Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand




Marilyn Slater

January 28, 2009

Up until recently I have been looking into Mabel Normand’s career and yes, her personal life, which has exposed a facet worth exploring.  It is her PUBLIC LIFE, a bridge between her on screen persona and the person she was off screen.  Sadly, because of her tumultuous personal life has received so much attention, it has over shadowed the face she wanted to show to the public off screen. 

In April 1913, she was campaigning for the Socialist candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles at nickelodeons.  She was reported to be talking about perhaps someday running for Mayor herself, for the Suffrage Party if the vote for women ever came to California. Mabel Normand was in fact a very ardent suffragette but Mayor Mabel, what a thought!  

Her interest in the progressive movement seemed to be very much a part of who she was, as three years later, our Mabel was giving speeches in San Diego, California as well as in Phoenix, Arizona as part of the Peace Movement.  With the United States entry into World War I,  Mabel became active in the “Liberty Bond” drives and appeared in a couple of propaganda films, one called “United States Fourth Liberty Load Drive, The Story of the Biggest Game Ever Played”. It was released August 1918 while she was working for Sam Goldwyn.  This documentary is lost but from what information about it that survives, the director was Hugo Ballin, with Mabel were, Pauline Frederick, Madge Kennedy, Mae Marsh and Tom Moore. 

There is some indication that Mabel Normand was also associated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) – Wobblies before the United States entered the war.

A Peace Day was first conceived by Mabel and was part of a very large ceremony at the Panama California International Exposition 1916.  Thousands of children paraded on the Fair grounds from all parts of California.  Mabel, as the children watched, dug a ‘grave’ buried the symbols of war; a sword, a gun and pistol and she planted a symbol of peace on the emblems of war, an olive tree. 


With Mabel and the thousands of children was Secretary Penfold of the Exposition and George Wharton Jones, the famous author and lecturer.  David Starr Jordan, the peace advocate sent a message that was read at the ceremony.

George Hunt, governor of Arizona invited Mabel to come and lead a similar event in Phoenix in 1916.  In all parts of the country the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) were organized to hold “Peace Day” ceremonies and all this began with our little “Madcap” Mabel Normand.

She was an enthusiastic peace worker and paid for “Peace Garden” champion bottoms to be made for the children that came to the Phoenix Fair, herself.  In Phoenix she encouraged the planting of not just Olive trees but flowers and vegetables, hoping that the thoughts of those attending would turn away from war towards peace.

According to the Arizona Gazette, November 14, 1916, “Friday has been set apart at the fair as Mabel Normand Peace day, when duplications of scenes at the San Diego exposition will be made, and Miss Normand, with two veterans of the civil war, will bury the implements of war, expressing her idea of “Peace on earth, good will to men.”  The ceremony at the State Fair was very dramatic and the “beautiful comedy queen” advocated world peace. 

What did Mabel say to the children of America … well; it just so happens that the text of her speech is available.


Mabel Normand Calls Peace Army


Mabel Normand

Dear boys and girls, parents and educators of Arizona: I am very proud and happy because I have been asked to tell you about our PEACE ARMY PLAN and what you can do to help it along.

There are many acres in Arizona which, not long ago, were barren and desolate. There are many acres in Europe which little more than two years ago were productive and beautiful

While Arizonans have been making productive and beautiful the barrens lands of Arizona, Europeans have been making barren and desolate the productive lands in Europe.

During this dreadful war, millions of boys and girls have lost their fathers and their homes. I do not believe that this war would have come if the grown people of Europe had been taught when they were boys and girls that God has put us here to conquer the earth, and not to conquer men; to create and not destroy beautiful and useful things; to love each other and not to hate each other; to save human life, and not to slay human life.

Full of this belief, several thousands of us met at the San Diego Exposition recently, where we buried the arms of war and planted the olive symbol of peace. Each boys and girl present promised to make the earth produce at least one plant and to care for and to love that plant as their symbol of peace and happiness.

And because David Starr Jordan, George Wharton James and many wise and good men and women think well of it, I am sending a message to parents and educators all over the world, asking them to help the boys and girls to celebrate Christmas by having each one of them start a flower plant in a pot on Christmas day, so that they will have it ever near them as a symbol of love and creation.

Having done this, we ask you boys and girls to begin the new year of 1917 by gathering together in schools or in other public places, there to bury the symbols of hate and war, as we did in San Diego.

Parents, educators, boys and girls of Arizona, this is my call to you. May I not hope that each of you will plant your flower of love on Christmas day and bury the arms of war with the new year’s advent? And may I hope that you will write and place somewhere near your flower of love this message sent to you, so that you can see it each day.

by David Starr Jordan:

          “The Chinese have a proverb: ‘Where armies’ quarter, thorns and thistles grow.’ War and war-making means desolation and hate. As roses are fairer than tin soldiers and bayonets, so are the thoughts of flower-planting children sweeter and nobler than hatred, fear and suspicion, which are always part of the war.”

This was during the period that Mabel Normand headed the Mabel Normand Feature Film Company and was also filming the racetrack scenes for Mickey in Arizona.  She received a lot of cooperation of the fair managers. I wonder if there is an olive tree still growing in San Diego, above a sword, gun and pistol.



Arizona Gazette, November 14, 1916, Popular Film Star Comes To Phoenix

Arizona Republican, November 15, 1916

Arizona Republican, November 16, 1916, Screen Favorites With Normand Co.

Arizona Republican, November 17, 1916, Army of Garden Soldiers Miss Normand’s Peace Plan

King, Rob, The Fun Factory, 2009, page 64

Los Angeles Citizen, April 18, 1913

Mansfield News, December 2, 1916, Children to Promulgate World Peace of Tomorrow

Motion Picture Magazine, January 1917