Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

Who was Victor Schertzinger?

by

Marilyn Slater

 

In a 1924 interview, Victor Schertzinger explained, “Music and pantomime have a vital kinship.  Both are projected from visions of the inner eye.  Dissect any meritorious composition, any great symphony for instance and you’ll find it built upon a wonderful dramatic story having in it all the elements of a romantic passion.

The common denominator of the two is tempo.  Anyone who has the soul pulse to write good music can construct good pictorial drama.  If the tempo in a play is wrong, no matter how fine the piece or how great the enacting artist it reaps with the blue note of discord.  The screen will come to perfection not when it has been given a speaking voice as some argue but when wordless music has been thoroughly synchronized with wordless pictures to establish any shade of desired mood.”[1]

 

Mabel knew him, liked him, worked with him and played with him. Mabel thought he was a wonderful director, he directed Mabel in seven Goldwyn films and 2 are still available: “What Happened to Rosa and “Head Over Heels.” Even without realizing his extensive musical background there is a real sense of rhythm found it Mabel’s movements. These films are both light and joyful little farces and great fun. There are three of the sixteen Goldwyn Studio films that Mabel made that survive.

 

 

 

 

The reviews done of their collaboration indicated that under Victor’s direction Mabel did some of her best pantomime[2].  The films he directed Mabel in where done in Culver City, California: (1) When Doctors Disagree (May 1919, dir: Victor Schertzinger), (2) Upstairs (Aug. 1919,  dir: Schertzinger), (3) The Jinx (Sept. 1919,  dir: Schertzinger), (4) Pinto (Feb. 1920,  dir: Schertzinger), (5) The Slim Princess (July 1920,  dir: Schertzinger), (6) What Happened to Rosa (Apr. 1921,  dir: Schertzinger), (7) Head Over Heels (April 1922,  dir: Schertzinger).

 

 

 

When Doctors Disagree (1919)

 

 

Jinx (1919)

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly, most of their films are undiscovered as of yet. The first film they made together was a comedy written expressly for Miss Normand by Mrs. Anna F. Brand and Victor Schertzinger was the director and supervisor the production, it was called “When Doctors Disagree” Among the support players were: Walter Hiers, George Nichols, Fritzie Ridgeway, William Buckley and Alec. B. Francis[3].

 

In a Los Angeles Time article dated May 14, 1919 it is reported that Mabel had forgone her month’s vacation and had started another film with Victor[4].  Mabel admitted that she could be tem­peramental at times, but that she didn’t dare take liberties with Mr. Schertzinger[5].

 

 

 

It was in September of 1919 on a Monday morning that the Schertzinger crew when on location in Victorville[6], which was about a two-hour trip by train from Culver City.  Mabel usually have nicknames to people she liked, Sennett was “Nappy”, and Victor Schertzinger was “Pa.  Victor called Mabel “Ma.” Mabel had wanted music on location and asked “Pa” where the band was.   He explained that he didn’t order a band as there was no dancing in the screens they were going to shoot.  Mabel wanted music on the trip and thought that it would be nice to have music at the little hotel where they would be staying and besides she stated that she always worked better with music.  So Victor sent a telegram back to the studio and remarked that, “Guess they’ll send it, for she has always had one with her – and goodness knows, she needs something to go with her joyful spirit[7]

 

 

 

 

“Pinto,” the picture, which Mabel finished just before she went to New York in November 1919 on vacation, was written by Victor Schertzinger.  Mabel was in New York seeing her friends, going to plays, buying clothes and thinking about renewing her contract with Goldwyn[8].   There were only three or four pictures finished before her first one was distributed, she was planning to be in New York until December 3, 1919 and would then go back to Culver City and make her next film with Victor. 

 

When Mabel spoke of the stunts in her pictures, she was quick to admit some of the novel effects and “impossible” funny stunts were developed together with Victor when they put their heads. Their works days must have been great fun as when Mabel, wandering o’er the lea  ¾  or lawn  ¾  at the close of work, hand in hand with “Pa” and caroling, “We’re going on a vacation![9]

 

Mabel was in New York for her birthday in 1919, the Goldwyn Studio gave a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton. She told the assembled group that Victor Schertzinger was the finest director ever, and she had to be back in Los Angeles by December 3, as she must start a picture then, and she doesn't want any other star to get Victor first ¾ which the reported thought should make that genial gentleman feel quite puffed up[10]. Victor managed to understand the Mabel type of pictures better than any director she had, other then perhaps, F. Richard Jones.

