Lulu, Louise Brooks, and the Search for a Lost Girl
Louise Brooks was much more than just a pretty face and a stylish symbol of the 1920s flappers, with their rebellious shorter skirts and bobbed haircuts. While her life began in small-town Kansas, she went on to do amazing work in silent films and in writing, not to mention her time on stage as a dancer. She left home at the age of 16 to pursue a different set of dreams, and ended up changing the world with her talent and personality.
Louise danced her way into the heart of the world when she took leading roles in silent movies, refusing to adhere to any standards imposed on her by others. At the top of her resume are dozens of silent and sound films, followed by some poor personal choices that included failed marriages and drinking problems. But through it all, she remained her own person, pursuing her dreams while she lived life the way she saw best.
The Gift of Writing
Brooks published her autobiography in 1982, titled Lulu in Hollywood, which includes eight personal essays that detail her life in Kansas, her time in New York as a Denishawn dancer (the youngest in the tour—alongside founder Ruth St. Denis, who later fired her from the troupe), Ziegfeld Follies dancer, and her friendships with the famous. This collection of her writings is a must for every Lulu fan, no matter how long you’ve adored her.
Other writings from Louise included “The Fundamentals of Good Ballroom Dancing” booklet, a vast collection of personal journals, and countless letters that have now been published in books. Her magazine articles were filled with wit and published in Sight & Sound and Focus on Film, to name a few.
Brooksie’s Work with Directors and Photographers
Brooks’ screen debut was directed by Herbert Brenon and titled The Street of Forgotten Men (1925); she also worked under the direction of Howard Hawks in A Girl in Every Port in 1928. That same year, her early sound film Beggars of Life was directed by William Wellman. At the age of 24, after starring in 21 films, Louise went to work with the German director G.W. Pabst, making Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl.
While many professional photographs were taken of Louise Brooks over the course of her career, all have their own unique qualities while showcasing her natural beauty. Photographers who worked with her include Eugene Robert Richee, George Hommel, and Elmer Fryer.
Lulu in Books
Books written by and about Louise Brooks. They include:
Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise Brooks (by Jan Wahl):
Celebrated children’s author Jan Wahl and film star Louise Brooks had a special relationship that spanned twenty-something years and a bond that was strengthened through a pattern of letter writing. Their roller coaster relationship is the focus of Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise Brooks.
The pair met in the late 50s, he a poor student and an aspiring writer, she a star in silent films almost twice his age. Their mutual desire to write is what brought them together, and over 2 decades was evidenced in their correspondence. Dear Stinkpot includes letters written between the two of them that broach subjects like celebrities, authors, and what the actress was reading at the time.
While the correspondence was plentiful, it was also filled with Brooks demands that contributed to challenges of being her friend. Readers will find that first letter starts out with, “If you care to be my pen pal, Ill thank you not to write on both sides of that thin paper.” She also takes jabs at the writers whom Wahl considered to be heroes in literature and at his efforts to become a published writer.
In the midst of challenges are snippets of an endearing friendship, complete with profound details about life during that time and what it means to be friends across the miles. This personal peek into the relationship of two would-be writers is filled with revealing details and reads as if it were a diary all on its own. Dear Stinkpot shows readers that putting pen to paper was also once an art in itself.
Lulu in Hollywood (by Louise Brooks):
Actress. Silent film star. An icon of the Jazz Age. These are just some of the descriptive words used to paint a picture of the iconic Louise Brooks. Her personality will be further highlighted when readers dive into Lulu in Hollywood, an autobiography of the famous actress.
The book includes eight autobiographical essays by Brooks herself covering the parts of her life as a child in Kansas, a young adult Denishawn dancer, and a Ziegfeld Follies “Glorified Girl.” Her friendships with the famous include connections with W.C. Fields, Humphrey Bogart, and Charlie Chaplin.
Born in 1906, Louise Brooks was one of the most famous actresses of the silent film era. Her rebellion against Hollywood, as well as her role in classics like Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, make her name synonymous with 1920s flappers and the bob haircut. Her work included seventeen silent films and eight films with sound before she retired in 1939.
