Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Q & A with Tom Graves, author of My Afternoon with Louise Brooks

If you haven't already done so, I would like to encourage you to check out Tom Graves' Kickstarter campaign for a limited edition copy of his book, My Afternoon with Louise Brooks. It is an account of the day Graves' spent with Louise Brooks back in 1980, when he was a young journalist.

As many of us are, Tom Graves is a longtime fan of Brooks deeply enamored by the actress and her films. Recently, he answered a few questions from the Louise Brooks Society about the actress and how he came to meet her.

LBS: Take us back to the beginning. How did you first come across Louise Brooks and her films?

TG: I saw Kenneth Tynan on The Dick Cavett Show and he was talking about his new book Show People. Cavett was more interested in Tynan's New Yorker profile of Louise than anything else. I was fascinated with his discussion because I did know who Louise Brooks was and about the film Pandora's Box, which I had not seen.  I bought his book, read the profile, and a film society soon after brought to Memphis Pandora's Box.  I was enthralled by it.

LBS: You are one of the few journalists who can claim to have met Louise Brooks. What led you to search her out?

TG: I thought she was deserving of a full biography beyond Tynan's great profile in The New Yorker.  I was 28 years old and excited by the prospect of writing my first book.  It took a great deal of moxie on my part to dare go to Rochester, New York in hopes of meeting her.  I had contacted Betty Fussell who had written an excellent biography of Mabel Normand.  Her advice to me was to go to Rochester and camp out on Louise's doorstep to get to meet her.  She thought that was a paramount importance. A few years ago Betty Fussell was at the Nashville Book Festival and I was also presenting a book there and I got a chance to finally meet her and tell her that because of her advice back in 1982 that I had actually gotten to spend an afternoon with Louise.

LBS: What was your initial impression of Brooks?

TG: That she was a bit of a grouch and really wasn't used to company.  Right off the bat I could tell how unusually intelligent she was. She spoke just like she wrote and she was a wonderful writer.  Thankfully she warmed up to me and we had a long and incredible conversation about many, many things.

LBS: What was her apartment like?

TG: I wrote that it was as orderly as an army foot locker.  Everything was in its place.  The books all had bookmarks and/or paperclips marking what I assumed was references to her.

LBS: Louise was a great reader. Do you remember seeing any particular books laying about?

TG: I do. One in particular stood out; it was Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia and it was bookmarked right where I deduced a reference to Louise was. I also noticed a copy of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon and it appeared to be a foreign edition.  It was released abroad before being released in the U.S.  Again it had the paperclip marking it.

LBS: Do you have a favorite Louise Brooks' film?

TG: Yes, it would of course be Pandora's Box.  I don't think Diary of a Lost Girl is quite as good.

LBS: Of her lost films, which would you most like to see?

TG: I always have assumed Windy Riley Goes Hollywood was lost.  I'd be interested in it because it was after Pandora's Box plus it was directed by disgraced comedian Fatty Arbuckle.

LBS: Your long-form essay, "My Afternoon With Louise Brooks," has been published elsewhere. What is new with this limited edition book?

TG: The text itself is available in complete form in my book Louise Brooks, Frank Zappa, & Other Charmers & Dreamers. This book contains the best of my long-form journalism from the 80s until the present and the Louise Brooks material is the lead piece.  I seldom write articles or reviews any longer but concentrate on books. I always thought it would be great if my Louise pieces could be a book unto themselves and thought how nice it would be to have an antiquarian-grade small gift book available to other Louise Brooks true fans.  Its limited edition will make it an instant collectible to anyone who buys one of the 100 copies.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

My Afternoon With Louise Brooks - Kickstarter campaign for a limited edition book

I encourage everyone to check out My Afternoon With Louise Brooks - a Kickstarter campaign for a limited edition, signed and number hardback book by Tom Graves. This Kickstarter campaign runs two months, so check it out NOW! More information about this very special project can be found HERE.

