Sunday, April 18, 2010

Miss Louise Brooks

Now, for the one who started it all for me...Louise Brooks. I had seen bits and pieces of silent films, mostly on TCM and the like. But, the first silent film I actually got myself and sat down and watched the whole way through was Diary of a Lost Girl starring Louise. I don't know why I chose that film. Maybe it was just the first one I saw on the shelf at work...who knows. Anyways, I had recognized her from pictures I had seen, ones highlighting her famous hairdo.

Last December, when my best friend and I visited our friend in Rochester, New York, I had the chance to visit Louise's grave. It was amazing that such a star had such a modest grave. It was great to visit her though.

Louise Brooks was born Mary Louise Brooks on November 14, 1906 in Cherryvale, Kansas. Her father Leonard was a lawyer and her mother Myra was a pianist. Their philosophy was that the kids could take care of themselves.

Sadly, when she was nine years old, Louise was sexually abused by a neighbor. This stayed with her throughout her entire life, and stated it as the cause to why she was incapable of real love. She told her mother about what happened later on, and her mother basically said that it was her fault for "leading him on." (Nice, eh?)

Louise began dancing at a young age, eventually making her way into the Denishawn Dancers. She did not get along with fellow member Ruth St. Denis, who eventually fired her. She didn't have to wait long for another job though. She began dancing in George White's Scandals and then was featured dancer in the 1925 Ziegfeld Follies.

Like many of the Ziegfeld Girls, she was approached to appear in films. She signed a contract with Paramount Pictures in 1925. She made her first screen appearance that same year.

Louise began appearing in comedy films, and usually as a flapper. She began to be noticed by fans and filmmakers alike. Fans copied her black bobbed hairdo, which is what many people know her by today.

She was a friend of Marion Davies' niece, so she spent a lot of time at the William Randolph Hearst mansion. This was usually as far as she went hobnobbing with celebrities because she didn't really like the whole Hollywood scene.

In 1929, Louise went to Europe to make films for G.W. Pabst. Their first film together was Pandora's Box. It was very modern for that time period, showing very loose sexual morals and was perhaps the first film to show a portrayal of lesbians. Next was Diary of a Lost Girl, which was also controversial. The third teaming of Pabst and Brooks was Prix de Beaute.

Louise returned to Hollywood in 1931 and made two films, but nothing came about from them. She was offered a role in the film Public Enemy alongside James Cagney, but she turned it down. She claimed she was tired of Hollywood and making movies. The role was given to Jean Harlow, and it helped launch her career.

Louise did appear in a short directed by Roscoe Arbuckle, who had just been outcast from Hollywood after the Virginia Rappe scandal.

She made her last film in 1931 alongside John Wayne. After that, she went from Kansas to New York doing various jobs. She worked as a salesgirl at Saks Fifth Avenue and as a courtesan for wealthy men. There has been suggestion that due to her addiction to alcohol, that she worked as a prostitute...but I don't think so.
In the 1950s, silent films began to be rediscovered. Louise began attending film festivals and eventually moved to Rochester, New York to be closer to the George Eastman House, which housed many film collections. She rarely gave interviews, but did publish her own book in 1982. She did like to talk to film historians though, giving amusing anecdotes about Hollywood history.

Louise Brooks died on August 8, 1985 of a heart attack. She was interred at the Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

She may have never really loved a man, but she was married twice. The first time was in 1926 to director Eddie Sutherland. They divorced two years later after Sutherland realized that Louise was romantically involved with George Preston Marshall, the future owner of the Washington Redskins. This relationship didn't seem to last long because in 1933 she married again, this time to millionaire Deering Davis. She left him after only 5 months but they didn't divorce until 1938.

There are also the lesbian rumors, which Louise loved to help fuel. She did admit to a one night stand with Greta Garbo though (Umm...I'm not into chicks, and I'm sorry but, I would have been intrigued enough to have watched that...just saying)

When she was younger, her best friend was Vivian Vance.

She dated Charlie Chaplin after he saw her in the Ziegfeld Follies.

"When I went to Hollywood in 1927, the girls were wearing lumpy sweaters and skirts. I was wearing sleek suits and half naked beaded gowns and piles and piles of fur." ~ Louise Brooks

This is a great clip of Louise talking about Pabst and her co-star in Pandora's Box. She is so lively and talks like a young girl, I just love it! She was so full of life. Another great reason to just adore Louise.


  1. When I think of silent films from the roaring twenties I think of Louise Brooks. She so perfectly captured the look and feel of that era. It is my belief that the twenties were more of a social change to the country than the sixties were. The twenties represented the death of Victorian morals and ideals and in my humble opinion Louise fits the bill to a T. She liked to party, didn’t cared what other’s thought of her, and told the Hollywood system to go screw itself when they tried to break her contact with the coming of talkies. She burned her bridges with style.

    Louise might not have been as popular in her time as she is today and I would have to say that it’s mainly due to her acting. Her films haven’t aged as much as other silent films have and in essence have continued to gain in popularity. She portrays very modern acting sensibilities, more subtle, more hypnotic. In fact she was often accused (at that time) of doing nothing on screen; a prime example was during the death of Dr. Ludwig Schon in Pandora’s Box. Look closely at her face during that scene. She says so much with just her eyes. It’s amazing.

