Louise Brooks

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Louise Brooks

Born Mary Louise Brooks
November 14, 1906(1906-11-14)
Cherryvale, Kansas U.S.
Died August 8, 1985 (aged 78)
Rochester, New York U.S.
Other name(s) Lou Lou, Brooksie
Years active 1925–1938
Spouse(s) A. Edward Sutherland
Deering Davis

Mary Louise Brooks (November 14, 1906 – August 8, 1985), generally known by her stage name Louise Brooks, was an American dancer, model, showgirl and silent film actress, famous for pioneering the bobbed haircut. Brooks is best known for her three feature roles including two G. W. Pabst films: in Pandora's Box (1929), Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), and Prix de Beauté (Miss Europe) (1930) . She starred in seventeen silent films and, late in life, authored a memoir, Lulu in Hollywood.


[edit] Early life

Born in Cherryvale, Kansas, Louise Brooks was the daughter of Leonard Porter Brooks, a lawyer, who was usually too busy with his practice to discipline his children, and an artistic mother who determined that any "squalling brats she produced could take care of themselves."[1] Myra Rude was a talented pianist who played the latest Debussy and Ravel for her children, inspiring them with a love of books and music. None of this protected her nine-year old daughter Louise from sexual abuse at the hands of a neighborhood predator. This event had a major influence on Brooks's life and career, causing her to say in later years that she was incapable of real love, and that this man "must have had a great deal to do with forming my attitude toward sexual pleasure....For me, nice, soft, easy men were never enough -- there had to be an element of domination."[2] (When Brooks at last told her mother of the incident, many years later, her mother suggested that it must have been Louise's fault for "leading him on."[3])

Brooks began her entertainment career as a dancer, joining the Denishawn modern dance company (whose members included Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn) in 1922. A long-simmering personal conflict between Brooks and St. Denis boiled over one day two years later, however, and St. Denis abruptly fired Brooks from the troupe by telling her in front of the other members that "I am dismissing you from the company because you want life handed to you on a silver salver."[4] The words left a strong impression on Brooks; when she drew up an outline for a planned autobiographical novel in 1949, "The Silver Salver" was the title she gave to the tenth and final chapter.[5]

Thanks to her friend Barbara Bennett (sister of Constance and Joan), Brooks almost immediately found employment as a chorus girl in George White's Scandals, followed by an appearance as a featured dancer in the 1925 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. As a result of her work in the Follies, she came to the attention of Paramount Pictures producer Walter Wanger, who signed her to a five-year contract with the studio in 1925.[6] (She was also noticed by visiting movie star Charlie Chaplin, who was in town for the premiere of his film The Gold Rush. The two had an affair that summer.[7])

[edit] American film career

Brooks made her screen debut in the silent The Street of Forgotten Men, in an uncredited role in 1925. Soon, however, she was playing the female lead in a number of silent light comedies and flapper films over the next few years, starring with Adolphe Menjou and W. C. Fields, among others.

Publicity photo by Paramount's Eugene Richee, 1927

She was noticed in Europe for her pivotal vamp role in the Howard Hawks directed silent "buddy film," A Girl in Every Port in 1928.[8]

It has been said that her best American role was in one of the early sound film dramas, Beggars of Life (1928), as an abused country girl on the run with Richard Arlen and Wallace Beery playing hoboes she meets while riding the rails. Much of this film was shot on location, and the boom microphone was invented for this film by the director William Wellman, who needed it for one of the first experimental talking scenes in the movies.

By this time in her life, she was rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, and was a regular guest of William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies, at San Simeon, being close friends with Marion Davies's niece, Pepi Lederer. Her distinctive bob haircut, which became eponymous, and is still recognised to this day, had helped start a trend, as many women in the Western world began to wear their hair as both she and fellow film star Colleen Moore did.[9] Soon after the film Beggars Of Life was made, Brooks, who loathed the Hollywood "scene," refused to stay on at Paramount after being denied a promised raise, and left for Europe to make films for G. W. Pabst, the great German Expressionist director.