 

Back in Los Angeles, there was another Goldwyn party for the people at the Culver City Goldwyn Studio held at the Alexandria Hotel were Mabel and Victor could dance and dine together[11].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victor Schertzinger was employed by Mack Sennett as the musical director at the Triangle Studios, Victor is said to be the first man to write a musical score for a motion picture, the film “Civilization” in 1916 this was music composed for the film produced for Thomas Ince; Victor also did the orchestration for Billie Burke’s “Peggy.”  He was reported to have said to Mack Sennett, Thomas H. Ince and D. W. Griffith, “The trouble with the movies is that nobody’s put music into them.”

 

Victor was credited with many other “first” in the movies, directing one of the first Technicolor productions, Richard Dix in “Redskin.”  Victor may not have been the first director to bring opera to the movies but he is given credit for his work with Grace Moore to bringing opera music to the movies in his production of “One Night of Love” with Grace Moore as the star.  Charles Ray had been in films since 1911 but it was when Thomas Ince noticed Victor’s tactful, genial personality, and how well he got along with temperamental star Charles Ray; Ince assigned Victor to direct several of Ray's biggest hits. Among them "The Clodhopper" (1917), "The Pinch Hitter" (1917), and "A Nine O’clock Town" (1918) and Victor went on to direct him in twenty-one films.  In 1919, Thomas Ince paired Rudolph Valentino with Dorothy Dalton in “The Home Breaker” with Victor directing and the public fell in love.  He directed Ramon Novarro in “The Concert” (1921Goldwyn) although Ramon is an un-credited dancer, Ramon had been dancing in film since 1916.  He directed Janet Gaynor in “The Return of Peter Grimm”(1926 Fox) although she had appeared in various films dating from 1924 mostly un-credited this film established Janet as an actress to be taken seriously[12]

 

 

                                         

 

He also pioneered with sound in his film “Nothing But The Truth.” Victor’s early silent films were commercially successful but with sound, his talents were the right fit.  He made a number of wonderful films some musicals some not for Paramount and other studios among them "The Love Parade" (music only, 1929), "Friends and Lovers" (1931), "Strange Justice" (1932), "My Woman" (1933), "Beloved" (1934), and "Something to Sing About" (1938).

 

He went on to successfully handle light comedies and musicals. He did the complete score for “The Love Parade,” with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald and for “One Night of Love,” with Grace Moore.  Among his later hits were “Kiss the Boys Goodbye,” “The Road to Singapore,” and “Birth of the Blues.”  At the time of his death, he was directing still another musical “The Fleet’s In.” 

 

He was the right person to present grand opera in motion pictures and light opera, bringing “the Mikado” to the screen.  We also have Victor to thank for launching the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope together as a starring team. He brought us the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour "Road" series with "The Road to Singapore" (1940) and "The Road to Zanzibar" (1941).

 

He won the first Academy Award in the Best Original Score category for "One Night of Love" (1934) and also received a Best Director nomination for that film. While Schertzinger and Gus Kahn were credited with thematic music, the award was presented to the head of the studio's music department between 1934 and 1937. In this case, the award went to Louis Silvers of Columbia, but it was for Victor Schertzinger’s music.

 

 Victor Schertzinger was said to be the first man to write music for the movies, he died, leaving a heritage of song and of cinematic achievement.  In the field of popular music, Schertzinger was famous for writing “Marquita,” a song that sold more than 4,000,000 copies by 1941. As a songwriter, he collaborated with lyricists Gus Kahn, Clifford Grey, and Johnny Mercer on the standards "Dream Lover", "I Don't Want to Cry Any More", "I Remember You", "Paris, Stay the Same", and "Tangerine". It was at the request of Robert Bosworth and Thomas H. Ince, that he pioneered the use of music in the movies. 

 

In 1920, there was a story in a column in the New York Morning Telegraph[13] quoting Grace Kingsley about a piece of music discussing the possibility that it was a fake story in the Los Angeles Times about Mabel and Victor and a song. It was entitled ‘A Musical Jekyll and Hyde,’ the song was said to be the brainchild of ‘Ma’ Mabel Normand and ‘Pa’ Victor Schertzinger. Mabel’s director at the time.

