Louise Brooks circa 1926
Born Mary Louise Brooks
November 14, 1906
Cherryvale, Kansas, U.S.
Died August 8, 1985(aged 78)
Rochester, New York, U.S.
Other names Lulu Occupation Actress, model, dancer Years active 1925–1938 Spouse A. Edward Sutherland (m. 1926–1928)
Deering Davis (m. 1933–1938)
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, noted for popularizing 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 17 silent films and, late in life, authored a memoir, Lulu in Hollywood.
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 Myra Rude, an artistic mother who determined that any "squalling brats she produced could take care of themselves".:11
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' 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". (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".:548)
Brooks began her entertainment career as a dancer, joining the Denishawn modern dance company (whose members included founders Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn, as well as a young Martha Graham) in 1922. In her second season with the company, Brooks had advanced to a starring role in one work opposite Shawn. A long-simmering personal conflict between Brooks and St. Denis boiled over one day, however, and St. Denis abruptly fired Brooks from the troupe in 1924, 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".:53 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.:429
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.:100 (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.:109)
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.
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 mixing 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 Davies' niece, Pepi Lederer. Her distinctive bob haircut, which became eponymous, and is still recognised to this day, helped start a trend; many women styled their hair in imitation of her and fellow film star Colleen Moore. 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 prominent German Expressionist director.
Paramount attempted to use the coming of sound films to pressure 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, and the studio claimed that Brooks' voice was unsuitable for sound pictures.
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 one of the first screen portrayals of a lesbian. Brooks then starred in the controversial social drama Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), based on the book by Margarete Böhme and also directed by Pabst, and Prix de Beauté (1930) by Italian author Augusto Genina, the latter being filmed in France, and having a famous surprise ending. All these films were heavily censored[where?], as they were very "adult" and considered shocking in their time for their portrayals of sexuality, as well as their social satire.
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. However, Brooks turned down the role in order to visit her then-lover George Preston Marshall in New York City, 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". In the opinion of Brooks's biographer Barry Paris, "turning down Public Enemy marked the real end of Louise Brooks's film career".
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, working under the pseudonym "William Goodrich". Brooks starred in Arbuckle's Educational Pictures comedy short, Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (1931).
Brooks retired from the screen after completing one last film, the John Wayne western Overland Stage Raiders (1938) 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." After an unsuccessful attempt at operating a dance studio, she returned East and, after brief stints as a radio actor and a gossip columnist, 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.
"I found that the only well-paying career open to me, as an unsuccessful actress of thirty-six, was that of a call girl...and (I) began to flirt with the fancies related to little bottles filled with yellow sleeping pills."
Brooks had also been a heavy drinker since age 14, but she remained relatively sober to begin writing about film, which became her second career. 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.
She was a notorious spendthrift for most of her life, even filing for bankruptcy in 1932, 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 1930s (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.
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 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 Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. Lulu in Berlin (1984) is another rare filmed interview, produced by Richard Leacock and Susan Woll, released a year before her death, but filmed a decade earlier. Author Tom Graves was allowed into Brooks' apartment for an interview in 1982, and later wrote about the at times awkward and tense conversation in his brief book "My Afternoon With Louise Brooks."
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 Lost 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.
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, 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 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 fiction elements, served as a basis for Alain Resnais's 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad.)
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.
In her 2011 novel of supernatural horror, Houdini Heart, Ki Longfellow uses Brooks as an actual character in the leading character's visions.
In an interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, Liza Minnelli related her preparation for portraying Sally Bowles in the film Cabaret: "I went to my father, and asked him, what can you tell me about thirties glamour? Should I be emulating Marlene Dietrich or something? And he said no, I should study everything I can about Louise Brooks."
In 1991 the British new wave group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released a single named "Pandora's Box" as a tribute to Brooks. The video for the single used extensive footage of Brooks from the movie and included a text intro which explained who Brooks was. And, for the 1988 Siouxsie and The Banshees album (Peepshow) and tour, singer Siouxsie Sioux sported a hairdo and costumes in Brooks's style.
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.
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" 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".:199 She divorced Sutherland, mainly due to her budding relationship with Marshall, in June 1928.:215, 246
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.:364 According to Card, Davis was just "another elegant, well-heeled admirer", nothing more.:364 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. She later described Garbo as masculine but a "charming and tender lover". Despite all this, she considered herself neither lesbian nor bisexual: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.:394-395
Film credits Title Year Role Notes The Street of Forgotten Men 7/1925 A Moll incomplete (missing reel 7) The American Venus 1/1926 Miss Bayport lost film A Social Celebrity 3/1926 Kitty Laverne lost film It's the Old Army Game 7/1926 Mildred Marshall extant The Show Off 8/1926 Clara extant Just Another Blonde 12/1926 Diana O'Sullivan lost film Love 'Em and Leave 'Em 3/1926 Janie Walsh extant Evening Clothes 3/1927 Fox Trot lost film Rolled Stockings 6/1927 Carol Fleming lost film Now We're in the Air 10/1927 Griselle/Grisette lost film The City Gone Wild 11/1927 Snuggles Joy lost film A Girl in Every Port 2/1928 Marie, Girl in France extant Beggars of Life 9/1928 The Girl (Nancy) extant The Canary Murder Case 2/1929 Margaret Odell extant (sound version only) Pandora's Box 1/1929 Lulu extant Diary of a Lost Girl 9/1929 Thymian extant Prix de Beauté 1930 Lucienne Garnier extant It Pays to Advertise 2/1931 Thelma Temple God's Gift to Women 4/1931 Florine Windy Riley Goes Hollywood 5/1931 Betty Grey Empty Saddles 12/1936 'Boots' Boone When You're in Love 2/1937 Chorus Girl uncredited King of Gamblers 4/1937 Joyce Beaton scenes deleted Overland Stage Raiders 1938 Beth Hoyt
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j Paris, Barry. Louise Brooks. New York: Knopf, 1989. ISBN 0-394-55923-1.
