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Essays

Mabel Normand

Joyce, Simon; Putzi, Jennifer

Mabel Normand starred in at least one hundred and sixty-seven film shorts and twenty-three full-length features, mainly for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company, and was one of the earliest silent actors to function as her own director. She was also one of the first leading performers to appear on film without a previous background in the theatre (having begun her career in modeling), to be named in the title of her films (beginning with 1912’s Mabel’s Lovers), and to have her own studio (the ill-fated Mabel Normand Feature Film Company). That her contributions to early film history are not better known is attributable in part to her involvement in the Hollywood scandals of the 1920s, and in part to our reliance on the self-interested memoirs of her better-known colleagues (especially Sennett and Charlie Chaplin) following her death at age thirty-eight. It is hard to get an accurate picture from such questionable and contradictory recollections, or from interviews with Normand herself, filtered as they often were through a sophisticated publicity operation at Keystone. Film scholars who have worked with these same sources have often proved just as discrepant and unreliable, especially in their accounts of her directorial contributions.

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Academic Units
Film
Libraries
Series
Women Film Pioneers Project
Published Here
October 15, 2019