Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor?

Mabel Normand

Actress Mabel Normand
Actress Mabel Normand

The magazine Taylorology claims that Peavey has been misquoted in saying that a young actress and her mother were responsible for Taylor's death. That magazine claims that Peavey merely said "an actress" and that the context clearly indicates Mabel Normand.

Mabel Normand took naturally to show business. Born in 1892 on Staten Island to two Vaudeville entertainers, she grew into a vivacious adolescent beauty with a mass of dark, curly hair, big, expressive brown eyes, and a slim but shapely body. Her career as an artist's model began at the tender age of 15. By 1909, Mabel was making comedies for Vitagraph. Her perfect timing and cute, clownish ways were divinely suited to the new medium of film and she would eventually be known as 'the Queen of Comedy' and called 'The Female Chaplin.'

She left Vitagraph for the rival company Biograph, where she met Mack Sennett, a director who would be nicknamed 'The King of Comedy.' Since she was a good swimmer, Sennett suggested Biograph show her off in bathing suits. It was good advice, and Normand's career took off in films like The Diving Girl, A Squaw's Love and The Water Nymph, all of which demonstrated her skill in the water while regaling the audience with the svelte loveliness of her figure.

Mack Sennett
Mack Sennett

In 1912 Sennett began the history-making Keystone Comedies and Normand became their primary actress. The relationship between Sennett and Normand blossomed into a romance and they got engaged. Then disaster struck. Normand caught Sennett in bed with another woman.

Normand was severely injured shortly after this but there are at least three different versions of how that wound occurred. The newspapers carried stories saying she'd had an accident on the set. Other accounts say the woman Sennett was in bed with attacked Normand with a heavy object. Still others say she attempted suicide by trying to drown herself and was rescued.

At any rate, the wedding was off.

This disappointment apparently led Normand to take stock of herself. She became interested in more serious subjects and began reading widely and deeply. 

She kept up her acting career and appeared with Fatty Arbuckle in several comedies including Fatty and Mabel's Married Life, Fatty and Mabel Adrift, and Fatty's Tintype Tangle.

Normand decided that she was being underpaid in comparison with similar stars. Giving Sennett (for whom she still worked) an ultimatum, she told him she would take her services to another company unless she got a raise. Sennett still hoped to win her back romantically and desperately wanted to keep her on as an actress. Not only did he instantly grant her the money she requested but he also set up a production unit within Keystone that he called The Mabel Normand Film company.

It would make only one film for Normand. That motion picture was called Mickey and was a great hit with the public. However, during the making of it, Sennett lost economic control of Keystone. Mickey was a great moneymaker for Keystone but not for Normand who was fed up.

She quit Sennett for the Goldwyn Motion Picture Company. Samuel Goldwyn took a more than professional interest in his high-spirited star. Some authors believe that, in 1918, Normand gave birth to Goldwyn's child. It was stillborn.

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