Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand




Marilyn Slater



“The Vitagraph Girl”

January 6, 1885 (1887) to August 28, 1946



Little “Flotie,” sometimes known as “Baby Twinkles,” was born in New York. Her mother was Frances Turner, the widow of William Turner.  And when I say “Little Flotie”, I do mean little—in her publicity releases, she was barely 4 feet 10 inches at her full height.  She began in vaudeville at the age of just 3 years old, working as Eugenie Florence.  Florence died at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, near Los Angeles, California, at the age of just 61.


On November 5, 1899, Florence Turner was with a touring group in “Dear Old Charley” in Atlanta. While Florence was on the stage, she specialized in impressions of well-known actresses, like Marie Dressler. The audiences loved her!


Mabel Normand and Florence Turner worked together in a 1910 film at Vitagraph called “Over The Garden Wall.”

All though she was known only as the "Vitagraph Girl,” she became America’s

 most popular actress.  She was the very, very, very first true celebrity “movie star,” the Vitagraph Girl. In the “New York Dramatic Mirror” dated June 1910, a story was printed with the title, “A Motion Picture Star,” about Florence Turner.  This is thought to be the first time the phrase was used in print.  It is odd to think that the names of the performers were not mentioned; at the time, the ‘name of the studio’ was the thing.  


Because of her stage experience, Florence, in 1910, made a tour of the theatres that were showing Vitagraph films around New York City, introducing the music called “The Vitagraph Girl.”  This was the subject of the “New York Dramatic Mirror” article.  The people trying to get in to see the “Movie Star” almost created a riot.  The power of the performers had come. 


The star system had not been established when Florence Turner was introduced to the film audiences as the “Vitagraph Girl.”  Vitagraph was then the Brooklyn studios where Mabel Normand first became known as Vitagraph Betty.  The history of Vitagraph is very much a Horatio Alger story.  J. Stuart Blackton and Albert Smith, formed the production company, and it was there that the use of the subtitles for dialogue became so important, and the studio became historic.





It was the lucky Vitagraph Studios that signed Florence for her first film in 1907--that was over a hundred years ago (how time flies when you are having fun!).  Her debut was in “Cast Up by the Sea.” Florence was a “Jill of all trades” and was in front of the camera, but she also acted as the studio seamstress, accountant, and cashier. She was worth every penny of her $22 a week.  There is a reference that Mabel Normand appears in “A Tale of Two Cities” with Frances Turner. I have not found her in it, but when Florence became ill during the making of the film, Norma Talmadge is said to have been filmed from behind as a stand-in for Florence. At the age of 22, she worked consistently with the matinee idol, Maurice Costello in what were considered Vitagraph's prestigious films.  Florence Turner and Maurice Costello were described as “two famous picture players, whose faces are familiar to everyone who is in the habit of seeing the films.”  Florence was starring in the classics. There was also a 1910 pairing with a new idol of the movies on his road to stardom—a young man by the name of Wallace Reid.


On June 15, 1910, Florence made a little film with Gentleman Jim Corbett, even boxing a round with him. The film was called “James J Corbett or How Championships Are Won and Lost”.  In a reference in the “Classic Images” number 77, in 1981, a nice piece by Herb Gordon in his column, “Speaking of Silent,” has the date of the film as May 1919. I think it is in fact a Vitagraph short dated 1910--that date seems the correct one.


Even Florence’s mother was making movies at Vitagraph--a Western released on March 25, 1912 directed by Rollin S. Sturgeon called “The Price of Big Bob’s Silence.” It is the only example that I have found that listed Frances Turner in the cast, but there may have been more.


