Louise Brooks was a dancer, an actress, a film historian, critic and writer. In this episode, we also remember her for her perfect bob, her iconic flapper image, and the many ups, downs and farther downs in her life.
Mary Louise was born the second of four children to Leonard and Myra Brooks, on November 14, 1906, in Cherryvale, Kansas. When the family eventually settled in Wichita, Louise wasn’t even in high school but she had grown-up fast thanks to a proto-free-range childhood, a strong personality, one case of sexual assault (with, sadly, another to follow) and a growing skill as a dancer and performer. She got her ticket out of Wichita at 15 when a modern dance troupe came to town and offered her a spot in their prestigious school in New York City.
What we imagine the Brooks house was like for Louise’s childhood, from Nanny McPhee:
What New York City gave her was a career as a dancer, a DIY finishing school, and an entre into the new world of movies.
Louise had some things going for her including the X-Factor that sets one person off from all the others, and a string of situations where she knew the right person at the right time. What she didn’t have was a very good attitude about her life as a performer. She didn’t like being an actress, she didn’t think she was a very good one, and she saw herself as an intellectual while the world saw her as just another dumb starlet.
Still, she lived her life the way she wanted and burned a lot of bridges along the way.
Two very fast marriages, so many boy and girl friends we couldn’t count, gallons of gin, and a film career that began in Hollywood, peaked in Germany and ended when she moved back home to Wichita only 13 years after it began. Her natural acting style was adored by the camera, but far ahead of its time. Her acting wouldn’t be appreciated until later in her life when a cult following rediscovered her talent.
For the record, she did not leave Hollywood because her voice couldn’t make the switch to talkies, she had flounced out and couldn’t be lured back. This is from one of her last films, God’s Gift to Women.
The next few chapters of Louise’s life was an uphill struggle with few good breaks. She did manage to reinvent herself into a film critic, historian and essayist before she passed away at 78 on August 8, 1985.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
For the mother lode of Louise Brooks intel, including the day-by-day accounting of her life, visit the Louise Brooks Society (at pandorasbox.com)
Also good for information and photos, especially if you’re in the mood for some Brooks merch, is Vintage Brooks.
We were both talking about the same documentary on YouTube without realizing it. Louise is interviewed in this towards the end of her life. She may have been frail with emphysema and arthritis, but her mind was sharp!
We know, we know…you need to know How to Eat Breakfast Like a Hollywood Bombshell (spoiler alert: Louise traded in the big breakfasts for a raw egg and toast.)
Planning a trip? Beckett discovered there isn’t much of Louise to discover IRL, but you can visit the George Eastman Museum is in Rochester, New York who took her in and nurtured her writing career.
Amy Walker, 25 from all over the place.
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