Interesting people

black and white rock photo

Interesting people are part of the fabric of humanity. Each of us makes history, every single day, some on a global scale and others on a very personal scale that would create a ripple felt by none but their own small circle. I am sharing two interesting people with you.

The first took a pie to the face, launched the career of Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops, acted in the world’s first comedic feature film and has been portrayed on film or stage on four separate occasions. This is no less a staple of early cinematic history than Mabel Normand.

Not only was Mabel the first woman on film to receive a pie in the face, she was the first to pie someone on film – the creator of this comedic standard. Mabel introduced Chaplin to the Keystone film company – and is the reason they held on to him. The internationally-known Keystone Cops also saw their break thanks to Mabel, who is pictured in that post of the quintessential “damsel in distress” tied up on the railway tracks.

Bernadette Peters played the role of Mabel on Broadway in Mack ‘n Mabel in ’74. In ’92 Mabel was portrayed in the movie Chaplin by Marisa Tomei, and Penelope Lagos in Madcap Mabel (2010). Morganne adopted her as a role in Return to Babylon in 2013.

Mabel Normand was a pioneer of early film, became known as “the female Chaplin” although history would suggest that at least some of his mannerisms were adopted from her and starred alongside both Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, the first comedic feature film.

She entered the film industry at age 16 in 1909, was writing her own films by 1912 and became one of the industry’s first female directors in 1914. Her death, in 1930, has been attributed to tuberculosis.

The second person this evening is Ben Fee. Ben was born in China and moved to the United States with his parents at the age of 13. The thing about Ben is that while in America he got involved in organised labour – unions.

First Ben was involved with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in San Francisco and later in New York with the Chinese Students Association, Chinese Workers’ Mutual Aid Association and Alaska Cannery Workers’ Union.

Later, Ben would become a person of significance in New York’s Chinatown in the ’40s and write short works focusing on the Chinese-American experience in post-WWII United States. An enduring story about Ben involves the Almond Blossom restaurant in San Francisco.

The restaurateur turned Ben away, refusing service based on his race. Ben returned the next day and was refused service again. This time, however, 10 of his friends were already in the establishment and all of them had ordered the most expensive menu item, a porterhouse steak.

Unlike Ben, each of these friends were white and had all been served. When he was refused service, every one of them left the restaurant leaving 10 uneaten meals and 10 unpaid bills. That’s as the story goes.

On a final note, at the writing of this piece, the internet is 11,533 days old. You can track the internet’s age and get a timeline of its development at The Age of the Internet website.

Author: Morné Condon

Automotive journalist in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, following new models, old cars, car clubs and motorsport. My interests are not restricted to the automotive environment, although this is where I am mostly to be found.

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