Jon Boorstin’s “Mabel and Me” shows passion of earliest filmmakers

June 19, 2014

Book review by Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California

madel and meEvery writer knows that telling people something pales in comparison to showing them that same thing. Jon Boorstin knows the admonition given to every scribe, “Show; don’t tell.”

After a life-time pf making modern films, Mr. Boorstin began to wonder how the film pioneers went about their craft.

Nowadays, if you need film you order it,” he said, “but then, you had to make the sprocket holes yourself to fit the reels,” because most filmmakers came to Southern California to escape Thomas Edison’s patent collectors.

And so, he approached the task of writing the book as an education. “I wrote this novel to figure out why movies have such a hold on me. I figured if I could re-create what it felt like to make them for the first time, maybe I could understand their power.”

That power over people and their imaginations began with the early days of film, in the Silent Era. It is about that era he writes – 1912-1918. He focuses his attention on one of the biggest stars of all time, Mabel Normand, and an ever-hopeful but stymied lover named Jack.

As he wrote the book, he said, “I fell in love with the era, and with Mabel Normand, a brave, honest beauty, free in a way women weren’t in 1912.

“In 1915, she created the idea of a flapper, because that’s how she behaved.


“Ten years later, when we could say “this is what a flapper is, Mabel created a model for modern women.

“Remember, when she was doing this, there were no women doctors, no women lawyers, there’s almost no women in journalism – the reason they went into movies is because it was a place for outcasts. It was kind of a dirty thing. It attracted the Irish, the Jews and the women who had trouble being taken seriously in other situations.

The reason for Ms. Normand’s success, says Mr. Boorstin, is the fact that she got her due first as a slapstick comedienne. “If you’re that funny, taking prat falls and what-not, you’re also not a danger to the culture. You can be easily dismissed.”

Except that Ms. Normand would not be dismissed. She became the first female to direct a film, a film starring Charlie Chaplin turning him into a superstar as well.

“She enchanted Mack Sennett, and became the first actress to have her name emblazoned in the title of a motion picture, is the funniest woman on earth. And she is undoubtedly the most beguiling,” he says.

The book, Mabel and Me, takes us deep inside the earliest days of motion pictures, and together with the Queen of Comedy, we become obsessed with motion pictures, caught in the web of their mesmerizing power. We meet Jack, a young man coming of age with the Movies. And with Mabel.

As Jack evolves in a formative Hollywood, he shares his relentless, destructive, and ultimately liberating love for Mabel and the Movies. It’s an equilateral triangle whose points teach us not just about the realities and fiction of film, but about the complex meaning of passion.

The first talkie projector. Courtesy Ryan Gierach from his history of West Hollywood, West Hollywood in Images, published by Arcadia Publishing.

The first talkie projector. Courtesy Ryan Gierach from his history of West Hollywood, West Hollywood in Images, published by Arcadia Publishing.

Author Jon Boorstin captures the most exciting period of film history, the silent era. Sharply observant and historically accurate, Boorstin brings us to another world, and we are able to see why film developed as it did. We may never look at the Movies the same way ever again.

Hardcover, 360 pages

Published April 15th 2014 by Angel City Press


1626400164 (ISBN13: 9781626400160)

Praise for Mabel and Me: A Novel about the Movies:

Mabel and Me is a rare triumph of the vernacular. It is a lovely and exciting work of fiction, which deserves the avid attention not just of the cinema community, but of everyone who values good writing and good reading.”

–Richard Schickel

“The golden age of silent film is Hollywood’s most exciting era and a personal favorite of mine. Jon Boorstin’s vivid Mabel and Me has brought it to life with conviction and passion.”

–Kenneth Turan, film critic, NPR, Los Angeles Times
“Boorstin captures with authenticity the language and colour of the silent film era”

                          –Kevin Brownlow, film historian and filmmaker
“Boorstin portrays Mabel Normand with passion and deep caring.”

–Cari Beauchamp, resident scholar, The Mary Pickford Foundation

“In his cinematic new novel, Boorstin has brought it all–the stars and studios, the feuds and fans, the p ictures and producers who made them–to vivid and unforgettable life.”

–Robert Masello, author,The Romanov Cross

“…the author paints a vivid portrait of Mabel Normand, a lovable, impulsive, unpredictable woman who followed her heart. In Boorstin’s story she comes to trust young Flicker because she knows that he truly cares about her, personally and professionally… Mabel and Me may be a work of fiction, but it is impressively detailed in its portrayal of early 20th century Los Angeles, along with the birth and development of moviemaking in Hollywood… Mabel and Me is a wonderful book.”

—Leonard Maltin