Brooks reflections of her life in Hollywood were first published in 1982, and these writings offer readers new glimpses into what it means to succeed and fail in show business. These nostalgic essays will delight fans as they dive even deeper into the life of a complicated and talented star in her own right.
Louise Brooks Biography: Lulu Forever (by Peter Cowie):
As one of the most spectacular icons of the silent film world, Louise Brooks acted, danced, and arose as one of the symbols for the Jazz Age. Born in 1906 in Kansas to a lawyer father and artistic mother, Brooks was receiving film offers by the age of 18 and taking part as a dancer with the Ziegfeld Follies.
She mingled with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Charlie Chaplin and William Randolph Hearst. As Brooks acted the part in A Girl in Every Port, prominent director G.W. Pabst took note of her gifts and cast her in his 1920s films Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl.
Louise Brooks saw her success in films grow as fast as her name, and the hardcover treasure Louise Brooks Biography: Lulu Forever celebrates her talent as well as her beauty. Fans of the film star will enjoy the rare movie footage still shots, a collection of letters, private photos, and text as presented by film critic Peter Cowie.
Brooks married two times but never had children. After starring in seventeen silent films and eight sound films over the course of her career, Brooks died in 1985 in New York. She was 78 years old.
Author Peter Cowie is a noted film historian who has authored more than a dozen books on cinema. His correspondence with Louise Brooks lasted from 1965 to 1982. He has also authored works about the lives of Ingmar Bergman, Joan Crawford, and Francis Ford Coppola.
Lulu in Film
Pandora’s Box: The Criterion Collection — Louise Brooks:
As one of the masters of early German cinema, G.W. Pabst used his talent for discovering gifted actresses to cast Louise Brooks in two of his movies. Born in Kansas in the early 1900s, Brooks was a onetime Ziegfeld girl and took her legendary persona with her to New York as the star of seventeen silent films and 8 films featuring sound.
Pabst’s melodrama Pandora’s Box was sensationally modern for its time, and as a film showcased Brooks talent for acting. The story follows the life of showgirl Lulu who experiences a downward spiral as she moves from dancer to streetwalker. 1928 Berlin is the setting for the film about an aspiring star who is skilled in the art of seduction but ends up destitute in London before resorting to prostitution. Her story takes a turn when she picks up her final client known as Jack the Ripper.
From her 1906 birth in Kansas until her death in New York at the age of 78, Louise Brooks was a unique blend of talent and independence that made her a silent film legend in her time. Mixed in with those years of stardom were a handful of affairs and friendships with the famous.
Her display of feminism and innocence comes into contrast with her sexual prowess and ability to charm men of all ages. Fans of the star will appreciate Pandora’s Box: The Criterion Collection from the silent era of film as Brooks shines even without words.
Diary of a Lost Girl 1929: Louise Brooks, G. W. Pabst:
Silent film star Louise Brooks plays the naive daughter of a prosperous middle-aged pharmacist in 1929s Diary of a Lost Girl. Her role as an unassuming young girl who becomes pregnant against her will is the second work in Brooks collaboration with notable director G.W. Pabst.
Brooks plays the role of 16-year-old Thymian Henning, who is seduced by a male employee at her fathers pharmacy; the role of the assistant is filled by Fritz Rasp. In order to preserve the family name, and as an act of protest against marriage, young Thymian leaves her baby with a midwife after giving birth. Soon after, she finds herself being shipped off to an oppressive reform school. She eventually escapes and ends up in a high-class brothel where she lives with her own sense of abandon.
Diary of a Lost Girl follows Brooks work with Pabst in Pandora’s Box (1929) and serves as the directors last silent film. Viewers are offered a glimpse into the life of interwar Germany even as they follow Thymian from her days of innocence and onward as she goes from brothel darling to dowager countess.
This classic silent film is the story of a girl, and then a woman, who is betrayed by many but manages to maintain a sense of moral decency in the midst of corruption. The physical transformation is evident, but perhaps more than that is the growth seen in Thymian herself as she seeks to discover who she is.