Last week I wrote about the importance of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and the tragedy that befell him as a result of his scandal, in advance of some of his films being on TCM. With some more being shown tonight, it’s worth noting that his trail blazing co-star in many of these films, Mabel Normand was involved in her own murderous scandals, and a life that ended far too soon.
Normand not only worked with Arbuckle, but co-starred along with Charlie Chaplin as his career began. There were plenty of other comedies she starred in without those names as well. But none of is this most notable to her career as a trailblazer. Normand had great control of her career, and also directed many of her films, including some of the early Chaplin films. By 1918, she even had her own film studio. Not only was she tremendously funny, but she was also the most successful female comedian, and the most powerful one as well.
And then, just one year after Arbuckle’s murder scandal, Normand found herself as a suspect in a murder of her own.
Normand’s connection to director William Taylor was a sordid affair, with Taylor allegedly attempting to help her recover from cocaine addiction. Although Normand was never charged, the press had a field day with the story, especially since she had been with him just prior to his death.
One year later, she found herself linked to violence once again when her chauffeur shot a well-known millionaire, using Normand’s own gun. Once again, Normand found her named plastered on all the headlines of this story, despite having nothing to do with it.
A combination of these scandals helped bring Normand’s career to a halt:
Normand, previously incredibly prolific, made no films in 1924 or 1925. This was the first time she had proved to be inactive for more than a span of several months. By 1926 she appeared in a couple more films, the same being true in 1927. Any sort of a comeback was short-lived, however. Her health failed shortly thereafter, and after a long stay in a sanitarium she died in 1930 at the age of 37.
Her importance in the world of silent comedy cannot be understated, and just like Arbuckle, one has to wonder what her output could have been like in the time she was plagued with scandal.
Check out a few of her films with Arbuckle on TCM tonight. “Mabel’s Strange Predicament,” directed by her and featuring Chaplin’s first appearance as The Tramp (the first filmed, but not the first released) here.