Film Star Mabel Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. Dines

Silent-film star Mabel Normand’s chauffeur wounded millionaire Courtland S. Dines after shooting him for reasons remaining unclear. The Dines shooting was the second shooting, and the third criminal case, involving Normand within three years, and it sealed the end of her already fading career. Dines refused to press charges or testify, however, and the charges were dropped.

Summary of Event

By 1924, the so-called noble experiment, Prohibition, Prohibition which outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor, had been in force for four years. In Hollywood, however, as in many other places in the United States, liquor flowed freely, and it played a role in many scandals, especially in Hollywood. At this time, Hollywood was the center of the glamorous silent-film industry. Comedic actor Mabel Normand was at the height of her popularity. She had established her career ten years earlier in films directed by Mack Sennett and gone on to star in films with Charles Chaplin and Arbuckle, Roscoe Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Like many Hollywood stars of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, however, Normand became involved in a series of scandals that damaged her career. The shooting of millionaire playboy Courtland S. Dines by Normand’s chauffeur, Joe Kelley, also known as Horace Greer, was the final scandal that ruined Normand’s career. [kw]Film Star Mabel Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. Dines (Jan. 1, 1924)
[kw]Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. Dines, Film Star Mabel (Jan. 1, 1924)
[kw]Dines, Film Star Mabel Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. (Jan. 1, 1924)
Normand, Mabel
Dines, Courtland S.
Kelley, Joe
Normand, Mabel
Dines, Courtland S.
Kelley, Joe
[g]United States;Jan. 1, 1924: Film Star Mabel Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. Dines[00330]
[c]Drugs;Jan. 1, 1924: Film Star Mabel Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. Dines[00330]
[c]Hollywood;Jan. 1, 1924: Film Star Mabel Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. Dines[00330]
[c]Law and the courts;Jan. 1, 1924: Film Star Mabel Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. Dines[00330]
[c]Murder and suicide;Jan. 1, 1924: Film Star Mabel Normand’s Chauffeur Shoots Millionaire Courtland S. Dines[00330]
Purviance, Edna

Mabel Normand.

(Library of Congress)

Born in 1892 into an impoverished family in Staten Island, New York, Normand began working at a very young age as an artists’ model in New York City, achieving recognition as one of artist Charles Gibson’s celebrated Gibson Girls. From there, she moved on to acting, making her first film at the age of fifteen. Normand would be an extremely successful and prolific film star. Early in her career, she developed a reputation as an actor who would do anything to make her films do well at the box office. Under the direction of Sennett, with whom she was romantically involved at the time, she made film history with A Dash Through the Clouds (1912) as the first woman filmed in an airplane. She also is credited with being the first person to use the cream-pie-in-the-face technique for comedic effect.

On New Year’s Day, 1924, Normand was dropped off by her chauffeur, Kelley, at Dines’s apartment. Kelley, as it later become known, was an escaped convict. Normand apparently did not know this at the time of the Dines shooting. Also present that day in the apartment was Dines’s girlfriend, actor Edna Purviance, who was best known as the leading lady in many Chaplin films. Normand, Dines, and Purviance were drinking when Purviance got up to get ready to attend a party; the picture of what happened next remains murky.

Apparently, Normand’s chauffeur had been sent back to her home to retrieve a Christmas present for Dines. The chauffeur was supposed to wait until Normand called him to pick her up, but he instead returned to Dines’s apartment with the present. When Dines answered the door, Kelley shot him in the shoulder. Kelley admitted shooting Dines, first claiming that Dines had accosted him with a liquor bottle but later saying that he shot Dines to protect Normand. Kelley then claimed that Dines kept Normand in a perpetual state of drunkenness, and he shot Dines to save her.

Normand was a talented actor, and the public did not know that by her early twenties she was addicted to both alcohol and narcotics. The first whiff of public scandal occurred in 1918, when she found her fiancé, Sennett, in bed with another woman. What happened next is unclear. Normand either was injured by the other woman, attempted suicide by drowning, or, as the newspapers of the time reported, had an accident on the set. A short time later, Normand left Sennett and Keystone Studios and began acting for Samuel Goldwyn and his film production company.