Pledging now guarantees you one of the 100 signed and numbered copies of My Afternoon With Louise Brooks, Tom Graves' critically-acclaimed long-form journalism article about his visit to the apartment of silent film recluse Louise Brooks.  As a bonus, this special edition book contains the childhood chapter of the aborted Louise Brooks biography that Tom Graves wrote prior to being de-authorized by Miss Brooks.  The book is approximately 80 pages in length. This will be entirely a Kickstarter funded special edition geared for the fans of Louise Brooks who wish to know precisely what it was like meeting the famed cult figure in her declining years.  When the Kickstarter goal is met production will immediately begin and funders will receive a copy of the hardcover collectible book shipped to their home.  The book is limited to 100 copies and will NOT be available after this press run.  So pledge now to secure your copy(s).

Tom Graves is best known as a writer of gritty fiction and nonfiction including his biography of bluesman Robert Johnson, Crossroads. His most recent book is the critically-acclaimed White Boy: A Memoir, the story of how Graves overcame the racism of his family and city. He was also a writer and producer of the Emmy-winning film Best of Enemies about the acrimonious 1968 debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. He owns the publishing company Devault Graves Books.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? and the Louise Brooks connection

I finally got around to watching Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the based-on-a-true story about a literary forger starring Melissa McCarthy. It is a brilliant film, but not one I can say I enjoyed watching. Truth-be-told, it is just too much of a downer. McCarthy is really, really good in the role of Lee Israel, the author and biographer who turns to forging letters from famous writers after her own career stalls out. Richard E. Grant is also superb in his supporting role as Isreal's problematic friend. Both McCarthy and Grant deserve Academy Award nominations.

[After a well received  theatrical run, the film is now out on DVD. More info HERE.]

I was keen to see this film for various reasons, not least of which was the fact that among the more than 400 letters Israel forged were a bunch by Louise Brooks. The actress's role in Israel's book Can You Ever Forgive Me? is prominent. Nearly three chapters are given over to Brooks in Israel's slim 2008 book, in which she admits to forging at least a handful of letters from the silent film star. Four of the Brooks forgeries are depicted in the book. However, in the film, Brooks' role is greatly diminished. By my count, the actress is mentioned twice and pictured once.

Brooks is first mentioned during a rapid recital of the personalities who's letters Israel forged or embellished: Fannie Brice, Noel Coward, Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman and others. The second mention comes near the end of the films when (spoiler alert) Israel's character is seeing a lawyer, who tells his client that he enjoyed reading the Louise Brooks' letters.

An image of Louise Brooks can also be spotted in the film, pinned to a bulletin board above Israel's couch in her New York City apartment. In the screen capture below, Grant is lounging on the couch after he and Israel return from a night out drinking.

Curiously enough,this is not the first film in which co-star Richard E. Grant is seen next to a picture of Louise Brooks. The first was the not-so-dissimilar Withnail and I (1987), an acclaimed indie film about two out-of-work actors -- the anxious, luckless Marwood (Louise Brooks devotee Paul McGann) and his acerbic, alcoholic friend, Withnail (Grant) -- who spend their days drifting between their squalid flat, the unemployment office and the pub. Here is a screen capture from that film.

Grant, it should be noted, also had a role in the last season of Downton Abbey, and as any regular reader of this blog may know, that acclaimed television series has a number of well-known connections to Louise Brooks.

Well, back to Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which I've written and blogged about in the past. There is a piece in my 2018 book, Louise Brooks, the Persistent Star on my own "brief encounter" with Israel - via email. I've also blogged about Israel's book and the film. Those with an eye for the obscure may notice Louise Brooks' name on the cover of the original edition of Can You Ever Forgive Me? It is the third on the list, x'ed out Louise Brooks.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Louise Brooks (or Louise Fazenda) on Sing it Again radio show

Well, here is something of a minor mystery in my ongoing research into the history of Louise Brooks and radio. It begins with these two 1950 clippings from the San Francisco Examiner newspaper.

Sing It Again was a weekly one-hour Saturday-night music variety quiz show that featured home viewers trying to identify songs with the help of special clues that were performed by the show's regulars. (The show has been described as a kind of audience participation version of Name That Tune.) If the player answered correctly, he or she received a chance to identify the "phantom voice" for a jackpot prize.

