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Mabel Normand's Performance Style

Vicki Callahan, Author

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The Gibson Girl

There is in the language around the Gibson Girl a sense that something is not settled in our knowledge and understanding of the type. An article in 1895 by Richard Harding Davis (with Charles Dana Gibson), “The Origin of a Type of American Girl” after listing the usual attributes -- beautiful, fearless, innocent, confidence -- laments on a troubling component of Gibson’s illustration:

“For he is constantly placing her in positions that make us fear she is a cynical and worldly –wise person, and of a fickleness of heart that belies her looks” (Davis, 6).

Here again, the idea of detachment, knowingness, and perhaps even cynicism in our lovely model. And indeed, I think this is close to what we see at the heart of the Normand persona and performance style. The Gibson Girl as model, who isn’t “posing” but modeling, moving, trying on and discarding multiple possibilities for the “modern woman” and all with equal plausibility (or implausibility).

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