LBJBR’s Film Director Spotlight: Mabel Normand

Gender equality in film-making world is still a hot topic. Actresses, on the whole, still do not make nowhere near their male equivalent where salary is concerned. Behind the camera, the number of female film directors active today could probably be counted one hand. This has been the status quo for most of the history of cinema, both here in the USA and aboard. However, this article is not meant to chastise the film world for the lack of opportunities it has given female directors. Instead, we are here to highlight the career of Mabel Normand, one of the earliest ACTORS, both male and female, to direct her own films.

While there have been many lead actors to make themselves comfortable both in front of and behind the camera, that would come later, notable Laurence Olivier. Still, as common as it is today, it was nearly unheard of during Mabel Normand’s height in the early part of the second decade of the 1900s. It must be remembered, as well, that legendary filmmaker and comedian Charlie Chaplin was a protege of Normand’s. She, along with Willam “Fatty” Arbuckle, would teach Chaplin how to be a film actor.

Let’s not forget, either, that this was all happening before the age of twenty-five for Normand. Think about that. Off the top of your head, can you name an actress who has starred in and directed a film? Only two came to mind – Miranda July and Greta Gerwig, though she co-directed Nights and Weekends.Let’s not forget, either, that this was all happening before the age of twenty-five for Normand. Think about that. Off the top of your head, can you name an actress who has starred in and directed a film? Only two came to mind – Miranda July and Greta Gerwig, though she co-directed Nights and Weekends.

It was the dark side of Hollywood that would obscure Mabel Normand’s accomplishments. Drugs and scandal would do a double team on the star. From the website Women Film Pioneers

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. 

Drugs and scandal would tag team together to bring Mabel Normand’s death, which included her being a suspect in the death of two men. Like today, press coverage was unrelenting.

Be that as it may, there is absolutely no denying the impact of Mabel Normand made in cinema and on its history. She was a trailblazer for women behind the camera.Be that as it may, there is absolutely no denying the impact of Mabel Normand made in cinema and on its history. She was a trailblazer for women behind the camera.

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