Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

 

Suzanna, the book is a moment in  

Mabel Normand History

By

Marilyn Slater

 Suzanna (Sennett 1922)

This film was pivotal in Mabel Normand’s film career, although perhaps it is overlooked because of all the things that were happening in her life during the filming of this feature.

The film, Suzanna was an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Harry Sinclair Drago, published by Macaulay in 1922. The publishing date for the book is 1922, which means that the publication would have been part of the promotion for the film, as Mabel was working on Suzanna just 5 weeks into the year.  Mabel had a number of copies of this book, which she gave to friends.  Last year, I gave my copy to a friend for Christmas, who went through the book and made notes on the parts of the book included in the film.  He died last month and hopefully his family will see that the book finds a new home,

with someone who understands its historic value.   

On eBay, another gift copy of Suzanna has surfaced but this one autographed to, Edward Carroll.  It reads, “To Mr. and Mrs. Edward Carroll with sincere wishes, Mabel Normand”.  The first time this was up for auction the winning bid was $383.30, but the winner didn’t follow through, so the seller re-listed it.  This time I bid, a little.  The auction ended this morning at $218.28, less frankly, than it is worth.

 

 

Why, is this book important? Well…it is important because Suzanna was being filmed during February 1922. Mabel had the day off on February 1, 1922, but needed to be back to work early the next morning. That night, Mabel was driven by William Davis, her chauffer, in her Rolls,to see William Desmond Taylor.

In the morning after WDT was shot, Edna Purviance called Mabel to tell her what had happened, after Mabel had left Taylor’s bungalow. Mabel was at the studio working on Suzanna, the filming had to stop.  When she did finally returned to the making of Suzanna, much of the joy of Mabel on the screen was gone.  All the hopes of the reuniting of the Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand production team were gone. Molly O’ had opened over the Christmas Holidays (1921) and the public seemed to love this film, there was hope that Suzanna would have been equally well received.  After the success of Molly O’, Mack Sennett along with Tom Ince’s planed foreign distribution rights to capitalize on Mabel’s return to Sennett’s studio, now that Molly O’ had received so much acclaim and Suzanna would soon be ready to screen, the ball was rounding. Sadly, Suzanna wasn’t a success.

Another reason that this particular book is a valuable addition to any researcher’s collection is the receivers of this book, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Carroll.

 

Edward Carroll was a producer and film exhibitor in Australia. Mabel was a star in Australia and Suzanna would have been shown around the world, as even in 1922, Hollywood dominated the film industry. 

However, this book has even more value … I received a wonderful email, from the silent film scholar, William M. Drew, the biographer of Pearl White.  When I first read his email, I had the feeling that the parallels between Mack & Mabel and Raymond Longford & Lottie Lyell were not just intriguing but, extraordinary.  Mabel signed the book, ‘sincere wishes’, but for what did she sincerely wish?

Here is the pertinent part of the email:

…”Turning now to Mabel's inscription in the "Suzanna" book being offered on eBay, the seller has identified the recipient as Edward Carroll as the Australian producer and exhibitor--which raises yet another fascinating series of linkages to explore.  His full name actually was Edward John Carroll (1868-1931), but he was more often known as E. J. Carroll.  As it happens, I have mentioned him in one of my online articles, the one I wrote on the Australian film pioneers Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell, at: http://www.gildasattic.com/longford.html  E. J. Carroll was the distributor of their masterpiece, "The Sentimental Bloke" (1919), and he provided financial backing for some of their subsequent productions.  To summarize briefly what is in my article, director Longford and star Lyell first became associated as actors on the stage in Australia/New Zealand in 1908-09.  It was then that they established a personal relation and, while they never married, were man and wife in everything but name.  Entering the cinema as actors in 1911, Longford soon graduated to directing with Lottie as his star.  As an actress, Lottie was intensely athletic, undertaking many daring stunts.  In a 1913 interview, she said that in her 1911 film, "The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole," "I had, in the depth of winter to jump into the water from a cliff thirty feet high, and then swim some distance out of range of the camera."  But Lottie was not only a performer in front of the camera, she also helped edit and eventually co-directed many of the films with Longford, who was 12 years her senior.  The partnership ended only with Lottie's tragically early death in 1925 at the age of 35 of tuberculosis.  It is said that Longford was inconsolable at the death of the woman he loved, a loss that would haunt him the rest of his life.  He directed a few more years, his last work as a director being in 1934, before acting in some Australian films, (one of his last appearances was in a 1941 film directed by Clarence Badger, a name with which, of course, you are very familiar).  In his later years, Longford was living in decidedly modest circumstances, though he began to get belated rediscovery thanks to a print of "The Sentimental Bloke" being found.  He died in 1959 at the age of 80.  The fame of Raymond and Lottie as a legendary couple, both lovers and filmmaking partners whose association ended in tragedy with the death of the actress at 35 of TB, has only grown in Australia in recent years.  It has even inspired a successful stage musical, a review of which can be found at:

