Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

       MARILYN SLATER         
   Margaret (Gibby) Gibson's career
 started as part of her family's business
 as both of her parents had worked on the 
stage. Her father was a musician by the 
   name of Ellsbarry J. Gibson, born and raised in Iowa
from Scotch-Irish stock. Her mother's maiden name was Cellia 
   Ella Fisher, born in Jamesport, Mo in her youth Gibby’s 
   mother was noted for her beauty, her voice was described
  as like the “gentle coming of dawn”.  Gibby was born 
  September 14, 1894, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  
  Colorado Springs was a town where every saloon had 
entertainment for the cowhands and miners coming into town. 
Gibby was thoroughly western in breeding and spirit 
getting her education on the fly, she was an outdoors 
person. She was of course, a splendid equestrian
and comfortable roughing it. 
By the age of 12 years old, she became the support of 
her mother.  Her mother's father sang, and her mother's 
mother danced. For two years, she appeared on the Patages 
Vaudeville Circuit. By 1909, she became part of 
The Theodore Lorch Stock Company. By the age of 15, 
Gibby had played over 100 different parts on the stage 
before turning her interest to the silent 
screen in 1912 where before long, she was playing 
leading roles.  Western films were an excellent fit. 
In the Fall of 1914, Gibby was working for Vitagraph 
at their Santa Monica Studio.  Moving Picture World 
wrote of Gibby celebrating her 19th birthday with a 
reception at her own bungalow on a cliff overlooking 
the ocean. Her guests were people she worked with.  
It was written that this was the first home that she 
has had.  As a child, her homes were hotels and 
theatrical boardinghouses but after 3 years of working 
for Vitagraph, she had a home of her own, which she had 
paid for herself.
"She was like a kid with a new toy.  In the midst of her 
merriment she tried to sing "Home, Sweet, Home," but it 
was too much for her.  She wept like a child, but from 
pure joy.  And her many guests united in claiming it 
was the most beautiful compliment any home ever received, 
for the little Vitagraph star, who had never known a home 
in all her life, welcomed her friends into her own home” 
Another story in the Fall was found in the 
Movie Pictorial, Gibby is described as the youngest 
leading lady at the Vitagraph Stock Company. Her 
personal talisman were gold-pieces (to quote from 
the article, Gibby said: “sometimes gold-pieces 
seem to be more human than human beings, because 
sometimes mortals are not worth a cent, and the gold 
coins are always worth a great deal--full face value.”)
Like other pretty women in the films business Gibby 
receives letters from men that had fallen in love 
with her.  She is said, to have ‘ridden through all 
this empty flatter with as much sound sense as a 
businessman would have’.  Even fellow actors were 
not immured to her charms; Charles Thompson was 
arrested for stealing jewelry as gifts for her.
May 15, 1914 VARIETY  
Infatuated Actor in Jail
Los Angeles, May 13.--Charles Thompson, 
an actor, aged 25, is in jail here charged 
with the theft of $150 worth of jewelry, 
belonging to his landlady.  The baubles 
were presented by Thompson to Miss Margaret 
Gibson, leading woman of the Vitagraph 
Company, with whom Thompson is said to be 
 This was a great time for her, she was going were she 
could dance the tango, she had been taking lessons 
that summer, she was seem at Los Angeles hotels and at 
the beach resort dance pavilions, she was young and 
pretty and welling to partner in the tango.  She won 
1st prize in the Ocean Park Bathing Girls Parade in 
1914. Life was good.
September 1914 MOTION PICTURE 
Margaret Gibson Wins First Prize
for Having the Prettiest Bathing Suit
The first prize carried with it the honor of
being the handsomest girl with the niftiest 
suit, $50 and a beautiful silver and gold 
loving cup.  Of course, this little champion 
of the screen had to carry off first prize, 
and she did it well, too.  Eddie Dillon, of 
Mutual fame, and W. H. Clune, the Southern 
California movie magnate were two of the judges
and they decided right away that Miss Gibson 
was the winner of first prize…
In 1914 Gibby and the actor William Desmond 
Taylor worked in 4 films together, ‘The Kiss’,
The Love of Tokiwa’, ‘The Riders of Petersham’ 
and ‘A Little Madonna’. She co-stared with 
Charles Ray in ‘The Coward’ 1915), during the 
Triangle formation; she became an actress at the 
Thomas Ince Film Company.
Gibby left Vitagraph the only company she had 
worked for in April of 1915 to work for Richard 
Stanton at New York Motion Picture Company on 
'The Sea Ghost'. Gibby was then found in September
of 1915 working for Centaur Features for David 
Horsley, where she had signed a two-year contract
where she appeared in 'The Protest' and 'Could a 
Man Do More' with Crane Wilbur. She also appeared 
in 'The Soul Cycle'. During that period, a moral 
attack on the film studios elicited the following 
defensive statement from Miss Margaret (Gibby) 
 "To me, it is outrageous, to read of this 
very rabid attack on the motion picture people.
I have invariable been treated with the utmost 
courtesy and consideration by the male members 
of my profession.  We are a very busy class 
of people, and to us, art is art!  We really 
have not time to make anything less of it.
"It is people who find that time hangs heavily
on their hands who get into mischief.  Certainly
that could not apply to motion picture people, 
and I desire to register a vigorous protest by 
the hardest working class of people I know, the
moving picture people, to the slur cast upon their 
Gibby was an expert equestrian and motorist. 
She had a stable built to accommodate her ‘silky 
black’ horse named Dan and also a special garage 
for her little, green car. She called them her two 
pets and didn’t know which she loved most; Gibby 
said in February of 1916, "Don is splendid for a 
