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Silents and Shamrocks

Mabel Normand

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and to pay tribute to Mabel Normand during Women’s History Month, we feature this shamrock-bearing sheet music cover for “Molly O (I Love You).”

The song was written for the 1921 film Molly O’, based on Mack Sennett’s tender love story of an Irish girl’s struggle to overcome her lowly beginnings. Mabel Normand plays Molly O'Dair, the penniless daughter of an Irish washerwoman and a ditchdigger who falls in love with a millionaire bachelor.

sheet music

Marketed alongside the film, the song was to be played during screenings. The James C. Emery lyric, “I’m in love with your sweet Irish style,” could also express Sennett’s feelings for Normand, who was Irish on her mother’s side. Sennett and Normand shared a lengthy professional and private history, and for some time, Sennett was smitten with her.

Normand became a triple-threat hyphenate in 1914 as a writer-director-actor, starring opposite and giving screen direction to the likes of Charlie Chaplin, who is pictured with her in Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914, below). Despite the great heights she reached in her career, however, Normand was tainted both personally and professionally by several scandals in the 1920s.

from Mabel's Strange Predicament

Author Betty Harper Fussell, the author of Mabel, counts the star as one of the “I-Don’t-Care” girls, a nickname applied to several young actresses from the early twentieth century who had a fearless disregard for convention. But when judged solely on the merits of her career, from features such as Tillie’s Punctured Romance to Mickey and Molly O’, as well as her many short films, there is no doubt that Normand can be considered one of the great silent film comediennes and a true cinematic innovator.

The music cue sheet, contained in the Mack Sennett papers in Special Collections at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, shows that the “Molly O” theme by Norman McNeil was to open and close the film and be played some 10 times at key points, providing evidence that theme songs have been in use for nearly 100 years.

sheet music 2

The cue sheet was compiled by Austrian-born motion picture musician Gregory Kreshover, who served as assistant musical director at the Sennett-owned Mission Theatre in Los Angeles, the site of the film’s invitational premiere. At the close of the cue sheet, Sennett, in his role as the film’s producer, specifically instructs music directors to play the music rather softly and never too boisterously. (Let’s hope the conductor read through the cue sheet to discover this before giving the first downbeat.)

The artist Barbelle, noted for his contributions to Tin Pan Alley sheet music art, garnishes the cover with a large, green three-leaf shamrock resembling poured paint and cleverly adorns the song title lettering with a couple dozen miniature shamrocks, with the whole contained within a tasteful frame.

The complete sheet music can be found in Digital Collections, alongside other rich treasures.