Although they never tied the knot, and his “star of stars” Mabel Normand were Hollywood royalty in the heyday of the silent screen era. Sennett, dubbed the “King of Comedy” for his development of the slapstick style, turned it into one of the most popular genres and at the same time, discovered and nurtured the most prominent film stars of the era, including the beloved Keystone Cops, Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, Harry Langdon, Chester Conklin, Marie Dressler, Louise Fazenda, W.C. Fields, Raymond Griffith, Harold Lloyd, Ford Sterling, the provocative “Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties” and the aforementioned Mabel. With more than a thousand film credits, Sennett was one of the most prolific movie makers of all time.
Mabel Normand, his long-time favorite, collaborator and off-and-on romantic interest, starred in an estimated 137 film shorts and 23 features, contributed to Sennett’s arsenal of stars and became one of Hollywood’s first female directors and screenwriters. Tragically, she also suffered from substance abuse, became embroiled in a major scandal that crippled her career and died prematurely at the age of thirty-seven from complications of tuberculosis. Together and apart, professionally and romantically, Sennett and Normand encapsulated the movie business in its formative years.
Although the original Mack Sennett Studios long ago disappeared from the scene, it has gained a new lease on life by the reopening of the one-time Mabel Normand Studio on Bates Avenue. Sennett had the studio built for Mabel as a love offering in hopes that it would repair the damage done by his unfaithfulness to her. The womanizing Sennett was caught in bed with one of Normand’s chief acting rivals, Mae Busch, and on the eve of their planned wedding.
To learn more about the fascinating lives of Mack Sennett and Mabel Norman and the beginnings of movie-making in Los Angeles, the book, Silver Lake Chronicles: Exploring an Urban Oasis in Los Angeles makes for good reading.