ride in the early mornings before work for the day 
has begun.  The little green motor is at its best
in the evenings, when it can travel miles and miles 
through the flower-scented air, and leave the memory 
of worries behind.” 
In 1913, it looked like Gibby 
was on the way up in her career. 
The critics in 1916 who had watched 
the work of this young star since she 
became a member of the Horsley studios 
were unanimous in their verdict that 
her career had but begun.
When Gibby’s contract was completed, she signed 
with Christie Comedy Company to be featured in a 
series of 2-reel comedies. 
But sadly, by 1917 Gibby was arrested for vagrancy, 
this was a euphemism for prostitution and she was 
also accused of dealing opium.  The large and very 
public trial took place and although she was 
acquitted; she changed her screen name to 
Patricia Palmer.  
Gibby used the name Patricia Palmer in the 1919 
“Rowdy Ann” with Fay Tincher, Eddie Barry, Harry 
Depp and Katherine Lewis. Gibby dropped out of 
Christie's for several months returned in 
November of 1920 to make more Christie Comedies. 
In 1921, she was working for Lasky and was working 
in Long Beach at the Ranger Production using the 
name Patricia Palmer as of August 1922. She 
continued to work in films; in 1927, she appeared in 
“King of Kings” in a small role.
Gibby used nine different names that I have found 
Patricia Palmer, Patsy Palmer, Margaret Gibson, 
Margie Gibson, Marguerite Gibson, Helen Gibson, 
Ella Margaret Lewis, Ella Margaret Arce, Pat Lewis. 
The records at IMDb show that she appeared in over 
140 movies between 1913 and 1929. 
She was working for Paramount/Lasky in 1921, while 
her old co-star William Desmond Taylor was now a 
director.  In February 1922, when he was killed he 
was in pre-production on his next feature.  Gibby 
continued to work during the aftermath of the murder. 
She was never questioned nor was her name part of 
any stories about the killing. 
Again, Gibby was arrested on November 2, 1923 this 
time on federal felony charges regarding a violation 
of Mann Act dealing with prostitution. It seems she 
had tried to blackmail a couple of her customers. 
Two men she was connected with had pleaded guilty, 
the charges against her were later dropped but both 
the names of Margaret Gibson and Patricia Palmer 
were used in the newspaper stories. She continued 
to work in films until sound films seemed to end her 
film career in 1929.
I was unable to find any information about Gibby 
between 1929 and 1935, she didn’t seem to make the 
transition to sound movies and she had changed her 
name a number of times so is a little hard to track.
It is known that she went to Singapore in 1935 and 
married Elbert Lewis.  Elbert worked in the Oil 
business as an auditor for Shell Oil.  In a personal 
letter from Elbert dated February 8, 1942, he writes 
of the morning of Gibby’s arrival in Singapore
”when I pushed all the boats out of the harbor so 
your ship could come in…” This would lead me to 
believe they knew each other before she came to 
Singapore in 1935.  In other letters, the couple 
wrote of retiring to either South Africa or Australia.  
Because of the work Elbert did, they traveled 
extensively in the Indian Ocean area.
In 1940, Gibby returned to the United States for 
treatment of a bladder infection. She had two 
surgeries at Hollywood Hospital.  The world was at 
war, she was unable to return to her husband, and 
Elbert could not make his way to the States. He was 
killed in the Japanese’s bombardment of the oil 
facility at Penang, Straits Settlement on March 15,
Gibby lived on a widow’s pension using the 
name Pat Lewis in a small house in the Hollywood 
Hills from the 1950s until her death.  She had become a 
Roman Catholic late in her life, living a rather 
peaceful and quiet life with her grey cat named ‘Rajah’ 
and working in her garden.
On October 21, 1964, Gibby had a heart attack and asked
for a priest fearing death was near.  A young neighbor 
reported in 1999, some 35 years after Gibby’s death that 
she had made a deathbed confession of killing William 
Desmond Taylor to him, as the priest had not arrived.  
The witness recalled Gibby talking about being “nearly 
caught” and that she had “fled the country.”  
There is also a story from the same neighbor that while 
watching Ralph Story’s Los Angeles in the 1960s 
when a program aired about the Taylor murder, Gibby 
had gotten hysterical and said she had killed WDT. 
PALMER, Patricia; 
Melrose Hotel, 
120 S. Grand Ave., 
Los Angeles, Calif.
PALMER, Patricia;
2324 Beachwood Dr.
Hollywood, Calif. 
phone: 436-130
Although, Gibby was working
at Paramount/Lasky when 
William Desmond Taylor was 
killed in 1922 making 5
films, the following years 1923 she appeared in 4 
films and she worked in the film industry until 
1929 she was never became a big Hollywood star.
The books dealing with the unsolved murder included: 
  • Giroux, Robert (1990), A Deed of Death,
Knopf, ISBN 0-394-58075-3
  • Higham, Charles (2004), Murder in Hollywood
 solving a silent screen mystery, 
University of Wisconsin
Press, ISBN 0-299-20360-3 
 Kirkpatrick, Sidney D. A Cast of Killers
(King Vidor's view of the Taylor murder), 
publisher: Onyx; Reprint edition, 
September 1, 1992, paperback, 336 pages, 
ISBN 0-451-17418-6. 
 Long, Bruce (1991), William Desmond Taylor: A Dossier, 
Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0-8108-2490-6 
Sennett, Mack (1954), King of Comedy, 
Doubleday, ISBN 0-9165-1566-4 
Brash, S. and J. Cave, ed. (1993), 
"The Director", Unsolved Crimes 
(True Crime Series), Time-Life Books, 
ISBN 0-7835-0012-2 
There is good solid information in all of 
these books, but of course the authors have 
speculated and have selected the facts that 
support their point of view and some include 
just plan silly errors.  Bruce Long’s book,
“A Dossier” is listed here but it is his Taylorology, 
which has become the prime source for information 
regarding the WDT case.
More information found

