Mabel Normand was born on November 9, 1892, in New Brighton, Staten Island, New York. Her parents were Mary Drury Normand and Claude G. Normand. There are accounts that give her birth as November 10, with the year given usually being 1894 or 1895. Of their children, only four survived childbirth: Ralph, Claude, Jr., Gladys, and Mabel; and of these, Ralph died in his teens of tuberculosis.
She worked as a bit player at D.W. Griffith’s American Mutoscope and Biograph film company in New York. In the winter of 1911-1912, Griffith took the main Biograph company, including Mabel, to California. Having met Mack Sennett in New York, when he relocated to California and started Keystone Film Company, she joined him.
Normand is regarded as “The Queen of Comedy” and the “Female Chaplin”. She was an actress and comedienne unique to movie history because of the role she played in the earliest development of American film comedy. It is said that she was the first to throw a cream pie into the face of Fatty Arbuckle on film creating a classic comedy routine. She worked in a series of films called the “Fatty and Mabel” comedies.
In 1916 she left Keystone to form her own company; Mabel Normand Feature Film Company. The company was short lived and only produced one film, Mickey, which sat undistributed for a year. She signed in 1918 with Goldwyn Films.
1921-1923 would be disaster years for Normand. In 1921 her good friend Fatty Arbuckle was tried for rape and murder. Then on February 1, 1922 shortly after leaving the home of director William Desmond Taylor, he was murdered. Mabel was the last, other than the murderer, to see him alive and was closely scrutinized by police and the media. In 1923 she was involved in another scandal when her chauffeur Joe Kelly shot and wounded Courtland Dines, one of her many friends.
Towards the end of the 1920’s Normand’s health declined. After an extended stay in a sanitarium she died from tuberculosis in Monrovia, California at age 38 on February 23, 1930.