 

 

A MUSICAL JEKYLL AND HYDE

 

“She didn't care to stop for air.

When a saxophone would moan.

And 'pon my soul she'll lose control

When she'd hear a slide trombone.

When the jazz clarinet starts squealing,

She'll roll her eyes and look appealing.

Then, she'll shiver, boy, she'll quiver.

She loved each shimmie they'd give her.

A big base drum would make her numb

From her head down to her toes,

And a violin would make her given,

To any step her partner knows.

But when she'd play the organ up in the choir,

You could see the angels sitting there by her,

And they'd swell with pride as they sang beside

This musical Jekyll and Hyde.”

 

 

 

 

 

He went on to successfully handle light comedies and musicals. He did the complete score for “The Love Parade,” with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald and for “One Night of Love,” with Grace Moore.  Among his later hits were “Kiss the Boys Goodbye,” “The Road to Singapore,” and “Birth of the Blues.”  At the time of his death, he was directing still another musical “The Fleet’s In.” 

He was the right person to present grand opera in motion pictures and light opera, bringing “the Mikado” to the screen.  We also have Victor to thank for launching the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope together as a starring team. He brought us the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour "Road" series with "The Road to Singapore" (1940) and "The Road to Zanzibar" (1941).

 

 

 

                                                 

 

 

He won the first Academy Award in the Best Original Score category for "One Night of Love" (1934) and also received a Best Director nomination for that film. While Schertzinger and Gus Kahn were credited with thematic music, the award was presented to the head of the studio's music department between 1934 and 1937. In this case, the award went to Louis Silvers of Columbia, but it was for Victor Schertzinger’s music.

 

He was born April 8, 1888[14] in Mahanoy, Pennsylvania and died in his sleep of a heart attack October 26, 1941, in Los Angeles, California near the end of the filming of "The Fleet's In" (released after his death in 1942).    Dorothy Lamour, was probably the last person to talk to him when she phoned to discuss a song, she was to sing in “The Fleet’s In.”

 

Victor was the son of a diamond merchant and his mother, Pauline van Weber, had been a court violinist to Queen Victoria, Pauline was the niece of Karl van Weber, noted German composer.  At the age of four Victor began taking lessons and made his debut as a violinist at age eight with Victor Herbert Symphony Orchestra in Philadelphia. Then followed the world tour with John Philip Sousa’s orchestra as a soloist at the age of ten.  The boy violinist in the next few years accompanied such great opera and concert stars as Melba, Sembrich and Calve.  At the age of 14, he was traveling with the company of Ellen Beach Yaw, noted singer of her day.  After studying music at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and the University of Brussels and  touring Europe as a concert virtuoso he settled in Los Angeles to conduct theatre orchestras.  Victor was one of the few classically-trained musician to direct silent films, perhaps the only one..  He worked in studios both in Los Angeles and New York, but came back to Los Angeles at the request of Robert Bosworth and Thomas H. Ince to pioneer the use of music in the movies.

 

He was survived by his widow and two daughters, Pauline, sixteen-year-old harpist and Patricia. Burial: Forest Lawn Memorial Park  Glendale Los Angeles County California, USA Plot: Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Repose, Crypt 8415



 



[1] THE CAPITAL TIMES, May 22, 1924

DAILY MOVIE NOTES  Sees Musicians As Movie Directors

 

[2] New York Times, August 18, 1918

            The Strand runs to farce-comedy this week, with “Upstairs” at the head of the bill. This is a piece of nonsense in which Mabel Normand, under the direction of Victor L. Schertzinger, does some of her best pantomimic work.

 

[3] Motion Picture World, May 10, 1919

           The comedy was written expressly for Miss Normand by Mrs. Anna F. Brand. Victor L. Schertzinger, director, is supervising the production.

 

[4] Los Angeles Times, May 14, 1919, Mabel Back on the Job

            Mabel Normand decided that she was so healthy and full of pep that she didn't need a month's vacation after all. She is to return to work at the Goldwyn studio the first of next week in a new picture which will be under the direction of Victor Schertz­inger.