Another scandal-provoking incident came a few years later. After leaving Keystone Studios, Normand had become friends with director William Desmond Taylor. She was still using drugs around this time, and Taylor disapproved. On February 1, 1922, Normand visited Taylor at his home in Los Angeles, California, to pick up a book. A few minutes after Normand left Taylor, he was shot dead by an unknown assailant. Although Normand was questioned repeatedly by the police and had to testify at Taylor’s inquest, she was not considered a serious suspect in his murder. Nevertheless, speculation ran high, and the press would not give up its pursuit of Normand.

The tabloid press covered Taylor’s murder in sensational style, linking his death to Normand in the minds of the public. Some reports suggested that Taylor and Normand had been lovers because love letters from her allegedly were found in Taylor’s apartment. There was speculation that Normand had killed Taylor out of jealousy over his interest in another woman. Others sources speculated that Taylor was killed by one of Normand’s drug dealers because he had tried to end her use of drugs. He even asked the government to help by stopping the flow of drugs into the film industry. The speculation remained unproven, but it tarnished Normand’s reputation with the public.

Normand continued her edgy lifestyle, and the press continued linking her to scandals. In 1923, after falling from a horse, she was hospitalized and alleged to have had an affair with another patient, Norman Church. Church’s wife filed for divorce, citing Normand as the cause for the split. Normand sued the wife for libel Libel cases;and Mabel Normand[Normand] for half a million dollars, but lost the case. The tabloid press enthusiastically covered both the divorce and the libel trial.

It was against the background of previous scandals that the shooting of Dines occurred. Had his shooting been an isolated incident, Normand likely would have ridden out the publicity without too much damage to her career. Furthermore, Dines recovered and would not press charges against her or her chauffeur. However, because of her past drug use and the previous public scandals, the shooting would become her professional undoing.

The tabloid press gave extended coverage to the shooting, especially when it was discovered that Dines had been shot with a pistol owned by Normand. Neither she nor Kelley ever successfully explained how he had come to have her gun. On January 22, 1924, Normand testified in court in Los Angeles about the shooting, claiming that at first she thought the shots were firecrackers. A transcript of her testimony shows that her answers were confusing and contradictory to the point of being almost incoherent. Some thought this suggested that she was trying to cover up what really happened, while others saw her testimony as evidence of her drug and alcohol addiction. Dines refused to testify and no action was taken against Kelley, although once it was discovered that Kelley was an escaped criminal, he was returned to prison to finish out his sentence, after which he dropped from sight.

Normand made five other films starting in 1926, and she had an unsuccessful marriage in 1926 to actor Cody, Lew Lew Cody. She died of tuberculosis in 1930 at the age of thirty-seven. Dines faded back into the social scene and married a society woman.


Normand, known for her wild lifestyle, lost in the court of public opinion. The shooting of Dines, combined with her history of drug and alcohol use, the use of her pistol as the weapon in the shooting, and her involvement two years earlier in the shooting of Taylor effectively ended her career. Because of the Dines shooting, the Kansas and Ohio film boards banned her films. Her films also were banned in many cities, including Boston, Memphis, Tennessee, and Hartford, Connecticut.

Scandal followed Normand much as it followed pop music star Britney Spears during the early twenty-first century. The Dines scandal called attention to the vices prevalent in Hollywood, including heavy alcohol use during Prohibition Prohibition, drug habits, and casual sexual affairs. None of the parties involved in the Dines shooting came away looking good. Normand, Mabel
Dines, Courtland S.
Kelley, Joe

Further Reading

  • Fussell, Betty Harper. Mabel. New York: Limelight Editions, 1992. A biography of the complex comedian Mabel Normand, which includes discussion of the times in which she flourished as an actor.
  • Giroux, Robert. A Deed of Death: The Story Behind the Unsolved Murder of Hollywood Director William Desmond Taylor. New York: Knopf, 1990. Examines the role of Normand and others in the death of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor.
  • Jacobson, Laurie. Dishing Hollywood: The Real Scoop on Tinseltown’s Most Notorious Scandals. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland House, 2003. Breezy but well-researched stories of Hollywood scandals, including many of those affecting early stars of the silver screen.

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