Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

1918 Picture-Play February


The Girl on the Cover

Mabel Normand discloses a new plan for making magnates laugh.

By Norbert Lusk


Picture-Play Magazine, February 1918, pg 262-265



“I love dark windy days and chocolate cake.” Miss Normand announced with perfect gravity, “and storms, when houses blow down.”


There was no hint of mischief or make-believe in the famous Normand eyes.  They are even lovelier than the screen ever discloses, and the lashes curl upward more than the film can let one see.


“Chocolate cake.” She went on, “is the one thing I never get.  People always keep it from me.  That’s why I have decided it is my favorite food.”


“But I never eat it – or anything else – when I am acting.  Food makes me too contented.”  She yawned lazily over her coffee.  “And I don’t want to be lazy any more.  A year of rest is enough for any one.  Now I want to come back – hard.”




 The comedienne was reminded that she had no place to “come back” from – that she has stayed in the affections of the film fans every since the early days of Biograph, where under direction of Griffith and Sennett, she had rollicked her way into their hearts through her boisterous comedy.


That – it will be remembered – was her introduction into the world of film – a long step from studying art, which first brought her to New York from her home in Atlanta, Georgia(1).


Her innate sense of the comic combined with personal charm and genuine acting ability, first gave her recognition and her return to Goldwyn pictures has been eagerly awaited.


Because of that sense of the comic, Mabel Normand cannot be serious wholeheartedly.  If she casts down her eyes, it is to shut out a demure parting glance.  It she closes her lips tightly, the corners go up, and you know she is laughing silently.  She is the true spirit of mischief.  Early in the chart, her interviewer gave up all hope of putting a question to her – or, rather, of recording an answer.





For no reason at all, the comedienne began to tear a daisy apart, petal by petal.  “I adore daisies,” she declared, with closed lids and head tilted to one side.  “They are my favorite flowers when I visit a flower shop – alone.  If I am accompanied – by a man – I just love orchids.”  The diminutive actress looked significantly at the inexpensive flowers in her hand.  “But, of course, orchids are really too ‘vampish’ for me.  And then,” she said pointedly. “brings us to the subject of Retribution with a capital R.”  Miss Normand’s audience of one got in readiness for a tragic interlude.

 William Humphrey(2)

“I mean vampires, especially screen ‘vamps.’  They have taught me a great life lesson.  Retribution always pounces on the purple lady toward the end of the picture.  She gets exactly what she gives.  That’s why I decided to be good.”


“Don’t you think motion pictures educate the masses?  See how the vampire lady made me be good!”  The brown eyes were raised in childish appeal – then sparkled roguishly.


“Tell me this, if you can. Why do plays called ‘The Drama of a Woman’s Soul’ always mean that the woman gets the worst of it in the end?  Why is that?”  Miss Normand waited for an answer to her quaint questions.  “You didn’t know I went in for deep thinking, did you? Don’t be afraid.  I never go deeper.”


“People don’t laugh enough.  Especially men, when they get middle-aged, and very important, and wear fur coats and silk hats in the morning, and motor to work.  They are afraid to laugh for fear people will think they’re not on the job.  I’ve made a list of six such men, all captains of industry, and I’m beginning a great drive against dull care.  I want to make them laugh.  This is how I mean to try.


I am writing each a letter (3) inclosing a photograph of Mabel, posed especially for the man receiving it.  They are the funniest pictures of the funniest moments I ever had on the screen.  These men must laugh – just once.  But I won’t be present to see their faces slip.  If they do laugh, think how well their day will be started, beginning with the moment they are caught in the act by the butler.  The possibilities are enormous.  The world may yet have a great deal to thank me for.”

 Some suggestion was made as to the results of a single break in the demeanor of a grave man, and Miss Normand caught the cue.

 “You and suppose each of these men has a daughter or a son.  Imagine each father being asked for an automobile or a string of pearls.  Don’t you know that the child is more apt to get it after papa has smiled than if the gloom had not broken?  The young people will owe their gifts to Mabel; the salesman will owe his big order to the same cause, and so on down to the boy that opens the door of the shop.  And all for one laugh.”

 The chance of each grateful magnate sending his benefactress a token of his gratitude did not appeal to Miss Normand at all.

 “Not on your life!”  she exclaimed.  “It isn’t done.  People enjoy laughter, but they’re not grateful for it.  They forget.  They never forget sadness, or the actor that makes them weep.

 “Which reaches the heart more surely, tears or laughter?  I wonder if being a cook and making chocolate cakes(4) isn’t better than either?”

 more articles done with same material (5)



(1) Mabel Normand was born in New York

(2) William Humphrey was born William Jonathan Humphrey on January 2nd, 1875 in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, USA. He entered films in 1909 as an actor, in 1910 as a director, and in 1917 as a screenwriter. He directed films and wrote screenplays until 1922. As an actor, he appeared in 124 films from 1909 until 1937. He died of coronary thrombosis on October 4th, 1942.  Joan of Plattsburg was made in 1918, at Sam Goldwyn Studio, directed by William Humphrey and George Loane Tucker.