Paramount attempted to use the coming of sound films to strongarm the actress, but she called the studio's bluff. It was not until 30 years later that this rebellious move would come to be seen as arguably the most savvy of her career, securing her immortality as a silent film legend and independent spirit. Unfortunately, while her initial snubbing of Paramount alone would not have finished her in Hollywood altogether, her refusal after returning from Germany to come back to Paramount for sound retakes of The Canary Murder Case (1929) irrevocably placed her on an unofficial blacklist. Actress Margaret Livingston was hired to dub Brooks's voice for the film,[10] and the studio claimed that Brooks' voice was unsuitable for work in sound pictures.

[edit] In Europe

Once in Germany she starred in the 1929 film Pandora's Box, directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst in his New Objectivity period. The film is based on two plays by Frank Wedekind (Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora) and Brooks plays the central figure Lulu. This film is notorious for its frank treatment of modern sexual mores, including the first screen portrayal of a lesbian. Brooks then starred in the controversial social dramas Diary Of A Lost Girl (1929), also directed by Pabst, and Prix de Beauté (1930), the latter being filmed in France, and having a famous surprise ending. All these films were heavily censored, as they were very "adult" and considered shocking in their time for their portrayals of sexuality, as well as their social satire.

[edit] Life after film

When she returned to Hollywood, in 1931, she was cast in two mainstream films: God's Gift to Women (1931) and It Pays to Advertise (1931). Her performances in these films, however, were largely ignored, and few other job offers were forthcoming due to her informal "blacklisting." Despite this, William Wellman, her director on Beggars of Life, offered her the feminine lead in his new picture, The Public Enemy starring James Cagney. But Brooks turned down the role in order to visit her then-lover George Preston Marshall (not to be confused with film director George Marshall) in New York City,[11] and the part instead went to Jean Harlow, who began her own rise to stardom largely as a result. Brooks later explained herself to Wellman by saying that she hated making pictures because she simply "hated Hollywood," and according to film historian James Card, who came to know Brooks intimately later in her life, "she just wasn't interested....She was more interested in Marshall."[12] In the opinion of Brooks's biographer Barry Paris, "turning down Public Enemy marked the real end of Louise Brooks's film career."[12] For the rest of her movie career, she was reduced to playing bit parts and roles in B pictures and short films. One of her directors at this time was a fellow Hollywood outcast, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, who was working under the pseudonym "William Goodrich"; Brooks starred in Arbuckle's Radio Pictures comedy short, Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (1931).

Brooks had retired from the screen that same year after completing one last film, the John Wayne western Overland Stage Raiders in which she played the romantic lead with a long hairstyle that rendered her all but unrecognizable from her "Lulu" days. She then briefly returned to Wichita, where she was raised. "But that turned out to be another kind of hell," she said. "The citizens of Wichita either resented me having been a success or despised me for being a failure. And I wasn't exactly enchanted with them. I must confess to a lifelong curse: My own failure as a social creature."[2] After an unsuccessful attempt at operating a dance studio, she returned East and, after brief stints as a radio actor and a gossip columnist,[13][14] worked as a salesgirl in a Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York City for a few years, then eked out a living as a courtesan with a few select wealthy men as clients.[15] Brooks unfortunately had a life-long love of alcohol (more specifically gin), having begun drinking heavily at the age of fourteen[16] and was an alcoholic for a major portion of her life, although she exorcised that particular demon enough to begin writing about film, which became her second life. During this period she began her first major writing project, an autobiographical novel called Naked on My Goat, a title taken from Goethe's Faust. After working on the novel for a number of years, she destroyed the manuscript by throwing it into an incinerator.[17]

She was a notorious spendthrift for most of her life, even filing for bankruptcy once, but was kind and generous to her friends, almost to a fault. Despite her two marriages, she never had children, referring to herself as "Barren Brooks." Her many lovers from years before had included a young William S. Paley, the founder of CBS. According to Louise Brooks: Looking For Lulu, Paley provided a small monthly stipend to Brooks for the rest of her life, and according to the documentary this stipend kept her from committing suicide at one point. She also had an on-again, off-again relationship with George Marshall throughout the 1920s and 30s (which she described as "abusive"). He was the biggest reason she was able to secure a contract with Pabst. Marshall repeatedly asked her to marry him and after finding that she had had many affairs while they were together, married film actress Corinne Griffith instead.