- ^ a b Tynan, Kenneth. The Girl in the Black Helmet. Reprint of 1979 The New Yorker article.
- ^ Paris, p. 214
- ^ Paris, pp. 126–28
- ^ Paris, p. 311
- ^ G. W. Pabst (1929) [DVD 2006] (Commentary). Pandora's Box (Liner notes). New York, New York: The Criterion Collection. CC1656D.
- ^ Paris, p. 358
- ^ a b Paris, p. 359
- ^ Paris, p. 408-409
- ^ Paris, p. 412
- ^ Paris, p. 421
- ^ Lulu in Hollywood, Louise Brooks, 1982, P.38, The Guernsey Press Co Ltd, Channel Islands, ISBN 0 09 9499860 X
- ^ Paris, p. 423
- ^ Paris, pp. 428–430
- ^ February 12, 1932, Waterloo Daily Courrant
- ^ Corliss, Richard (2006-11-14). "Lulu-Louise at 100". Time. http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1559304,00.html. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
- ^ Paris, Barry. Louise Brooks: A Biography. University of Minnesota Press, 2000. ISBN 0816637814.
- ^ "Louise Brooks and the 'New Woman' in Weimar Cinema" ran from January 19 through April 29, 2007 at the ICP museum.
- ^ Leacock, Richard. A Conversation with Louise Brooks. Rochester, New York. 1973.
- ^ Brooks, Louise, Roland Jaccard, and Gideon Y. Schein. Louise Brooks: Portrait of an Anti-star. Phébus, 1977. ISBN 285940502X,.
- ^ Weiss, Andrea. Vampires & Violets: Lesbians in the Cinema. J. Cape, 1992. ISBN 0224035754.
- ^ Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Golden Girls of MGM. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0786713038. p.89.
- ^ McLellan, Diana. The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood. Macmillan, 2001. ISBN 0312283202 p. 81.
- ^ Paris, Barry – Louise Brooks, Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1990. ISBN 0749305908
- ^ Mitgang, Herbert. "Louise Brooks, Proud Star of Silent Screen, Dead at 78". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1985/08/10/movies/louise-brooks-proud-star-of-silent-screen-deat-at-78.html. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
- Böhme, Margarete. The Diary of a Lost Girl (Louise Brooks edition), PandorasBox Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0557508488.
- Brooks, Louise. Fundamentals of Good Ballroom Dancing, United States: self published, 1940
- Brooks, Louise. Lulu in Hollywood, New York: Knopf, 1982
- Brooks, Louise. Lulu in Hollywood: Expanded Edition, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000
- Cowie, Peter. Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever, New York: Rizzoli, 2006
- Graves, Tom. My Afternoon With Louise Brooks, Memphis: Rhythm Oil Books, 2011.
- Jaccard, Rolland (editor). Louise Brooks: Portrait of an Anti-Star, New York: New York Zoetrope, 1986
- Krenn, Gunter and Moser, Karin (eds.). Louise Brooks: Rebellin, Ikone, Legende, Austria: Film Archiv Austria, 2006
- Mollica, Vincenzo. Louise Brooks: Una Fiaba Notturna, Italy: Editori del Grifo, 1984
- Oderman, Stuart. Talking to the Piano Player 2. BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN 1-59393-320-7
- Pabst, G.W. Pandora's Box (Lulu), New York: Simon & Schuster, 1971 (1928 script by Pabst)
- Paris, Barry. Louise Brooks, New York: Knopf, 1989. ISBN 0-394-55923-1.
- Wahl, Jan. Dear Stinkpot: Letters From Louise Brooks. BearManor Media, 2010. ISBN 978-1593934743
- Louise Brooks at the Internet Movie Database
- Louise Brooks at AllRovi
- Louise Brooks at the TCM Movie Database
- Louise Brooks at the Internet Broadway Database
- Louise Brooks at Find a Grave
- Works by or about Louise Brooks in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Louise Brooks interview, circa 1960s
- A Louise Brooks interview clip from Memories of Berlin: The Twilight of Weimar Culture
- The Louise Brooks portrait doll by Lenci, 1930
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