Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand



is as refreshing as a breeze

from the mountains on a hot summer day.“


It was last September (2012) that our friend, Paul Gierucki gave us the lovely 100th anniversary present of nearly 100 Sennett/Keystone films on TCM; among the collection was a movie made by Mabel Normand; she produced it and starred in it starting back in August 1916 at her own studio.  

            On Sunday (July 21, 2013) TCM replayed one of Paul’s restored versions of “Mickey” (the better one will be on the DVD set).  During her lifetime this was the film that defined her on-screen persona; over and over again she is referred to as Mickey as if her character was who she was.  “New American character” and “female Hick Finn” etc., it seemed hard for the public to separate her from the role, which may account for the disappointment when her personal life didn’t reflect the character of “Mickey.” What this particular movie seems to represent is how deeply her influence affected the whole American film-going audience. 

            I received a couple of emails this morning about the changes in her appearance during the various screens… Was she ill during the filming? 

Marilyn Slater

Looking for Mabel

July 22, 2013



She was working on it from according to the Mack Sennett Weekly dated January 1, 1917, (the first edition), the actual banner reads Mack Sennett Weekly: Keystone Comedies – Mabel Normand Feature Film, the movie was started in August 1916. Mickey was finished in April 1917. Mabel left to join Goldwyn according to a telegraph dated July 23, 1917 that Mabel sent Mack; she was schedule to start with Sam September 1, 1917.  She was in New York when Mack sold Mickey, December 27, 1917.












 In an article regarding the “Peace Garden” Minta was with Mabel in Phoenix, AZ, November 1916 re-filming the race sequence, although, in another paper dated November 16, 1916 it was reported that Lew Cody was appearing in the Mabel Normand picture near completion, little did the reporter know that it wasn’t going to be done until April 1917, copyright February 1918 released August 1918.











So we know from the payroll records Minta was in Ft. Lee, January 29, 1916.  She might not have been in California when Mabel came back to start construction on her studio, in August 1916, Minta is not part of the candid group photos taken at Lake Arrowhead.  The scenes of Minta, Mabel and Lew was done at Mabel’s studio as I remember Minta’s work were all interiors.  But Minta was in Phoenix, November 1916.  Then back to California for more filming and in April 1917 Mabel went back East. In the telegram Mabel sent to Mack, she said that Sam Goldwyn thought she looked ill so she was going to Florida to rest... 




Mabel Normand Feature Film Company

(Mack Sennett -Western Import Company)

7 reels, Aug. 11, 1918

Mountain Bred

dir. F. Richard Jones, asst. director. George Nichols, auth. J. G. Hawkes, scenario. Anita Loos, photography Hans F. Koenekamp


Mabel Normand (Mickey),

Lew Cody (Reggie Drake),

Wheeler Oakman (Herbert Thornhill),

Minta Durfee (Elsie Drake),

George Nichols (Joe Meadows),

Minnie Devereaux (Minnie),

Laura Lavarnie (Mrs. Geofrey Drake),

Tom Kennedy (Tom Rawlings),

Edgar Kennedy (Race Track Bookee),

William Colvin (Butler),

Joe Bordeaux (Stage Driver)





Mabel Normand Studio, Los Angeles;

Lake Arrowhead, CA;

race track in Phoenix, AZ


copyright:  Feb. 25, 1918


“Long Review and Study of Mickey”


Cinderella is the origin of the plots used. The film rises above the mere fairy tale Mickey is a very unique, charming and uplifting film. It is an overflowing and ecstatic (if a bit rough on the edges) it just shouts of joy.

The basic origin for the actual character of Mickey appears to come from Mark Twain's Huck Finn, but here is a female Huck Finn.  Mabel, herself has heavily modified it during the course of production, and as shaped Mickey to be pattern after Mabel, herself. 

Wheeler Oakman, a handsome mine-owner and surveyor visiting back-country where Mabel lives, tries to kiss her lips. Mickey, although obviously enamored of him, turns away shyly. He then kisses her tenderly on the wrist instead. Later, Mickey, with a smile almost as wide as her face, is sitting on a fence with Minnie, her old Indian foster-mother and carefully telling Minnie how Thornhill kissed her wrist, and how her heart beats madly (making a gesture by clapping her wrists together) because she is in love with him. Minnie's look of thoughtful gravity, as she listens  puffing on her corn cob pipe, makes for a quite a humorous contrast. Mickey then in an outburst of laughter finally throws her arms around Minnie in a great hug.