[edit] Rediscovery

French film historians rediscovered her films in the early 1950s, proclaiming her as an actress who surpassed even Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo as a film icon (Henri Langlois: "There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks!"), much to her amusement. It would lead to the still ongoing Louise Brooks film revivals, and rehabilitated her reputation in her home country. James Card, the film curator for the George Eastman House, discovered Louise living as a recluse in New York City about this time, and persuaded her to move to Rochester, New York to be near the George Eastman House film collection. With his help, she became a noted film writer in her own right. A collection of her witty and cogent writings, Lulu in Hollywood, was published in 1982. She was profiled by the film writer Kenneth Tynan in his essay, "The Girl With The Black Helmet," the title of which was an allusion to her fabulous bob, worn since childhood, a hairstyle claimed as one of the ten most influential in history by beauty magazines the world over.

She rarely gave interviews, but had special relationships with John Kobal and Kevin Brownlow, the film historians, and they were able to capture on paper some of her amazing personality. In the 1970s she was interviewed extensively, on film, for the documentaries Memories of Berlin: The Twilight of Weimar Culture (1976), produced and directed by Gary Conklin, and in the Hollywood series (1980) directed by Brownlow and David Gill. Running 50 minutes, Lulu in Berlin (1984) is another rare filmed interview, produced by Richard Leacock and Susan Woll, released the year of her death, but filmed almost a decade earlier. She had lived alone by choice for many years, and Louise Brooks died from a heart attack in 1985, after suffering from arthritis and emphysema for many years.

As is the case with many of her contemporaries, a number of Brooks' films, according to the documentary Looking for Lulu, are considered to be lost. Her key films survive, however, particularly Pandora's Box and Diary of a Young Girl which have been released to DVD in North America by the Criterion Collection and Kino Video, respectively. As of 2007, Prix de Beaute and The Show Off have also seen limited North American DVD release, as well. Her short film (and one of her only talkies), Windy Riley Goes Hollywood was included on the DVD release of Diary of a Lost Girl. Her final film, Overland Stage Raiders, was released to VHS but has yet to receive a North American DVD release.

[edit] Legacy

Brooks is considered one of the first naturalistic actors in film, her acting being subtle and nuanced compared to many other silent performers. The close-up was just coming into vogue with directors, and her almost hypnotically beautiful face was perfect for this new technique. Brooks had always been very self-directed, even difficult, and was notorious for her salty language, which she didn't hesitate to use whenever she felt like it. In addition, she had made a vow to herself never to smile on stage unless she felt compelled to, and although the majority of her publicity photos show her with a neutral expression, she had a dazzling smile. By her own admission, she was a sexually liberated woman, not afraid to experiment, even posing fully nude for "art" photography,[18] and her liaisons with many film people were legendary, although much of it is speculation.

Louise Brooks as an unattainable film image served as an inspiration for Adolfo Bioy Casares when he wrote his classic science fiction novel The Invention of Morel (1940) about a man attracted to Faustine, a woman who is only a projected 3-D image. In a 1995 interview, Casares explained that Faustine is directly based on his love for Louise Brooks who "vanished too early from the movies." (Elements of The Invention of Morel, minus the science fictional hardware, served as a basis for Alain Resnais' enigmatic Last Year at Marienbad, 1961, one of the most influential films of the 1960s. )

Brooks also had an influence in the graphics world - she had the distinction of inspiring two separate comics: the long-running Dixie Dugan newspaper strip by John H. Striebel that started in the late 1920s and ran until 1966, which grew out of the serialized novel and later stage musical, "Show Girl," that writer J.P. McEvoy had loosely based on Louise's days as a Follies girl on Broadway; and the erotic comic books of Valentina, by the late Guido Crepax, which began publication in 1965 and continued for many years. Crepax became a friend and regular correspondent with Louise late in her life. Hugo Pratt, another comics artist, also used her as inspiration for characters, and even named them after her.