(3) A happy letter was written to Adolph Zukor:

























































The Chocolate Cake


2 ¼ cups            flour

                                                                        ½ cups            unsweetened cocoa power

                                                                     1 ½ teaspoons   baking soda

                                                                     1     teaspoon     salt

                                                                       ½  cup              shortening

                                                                    1      cup              sugar

                                                                    1      teaspoon     vanilla

                                                                    3      egg              yolks

                                                                   1 ½   cups             cold water

                                                                   3       egg               whites

                                                                   ¾      cup               sugar


Stir together flour, cocoa power, baking soda, and salt.  Beat shortening and 1 cup sugar and vanilla till fluffy.  Add egg yolks one at a time.  Add dry ingredients and water (or cold coffee) alternately till combined.


Beat egg whites till soft peaks form add ¾ cup sugar beat till stiff.  Fold egg white mixture into batter.  


Bake at 350 degrees oven about 35 minutes.


Chocolate Frosting

½          cup butter

½         cup cocoa power

3          cups confectionary sugar

1/3        cup milk

1          teaspoon vanilla


Melt butter, stir in cocoa, alternately add sugar and milk (makes about 2 cups)


 (5)  Another article from Pictures and Picturegoer August 1918 on Mabel's Delights   http://looking-for-mabel.webs.com/herdelights.htm


As I was looking (for Mabel) today, I found a couple more things written, which were published later so as my friend, William Thomas Sherman explained to me, the Norbert Lusk done in February 1918 (interview in 1917) was the primary source for the other articles. 


The one in 1922 by Norbert Lusk in the Picture-Play, December 1922, is in fact his re-telling of the interview he did for the February 1918 Picture-Play. 


 The following article was printed in Boy's Cinema, July 3, 1920


Mabel Normand has some funny likes and dislikes.

“. . . The things she is most fond of, she said on a recent occasion are "dark windy days, and chocolate cake, and storms when houses blow down."

            She was quite serious when she made this statement, although there was just a hint of mischief in the famous Mabel Normand eyes.

            It is impossible for Mabel to be very serious.

            Her lovely eyes, which are dark brown, are even more beautiful in real life than the screen discloses.


Here is Norbert Lusk writing about more of Mabel's mablescent mabelisms, again in the Picture-Play, December 1922 Part 1 of his


Memories on My Own Screen

“…Many persons know Mabel Normand. She welcomes acquaintances as easily as she curves her cupid's bow with a lipstick; but few can say they truly know her. This gives me a proper opening to say that I do. That is, my knowledge is enough to make me fond. It is no new happiness.

            Five years ago (in 1917), when she was made a Goldwyn star, the prospect of meeting mellifluous Mabel was quite enough to give me tremors of anticipation, even though I was no younger than I ought to have been. Not only was she on the crest of the glory, that was Goldwyn, but her name sparkled with reminiscent associations… I remembered her sidelong glances and saucy scorn. I knew meeting Mabel Normand would not be dull routine. It wasn't by a long shot dull.

            “I haven't time. I'm too busy. Later, maybe.” She flung out this hope when accosted, red-cloaked, in the studio corridor, where I had been sent to worm from her information to be used in advertising her pictures. Then she passed on, leaving me to make the best of her retreat, to exclaim at her diminutiveness and startling big eyes. But the tide of defeat turned in the studio restaurant where, fortunately, I had sought reviving tea. She came in with Mae Marsh and danced toward me, an old friend.

            Then began an “interview” which she made absurdly comic when led on by my puerile queries.

            Q. “What do you like best to do?”

            A. “Pinch babies and twist their legs. (Don't dare publish this. People wouldn't understand.)”

            Q. “What do you most enjoy?”

            A. “Dark windy days when trees break and houses blow down.”

            Q. “Favorite flower?”

            A. “Weeds  ¾if I buy them myself. Orchids otherwise. (But I'll take anything.)”

            Q. “Ideal man?”

            A. “A brutal Irishman who chews tobacco and lets the world know it. (Say a Gibson man. It's more refined.)”

            Q. “Favorite food?”

            A. “Chocolate cake, iced and inch high. (Fat or no fat, I love it)”


            This went on, broken by Mabel's effervescing giggles. On November 10, Mabel was given such a birthday cake as she hungered for and thanked me fervidly, rapturously, like a child. She said she'd rather have had it than a pint of pearls. Be that as it may, the chocolate cake made us friends, though when she reads this she'll call it slandering her finer feelings. She'll protest the cake had nothing to do with it. She's a great kidder.

            It is this habit that stands in the way of understanding her. She jests at all times. When she becomes serious, she finds, to her discomfiture, that she is still laughed at. For her attempts at gravity are likely to be mirthful to others. I have never met any one more incorrigibly prankish, nor more high-spirited and volatile. Naturally, the sympathies of such a person are easily roused and, when one is as generous as Mabel, lavishly expressed. She spends money with the superb gesture of a runaway youngster playing hookey from school…”