Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Mabel Normand
1895 - 1930

Calvary Cemetery

The Main Mausoleum at Calvary Cemetery contains the crypt of Mabel Normand, the silent screen's undisputed Queen of Comedy, and later Hollywood's Queen of Scandal.

After working as an advertising model in New York City, Normand took a job as a bit player for Biograph studios. Normand's first screen appearance was a small role in "A Tale of Two Cities" (1911), the first filmed version of the Dickens novel. Normand appeared in dozens of short films during the next few years, usually working for Biograph or the Vitagraph Company of America, with directors D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennett.

Though Griffith usually used Normand in dramatic roles, Sennett saw her talent for comedy, and he brought her to California to appear in a series of short comedies. In 1912, Sennett opened his Keystone Film Company, and convinced Normand to leave Biograph and come to work for him. Normand's first film for Keystone was "The Water Nymph" (1912), directed by and co-starring Sennett, and generally regarded as Sennett's first "bathing beauty" film. Over the next few years, Normand appeared in dozens of short one-reel comedies for Sennett.

Normand also wrote and directed several comedy shorts for Keystone, including "Caught in a Cabaret" (1914) - one of the first film appearances by a young comedian named Charlie Chaplin. Normand, Chaplin and Marie Dressler co-starred in "Tillie's Punctured Romance" (1914), the full-length comedy feature film, and Normand and Chaplin starred together in many more films for Keystone. Normand also co-starred with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in a popular series of "Fatty and Mabel" films in 1915 and 1916. In the Keystone films, Normand usually played a debutante or a damsel in distress, but she did so with reckless abandon, performing a variety of physically challenging and wildly dangerous stunts, including riding horses, flying in airplanes and fighting with villains. Normand has even been credited with being the first silent film performer to throw a pie. These slapstick skills, coupled with Normand's talent as a comedian and her "bathing beauty" good looks made her an audience favorite. Normand was a sexy clown, and in a survey of film-goers conducted by Motion Picture Magazine in 1915, Chaplin was voted Best Male Comedian, and Normand was voted Best Female Comedian.

Despite her success as a comedian, Normand wanted more control over her films, and she wanted to try a wider range of roles than Sennett was willing to allow her to do at Keystone. To keep his star happy, Sennett offered Normand her own film company and studio - the Mabel Normand Feature Film Company. One of the first projects of the new film company was "Mickey" (1918), starring Normand in the title role as a girl from the wilds of California who is sent to live with her high-society relatives in the East. The film effectively combined comedy with melodrama, and showed audiences another side of Normand's talent as an actress. But the pressure of running her own film company and studio, in addition to starring in the films, proved to be too much for Normand. She left Sennett and went to work for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation for a few years, but returned to Sennett to star in "Molly O'" (1921).

Over the next three years, Normand's name was linked to several major scandals that had a severe impact on her popularity, and ultimately ended her film career, even though she was never a proven participant or officially accused of any crime. The first incident happened in September 1921, about a month before Sennett planned to release "Molly O'," when Normand's friend and former co-star, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, was arrested and charged with the rape and murder of a young starlet, Virginia Rappe, during a wild party at a hotel in San Francisco. After three sensational trials, Arbuckle was acquitted, but his career as a comedian was over. Sennett delayed the release of "Molly O'" until the storm of publicity surrounding Arbuckle had subsided.

The second scandal happened in February 1922, when Normand went to visit a friend, director William Desmond Taylor. After spending less than an hour with Taylor in his apartment, Normand left. The next morning, Taylor was found dead, shot once in the back. (The Taylor murder has never been solved, and it remains a popular discussion topic among Hollywood historians and mystery fans.)

Though Normand was questioned by police, she was never considered a serious suspect in the shooting. But her friendship with Taylor -- which she always claimed was nothing more than platonic, even though love letters from her were found in Taylor's apartment -- further tarnished her reputation. The police investigation also uncovered Normand's $2,000 per month cocaine habit. The press gleefully jumped on the story as yet another example of the evil and sinful side of Hollywood, and Normand's relationship with Taylor was often mentioned in the stories. To escape the spotlight, Normand took an extended vacation in Europe in the summer of 1922, and Sennett delayed for nearly a year the release of Normand's next film, "Suzanna" (1923), until the Taylor publicity cooled down.

"Suzanna" was a box-office success, as was Normand's next film, "The Extra Girl" (1923), until yet another incident brought Normand's name back into the headlines. On New Year's Day 1924, Normand was visiting actress Edna Purviance and her boyfriend, millionaire oil tycoon Courtland S. Dines, at Dines's apartment. Normand's chauffeur got into an argument with Dines, then returned with a pistol owned by Normand and shot Dines twice. Though Dines recovered and didn't press charges against the chauffeur, who claimed the shooting was in self-defense, Normand's name was linked to yet another scandal. After the Dines shooting, the Ohio Board of Film Censorship banned the showing of all films featuring Normand. The state of Kansas and the cities of Boston and Detroit were considering taking similar action. In response, Normand went on a nationwide publicity tour, promoting "The Extra Girl," and attempting to clear her name. Although Normand was somewhat successful in turning public opinion to her side, Sennett decided to drop her, and "The Extra Girl" was the last film she did for him.

Later in 1924, Normand was named in the divorce proceedings of a wealthy California couple, Norman and Georgia Church. Mrs. Church, in the complaint she filed against her husband, said Mr. Church told her that he had been involved in an affair with Normand while they were both patients at the same hospital in late 1923. Normand attempted to clear her name by becoming involved in the divorce proceedings. But the judge ruled that, although her name was mentioned in the complaint, she did not have direct personal interest in the proceedings, and her statements were not relevant in the divorce.

By this point, after being dropped by Sennett, and with her popularity fading fast, Normand's film career was nearly over. With her involvement in the Taylor and Dines shootings, the Church divorce case, and her well-known drug habit, Normand was quickly becoming the poster girl for immorality and scandal in Hollywood. Normand appeared in several stage productions on the East Coast, and attempted a brief comeback to films in 1926 and 1927 in a series of short comedies produced by Hal Roach.

In September 1926, Normand married actor Lew Cody, her co-star in "Mickey." The following year, Normand was hospitalized several times with pneumonia and, in December 1928, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The 35-year-old actress died in the Pottenger Sanitarium in Monrovia, CA, on Feb. 23, 1930.

Above Normand's crypt is her mother, Mary J. Normand (1869 - 1932).

Normand was born Mabel Ethelreid Normand on Nov. 16, 1895, in New York City, NY. She died on Feb. 23, 1930, in Monrovia, CA.

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