Mabel Normand was my grandfather’s younger sister. In 1919 she brought him out to Hollywood after serving his time in the US Cavalry during WWI in France.Mabel enabled him to learn the skill of a cameraman at her Mabel Normand Feature Film Studio and he lived in her home until she set him up in his own apartment…Mabel invited her only sister Gladis to visit her and eventually helped Gladis to earn her flying license..and Mabel made numerous visits East to see her parents as well as bringing them out for stays with her..despite Adela Roger’s St.John’s claim of..” finding Mabel Normand under a rosebush” (in her 1974 book “The Honeycomb”)….Mabel was very much part of a loving and caring family whom she adored and they in turn returned the bond of a loving family, expressing mutually always, support,encouragement and loyalty throughout her lifetime…..including to this moment, as her great-nephew I continue to endeavour to perpetuate her memory and contribution to the industry she helped to pioneer.
During the past few years there has been a question as to Mabel’s personal and private life affairs such as her sad marriage to Lew Cody and her employer relationship with a nurse who looked after Mabel during her bouts of ill health with tuberculosis. It seems necessary and right to make clear just where these persons were placed in the pecking order within my great-aunt’s household by Mabel Normand herself.
The importance of these employees seems to have grown in exaggerated proportion since my aunt’s death in February 1930. I have discovered this information myself, which I have read on websites on the internet. In a sense, this is not new, as Mabel’s sister, Gladis, was also aware of the “exaggeration” and often expressed her desire to set the record straight. I shall hope to clear up this misconception/exaggeration with fact rather than the fiction now in print on some websites based on my own correspondence and meetings/visits with the persons involved.
There are many websites that use the name of Mabel Normand, some are good some are excellent…sadly some give incorrect information both personal and professional about Mabel. Some disappointingly concentrate on Mabel’s tragedy rather than celebrate her amazing and important contribution to motion pictures as an early pioneer in developing the comic art on film.I will share what Mabel Normand herself passed down to her immediate family to make public. As information published on some websites concerning Mabel’s siblings and even myself is distorted or untrue I will shed light on those areas where there is misunderstanding of fact.
I have been privileged to have met a number of people who have a genuine interest in Mabel Normand and some who had actually known her in life…colleagues,friends,fans and of course family..her sister Gladis and my grandmother Winifred sister-in-law, (married to Claude, Mabel’s only surviving brother). It has been an adventure of meeting and corresponding as well as to taking part in perpetuating the life and career of Mabel Normand. The Broadway Musical, MACK & MABEL written by my friend the late Michael Stewart was an extraordinary experience to partake. Francine Pascal (Mike’s sister) in 1994 did an update of the script which has provided an upbeat and happy ending, which has enabled the show to carry on in stock and amateur theatre as well as to have been reprised in 1995 and 2005 in London with German and Italian productions..this is important to know as it helps to introduce the name of Mabel Normand to further generations … she is remembered in a fine Jerry Herman score which is his personal favourite (he has scored Hello dolly, Mame, LaCage..)..the score is available on CD and is worth a listen to..as Mabel is honoured in a way not many of her colleagues have been!An excellent revised production at the Southwark Playhouse, London was performed in August 2012 with Norman Bowman as Mack, Laura Pitt-Pulford as Mabel,Stuart Matthew Price as Frank.Beautifully staged and choreographed with an amazing cast and brilliant revisions by Thom Southerland and a marvelous Producer Danielle Tarento made this Mack & Mabel the best I’ve seen!
The late Robert Giroux,Chairman of the publishing house Farar Straus & Giroux, started my public journey through a letter and ivitation to lunch at the Player’s Club in NYC (formerly actor Edwin Booth’s home) in 1973.Robert Giroux encouraged me and opened new leads through his own contacts in the motion picture world. His support in my writing handwritten letters to those living who had known Mabel was priceless. The amazing return of letters from her colleagues & friends wishing to meet or correspond with me was a treasure to cherish. My first meeting was with the adorable Blanche Sweet at her apartment in NYC and soon others followed with Minta Arbuckle, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford and others. My special memory of speaking with Mack Sennett on the telephone toward the end of his life was still number one as a poignant memory…Giroux also encouraged me to write to Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett which later on enabled me to visit CBS TV Studio formerly the Republic Studio where Mack Sennett thoughtfully dedicated a soundstage to the memory of Mabel Normand in December 1940. Robert Giroux loved Mabel Normand but he also admired Mack Sennett, so much so, that he had written a biography of Mack for the trade magazine FILMS IN REVIEW. It was for this magazine that Robert Giroux invited me to write the first family article to be published about Mabel Normand in the September 1974 Issue to coincide with the broadway opening of MACK & MABEL at the Majestic Theatre on Sunday evening 6th October 1974 in NYC on west 44th Street.
I hope to share with you as the song from MACK & MABEL very aptly proclaims..”Look What Happened To Mabel” within this website….