An exhibit titled "Louise Brooks and the 'New Woman' in Weimar Cinema" ran at the International Center of Photography in New York City in 2007, focusing on Brooks' iconic screen persona and celebrating the hundredth anniversary of her birth.[19]

[edit] Personal life

In the summer of 1926, Brooks married Eddie Sutherland, the director of the film she made with Fields, but by 1927 had fallen "terribly in love"[20] with George Preston Marshall, owner of a chain of laundries and future owner of the Washington Redskins football team, following a chance meeting with him that she later referred to as "the most fateful encounter of my life."[21] She divorced Sutherland, mainly due to her budding relationship with Marshall, in June of 1928.[22]

In 1933 she married Chicago millionaire Deering Davis, but abruptly left him in March 1934 after only five months of marriage, "without a good-bye... and leaving only a note of her intentions" behind her.[23] According to Card, Davis was just "another elegant, well-heeled admirer," nothing more.[23] The couple officially divorced in 1938.

Brooks enjoyed fostering speculation about her sexuality, cultivating friendships with lesbian and bisexual women including Pepi Lederer and Peggy Fears, but eschewing relationships. She admitted to some lesbian dalliances, including a one-night affair with Greta Garbo.[24][25] She later described Garbo as masculine but a "charming and tender lover".[26][27], but neither considered herself lesbian or bisexual, nor attracted to women:

'I had a lot of fun writing 'Marion Davies' Niece' [an article about Pepi Lederer], leaving the lesbian theme in question marks. All my life it has been fun for me.

When I am dead, I believe that film writers will fasten on the story that I am a lesbian ... I have done lots to make it believable [...] All my women friends have been lesbians. But that is one point upon which I agree positively with [Christopher] Isherwood: There is no such thing as bisexuality. Ordinary people, although they may accommodate themselves for reason of whoring or marriage, are one-sexed. Out of curiosity, I had two affairs with girls - they did nothing for me.' [28]

[edit] Death

On August 8, 1985, Louise Brooks was found dead of a massive heart attack. She was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

[edit] Filmography

Year Film Role Other notes
1938 Overland Stage Raiders Beth Hoyt
1937 King of Gamblers Joyce Beaton scenes deleted
When You're in Love Chorus Girl uncredited
1936 Empty Saddles 'Boots' Boone
1931 Windy Riley Goes Hollywood Betty Grey
God's Gift to Women Florine
It Pays to Advertise Thelma Temple
1930 Prix de Beauté Lucinne Garnier
1929 Diary of a Lost Girl Thymiane
Pandora's Box Lulu
The Canary Murder Case Margaret Odell
1928 Beggars of Life The Girl (Nancy)
A Girl in Every Port Marie, Girl in France
1927 The City Gone Wild Snuggles Joy
Now We're in the Air Griselle/Grisette lost film
Rolled Stockings Carol Fleming
Evening Clothes Fox Trot
1926 Just Another Blonde Diana O'Sullivan
The Show Off Clara
It's the Old Army Game Mildred Marshall
A Social Celebrity Kitty Laverne
Love 'Em and Leave 'Em Janie Walsh
The American Venus Miss Bayport
1925 The Street of Forgotten Men A Moll uncredited

[edit] In popular culture

  • In 1980, Scottish punk/new wave group The Freeze (UK) dedicated their second single Celebration to Louise Brooks and used an image of her on the cover - a still from the film The Canary Murder Case.Singer Gordon Sharp wrote and issued a fanzine/pamphlet on Brooks to help promote greater awareness of her life and work.He sent a copy of the record to her home in Rochester,NY,via her publisher.
  • In 1995, the Louise Brooks Society was formed to promote a greater awareness of the life and films of this celebrated actress, dancer, and writer.
  • In 2001, In the Neil Gaiman book American Gods, the character Czernobog refers to Brooks as "America's greatest actress".
  • In 2002, The Simpsons featured the episode "Weekend at Burnsies" in which Mr. Burns refers to Brooks as "the silent star of LuLu" and makes a joke about his company's profits being "more see-through than Louise Brooks' negligee."
  • In 2006 British electro duo Robots in Disguise mention Louise Brooks in a song - "Don't Copy Me". A hairstyle is described as "cut by the council, two in one, Louise Brooks and Shirley Temple".
  • The satirical newspaper The Onion says in the "About Onion Radio News" section of its online "Radio News Archives" that The Onion's radio program was at first composed of rants against Louise Brooks.[30]

