Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand




There is connection

that existed

between Mabel

Normand and

George Bernard





 When the Shaw Festival in 2007 made a decision to mount the musical Mack & Mabel, I was hit by the perfect rightness of this musical being part of the Festival.  The Mack & Mabel program was printed using a number of photos from the Looking for Mabel collection so I have a very special interest in this musical program. 


     The plot involves of the regrets of Mack Sennett not being able to tell Mabel Normand how much he loved her and Mabel’s sense of isolation and her addictions. The story is fantasy, as all musicals need to be; the music is some of Jerry Herman’s most tapable. Near the end of the play Mabel, leaves Mack on a ship for Europe; and you guessed it in real life Mabel did sail to London.


The real life Pygmalion in the summer of 1922 left for London on the Aquitania. She later wrote that it was during this trip she met George Bernard Shaw. Mabel wrote …“Over there friends introduced me to celebrities in England and on the Continent, and I had a fine time. Among the persons whose friendship began in late summer of 1922 were George Bernard Shaw.”

     As early as April 1915 the fan magazine, Motion Picture Magazine in Musings of "The Photoplay Philosopher" states that Mabel is a fan of Shaw’s writing; and 3 years later Photoplay, August 1918 reported that Mabel Normand was reading Strindberg, Ibsen, and Shaw. This is significant because this was almost 4 years before the Taylor killing and her trip to London to met one of her literary heroes and the development of there friendship.



They were friends, how isn’t that grand!




Marilyn Slater

When the program came in the mail, from the Shaw Festival presentation of Mack and Mabel, the first thing I did was look for my photos of Mabel Normand, to see which ones were used and then only after smiling and finding my name in print, I actually read the article by Professor Paul Walsh of Amherst. 


 He did not write anything about Mabel that had not been stated before and I could quibble over a couple of things but I have only trivial objections what he wrote was better then most.  However, for the record, the Arbuckle case PRECEDED rather than followed the Taylor and Dines shootings.  The use of the phase “faded into obscurity” is inaccurate as her death was recorded in newspaper headlines and the almost daily reports from the hospital prior to her death were published throughout the country and beyond.  As a friend pointed out to me, one usually thinks of people who “fade” as forgotten.  This type of disregard for facts is forgivable in Enthusiasts not I think in serious scholars. 

Mabel Normand’s funeral was huge and attended by many very famous people, her pallbearers included: Mack Sennett; D. W. Griffith; Sam Goldwyn; Charlie Chaplin; Sid Grauman; Eugene Pallette and the headline read “Thousands Mourn at Normand Rites” – “Obscurity”? I do not think the facts support this!

If I thought that Professor Walsh’s essay was only going to be read by people attending the musical Mack & Mabel at the Shaw Festival then perhaps I would just let is pass, after all what real harm would it do?  Because of his academic credentials, I think a correction of his misstatement should be made. 

Historians and researchers that I have consulted before writing this note have suggested that I “lighten up.”  However, you know me, I find this type of thing hard to just let go of… (yes I know this is a split infinitive)

 In reality what he wrote would not upset me, if we were not dealing with Paul Walsh as a professor and therefore what he writes, has repercussion and is being passed on as factual.  He is Director of Graduate Programs at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst since 2005 so this type of mistake reflects very poorly on Amherst and Professor Walsh research and academic skills. 

"Toward the end of her (Mabel’s) short life she was vaguely implicated in a couple of shady Hollywood shootings that dragged her into court and into the public eye at a time when she was ravished by disappointment, drugs, and alcohol.  This was followed by the public humiliation of her former co-star Roscoe Arbuckle in an underage sex scandal that further tarnished her reputation by association.  She faded into obscurity and died of tuberculosis in her mid-thirties”.


 I was amused that he wrote that Virginia Rappe was underaged at 30! However, it is not funny that he would write that Roscoe was somehow involved in underage sex, which could get scary if people add that to the other lies told about the San Francisco incident and passes it along to the next generation.     




Yes, I hold film scholars to a higher level then fans particularly when they put things in writing.