Eyes on the pies: how Mabel Normand, Chaplin’s mentor, changed cinema

Hollywood’s queen of silent comedy was the first actor to have her name above a studio – and to hurl a custard pie on screen. Now she is back in the spotlight

She was, said Julian Johnson, a lyrical critic at Photoplay, “a kiss that explodes in a laugh; cherry bon-bons in a clown’s cap; sharing a cream puff from your best girl; a slap from a perfumed hand”. At the height of her career, this tomboy daredevil with screen-idol looks was Hollywood’s queen of comedy. At its nadir, a pariah.

Today, Mabel Normand is largely unknown, but a forthcoming BFI season looks set to refocus the spotlight on the woman who changed cinema for ever through pies, pratfalls – and her protege, Charlie Chaplin.

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