 http://www.abc.net.au/brisbane/stories/s1520978.htm 
If you have experienced an odd sense of familiarity or deja vu in reading the information included in the paragraph above--well, there are mysterious links and parallels that are perhaps inevitable in any human activity in different parts of the globe at the same time.  So I think it more than coincidental that there would be eerie similarities between a couple in Australia and another couple of exactly the same generation on the other side of the Pacific in California. 

So here, you have Mabel, reunited with Mack, sending an inscribed copy of "Suzanna" to E. J. Carroll, who had recently been distributing and financing the work of Raymond and Lottie.  You can find an article on Mr. Carroll at

http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/blogs/A070578b.htm 

This article is linked to other ones on both Longford and Lyell from the Australian Dictionary of Biography. 

 

 

Malnor has copies of Suzanna (only about ¾ of the total released version has been found), but it is very watchable.  One of the unique characteristics of Mabel on the screen is that every emotion she feels is captured by the camera so in Suzanna, you can see her joy and then the pain, which reflects the stress on Mabel in real life, it is almost heart wrenching.

The story of Suzanna is an old California romance, set in 1835. Mabel told Sidney Sutherland that with this film, she was coming into her own.  Sutherland interviewed Mabel extensively in 1927, but in Liberty, Sept. 6, 1930, he wrote ‘MADCAP MABEL NORMAND  ¾  The True Story of a Great Comedienne.’  Sennett had promised her better parts and better production values, at this point Mabel was getting what she wanted, first Molly O’ and then Suzanna. Was this Mack’s way to court Mabel back into his life?  Mack was making huge amounts of money off Molly O’ and more would come with Suzanna. 

 

The hiatus from filming Suzanna cost Mack thousands of dollars, the film was quickly finished by May and Mabel sailed away to Europe on June 14, 1922.  Mack had tried to give Mabel the type of film she wanted but drama wasn’t Mack’s style.

 

press image to hear the Suzanna music

 

Suzanna, the film

Suzanna, rel: December 24, 1922, © January 4, 1923, Mack Sennett

Production/Allied Productions, 8 reels, director: F. Richard Jones, 

cast: Mabel Normand, George Nicholes, Walter McGrail, Evelyn

Sherman, Leon Barry, Eric Mayne, Winifred Bryson, Carl Stockdale,

Lon Poff, Minnie Ha Ha, In 19th=century Spanish California. 

Suzanna is thought to be a peon’s daughter but is actually the

daughter of Don Diego and so able to marry the man she loves. 

 

F. Richard Jones with Mabel

 

 

Mabel Normand in Wedding Dress

 

 

 

George Nichols

 

 

Evelyn Sherman

 

Walter Mc Grail 

 

 

Eric Mayne

 

Leon Barry

 

Minne Ha Ha

 

Winfred Bryson

 

Carl Stockdale

 

 

Aline Manning 

 

 

Contract for Suzanna