On May 26, 1913, Florence Turner made her British debut at the London Pavilion.  Florence was working with the director, Lawrence Trimble, in England, assisting him with the writing of screenplays.  Among the films that carry her name as writer are:  “She Cried” (1912), “His Wife’s Relatives” (1913), “He Waited” (1913), “The Dog House Builders” (1913), “The Hero” (1913) and others.  She was also performing in the music hall in and around London with her impressions.  By the time she was 28, she had founded Turner Films. The studios were at Walton-on-Thames, her own production company; she made around 30 short films, thus becoming one of the first women producers.  She was at the height of her popularity by 1915. She made “My Old Dutch” with Albert Chevalier, and it was her most popular film and most enduring. There was another 1915 film I wish would be found called “Florence Turner Impersonates Film Favourites” (1915). Among the favourites were Charlie Chaplin, Alla Nazimova. Ford Sterling, Broncho Billy Anderson, Mabel Normand, Mae Murray, Larry Semon and Sarah Bernhardt. Florence’s vaudeville act included a short film of her impersonations.


She continued to work both in the States and in England until after the Armistice.  During World War I, she stayed in England to entertain the troops.



On November 12, 1916, she returned to live in the States but found that her popularity had waned.  In 1919, Universal Studio was talking with Florence about directing a series of comedies, but the project never came about.  


Florence Turner applied for a new passport in 1920 when she was living in Ocean Park, (between Santa Monica and Venice) California.  She was living in a rented home with her mother and grandmother; according to the 1920 census, she was the only wage earner and listed as the head of the family, supporting her mother, Frances Turner, a 53-year-old widow born in New York, and her grandmother, Eugenie G. Borolia, a 73-year-old widow born in Italy. She returned to England in 1922, working there in films that sadly were not released in the States. In 1922, Florence said, “I looked older on the films in my first six years (1907-1913), when we were experimenting with lighting and cameras, than I do now when the mechanics of the screen have been perfected.”


Florence finally moved back to California around 1924, working in character roles.  It was with the help of Marion Davies that Florence and her mother had returned, as Marion paid their passage and gave Florence a job in “Janice Meredith” (1924).  Like many of the silent film stars, she was not able to find regular work.  Larry Trimble was at Universal in 1925 and had a screen test done of Florence for a remake of “My Old Dutch,” but the part was given to May McAvoy. Florence returned to the New York stage in 1926 in “Katja” as part of the ensemble, and in 1927 in “White Eagle” as a member of the chorus. She worked in films but usually as the mother, as in Buster Keaton's “College” (1927). In 1928, she had a small part in the original drama, “Sign of the Leopard.” When the play closed in January 1929, Florence returned to California and the sunshine.  She continued to tour with her show of impersonations called “Pioneer Film Days”.  The depression hit her in her business enterprises in England, but she was always looking for work.


In 1937, Louis B. Mayer signed her to a contract; she became one of the so-called "Old-Timers", a group of aging, neglected former stars who were employed as $75-a-week extras by MGM, partly as an act of charity. Her last role was an uncredited bit in "Thousands Cheer" (1943). She continued with her career until her retirement to the California Motion Picture Country Home.  When Florence Turner died, she was cremated; her ashes were locked away from the public that had abandoned her at Chapel of the Pines Crematory, Los Angeles, California. At her request, there was no funeral service.


Florence Turner appeared in over 160 films; at the end of her career, she was many times an uncredited extra, but at the beginning, she was a Movie Star.


"I would rather have touched the hem of her skirt than to have shaken hands with St. Peter."

-- Norma Talmadge



The Florence Turner Notes



Daisy Doodad's Dial (UK 1914 Dir: Florence Turner)


Edward, Robert, bio at find-a-grave

 Pearson, David, Silent Movies, photo gallery

Stone, Tammy, The Silent Collection, “FLORENCE TURNER”

 Wikipedia, Florence Turner

 1899, November 5, The Constitution: Atlanta, AMUSEMENTS

 1910, June, New York Dramatic Mirror “A Motion Picture Star” 

 1911, March 8, The Daily Courier, display ad “A Tale of Two Cities”