    I have seen Pandora’s Box several times and I would consider Louise’s performance along with Maria Falconetti of “The Passion of Joan of Arc” to be the very best of silent film performances. I don’t think Louise ever thought of herself as a great actress and from what I have read about her she probably had terrible self esteem issues.

    I am currently reading a new book simply titled ‘lulu’ by Samuel Bernstein. It’s a fictionalized version of Louise’s life in Berlin while filming “Pandora’s Box” and “Dairy of a Lost Girl” but I wouldn’t want that to discourage anyone from reading it, it’s riveting! I personally feel that the author has done a good job of capturing Louise’s personality, the good and the bad.

    It’s odd that her most famous films were filmed outside the Hollywood system. I’m just glad that a director finally saw Louise for the potential she obviously had. Of all the silent screen stars she is, by far, my favorite.

  2. I agree. When I think of Louise, I think of a big star...and she is mostly known for her hair and not for her work in film. She was amazing in film and I wish people would realize that more.

    The book "Lulu in Hollywood" written by Louise is quite a fun book as well. I have not read "Lulu" but if you like it, then I should definitely take a look at it.

    I adore her, and glad there are others out there who appreciate her for her work in the beginnings of Hollywood.

  3. She wasn't a very big star in her day. Most of the fascination with Louise Brooks is of much more recent vintage (the rediscovery of silent films in the late 1970's and 80's). She was not well-known in her day, and most of her best work was done in Europe. She wasn't even the person who was best known for the Dutch pageboy bob - a much more popular and famous actress, Colleen Moore, made the hairstyle famous years before in the highly successful 1923 film "Flaming Youth." If you asked people in the 1920s who the most famous flapper was, they would probably tell you Colleen Moore or Clara Bow or Anna May Wong or Marie Prevost. Most probably wouldn't have known anything about Louise Brooks. She looks very modern and appeals to our modern standards of beauty, and "Pandora's Box" appeals to our modern sensibilities as well, with its blunt portrayal of sexuality, but we're merely projecting ourselves, our standards and our values. We look at Louise Brooks as we wish she had been seen, not as she actually was seen. She was reportedly an extremely difficult alcoholic who made very poor choices. Worst of all, she apparently believed herself to be much more intelligent than she actually was. She failed because of her addictions, her irresponsibility and her own bad judgment, a failure she acknowledged at the time but which she much later in life claimed wasn't failure at all but a conscious choice to escape Hollywood because she found it exasperating. I'm calling B.S. on that, and on most of the other nonsense that came out of her dishonest and self-aggrandizing mouth. She was probably a genuinely interesting person in her youth, but she had many demons and self-destructed, and she was not a great success in Hollywood (nor in Europe, since "Pandora's Box" was not a major hit). One of her last directors said she would have been a supreme actress were it not for her drinking. As an older woman, however, she wasn't interesting so much as a little pathetic and totally unreliable, especially as it relates to her own legacy.

  4. *whew* Wow, thank you mysterious Anonymous one for your insight. I do agree that Louise and actually most of the people I profile on here were not big stars during their time and that they have gotten "bigger" because of silent film fans like us glorifying them because they were part of that era we all love.
    I also think that because of this glorification that we do not look at the morals or darker personalities of these stars because we perhaps do not want them tarnished. Buster Keaton was an alcoholic, Clara Bow slept around, everyone and their mother it seems was bisexual...but I think because we weren't around during their 'hey-day' we can overlook these darker sides and simply perceive them as demons they overcame before their deaths. I think Louise did become a big part of what the silent film era was about, and I don't think we should go as far as saying she was unreliable. But, to each his own. I certainly do appreciate your insight, and thanks for stopping by and reading. I dig your perspective. :)

  5. dear anon:

    -shrug- i can't abide silent films, but women of yore were much more beautiful than anyone of the last 40 years because of the glamour and aura about them.

    louise brooks is their queen. the lack of knowledge and the dark undercurrent just makes her all the more alluring.

    so, while you can come along and bring down the legend with your truths, my perception is my reality.

    louise brooks, a woman who lives on in a handful of photographs and some films i'll never watch, is queen of her era. any era.


  6. ^^^ whoever you are, I salute you. Well said.

  7. Please change "Her entire laugh" to "Her entire life" (It really looks bad, when talking about when she was 9 )

    1. Ooops! I went back and changed that, sorry about that one! My earlier posts aren't as put together as the later ones, so I definitely need to go back and edit them a bit. But that was a big one, so I fixed it right away!
      And, no, my last name really isn't Keaton. I can only wish it was.

  8. Jessica, any relation to the great silent comedian?

  9. Regarding the question of your being related to Buster Keaton, I heard a funny story told my Michael Keaton. Both he and Diane Keaton chose their new stage name/last name because they were fans of the great silent star Keaton, and consequently were asked the same question often. (Michael's real last name was Michael Douglas I believe, and Diane's was Diane Hall). Anyway, a fan was complimenting him on his work, and then added, "I love your sister Diane, too." / Michael replied, "Thanks. I'll tell her that next week." / "Oh you will? How nice." / "Yeah, we're going to be visiting Grandpa Buster's grave together."