Mabel, Marilyn, and Me: Writing about Mabel Normand as a Feminist Film Historian

Harrison, Rebecca (2021). Mabel, Marilyn, and Me: Writing about Mabel Normand as a Feminist Film Historian. Early Popular Visual Culture (In Press).

Abstract

Drawing on archival research, biographical writing, and autobiography, this article explores the life of early film comedienne Mabel Normand to make a case for feminist methodologies in film history. First, it provides a meta-analysis of existing biographies of, and scholarship about, Normand to interrogate the patriarchal narratives that inform theatrical, musical, and cinematic representations of the star. In doing so, the article uses Jane Gaines and Monica Dall’Asta’s notion of ‘constellating’ women to situate the actress’s biographical canon in a longer history of tragically framed white women that includes Marilyn Monroe, whose commoditisation by writers is crucial to the propagation of myths about Normand. Second, the article reflects on elements of subjective and personal bias that inform the author’s analysis of Mabel Normand’s life and career. And finally, the article argues that the conditions under which research is produced must be recognised as method; acknowledging the inequalities rife in the academy, the article draws attention to the ongoing gaps and ellipses in feminist historiography.

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