 1920, January 19, Los Angeles Census Distinct 375, page 8, line 30

 1920, May 8, Passport Application, Florence Turner,

age 33;

stature: 5’ 3” tall;

forehead: medium;

eyes: brown;

nose: wide;

distinguishing marks: mole on right cheek;

mouth: straight;

chin: round;

hair: dark brown;

complexion: dark;

face: round full

1981, September, Herb Gordon, Classic Images, #77

1998, May,   Kally Mavromatis, Glen Pringle, “Florence Turner – Silent Star” ISSN 1329-4431








press image of Mabel to read the 1911 article





Florence Turner movies:


Whistling in Brooklyn (1943) (uncredited) .... Undetermined Role

Thousands Cheer (1943) (uncredited) .... Mother at Train Station

One Rainy Afternoon (1936) (uncredited) .... Bit Role
... aka Matinee Scandal (
USA: reissue title)

He Couldn't Take It (1933) (uncredited) .... Elderly Lady
... aka One of the Many (UK)

The Animal Kingdom (1932) (uncredited) .... Additional Cast
... aka The Woman in His House (UK)

The Sign of the Cross (1932) (uncredited) .... Christian

The Trial of Vivienne Ware (1932) (uncredited) .... Juror

The Ridin' Fool (1931) .... Ma Warren

The Rampant Age (1930) .... Mrs. Lawrence

The Iron Mask (1929) .... Abbess

Kid's Clever (1929) .... Matron

The Pace That Kills (1928) .... Mrs. Bradley

Jazzland (1928) .... Mrs. Baggott

Walking Back (1928) .... Mrs. Schuyler

The Road to Ruin (1928) .... Mrs. Canfield

Marry the Girl (1928) .... Miss Lawson
... aka The House of Deceit (UK)

The Law and the Man (1928) .... Miss Blair

The Chinese Parrot (1927) .... Mrs. Phillmore

College (1927) .... Ronald's mother

Sally in Our Alley (1927) .... Mrs. Williams

The Cancelled Debt (1927) .... Mrs. Burke

Stranded (1927) .... Mrs. Simpson

The Broken Gate (1927) .... Miss Julia

The Overland Stage (1927) .... Alice Gregg

Padlocked (1926) .... Mrs. Gilbert

Flame of the Argentine (1926) .... Doña Aguila

The Last Alarm (1926) .... Warehouse proprietor's wife

The Gilded Highway (1926) .... Mrs. Welby

The Dark Angel (1925) .... Roma

The Price of Success (1925) .... Mrs. Moran

Never the Twain Shall Meet (1925) .... Julia

The Mad Marriage (1925)

Janice Meredith (1924) (uncredited) .... Bit
... aka The Beautiful Rebel

The Boatswain's Mate (1924) .... Mrs. Walters

Sally Bishop (1924) .... Janet

Women and Diamonds (1924) .... Mrs. Seaton

Hornet's Nest (1923) .... Mrs. Cobb

The Lights o' London (1922)

The Little Mother (1922) .... The Mother

The Street Tumblers (1922) .... Gypsy

Was She Justified? (1922)

All Dolled Up (1921) .... Eva Bundy
... aka The Bobbed Squad

The Old Wives' Tale (1921) .... Constance Barnes

Passion Fruit (1921) .... Nuanua

Blackmail (1920) .... Lena

The Brand of Lopez (1920) .... Lola Castillo

Three Men in a Boat (1920) (as Baby Twinkles)

The Ugly Duckling (1920) .... Charmis Graham

Oh, It's E.Z. (1919)

Fool's Gold (1919) .... Constance Harvey
... aka Fools' Gold (USA)

East Is East (1916) .... Victoria Vickers

Grim Justice (1916)

Doorsteps (1916) .... Doorsteps

My Old Dutch (1915) .... Sal Gray

Far from the Madding Crowd (1915) .... Bathsheba Everdene

Alone in London (1915) .... Nan Meadows

As Ye Repent (1915) .... Marea
... aka Redeemed (
USA: uncensored intended title)