Taylorology *  Issue 84 -- December 1999     

Editor: Bruce Long    
Los Angeles Times, Screen Star Faces Judge, 
November 3, 1923 page II1
William Desmond Taylor: The Unsolved  Murder 
by Dina-Marie Kulzer 
Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times, 
"Screening Room," April 20, 2000. 
"...while suffering the heart attack 
that caused her demise, she [Gibson] 
told neighbors that she had shot Taylor." 
by William Thomas Sherman, Seattle WA,  


You Tube “The Kiss” (1914) 
William Desmond Taylor & Margaret Gibson
You Tube “12 Silent Film Celebrities” 
& the William Desmond Taylor Case 
You Tube  “Mary Miles Minter Audio Interviews
web site on the Taylor case at 
The E! Channel "Mysteries & Scandals" 
series to Mabel Normand.
Raphael F. Long, 1996, 
What Did I know and When did I know it?

Alice Tanner's thoughts


In a New York Times archive article about MMM being in a train wreck accident Patricia Palmer is listed as one of the cast who had received injuries. This was in MMM's last movie-Trail of the Lonesome Pine (I think that was the name of it).


In Taylorology there are some articles about her that would lead one to believe that she might have been connected to opium, opium dens, prostitution, blackmail, etc.  One thing that stuck in my memory is that WDT had been reported in opium dens a few weeks before his death gathering info for his movies.  Did he see Gibby at one?  Did he try to help her?  She did get work at his studio after his death and was in that MMM movie I mentioned.


Also, it is documented that WDT worked in a hotel in Colorado during a time that he was only blocks away from venues that Gibby and her mother worked in. If her mother was so beautiful, maybe he had a connection to her or even later a connection to Gibby at Vitagraph. Also, he was fired from Vitagraph - why?


An article in Taylorology about Gibby tells about an extortion attempt on a man.  During the interviews there is mention that she still lived with her mother and married a gentleman named Roy D'Arce who I believe also was an actor.


Another thing that I wondered when I first started looking for info on Gibby is why did she end up caring for her mother at 12-15 years old?  Laudanum addiction was pretty prevalent among women during that time and laudanum was opium?  Was Gibby's mother an addict?


Just thoughts to ponder...








People & Place dealing with WDT period



William Desmond Taylor in Top of New York 1921 

Margaret Shelby (MMM's sister) 



William Desmond Taylor 1913 

Thomas Lee Woolwine, D.A. 1922



Edward Sands 

Buron Fitts D.A. (1926-1940) 

Gabby was a movie star