We still know Chaplin,
we still know Pickford,
we still know Keaton and
the Keystone Cops.
But she was a star, she was,
she had them laughing, she did,
her name pulled them, it did, a magnet
of relief, no matter how short,
to escape the war,
to slip past the flu,
to forget for a single moment,
to enter the magic of laughter
She paid her dues, she did,
she paid big, she did,
too close to scandal,
too close to the needle,
too close to the flame that
burns as it shines.
We miss her hands, we do,
hands that spoke before sound was.
We miss her eyes, we do,
eyes full of knowledge,
eyes full of pretense,
responding to the camera’s call.
The poem is submitted to today’s prompt at dVerse Poets, which is all about the Silent Film Era. To see more poems (and some cool videos and photos), please visit dVerse Poets.
The subject of this poem is Mabel Normand, one of the most famous silent stars of the era. She appeared in Mack Sennett comedies; she appeared with the Keystone Cops. She was as much a household name as Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.
She was involved with Sennett until she discovered his unfaithfulness; she was associated with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle but managed to avoid the scandal that engulfed him and became a celebrated trial. She was close to the director William Desmond Taylor, who was murdered by persons or persons unknown; Normand was the last person who saw him alive. The publicity would have been sufficient to derail her career except that another star, Norma Talmadge, made a public show of supporting her. What finally closed her career was a shooting involving her chauffeur. She died of tuberculosis in 1938.
If you’re a fan of old movies, you may know of her connection to “Sunset Boulevard,” the Billy Wilder film released in 1951 and starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. Billy Wilder named the character played by Gloria Swanson, an aging silent film star, Norma Desmond – combining the names of Mabel Normand and William Desmond Taylor.
The first book I reviewed for publication in a daily newspaper was The Man Who Died Twice by Samuel Peeples, published in 1976, a fictional account of the murder of William Desmond Taylor. In 1986, Sidney Kirkpatrick published A Cast of Killers, the story of the Taylor murder (and cover-up) based upon previously unknown and extensive research into the killing by the Hollywood director, King Vidor.