Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Favorite Classic Movie Stars - LOUISE BROOKS
Born Mary Louise Brooks in Cherryvale, Kansas, on November 14th 1906, Louise Brooks is best identified (at least to me!) as a silent film star. She was the daughter of Leonard Porter Brooks, who was a lawyer who was usually too busy with his practice to discipline his children and an artistic mother who determined that "squalling brats she produced could take care of themselves". Myra Rude Brooks was a talented pianist who played the latest Debussy and Ravel for her children, inspiring in them a love of books and music. But none of this protected her nine year old daughter Louise from sexual abuse at the hands of a neighborhood predator. The event had a major influence on Brooks life and career, causeing her to say in later years that she was incapable of real love, or 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 told her mother at last many years later, her mother suggested that it must have been Louise's fault for "leading him on".)
Brooks began her entertainment career as a dancer, joining the Denishawn Modern Dance Company in 1922. A long simmering personal conflict between Brooks and Ruth St. Denis, the owner of the company, boiled over one day two years later. However, 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". 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.
Brooks made her screen debut in the silent "The Street of Forgotten Men" in an uncredited role in 1925. Soon however she was playing in a number of silent light comedies and flapper films over the next few years. Starring with W.C. Fields, and Adolphe Menjou among others. It has been said that her best American role was in one of the last silent film drama's "Beggars of Life" (1928).
In the summer of 1926 Brooks married Eddie Sutherland, the director of the film she made with W.C. Fields, but by 1927 she had fallen "terribly in love" with George Preston Marshall. An 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 faithful encounter of my life", She divorced Sutherland mainly due to her budding romance with Marshall in June of 1928.
By this time in her life Louise 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. Her distinct bob haircut which became eponymous and is still recognized today. Soon after making "Beggars of Life" was made. Brooks who loathed the Hollywood scene refused to stay on at Paramount after being promised a raise from G.W. Pabst, the great German Expressionist director.
Paramount attempted to use the coming of sound films to strongarm her back but she called the studios bluff. It was not untill thirty years later that this rebellious move would come to be seen as arguably the most savy of her career. Securring her immortality as a silent film legend and an 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" in 1929, irrevoicably placed her on an unofficial blacklist. Actress Margaret Livingston was hired to dub Brooks voice for the film and the studio claimed that Brooks voice was unsuitable for sound.
Once in Germany, she starred in the 1929 film "Pandora's Box" directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst on his New Objectivitity period. The film is based on two plays by Frank Wedekind and Brooks plays the central figure "Lulu". This film is notorious for its frank treatment of modern sexual mores, including the first screen protrayal of a lesbian.
When she returned to Hollywood in 1931, she was cast in two mainstream films "Gods Gift to Woman" in 1931, and "It Pays to Advertise", also in 1931. Her performance in these films however ware 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 here 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 Marshall in New York City. So the part went to Jean Harlow, who began her own rise to stardom largely as a result. Brooks later explained herself to Wellmen by saying 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 biographer Barry Paris "turning down "Public Enemy" marked the end of Louise Brooks film career". For the rest of her career, she was reduced to playing bit parts and roles in B pictures and short films. One of her directors at the time was a fellow outcast Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, who was working under the pseudonyn of William B. Goddrich. During this period she also wed 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". According to Card, Davis was just another elegant, well-heeled, admirer, nothing more. The couple officially divorced in 1938.
Brooks had retired from folm the same year she completed 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 Witchta 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 either. I must confess to a lifelong curse. My own failure as a social creature. After an unsuccessful attempt at opening a dance studio she returned to the East and after brief stints as a radio actor and a gossip columnist, worked as a sales girl at "Saks Fifth Avenue" for a few years. Then eked out a living as a courtesan with a few select wealthy men as clients. Brooks, unfortunately, had a life long love of alcohol (more specifically, gin), having begun drinking heavily at the age of fourteen. And was an alcohlic 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" taken from Goethe' Faust. After working on the novel for a number of years, she destroyed it by throwing the manuscript into an incinerator.
She was notorious spend thrift for most of her life. Even filing for Bankruptcy once, but was kind and generous to her friends, almost to a fault. Despite two marriages, she never had children, referring to herself as "Barron Brooks". Her many loves 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, the stipend kept her from committing suicide at one point. SHe also had on and off again relationship with George Marshall throughout the twenties and thirties (which she described as abusive). He was the biggest reason she was able to secure a contract with Pabst. Marshall repeatably asked her to marry him and after finding out that she had had many affairs while they were together, married film actress Corinne Griffith instead.
French film historians rediscovered her in the early fifties, proclaiming her as an actress who surpassed even Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo as a film icon. Much to her amusement. It would lead to 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 Brooks living as a reclusive in New York City about this time and persuaded her to move to Rochester, NY. to be near the "George Eastman House Film Collection". With this 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 rarely gave interviews, but had special relationships with John Kohal and Kevin Browtow, film historians and they were able to catch on paper some of her amazing personality.
SHe had lived alone by choice for many years and died of a heart attack in 1985, after suffering from arthritis and emphysema for many years.