Mabel Normand was a silent movie star, a comedienne. Perhaps Stevie read her book and shaped this song around it because she could relate to Mabel. That's what I'm assuming, at least!
Mabel was one of the first and most successful silent movie comediennes. She became romantically involved with the famous silent movie maker Mack Sennett, and helped encouraged him to stick with then-newcomer Charlie Chaplin, whom she co-starred with in several films. When Sennett made Mabel Charlie's director, however, he was outraged because a woman would be his boss! Soon after, Chaplin left the studio. (In the movie Chaplin starring Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei portrays Mabel as a stupid, bossy shrew sleeping her way to the top, whom Sennett lets direct because she's his lover. Not accurate!)
Mabel didn't suffer for his loss; she made more successful movies with Fatty Arbuckle and then became so popular she actually was offered her own movie production company by Sennett! Unfortunately, by this time, she and Sennett were no longer involved. Sennett had an affair that so devastated Mabel she attempted suicide.
The attempt was unsuccessful, thankfully, and her star continued to rise. Then, she had the bad fortune to be indirectly involved in two different shootings - in one, a man she looked on as a father figure was killed shortly after she'd left his home. In another, a man who'd been hired to be her chauffeur shot a man who'd insulted her. Later, it was discovered that the chauffeur was an ex-convict who was obsessively infatuated with her.
Instead of hurting her, these scandals actually made her movies gross more, although some areas did temporarily ban her. Personally, however, she began to fell apart, becoming depressed and using drugs. Then, silent movies started giving out and Mabel's career went on the downturn. What more she could have done remains unknown because she contracted tuburculosis and died before even reaching the age of 40.
OK! So it's pretty obvious that Mabel, while a comedienne, had a lot of inner tragedy. She just kept pressing on, though, kept at her craft, hid her unhappiness and went on with the show. I think Stevie can see herself in that - an entertainer who has to put on a brave face even when "inside she's quietly crying."
Now, who's this friend? Mabel's lover was Sennett. He betrayed her but they still worked together for years. Sennett also was a bit of a controlling, overbearing producer who drove away friends. Not it's just a teeny bit possible Stevie drew a parallel to Lindsey here, as she deliberately references Races Are Run. I do think likes like "maybe even another show" about exhaustion from performing apply to Stevie.
However, when it comes to direct competition, I would say the relationship between Mabel and Chaplin would fit more readily, as they were both actors and Chaplin was a controlling producer as well who definitely chafed at allowing a woman like Mabel control. This could also work for "he began to hide his beauty" as Chaplin left the studio after feeling creatively, personally (and monetarily!) frustrated. Finally, Stevie's term "beloved exile" could refer to Chaplin's exile from American as a suspected Communist during the McCarthy era. This could also be paralleled with Lindsey's isolationism.
Happily, Stevie's life turned out a lot better than "sad Mabel Normand."
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