Friday, April 05, 2019

Mabel, Fatty and the Law

Mabel Normand, 1892-1930
—Anonymous Photos

Today’s poems are by Michael Ceraolo, S, Euclid, OH, from his new project, Mabel: Selected Lifeography.


I was born in one,
November 9, 1892,
to be exact
Not in 1895
as it says on my tombstone,
nor in 1893 or ’94
as it was usually written
in the studio bios;
an attempt at autobiography
should at least try for accuracy
I was born in Staten Island,
though it wasn't officially called that
until long after I was dead
and wasn't even part of New York City
until 1898,
not in any of the myriad other places
I told interviewers through the years

I was born early and with a caul
(the membrane usually detached
during the birthing process),
sort of a veil thought to bring good luck
and even presage greatness;
my parents were able to sell it
to someone who paid well for it

I went first to public school at home
and then away to a convent school
in Massachusetts,
                             finishing early
and starting right in to work,
beginning in the company mail room
but soon sent to the art department
to work as an artist's model

I wanted to be the artist,
not the artist's model,
but it was lucrative
and would do for the time being,
it soon enabled me to work with
James Montgomery Flagg and Charles Dana Gibson;
I think I was the only model
Gibson used more than twice

A model friend was posing for lantern slides
(still images projected onto the screens
between the movies being shown)
and she encouraged me to do it too
I later accompanied her to a movie set
(most of the movies at the time
being made in and around New York City)
and was soon hired there myself

As I look back to write this,
I find it truly amazing
how many of my movies' titles
had already, or would in the future,
apply to an aspect of my life
For those readers now ready to panic,
knowing I made over two hundred flickers,
          and remember
the word Selected in the work's title
So here we go


During the war I made what I guess
you could call propaganda,
a short with the above-named title
to support the Liberty Loan Drive
But moviemaking wasn't support enough
for my country and my brother Claude,
who was fighting overseas in France:
at a rally I pledged a five-thousand-dollar bond,
and offered a kiss to any bond buyer,
raising over $12,500 in two hours


Roscoe and I were both badly treated
by the law, though in different ways
He suffered through three trials
when he wasn't even remotely guilty;
the only one guilty of anything
was the doctor who said she was just passed out drunk
My mistreatment didn't involve any formal charges,
just rumors and innuendos
in a few different cases
But because one of those remains unsolved,
suspicion clings to me posthumously

 With Charlie Chaplin


We could even call it Mabel's Married Life;
here's the story
It was the wee hours of a mid-week night
and we had both been drinking,
so when Lew got down on his knees and proposed
we both treated it as the joke it was meant to be,
complete with a mock wedding ceremony
But almost immediately
we decided to take it seriously
and drove to Ventura to get married for real
Lew and I had appeared together in Mickey
and had been good friends ever since,
sharing a love of pranks and hijinks
as well as a love of books
We didn't live together at first,
but grew closer as time went on,
and he eventually moved in with me
and nursed me during my illness
until I could no longer live at home;
he even kept his heart trouble from me
In my will I left him only a dollar
because he was more than capable
of earning his own living,
some have tried to read much into that
But my tombstone has the hyphenated name
I wouldn't have done that without good reason


Today’s LittleNip(s):

There was a long, hard struggle when we were never sure that there would be a pay envelope on Saturday. There were just four of us then—Mr. Sennett, Fred Mace and Roscoe Arbuckle—and me! But we worked hard, and hoped hard, and just trusted in luck. And better days soon came.

—Mabel Normand

Just because I’m a little—well, you know, different—people believe anything weird about me.

—Mabel Normand


Our thanks to Michael Ceraolo for giving us a preview of his latest project! For more photos and info about Mabel, go to OR

MarieWriters will meet tonight at Sac. Poetry Center, 6pm, with the Friday Generative Writing Workshop which will take place throughout April. Or travel down to Modesto to Modesto Jr. College for the reading there, sponsored by MoSt, also 6pm. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.

—Medusa (Celebrate Poetry!)

 —Anonymous Photo of Mabel Normand

Photos in this column can be enlarged by
clicking on them once, then clicking on the x
in the top right corner to come back to Medusa.