As seen in the two previous posts, the Wonderful Wanda Wiley leapt between moving cars on Vine Street, and rollicked at the edge of the Santa Monica Slapstick Comedy Cliffs. But silent star “game girl” Mabel Normand took some good shots too. With dozens of heroic scenes to choose from, here are but three examples of Mabel giving it her all (1912 photo left).
First, Ford Sterling ties Mabel to the railroad tracks during Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913). This classic scene was staged along the frequently filmed north-south stretch of track that ran along what would later become the east boundary of LAX International Airport.
The distinctive windbreak of trees appearing behind Mabel once stood south of W. Manchester Ave. outside of Inglewood, and are also clearly visible left to right in these scenes from Mary Pickford’s A Beast at Bay (1912), D. W Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), and Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith (1922). This post about Mary’s film HERE provides many more views of this long-forgotten filming site, and its formidable silent film history.
Mabel’s wildly popular 1918 feature Mickey climaxes with a thrilling roof-top rescue staged years before Harold Lloyd stunned audiences with his high-rise climb in Safety Last! (1923).
Reportedly the highest grossing film of the year, Mickey was the only film produced by Mabel’s independent studio set up for her by Mack Sennett. You can read more about Mabel’s roof-top stunts HERE.
Last, during The Extra Girl (1922), Mabel plays a small-town girl/wannabe movie actress who lands a job working for a film studio wardrobe department. One of her menial tasks is tending to the studio mascot Teddy the dog, who happens to be made up that day with a lion costume. Instead, Mabel absentmindedly enters the studio’s lion cage (they all had one then, right?), and leads a real live lion for a walk around the studio as comedic mayhem ensues.
It doesn’t minimize Mabel’s heroic courage to explain the lion was Numa, a 550 pound 13 year old specially trained beast managed by Charles Gay at the Gay lion farm in El Monte. In a 1927 Picture Play Magazine profile story “Numa Earns a Fortune,” Charles reports Numa has appeared in over 100 pictures, without ever scratching a screen player. Numa’s sole demand is to be left in solitude for two hours during his daily feeding of 15 pounds of horse flesh. Otherwise Numa works day or night without protest (photo left).
Charles explains “When we were making ‘The Extra Girl,’ Mabel Normand took hold of a short rope and led Numa all round the set. She did not even ask if there was danger. That’s nerve! Mabel is one of the gamest girls in pictures.” [emphasis original]
Below, the full “Numa Earns a Fortune” article, Picture Play Magazine, January 1927, page 55, click to enlarge. As you can see Numa also appeared with Charlie Chaplin in The Circus (1928).
Mabel Normand “is one of the gamest girls in pictures.” Indeed, no truer words were ever spoken.
Check out my videos about Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd hosted on my YouTube Channel.