Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

 Bruce Long emailed me a page from the book that had a reference to Mabel Normand, it was found in Phantom – Fame by Harry Reichenbach, the author died in 1931, the year his book was published. 

 This email made me go back to the facts as I thought I knew them, and question what I thought I knew.  After all, could Maynard Nottage be molded after Harry Reichenbach (that’s another tangent). 

 The problem becomes one of dis-proving the word of someone that says they were an eyewitness.  If someone says, I saw it, who am I to say they didn’t.

 I hate calling someone a liar, so it may be just a story that someone has told so often that they believe it is the truth.  To pull a person's memory apart, piece by piece, frankly doesn’t destroy the story, it sometimes makes it sound more important than it is. It seems to me that I am doing this much too often, questioning the facts that someone else says are true.  I am not at the core of my being a negative person (well, I don’t like to think that I am, anyway). 

 What I know, Mabel went to Europe in June of 1922.  Her tea with Princess Mary was cancelled because of the murder of Sir Henry Wilson.  “Court functions, court society and everything connected with any royal event were immediately canceled in due reverence to that wonderful man who was so cruelly assassinated.”

 But here in print an eyewitness is writing that he and his wife were with Mabel in 1921 and that Mabel did not have tea with Princess Mary because Mabel was too intoxicated. 

 Who was this man that tells of traveling with Mabel a year before she was there.  If he was just wrong about the year, a typo is just that a typo.  So if the year was in fact 1922, than the tea with the Princess was cancelled by the Palace. Her publicity agent on her European trip was Perry M. Charles.

 Harry Reichenbach (1882 – 1931) worked for studios and for individual entertainers. Harry Reichenbach was an audacious silent movies publicist who made people famous in the early 1900s. The picture on the left was taken in July of 1917 in Chicago. It has been stated that his incredible creative ideas helped stop World War I.

 Harry Reichenbach said in The New York Times July 30, 1920; when he was being investigated by the District Attorney about some of his hoax, ‘kidnapping of Clara Kimball Young, suicide of Japanese actor in Central Park, etc. when asked about the New York law against adding misinformation to newspaper, “what is the matter with going over to New Jersey and doing it?”



Harry Reichenbach

(March 17, 1883 – July 3, 1931)

The Public Relation Man to the Stars


He told people that he discovered Douglas Fairbanks, Marguerite Clark and Clara Kimball Young and gave Rudolph Valentino his first job.  He was reported to have been the personal press agent: Varbara Lamarr, Frances X Bushman, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Reid, Thomas Meighan, Ethel Barrymore, Charlie Chaplin and Pola Negri but not Mabel Normand.

 Some of the thing he pulled were:

a.. Setting apes and lions loose to get “The Return of Tarzan” mentioned in the press in 1918, Reichenbach hired Thomas R. Zann to check into the Hotel Bellelaire and order 15 lbs. of raw meat from the Hotel cook

 b.. Hiring a woman to fall into a "trance" after viewing one spooky film, then making sure there was enough rampant speculation about whether movies could hypnotize people that everyone wanted to try it out.

c.. Having actors pose as a Turkish rescue party coming to the U.S. to return a young woman who had eloped with an American soldier to her scheduled royal wedding. Allegedly hush-hush, details of this mission were leaked to the eager media, whose scoops turned into big publicity for the upcoming film ‘The Virgin of Stamboul’.

d.. A lithograph of a nude girl standing in a quiet pool. The picture sold at ten cents apiece but nobody would buy it. It occurred to Reichenbach to introduce the immodest young maiden to Anthony Comstock, head of the Anti-Vice Society and archangel of virtue. Harry hired a group of boys at fifty cents apiece to stand pointing at the picture, uttering expressions of unholy glee and making grimaces too sophisticated for their years. Comstock swallowed the scene and almost choked. "Remove that picture!" he fumed, and when the shopkeeper refused, overnight, the lithograph became a vital national issue. The painting, which sold out on the art store and several million prints more. Reichenbach made $200 from his deal with the art store. The original is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

e.. One of the actors Reichenbach worked for was Rudoff Valentino. Reichenbach convinced him to grow beard to cause a bad reaction that was followed by a good one when he "agreed" to shave it.

f.. When Reichenbach was working for actor Francis X. Bushman, he took him to see Metro Picture studio executives. He began to walk with Bushman from the railway station and dropped pennies to the street from his pocket. Lots of people followed them, picking up the coins and following them. The crowd gave the studio executives an impression that Bushman was very popular and they signed him up for a big contract.

g.. He stirred up a revolution in South America just because he wanted some excitement and he couldn’t get a boat for home.

But my favorite Reichenbach stunt was the writing of 50,000 letters sent to himself, folded and wrinkled  and  dropping them all over the city, knowing that people wouldn’t be able to resist reading someone else’s mail.  The letter said: “Dear Harry, I am so blue.  My wife ran off with another man.   I wanted to kill myself at first, but I happened to see the movie at the Strand and it was so like my own life, anybody’s life, I guess.  The wife in the movie also ran off with another man, but – well see it for yourself, and you’ll agree it is the greatest heart-throb seen in New York in years.”  There was so many more of this type of things.

“The Half Naked Truth” was made from Harry Reichenbach’s colorful memoirs (if not always actuate) “Phantom Fame”, directed by Casey Robinson, starring Lee Tracy and Lupe Velez, filming started August 1932, at RKO, a year after his death.

In 1931, when Harry Reichenbach died he was only 49, a frail, dignified man with an impressive head of white hair.  He came from Cumberland

Maryland, where he said he never received any education before he ran away to join a circle at the age of 13, ending up with a Barnum show.  He educated himself on the long railroad treks between show towns and he said he could speak 6 or 7 languages fluently.

Oh, yes did you hear about the time Reichenbach, planned to have Clara Kimball Young kidnapped by Mexicans and held for ransom.  Or the time he helped President Wilson end World War I?    There are stories told and retold about the publicity stunts that Reichenbach pulled.  I would find them more amusing if he hadn’t hurt the reputations of real people just to make a few bucks. His belief that he “Sees No Harm in a Good Fake” makes me sad.


1920 July 30 NY TIMES