Lost and Won (1915)

A Welsh Singer (1915) .... Mifanwy

Through the Valley of Shadows (1914)

Creatures of Habit (1914) .... Flo

The Murdock Trial (1914) .... Helen Story

Flotilla the Flirt (1914) .... Flotilla

Rose of Surrey (1914)

Jean's Evidence (1914)

The Younger Sister (1914)

Daisy Doodad's Dial (1914)

For Her People (1914/I)

The Shepherd Lassie of Argyle (1914)

Shopgirls: or, The Great Question (1914)

The Harper Mystery (1913)

Pumps (1913)

Up and Down the Ladder (1913) .... Luella Pears

Counsellor Bobby (1913)

The Deerslayer (1913) .... Hettty Hutter

A Window on Washington Park (1913) .... The Old Man's Daughter

Let 'Em Quarrel (1913)

Checkmated (1913) .... Betty

The House in Suburbia (1913) .... June

Sisters All (1913) .... A Poor Dressmaker

The One Good Turn (1913)

Under the Make-Up (1913) .... Pierrette

Stenographer's Troubles (1913) .... The Boss's Wife

The Skull (1913) .... Mrs. Jordan

Cutey and the Twins (1913) .... The Twins' Mother

Everybody's Doing It (1913/II) .... Grace Williams

What a Change of Clothes Did (1913)

The Wings of a Moth (1913) .... Alice Westworth

While She Powdered Her Nose (1912) .... The Daughter of a Composer

The Signal of Distress (1912) .... Dolly Dillard

Hypnotizing the Hypnotist (1912)

Susie to Susanne (1912)

The Servant Problem; or, How Mr. Bullington Ran the House (1912) .... Mrs. Bullington

Una of the Sierras (1912)

The Face or the Voice (1912) .... Myna Borden

When Persistency and Obstinacy Meet (1912) .... Dorothy

She Cried (1912) .... Mame

The Irony of Fate (1912) .... Virginia

A Vitagraph Romance (1912)

The Loyalty of Sylvia (1912)

Two Cinders (1912)

Flirt or Heroine (1912)

Wanted... a Grandmother (1912)

Aunty's Romance (1912) .... Doris

Her Diary (1912/I)

Mrs. Carter's Necklace (1912)
... aka The Sphinx (USA)

Indian Romeo and Juliet (1912) .... Ethona / Juliet

Jean Intervenes (1912)

The Course of True Love (1912)

The Path of True Love (1912)

A Red Cross Martyr; or, On the Firing Lines of Tripoli (1912)
... aka A Red Cross Martyr (
USA: short title)

One Touch of Nature (1911) .... The Jewish Daughter

Auld Lang Syne (1911)

Wig Wag (1911) .... The Mother

The Answer of the Roses (1911)

Forgotten; or, An Answered Prayer (1911)

Cherry Blossoms (1911) .... The Absent-Minded Sweetheart

Jealousy (1911)

The Thumb Print (1911) .... (participation unconfirmed)

The Wrong Patient (1911)

Birds of a Feather (1911)

Intrepid Davy (1911)

The Stumbling Block (1911)

Proving His Love; or, The Ruse of a Beautiful Woman (1911)

The Sacrifice (1911)

The Show Girl (1911) .... Mrs. Renfrew

Prejudice of Pierre Marie (1911) .... His Wife

The Spirit of the Light; or, Love Watches on Through the Years (1911) .... The Painter's Wife

For His Sake; or, The Winning of the Stepchildren (1911) .... The Wife

Captain Barnacle's Courtship (1911) .... Ivy Leach

A Tale of Two Cities (1911) .... Lucie Manette

The New Stenographer (1911)

Jean Rescues (1911) .... Alice

A Dixie Mother (1910)

A Tin-Type Romance (1910) .... Beth

The Winning of Miss Langdon (1910)

Love, Luck and Gasoline (1910) .... The Passenger

Francesca da Rimini (1910/I)

