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The relationship of Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, dramatized in the Jerry Herman Broadway musical Mack and Mabel, blended tumultuous romance and successful professional collaboration. After meeting at D.W. Griffith's Biograph Company in 1909, the pair embarked upon a love affair that lasted for several years. In 1912 Sennett established his Keystone Studios with Normand as an essential part of it; after first appearing as a bathing beauty, she starred in dozens of Sennett's "two-reelers" and became one of the studio's brightest stars.
Normand, who co-starred in successful movies with Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle more than a dozen times each, occasionally wrote and directed her own movies and was considered instrumental in helping Chaplin develop his appeal as a film personality. At the height of her career in the late 1910s, Sennett established the Mabel Normand Feature Film Company. Normand even had her own studio. But the only film made by her production company was the silent feature Mickey (1918).
In the meantime Normand's plans to wed Sennett had exploded in 1915 when he began a relationship with actress Mae Busch. According to some sources, during an argument over the romantic entanglements Busch hit Normand in the head with a vase and caused a serious injury. Whatever the cause, Normand reportedly spent several weeks in a hospital critically injured and later became addicted to heroin and cocaine to ease the lingering pain. Her romance with Sennett was clearly over.
Even so, their professional relationship remained profitable, and Mickey became Normand's biggest success at the box office as well as the highest-grossing film of 1918. Sennett claimed that it grossed $18 million, a fortune in its day, although some suspected him of inflating the figure, which may have been closer to $8 million.
Many critics also consider Mickey to be Normand's most artistically successful movie, and it was one of the last in which her health was stable (although she would continue in films through 1927, working for Sennett, Samuel Goldwyn and others). She plays the title role, the orphaned daughter of a down-on-his-luck gold miner who is sent to live with a mean, snooty aunt and finds herself in an awkward romantic triangle involving her cousin (the nasty aunt's daughter) and another mining man.
Mickey, a child of nature, has a natural affinity with creatures -- dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, even squirrels -- and enjoys a nude diving scene (filmed with a long lens, of course). A theme song for the character, Mickey by Neil Moret and Harry Williams, became quite famous on its own and was recorded by a number of singers and bands.
Mickey blends a sense of drama with its humor. Sennett understood the subtleties of Normand's rather childlike yet lightly ironic screen character, which usually had a touch of Cinderella. He allowed her films to have a more gentle tone than his more frenetic slapstick comedies. It was vehicles like this that led Normand to be remembered as the silent era's "First Lady of Comedy."
The film was written by J.G. Hawks and directed by F. Richard Jones and James Young, with Normand and Sennett listed as producers. The advertising included the banner "Mack Sennett presents..." The supporting cast includes George Nichols, Minnie Devereaux, Tom Kennedy, Edgar Kennedy, Wheeler Oakman, Minta Durfee (then married to "Fatty" Arbuckle) and Lew Cody (who would later marry Normand).
Producer: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett
Director: F. Richard Jones, James Young
Screenplay: J.G. Hawks (writer)
Cinematography: Fred Jackman, Hans F. Koenekamp, Hugh McClung, Frank D. Williams
Film Editing: John O'Donnell
Cast: Mabel Normand (Mickey), George Nichols (Joe Meadows), Wheeler Oakman (Herbert Thornhill), Minta Durfee (Elsie Drake), Laura La Varnie (Mrs. Geoffrey Drake), Lewis Cody (Reggie Drake), Tom Kennedy (Tom Rawlings), Minnie Ha Ha (Minnie).
by Roger Fristoe