Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand





 Marilyn Slater




Dressing rooms are places where women could remove the public faces or perhaps put one on. These have always been personal places, but the Edwardian actresses brought their dressing rooms, their salons near to an art form.  We don't often think of Mabel Normand as an Edwardian, but, in fact, she was - - after all, her mother was a Victorian. Even so, the opulence of Mabel's dressing room at Sam Goldwyn Studio in Culver City is a bit of a surprise.  In a February 7, 1920, copy of The Picture Show was a series of small photos of the dressing rooms of Madge Kennedy, Pauline Frederick and Mabel Normand.  It was interesting to see pictures of these rooms, as, in a number of articles, it has been written that Mabel was unhappy with the physical studio.  Looking at the photo of the rooms, it was a true Edwardian suite.  This was no mere changing room but a room for makeup and another for dressing: it held a lovely make-up table with a vanity set, a vase with flowers, framed photos and little jars of this and that.  Mabel had nested here. The vanity table itself was a light-colored painted confection with flower garlands draped across the front and a three-part mirror. It may have been a soft pale green as other pieces of her furniture had been of that lovely shade of green. It is setting against a window wall, so the sun would illuminate her face as she applied her greasepaint. Alas, the photo is too small to see clearly the images in the frames on her table. One appears to be a photo taken outside of people standing as the skyline is fairly evident. On the wall at a right angle just to the right of the mirrors hangs a picture.  It is a photo of the most beautiful girl in the world, Olive Thomas, which is very familiar.  Michelle Vogel, the biographer of Olive Thomas, recognized it as one of her most popular photos. Mabel had sat at that table in 1920 with Ollie looking over her shoulder, not bad company; this was a time before all the sadness and pain would have come into the lives of these sweet young things. Through the doorway visible in the magazine image is another room with a freestanding full-length mirror and elegant regal-looking chairs, just right to sit and chat, read or nap.  There appears to be clothing hanging here and there in this large and pleasant room, with a telephone on the table by the door.   And perhaps another room beyond - perhaps a private restroom  This room is reflective of  the photo of her bedroom, the one with the canopy bed where she sat and read her books and magazines, surrounded by pictures from films and of friends. Quite posh, a far cry from the rustic digs at Sennett's lot in Edendale.  At her dressing table at Sennett's,  she sat under a sign that read 'dumbbell.' In that little room, there didn't seem to be enough room for the chaise longue,  wardrobe, writing desk on which to answer fan mail, a stack of books that reached to the window sills,  and the electric space heater. The photos of Mabel's dressing room are from the private collection of R. Scroggins.  Many other of this important collection can be found at R. Scroggins Album.   

At the Goldwyn Studio, she had a true salon as befits a star of her magnitude, but she said she was unhappy there.  At Edendale, she had been happy, if perhaps a Dumbbell sponge , but then again, she had been in love.  While she sat in her Edwardian Salon in Culver City, she was not, and that makes all the difference. 
























Dumb Bell Sponge poem

Short, Short Story


Mabel Normand


I’m bad, bad, bad!

But I’ll really keep my engagement,

If there was one sprig of poison-ivy

In a field of four-leaf-clovers,

I’d pick it up.

If it was raining carbolic acid,

I’d be the dumb-bell sponge