WEIRDLAND: Mabel Normand's Anniversary, F. Scott Fitzgerald's Hollywood Almanac

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mabel Normand's Anniversary, F. Scott Fitzgerald's Hollywood Almanac

Mack Sennett Productions 6000 ft., released Nov. 14, 1914 (Dressler No. 1) dir. Mack Sennett cast: Marie Dressler (Tillie Banks), Charlie Chaplin (Charlie, a City Slicker), Mabel Normand (Mabel, his girl friend), Mack Swain (John Banks, Tillie's Father), Charles Bennett (Douglas Banks, Tillie's Uncle), Charles Murray (Detective), Charley Chase (Detective), Edgar Kennedy (Restaurant Proprietor), Harry McCoy (Pianist), Minta Durfee (Maid), Phyllis Allen (Wardress), Alice Davenport (Guest), Slim Summerville (Policeman), Al St. John (Policeman), Wallace MacDonald (Policeman), Joe Bordeaux (Policeman), G. G. Ligon (Policeman), Gordon Griffith (Newsboy), Billie Bennett (Girl), Rev. D. Simpson (Himself), William Hauber (Policeman) Location: Keystone studio, Los Angeles, CA finished: 7/25/1914

Happy Anniversary, Mabel Normand!

Mabel Normand (1892-1930) was the brief queen of the silent era. Her first picture, Over the Garden Wall, was filmed in 1910 for Vitagraph. From there she joined Keystone Studios, and played a large part in their success. She worked with Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle.

Unique for the time, she wrote, directed and starred in several films. Her most memorable being “Mickey” (1918). In 1918 she moved to Goldwyn Studios, where her taste for alcohol and cocaine started taking its toll. She was released from her contract with Goldwyn and went back to Keystone Studios. The 1920s were fraught with scandal – she was associated with two murders. The first, William Desmond Taylor in 1922, and Courtland Dines in 1924. After a long bout with tuberculosis, she died in 1930.

Mabel Normand was once asked by a reporter about her hobbies, to which she replied, “I don’t know. Say anything you like, but don’t say I love to work. That sounds like Mary Pickford, that prissy bitch. Just say I like to pinch babies and twist their legs. And get drunk.”

Pat Hobby’s apartment lay athwart a delicatessen shop on Wilshire Boulevard. And there lay Pat himself, surrounded by his books—the Motion Picture Almanac of 1928 and Barton’s Track Guide, 1939—by his pictures, authentically signed photographs of Mabel Normand and Barbara LaMarr (who, being deceased, had no value in the pawn-shops)—and by his dogs in their cracked leather oxfords, perched on the arm of a slanting settee.

Pat was at “the end of his resources”—though this term is too ominous to describe a fairly usual condition in his life. He was an old-timer in pictures; he had once known sumptuous living, but for the past ten years jobs had been hard to hold—harder to hold than glasses. “Think of it,” he often mourned. “Only a writer—at forty-nine.” All this afternoon he had turned the pages of The Times and The Examiner for an idea. Though he did not intend to compose a motion picture from this idea, he needed it to get him inside a studio. If you had nothing to submit it was increasingly difficult to pass the gate. But though these two newspapers, together with Life, were the sources most commonly combed for “originals,” they yielded him nothing this afternoon. There were wars, a fire in Topanga Canyon, press releases from the studios, municipal corruptions, and always the redeeming deeds of “The Trojuns,” but Pat found nothing that competed in human interest with the betting page. -"No Harm Trying" from "The Pat Hobby Stories" (1940) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

During Fitzgerald’s second year in Hollywood his hopeful ambition turned to discontent. For someone who came there as he had, out of need, there was depression in the flat, drugstore sprawl of Los Angeles with its unnatural glaring sun. Around the studio the older writers treated him with respect, though some of the brash younger ones, who had mastered a technique comparable to making Panama hats under water, made him feel his unimportance. Hollywood was such an industrial town that not to be a power in the movies was to be unknown. “I thought it would be so easy, but it’s been a disappointment. It’s so barren out here. I don’t feel anything out here,” said Fitzgerald.

After working several weeks on A Yank at Oxford, he had been switched to a Remarque war novel, Three Comrades. He liked the material but disliked the interminable story conferences where, as he once said, “personality was worn down to the inevitable low gear of collaboration.” His co-writer, Ted Paramore, was another frustration. According to Fitzgerald Paramore was still turning out “Owen Wister dialogue”—putting such expressions as “Consarn it!” in the mouth of a German sergeant.

The future looked even brighter when Metro took up his option for a year’s renewal of contract at $1250 a week, but in January producer Joe Manckiewicz rewrote the script of Three Comrades so that very few of Fitzgerald’s words remained. Though Manckiewicz liked the way Fitzgerald had brought the characters to life against their background, he found Fitzgerald’s dialogue too flowery—the work of a novelist rather than a scenarist. Fitzgerald’s touches of magic also seemed irrelevant. For example, when one of the three comrades phoned his sweetheart, an angel was supposed to plug in the connection at the hotel switchboard. “How do you film that?” someone asked drily.

Fitzgerald was crushed by what he considered the mutilation of an honest and delicate script, for it wasn’t his nature to write tongue in cheek. “37 pages mine,” he scrawled on Manckiewicz’ version, “about 1/3, but all shadows and rhythm removed.” “To say I’m disillusioned,” he wrote Manckiewicz, “is putting it mildly. For nineteen years I’ve written best selling entertainment, and my dialogue is supposedly right up at the top…. You had something and you have arbitrarily and carelessly torn it to pieces. … I am utterly miserable at seeing months of work and thought negated in one hasty week. I hope you’re big enough to take this letter as it’s meant—a desperate plea to put back the flower cart, the piano-moving, the balcony, the manicure girl—all those touches that were both natural and new. I thought you were going to play fair.” -"Scott Fitzgerald" (2001) by Andrew Turnbull

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