Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Born On This Day, November 14th... Louise Brooks

One of my favorite figures in film history, Louise Brooks was a mid-western girl who would go on to become a noted lead dancer with the famed Denishawn modern dance company in LA (whose members included founders Ruth St. Denis, & Ted Shawn, & a young Martha Graham),  a model, showgirl & silent film actress, & was famous for popularizing the bobbed hairstyle.

Brooks became an enormous star in feature films made in Europe, including G. W. Pabst’s: Pandora's Box (1929), Diary Of A Lost Girl (1929), & Prix de Beauté (1930). She starred in 17 silent films, 5 sound films & achieved lasting cult status.

Brooks was known to be strongly independent, & unafraid to use strong, salty language. She was disliked by Hollywood’s elite for not being the submissive woman expected of her. Living in NYC, Brooks was beckoned back to Hollywood to record sound retakes for her work in The Canary Murder Case (1929). She flatly refused. Hollywood blacklisted her for her defiance– & in a final act of independence she decidedly ended her own acting career in 1938 after making a John Wayne Western, in which she wore uncharacteristically long hair.

By 1946, Brooks was a sales girl at Saks Fifth Avenue making $40-a-week & working as a call girl. But French cinema fans rediscovered Brooks in the 1950s, which revived her fame. Living alone & broke in a tiny apartment, George Eastman House curator James Card invited Brooks to live in Rochester, NY, where she went on to become an accomplished painter & author, publishing several novels, & her memoir- Lulu In Hollywood. Late in life Brooks became a very important film historian, critic & archivist.

Brooks enjoyed fostering speculation about her sexuality, cultivating friendships with famous lesbian. She admitted to assignations with women, including a brief affair with Greta Garbo.  She later described Garbo as masculine but a "charming & tender lover".  Yet, she considered herself neither a lesbian nor bisexual.

Brooks: “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 affairs with girls – they did nothing for me.


  1. She was a fabulous photographic icon. Never seen one of her films, however... Jx

  2. Pandora's Box remains one of the best films ever; and "Lulu" a splendid opera.

  3. As always, so much information I did not know. She so defined the look at the end of the silent era.

  4. What one sees on screen in the films in which Brooks shines are her training as a dancer; the fierce, spiky intelligence that translates what would otherwise just be some young cutie's face into something disconcerting; and above all, the recklessness that in the end destroyed her career if not her life. She is a star, mostly, despite the films she made - except for Pandora's Box, they're mostly not very good, and everything she did in sound is either a stinker or a bit part. Still - in the moments in which Brooks is Brooks, you understand what the founder the of Paris Cinematheque meant when he cried, "There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!"


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