Mabel Normand was barely in her teens when her family moved to New York. The daughter of a vaudeville musician, she began modeling for artists and photographers including James Montgomery Flagg and Charles Dana Gibson. From modeling, she went into films where her first picture was Over the Garden Wall (1910/I). After she left Vitagraph, she started work for the Biograph Studio where she would meet and fall in love with a Biograph actor named Mack Sennett. Her career blossomed under Sennett's direction. In A Dash Through the Clouds (1912), she became the first actress to be filmed in an airplane. When Sennett got the financing to form Keystone Studios in 1912, he left Biograph and so did Mabel. At Keystone, Mabel appeared in a number of "instant movies" where the cast and crew would hear about some public event and go there to use the event as a backdrop to a one-reel comedy. The public believed that great expense was incurred in making the films, but in fact, the expense was only for the cast and crew.
If there was one reason for Keystone's success, it was Mabel. Extremely popular with the public, Mabel would do anything to make her films successful. She would appear in over 100 2-reel films and would also direct films staring Charles Chaplin and Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle. Mabel would also write, direct, and star in Mabel's Married Life (1914), Mabel's Busy Day (1914), Caught in a Cabaret (1914). She contributed plot lines to many films and her name was used in many of the titles. In 1915, she spent most of her time co-starring with Arbuckle. But the pace also took its toll. It had been several years since she fell for Sennett and they had even set a wedding date in 1915, but they never married. While they were in love with each other, Sennett continued to have numerous love affairs and be a slave to his work. In 1914, she co-starred with Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914) which gave her an appetite for features. Sennett finally responded with the film Mickey (1918), which began production in 1916 and was released in 1918. It was the story of poor but honest girl who bumbles into high society. It was a smash hit. In 1918, Mabel left Keystone and signed a five-year contract with Samuel Goldwyn. She was growing older with her career was at a turning point. She began a downward slide, becoming addicted to wild all-night parties, alcohol and cocaine.
With Goldwyn, she would make 18 feature films, but her working discipline dissolved. She would show up late for filming if she showed up at all. She would be missing for days at a time once left for Europe in the middle of a movie. Sennett talked Goldwyn into releasing Mabel and she went back to Keystone. In her personal life, she was in love with Paramount director William Desmond Taylor who valiantly tried to end her drug addiction. Taylor was also an unattached handsome man around town who was reportedly also having an affair with actress Mary Miles Minter and other starlets. On February 1, 1922, at 7:05 pm, Mabel arrived at Taylor's bungalow and was witnessed leaving at about 7:45 pm. Moments later, Taylor was shot in the chest with a single bullet. The murder was a huge scandal and was never solved, although rumors still abound with multiple suspects and motives. The list of suspects included Mabel (who was jealous of his affair with Minter; Sennett (who still had a relationship with Mabel and may have resented any intrusion by Taylor). Unfortunately Molly O' (1921) came out after the murder of Taylor, and her association with the deceased caused many to boycott her film.
On New Year's Eve 1923, her chauffeur shot and wounded a wealthy millionaire, Courtland Dines, with her pistol. The headlines conspired to effectively end her career just as unfavorable publicity had ended the career of Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle. She married actor Lew Cody in 1926, but would carry on her partying. In 1929, as her health declined, Mabel entered a sanitarium and remained for six months, dying from tuberculosis at the age of 34.