Jean Goes Fishing (1910)

In the Mountains of Kentucky (1910)

Auld Robin Gray (1910) .... Jaimie

Brother Man (1910)

Renunciation (1910)

Jean, the Matchmaker (1910)

Rose Leaves (1910)

Back to Nature; or, The Best Man Wins (1910)

Her Mother's Wedding Gown (1910)

Peg Woffington (1910) .... Peg Woffington

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1910/I) .... Topsy

Davy Jones and Captain Bragg (1910)

Wilson's Wife's Countenance (1910)

Over the Garden Wall (1910/I)

Sisters (1910)

St. Elmo (1910/I) .... Edna Earle

For Her Sister's Sake (1910)

Twelfth Night (1910) .... Viola

A Pair of Schemers; or, My Wife and My Uncle (1910) .... The Wife
... aka A Pair of Schemers (
USA: short title)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1909) .... Titania

The Heart of a Clown (1909)

Launcelot and Elaine (1909) .... Elaine
... aka Lancelot and Elaine (

Fuss and Feathers (1909)

King Lear (1909) .... Wicked Sister

Kenilworth (1909)

A Daughter of the Sun (1909)

The Merchant of Venice (1908) .... Jessica

An Unexpected Santa Claus (1908)

Saved by Love (1908)

Ex-Convict No. 900 (1908)

Richard III (1908)
... aka Richard III: A Shakespearian Tragedy

Romance of a War Nurse (1908)

Romeo and Juliet (1908/I)

Macbeth (1908) .... Banquet Guest

Francesca di Rimini; or, The Two Brothers (1908)

Cast Up by the Sea (1907)

Bargain Fiend; or, Shopping à la Mode (1907)

Athletic American Girls (1907)

How to Cure a Cold (1907)

The Gypsy's Warning (1907)



Florence Turner Video Titles










University life is spoofed in this Buster Keaton feature with him playing a bookish student who tries to woo a co-ed with an eye for athletes. Anne Cornwall, Harold Goodwin co-star. Next, Buster is found under the spreading chestnut tree as "The Blacksmith" (1922); tries unsuccessfully to take his own life in the long-lost "Hard Luck" (1921); and is hired to automate a college dean's home after being mistaken for an electrical engineer in "The Electric House" (1922). 132 min. total. Standard; Soundtrack: music score. Silent with music score.




The Pace That Kills(1928)


A country boy named Eddie leaves the farm for the big city, where he meets a fast-paced flapper who turns him on to "happy dust." They both get addicted to the stuff and get into heavier drugs in this rarely-seen silent cautionary film. Owen Gorin, Thelma Daniels star. Soundtrack: music score. Silent with music score.


The Ridin' Fool(1931)


Short in height but plenty tall in the saddle, curly-haired Bob Steele uses his formidable equestrian skills to save a gambler from the hangman's noose. What's our Bob get in return? Accused of robbery and murder! That's what you get when you stick up for a no-good varmint. Fun B-western also stars Josephine Velez, Frances Morris. 58 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English.



The Animal Kingdom(1932)


David O. Selznick produced this story of passion, romance and a mismatched marriage. Leslie Howard plays a handsome publisher who opts to marry the sophisticated Myrna Loy over free-spirited artist Ann Harding. William Gargan and Neil Hamilton co-star. 90 min.




The Cecil B. DeMille Collection


Cecil B. DeMille's epic "The Sign of the Cross" (1932) stars Fredric March as the Roman prefect in love with Christian martyr Elissa Landi, Charles Laughton as depraved emperor Nero, and Claudette Colbert as his scheming wife, Poppea. After abandoning a bubonic plague-infested ship, "Four Frightened People" (1934) take a perilous journey through a jungle inhabited by fierce animals and a tribe of wild natives. Colbert, Herbert Marshall star. "Cleopatra" (1934) is loaded with spectacular Roman sets, armies of soldiers, half-naked dancing girls,