 

[5]  New York Morning Telegraph, August 31, 1919, Louella Parsons, What It All Means!

         (Mabel) I'll admit I'm tem­peramental at times, but I don't dare take liberties with Mr. Schertzinger

 

[6] Pinto

 

[7]Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1919,  Mabel’s Musical Yearnings

        Schertzinger company went on location to Victorville, but no sooner had they traveled two hours than Miss Normand asked “Paw” Schertzinger, her director, where the band was.

            “Band?” queried he, “what band do you mean, Maw?”

            “Why our own company band  ¾  where is our music for this trip?”

            “We did not order a band  ¾  there is no dancing to be done.”

            “But I want a band,” Miss Normand pouted prettily, “and you know it will be nice to have at the little hotel, too  ¾  besides, we can always work better.”

            The finish showed Director Schertzinger sending a telegram back to the studio, and, although he had rather a doubtful expression on his jovial face, he remarked, “Guess they’ll send it, for she has always had one with her  ¾  and, goodness knows, she needs something to go with her joyful spirit.”

 

 

[8] New York Herald, November 9, 1919        Mabel Normand Renews Contract

            Mabel Normand has set all the rumors as to her future at rest by signing a long term contract with the Goldwyn Company. Of course Miss Normand, who is in town for a vacation, has a lot of things to do --¾  such as seeing her old friends and buying clothes  ¾  besides think of business.

 

[9] Los Angeles Herald, November 18, 1919, Ray W. Frohman  Interview In Jazz With ‘Fun Girl’ Of Films (Mabel) she will tell you that “Mr. Schertzinger is a wonderful director  ¾  "he’s creative… with the assistance of “Pa” Schertzinger’s muscle and a couple of impromptu grunts from “Ma,” the acrobatic and irrepressible Mabel was incased in a huge, broad leather belt over the overalls she had donned, and a right Bill Hartish pair of “chaps.”  High tan boots some slave had hoisted on her, and her light tan shirt was open at the neck.

            That, mes amis, was Mabel Normand, the ludicrous stuntster of film comedy-drama, whose highly absurd situations, and the sport she get out of them, make her such a popular royal jester to His Majesty, the Public!

            Grudgingly, she admitted something to this effect regarding her novel and “impossible” funny stunts:

            “I think up SOME of them:  but Mr. Schertzinger and I put our heads together and work out most of them.  None are given to us in the scenario manuscript, you know.” And then Mabel, wandering o’er the lea  ¾  or lawn  ¾  at the close of work, hand in hand with “Pa” and caroling, “We’re going on a vacation!”

 

 

[10] Exhibitors Trade Review, November 22, 1919

            Goldwyn Welcomes Mabel Normand To New York; Luncheon At Ritz-Carlton

Mabel is ever so much prettier off the screen than she is on, and that, and that is going some as all lovers of her mischievous, laughter loving face will agree. One misses her color, which is like a California poppy in its fresh radiance, and the sparkle of her dark eyes, and the up-tilt to the corners of her mouth, which surely was never made for anything but smiles. She is a most natural, unas­suming, democratic little star, which is a welcome relief after the “up-stage” manners adopted by some of our lesser lights of the screen. She just chatted away like any normal, healthy minded girl, and told jokes on herself and asked all sorts of questions about other stars and screen people like a regular movie-fan.

 

 

[11] Los Angeles Herald, February 19, 1920,  Dinner to Goldwyn

 

[12] IMDb -  Janet Gaynor

 lists for her only a few Roach titles, it's likely there are many more she made that are not listed.  

At the Center of the Frame, William Drew,   writes that Fay Wray tells how in 1925 she would pick up Janet in her Model T Ford and drive her to and from the Roach and Universal Studios where they were both under contract.

 

[13] New York Morning Telegraph, July 18, 1920, Grace Kingsley, Says Its True

 

[14] California Death Records lists Victor Schertzinger birth as April 8, 1888, of course, this information could be wrong, dieing when he was 53.

 

                

 

 

Many, many of these citations come from the wonderful book, which my friend, William Thomas Sherman created called the MABEL NORMAND SOURCE BOOK, a copy of the whole book with the most current updates can be found at the MABEL NORMAND HOMEPAGE. You will find some lovely and important material at his site. http://www.angelfire.com/mn/hp/

 

.

added March 2014