Notorious Women #5: Movie Queens

What makes a woman crazy about an automobile? I can only speak for myself. I grew up in the country surrounded by a dairy farm and five brothers. To me, cars were freedom. When I was fourteen years old, as an exchange student in Ecuador, I learned how to drive in a Toyota Land Cruiser high in the Andes Mountains, where they mark driver error with small white crosses. My fifteen-year-old Ecuadorian brother was my instructor. I never wanted to get out of that car again. Go back to the series introduction and catch up with the full story! Okay, are you back and loving the Notorious Women as much as I am? notorious-women-movie-queens

Mary Pickford

There were quite a few silent films starring women at the wheel. The first was An Auto Heroine, filmed in 1908 with a woman driver who was never identified. In 1912, Mary Pickford became the first star of an epic car chase, racing a car against a locomotive in D.W. Griffith’s A Beast at Bay. "She will do anything for the camera," Griffith said. Mary's mother, Charlotte Smith, wasn’t so happy. She prayed alongside a racetrack during the filming. notorious-women-movie-queens Mary owned many cars over the years, the most famous being a 1915 cream-colored Maxwell cabriolet, a gift from Maxwell in return for an endorsement. She also owned two Delage automobiles: a 1917 model and a 1922 model. (According to The Independent of St. Petersburg, Florida, the 1917 model cost $30,000 to make and only got three miles to the gallon! By 1938, when it appeared in the film The Shopworn Angel, it only made cameo appearances in movies.) Mary and her husband Douglas Fairbanks owned one of three custom-made 1923 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts. Her husband also bought her one of the first 1928 Ford Model A cars that rolled off the assembly line as a Christmas present. In later years, she owned a 1962 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II saloon. Mary Pickford was more than "America's sweetheart"; she was a force behind the modernization of the movie business and a co-founder of the actor-owned United Artists studio and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among others. notorious-women-movie-queens

Mabel Normand

Mabel Normand directed and starred in Mabel At the Wheel in 1914, a year after she learned how to drive for The Speed Queen. She came up with the idea of mounting the camera to the front of the car to film close-ups of her driving. She had a fake rivalry with Marie Dressler that resulted in a race-off at Ascot Park in Santa Monica. Mabel brought a 1914 Stutz Bearcat and Marie brought a Fiat. Movie Pictorial magazine reported that “weather made a postponement necessary.” Normand also had a 1916 Mercer 22-72 Runabout with a dressing table and makeup mirror that folded into the driver’s side door. Mabel’s love affair with cars was somewhat short lived. After she made Mickey in 1918, she began to rely on a chauffeur-driven car more and more as her movie career and health began to decline. She died of tuberculosis in 1930.

Collect the whole set!

#1: Bertha Benz: history's first recorded road trip
#2: Alice Ramsey: first cross-country drive by women
#3: Anita King: "speeding sweetheart of the silver screen"
#4: Bebe Daniels's need for speed
Images in this series are reprinted courtesy of Revs Institute for Automotive Research, Naples, Florida; the Mary Pickford Foundation; Looking for Mabel Normand; and Wikipedia.
Was this helpful? (2) (0)
Previous Article March 12, 2013 Notorious Women #6: Mechanical Girls
Next Article March 8, 2013 Fiat Lust, Part 2: My Shopping List
Add a Comment