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Paris, Barry. Louise Brooks. United States: Knopf, 1989. ISBN 0-394-55923-1. p. 11
  2. ^ a b Tynan, Kenneth. The Girl in the Black Helmet. Reprint of 1979 The New Yorker article.
  3. ^ Paris, p. 548
  4. ^ Paris, p. 53
  5. ^ Paris, p. 429
  6. ^ Paris, p. 100
  7. ^ Paris, p. 109
  8. ^ Paris, p. 214
  9. ^ Paris, pp. 126-28
  10. ^ Paris, p. 311
  11. ^ Paris, p. 358
  12. ^ a b Paris, p. 359
  13. ^ Paris, p. 408-409
  14. ^ Paris, p. 412
  15. ^ Paris, p. 421
  16. ^ Paris, p. 423
  17. ^ Paris, pp. 428-30
  18. ^ Paris, Barry. Louise Brooks: A Biography. University of Minnesota Press, 2000. ISBN 0816637814.
  19. ^ "Louise Brooks and the 'New Woman' in Weimar Cinema" ran from January 19 through April 29, 2007 at the ICP museum.
  20. ^ Leacock, Richard. A Conversation with Louise Brooks. Rochester, New York. 1973.
  21. ^ Paris, p. 199
  22. ^ Paris, pp. 215, 246
  23. ^ a b Paris, p. 364
  24. ^ Brooks, Louise, Roland Jaccard, and Gideon Y. Schein. Louise Brooks: Portrait of an Anti-star. Phébus, 1977. ISBN 285940502X,.
  25. ^ Weiss, Andrea. Vampires & Violets: Lesbians in the Cinema. J. Cape, 1992. ISBN 0224035754.
  26. ^ Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Golden Girls of MGM. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0786713038. p.89.
  27. ^ McLellan, Diana. The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood. Macmillan, 2001. ISBN 0312283202 p. 81.
  28. ^ Paris, Barry - "Louise Brooks", Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1990. ISBN 0749305908 p394-395
  29. ^ Rolling Stone. Soul Coughing's M. Doughty Attempts to Explain Himself. Sep 29, 1998.
  30. ^ The Onion Radio News

[edit] Bibliography

  • Louise Brooks, Fundamentals of Good Ballroom Dancing, United States: self published, 1940
  • Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood, New York: Knopf, 1982

[edit] Further reading

  • Oderman, Stuart, Talking to the Piano Player 2. BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN #1-59393-320-7.

[edit] External links

[edit] Further reading

  • G. W. Pabst, Pandora's Box (Lulu), New York: Simon & Schuster, 1971 (original 1928 script by Pabst)
  • Rolland Jaccard (editor), Louise Brooks: Portrait d'une Anti-Star, France: Editions Phébus, 1977
  • Vincenzo Mollica, Louise Brooks: Una Fiaba Notturna, Italy: Editori del Grifo, 1984
  • Homenagem a Louise Brooks, Portugal: Cinemateca Portuguesa, 1986
  • Rolland Jaccard (editor), Louise Brooks: Portrait of an Anti-Star, New York: New York Zoetrope, 1986
  • Paris, Barry. Louise Brooks. United States: Knopf, 1989. ISBN 0-394-55923-1.
  • Omaggio a Louise Brooks e Maya Deren, Italy: Cineteca D. W. Griffith, 1996
  • Louise Brooks: L'européenne, France: Transeuropa, 1999
  • Peter Cowie, Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever, New York: Rizzoli, 2006
  • Gunter Krenn and Karin Moser (editors), Louise Brooks: Rebellin, Ikone, Legende, Austria: Film Archiv Austria, 2006

NAME Brooks, Louise
DATE OF BIRTH November 14, 1906
PLACE OF BIRTH Cherryvale, Kansas
DATE OF DEATH August 8, 1985
PLACE OF DEATH Rochester, New York
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