Mabel was ill with tuberculosis from 1912 onward (though it didnt show up right away). Tuberculosis is an almost unknown disease to much of the world now but in Mabel’s lifetime there was no cure. If you were lucky you could keep it from becoming active. This would result in periods where you felt fine (like much of Mabel’s keystone work) and periods where you would be quite ill (for example Head Over Heels filmed in 1918 was after one of these bouts and you can notice she looks ill in some of the film). From 1918 on and off a nurse named Julia Benson was hired to help her stay out of sanitariums. Benson wasnt left more than a her fee in the will and one would think thats where the story ends.
Benson lived through the 1970s, basically befriending and raising a now deceased woman who would become a prominent Mabel Normand expert online. Benson had taken many things from Mabel’s home, and at times claiming she’d been left the estate. These items found a way to the mentee who has sold/bequeathed and given away numerous items in her lifetime. Prominent institutions such as FIDM Los Angeles and the Margaret Herrick have some of these items and have refused to acknowledge they werent this persons to give. One item in FIDM even has Mabels sputum on it.
Why wasn’t anything done back then? Claud Normand (Mabel’s father) died as she was dying. Shortly after Mabel died her mother Mary, who had inherited the estate, died. By 1940 Claud Normand (Mabel’s brother, Stephen’s grandfather) would die as well. Sadly Benson seemed to make off in the night while the Normand family disappeared into the afterlife.
Stephen Normand had this to say about his visit to LA in the 1970s where he stayed with Benson:
Whilst staying in Julia Benson’s (Mabel’s paid nurse) house in LA I was surprised to find in the closet of the room I was staying in to find some leather luggage (grips/cases) the leather was dried out and the cases crumbling…they were loaded with photographs, embroidered handkerchiefs (one with note attached/pinned on paper used at Valentino’s funeral)..it was a treasure trove which I wondered how & why these things were placed here. When I asked Julia she said she asked Lee to place them there so I would find them..she said she had many other things which were Mabel’s and started crying saying she was sorry to have kept these things….I attach foto of Julia which I took myself, a foto of her house ( vines covered front porch) and a foto of the monogram of Mabel’s in gold plate one attached to each of Mabel’s cases… from “Mabel Normand.. her Grand Nephew’s Memoir” by Stephen Normand 2014
So far few items have been recovered. Below are some known stolen items. If you have any info please contact us