stage as filmmaking is a lot of stops and starts.  In “Mabel’s Married Life” I feel we see Charlie in his practice Karno act, at the bar, - the manipulation of the glasses, the onion bouquet and fight, very studied; it is a wonderful sequence and foreshadows what will grew once he is in control.  In Mabel version of his walk albeit only a very quick look, she has captured it brilliantly and again my opinion only this is because she has done it before; Mabel was holding Charlie’s hand and she was showing him the grace in her use of the camera.

Marilyn (Looking for Mabel) January 22, 8:45pm



newspaper clippings

(thanks to William M. Drew)





Rudy Cecera January 20, 2013



            There has been some recent research by film historians, silent movie academics and classic comedy buffs that have explored the idea that Charlie Chaplin and his most enduring character and image, “The Tramp” may not have been his own concept.  The prevailing theory was that it was really the brainchild of the most underrated person in film history…that of silent movie actress Mabel Normand, Hollywood’s First Comedienne and one of Hollywood’s earliest female directors and producers.  As it turns out, it may be more fact then theory and the proof isn’t based on the opinions of feminists or fans but actual visual evidence.

              Speculation of Mabel’s influence on Chaplin’s career began when she herself insisted that Mack Sennett hire him for Keystone studios.  Once there the unknown actor never hit his stride till working with Mabel which obviously made her instrumental in his development as an actor.  She was one of his earliest influences, friends and directors and the first film that he wore his immortal outfit was one in which she directed and co-starred.  Thankfully, since some of these early classic films have been preserved actual cinematic proof now exists to give Mabel the credit she richly deserves.

            In the 1914 one reel comedy “Mabel’s Married Life” (the title alone suggesting who was a bigger star at the time) something very minor is seen.  So minor that it has obviously been over looked for years.  Half way through the film, which plot centers around a domestic dispute between a married couple, Mabel the wife attempts to show the viewers without words who is the object of her anger.  In doing so she does the walk that made Chaplin the most famous comedian in the world.  This fact, like the screen time it encompasses, may seem minor but its relevance is nothing short of major.  The reality is Mabel’s interpretation is too good for it to be a mere imitation.  The fact that Mabel does a better “Chaplin” then “Chaplin” proves she had done it before…perhaps as a suggestion or instruction to the young Englishman on how to properly exaggerate the character for comedic effect.  At the very least these few precious seconds of film also make Mabel the first Chaplin impersonator.

            This on-camera evidence, together with all the other facts, not to mention the opinions and speculation of educated people based on history, research and good old fashioned common sense cannot be ignored.  Mabel Normand IS the woman behind the “The Tramp” and therefore by osmosis…Chaplin.  Everything he went on to be he owes to Mabel and likewise everyone he later influenced.  This alone should give Mabel the immortality that she deserves but ironically it is only a small fraction of her accomplishments.  She was Mack Sennett’s muse, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s leading lady, a filmmaker in every sense of the word and a damn funny lady who opened doors for everyone from Lucille Ball to Tina Fey.  So the next time you see a pratfall, a film directed by a woman or a derby hat…think of Mabel…the “Tramp-Ette”.

For more information of Mabel please refer to my earlier article on screencomment.com and the website Looking For Mabel which also shows a clip of the aforementioned “visual evidence”.

Rudy Cecera

This is reposted (with pictures added) from