There are many wonderful sequences like where Mabel takes advantage of the slightest gestures. In another scene, Mickey feeling the wrath of her good hearted but brutal foster-father, goes to steal the razor strip he beats her with. What we see is the strip hanging by the window, when suddenly Mickey’s hand followed by an arms comes out from behind the window curtain, and with a personality all its own covertly dances up to the belt, grabs and escapes with it. The scene is otherwise very simple, an arm comes through a window and grabs a razor strip off the wall. The way it is done, the actions of Mabel's and arm expresses the character of Mickey. Mickey can be eloquent at times even (for instance) in just the way she stands.

Mickey's arrival from the west and arriving at the mansion of her relatives is one particularly  hilarious, yet touching scene. We are amused by her and her foster-father's, acted by George Nichols,  awkwardness in the new surroundings. Yet this cheerful atmosphere subsides into a kind of sadness when they say their farewells to each other, realizing that they will be far away from each other for a long time to come, and the suggestion that Mickey's days of wild innocence will perhaps be lost by her future contact with "civilized" society.  It a picture of innocence on the threshold of experience that is movingly played and realized by both Mabel and Nichols. 

Mickey's innocence is not a naïve sort. Like many children there is a carefree mischief about her. Indeed, she is rebellious. While she is not so much malicious, her reaction to situations, nevertheless,  sometimes surprises us with its brashness. After being scolded for picking cherries off a cake sitting on a kitchen table,  she quite defiantly smashes the cake with her fist. Likewise, after her rich relatives find out  her foster-father's "Tomboy mine" has struck gold,  they run to drag  her off the leaving train. As they finally are able to do so, forcing her to get into a car and come back with them, Mickey sticks her tongue out at them.

Probably the most exciting, and most famous scene in Mickey is the race track sequence. Finding out that Reggie Drake, Lew Cody, is going to fix race, in order so that, Thornhill, Drake's rival for Mickey's affections,  will lose on a bet, Mickey secretly takes the place of the jockey and enters the horse race. So rather than the race being thrown as Reggie Drake had surreptitiously intended, Mickey rides the horse so well that she overtakes and leads the pack, much to the joy of onlookers, and to the great dismay of Drake and his confidante.  It a rousing kind of sequence, made all the more thrilling by seeing Mabel herself very intently and boldly  --  yet genuinely cute all the same --- riding the fast horse to seeming victory. Seeming because her horse ultimately stumbles just before the finish line, and throws her to the ground. It is a puzzling moment because we otherwise naturally expected that she would have won, but she doesn't. Yet while she fails in saving Thornhill from his bad bet, she is given an opportunity through this experience to show both her personal courage and devotion to him. 

Later we see Mickey off on a friendly ride with Drake, "Much against her better judgment" as the title card states. From here, Drake lures her to a house where an interest in ravishing her is clearly implied. However, Thornhill who happens to be in the neighborhood sees Mickey crying for help and goes to rescue her. The fight and what ensues is fairly predictable except that here the villain gets the last best "smash" (using a  chair) on his adversary. Even so the hero is still able to rescue the girl, and once again (as at the race track) the villain is left with a hollow victory.

The final message of Mickey? For all its inexperience and recklessness, untainted Youth has its own, natural virtues, which at times can often rise superior to the artificial and conventional morals and character of those with more age and experience.

These, of course, are not new messages, but the way, Mabel, Jones and cast are able to express them is new, and beautifully done. The film can be well likened to a wonderful piece of folk art.  What the folk-artist might lack in formal schooling, is more than compensated for by their enthusiasm, sincerity, and love  -- much like Mickey herself.


“Promotion for Film”        


The "Mickey" music was shown in window displays of the song or records are prepared with announcement that the picture will be shown in a certain theatre. In addition, copies of the song are sold in the theatre lobby, or in some instances given away during matinees to attract patronage.  The Columbia Company carried a "Mickey" window display in their Fifth Avenue store, which is said to be the first time, a photoplay was advertised on Fifth Avenue. 


Contemporary Review from (1919)

“An entertaining comedy with Mabel Normand in the lead. Excellently played and photographed. Some of the western scenes were artistic in the extreme and the types and rural characters are excellent. There is something in this play to please everybody. While the story is not very strong, it is done so well and the acting is so fine that the story does not make much difference. It is remarked that this play was started two years ago and was widely advertised at that time.  the making and The final is 5,000 or 6,000 feet, and there are places where the story does not run quite as smoothly as it might. However, this is all lost in the wonderful atmosphere and cleverness of the character types. Mabel  Normand is seen in a new role. At first she is a simple rollicking unsophisticated country girl; second, she is dressed up in society clothes; third, she returns to her former life and fourth she marries her rich sweetheart.”