Louise Brooks is rarely remembered as the gifted actor she was but merely as the flapper of late 1920s films. Her bobbed hair—her “black helmet”—created a new fad in women's hairstyles. Although her film output was not excessive, her effect on popular culture of the period was immense. She is, quite simply, an icon of her time.
Brooks began entertaining people at very early age—she was four when she appeared as Tom Thumb's wife in a church fundraiser. From the age of ten she gave dance recitals throughout Kansas with her mother as chaperone and accompanist.
At fifteen she went to New York to join the avant-garde Denishawn Dance Company, the leading modern dance troupe in the United States at that time. But after a short time she left Denishawn because the director felt she lacked commitment. Soon she was hired to dance in the chorus in the play Scandals (1924).
She sailed to Europe and found work at a leading nightclub in London, the Café de Paris. Her act was a hit and she became the first person to dance the Charleston in London. Buoyed by this success, she returned to the United States where she joined the Ziegfeld Follies in 1925 and was christened one of Ziegfeld's “Glorified Girls.”
At Ziegfeld's request, Alberto Vargas, a renowned artist of that time, painted her portrait for his office wall. Although known for her beauty, she was also accepted into New York's “smart set” where her friends numbered among the most creative and learned of the city.
Her film debut was in The Street of Forgotten Men (1925), and she soon signed a long-term contract with Paramount. She received much critical acclaim for her acting in her next major role in The American Venus (1926) then later that year appeared in A Social Celebrity in her first flapper role prior to marrying director Eddie Sutherland.
Brooks became so much a symbol of the time that a syndicated comic strip, Dixie Dugan, began in 1929 purportedly using events in her life while a chorus girl as the basis of the events in the main character's life. She continued to be popular at the box office and starred in The Canary Murder Case, the first film featuring William Powell as Detective Philo Vance.
Two years later she went to Europe to star in director G. W. Pabst's film Pandora's Box (1929), after leaving Paramount over a salary issue. In this film, which Brooks thought was her best, she played Lulu, a nymphomaniac who marries an older man only to fall in love with his son and is eventually murdered by Jack the Ripper. It did not fare well with critics or audiences, possibly because of the controversial subject, but she would be forever after compared to the character that she played in this film.
She returned briefly to New York but refused to rejoin Paramount. She once more traveled to Europe where she made two other films— Diary of a Lost Girl (1920) and Beauty Prize (1930). Upon returning to Hollywood she wasn't offered the types of roles she wanted, so she retired from films.
She married wealthy playboy Deering Doyle in 1933 and formed a dance team with him, but the team and the marriage didn't last. After leaving Doyle, she teamed with Dario Borzani and the team of Dario and Louise toured to excellent reviews for two years.
Brooks returned to Hollywood to open a dance studio, but the enterprise proved to be unsuccessful, so she returned to Kansas and opened another studio in Wichita. She also wrote a booklet, The Fundamentals of Good Ballroom Dancing.
She returned to New York in 1943 where she did a variety of jobs—from appearing on radio shows to working at Saks Fifth Avenue as a sales clerk. Five years later she began her autobiography, Naked on My Goat, but destroyed it before it was published.
In 1956 she moved to Rochester, New York, where she studied film—seeing her own for the first time—and began a writing career. Her works appeared in many film journals, and a collection of her essays was published in Lulu in Hollywood (1983).
Although little remembered in the United States, the films Brooks made in Europe remain popular in revivals. She made several trips to Europe to introduce her works to later generations of viewers, but as her health failed, she became more reclusive.
|1925||The Street of Forgotten Men|
|1926||The American Venus; A Social Celebrity; It's the Old Army Game; The Show Off; Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em; Just Another Blonde|
|1927||Ten Years Only; Evening Clothes; Rolled Stockings; Now We're in the Air; The City Gone Wild|
|1928||A Girl in Every Port; Beggars of Life|
|1929||Pandora's Box; The Canary Murder Case; Diary of a Lost Girl|
|1930||Prix de Beaute (The Beauty Prize)|
|1931||It Pays to Advertise; God's Gift to Women; Windy Riley Goes Hollywood|
|1937||When You're in Love; King of Gamblers|
|1938||Overland Stage Raiders|
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