The program first aired on CBS radio in September, 1948. Musical quiz shows were the rage and CBS decided to out-do them all with a program that would feature popular performers and the largest jackpot ever offered. Musical conductor Ray Bloch assembled a cast consisting of handsome crooner Alan Dale, songstress Eugenie Baird, and pianist-singer Bob Howard. The master of ceremonies was the affable Dan Seymour.

Like most game shows, this show had a gimmick: A song would first be performed straight, then sung again  -- hence the show's title -- with new lyrics describing a famous celebrity. If the contestant (or a listener phoned at random) solved the puzzle, they would have the opportunity to try to identify the "phantom voice" from clues offered during the preceding weeks. (If you are interested in here an episode of the show from 1949, visit this PAGE. Spoiler alert, the famous celebrity sung about in this episode is Claudette Colbert!)

In 1950, Sing It Again became one of the few programs ever to be simulcast (broadcast on both radio and television). However, the move to TV resulted in changes in format: the size of the jackpot was reduced, and everyone was replaced except for singer Alan Dale, who by then had become the show's top attraction. Comedian Jan Murray became the show's master of ceremonies.

1950 press photo of Eugenie Baird and Alan Dale on Sing It Again

Could Louise Brooks have been the "phantom voice" mentioned in the two clippings shown above. It's possible. In 1950, the former silent film star was living in New York City, which was also the home to Sing It Again. (The show, produced by Lester Gottlieb Productions, was made at the CBS Playhouse #3 in New York.) Brooks had done a bit of radio work for CBS in the early 1940s, prompted by her friendship with William S. Paley, the head of CBS.

Sing It Again was broadcast nationally, and newspapers across the country carried listings for the show. However, the only paper I've been able to find which took an interest in identifying the "phantom voice" was the San Francisco Examiner. Here is another clipping from earlier in August, 1950 which mentions Irene Castle and Gloria Swanson.

Could Louise Brooks have been the "phantom voice"? We may never know. This time in Brooks' life is poorly documented, and few pictures of the former star dating from this period are known. Except for one, I couldn't find any recordings of the Sing It Again show online. Perhaps they exist in an archive or OTR collection somewhere. Or perhaps there still exist old records for the show identifying who the various guests and "phantom voices" were. Old radio magazines might also be useful in solving this minor mystery. If any reader of this blog has access to such records or archive or audio recordings, please let me know.

Louise Brooks in Central Park in NYC

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Norwood Public Library hosts The Chaperone reading group on June 19

The Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts will host a reading group on June 19 to discuss The Chaperone. More information can be found HERE.

Turn the Page Book Group - The Chaperone
Wednesday, June 1910:00—11:00 AM Simoni Room Morrill Memorial Library 33 Walpole St., Norwood, MA, 02062

The Morrill Memorial Library’s monthly Turn the Page Book Group will meet on Wednesday, June 19 at 10 am and 7 pm to discuss The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. The library describes the book as "A novel about the friendship between an adolescent, pre-movie-star Louise Brooks, and the 36-year-old woman who chaperones her to New York City for a summer, in 1922, and how it changes both their lives."

A New York Times bestseller and the USA Today #1 Hot Fiction Pick, The Chaperone is a captivating account of the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in the summer of 1922. It was recently made into a feature film starring Elizabeth McGovern by the creators of Downton Abbey.

Copies of the book in a number of formats will be available to pick up at the Circulation Desk. Light refreshments will be served.

To sign up for either the morning or evening session, led by Patty Bailey and first-time guest host Geri Harrold, please call 781-769-0200, x110, or stop by the library Reference or Information desk. Well more than half of the seats are taken for this highly anticipated event.


On a not unrelated note, author Laura Moriarty was recently on "One on One with Victor Hogstrom," a television show on the local PBS affiliate (KPTS Channel 8) in Wichita, Kansas. In the thirty minute show, Moriarty discusses the mission of her novels. She also talks about The Chaperone, the novel she wrote about a certain Kansas-born film star that has been made into a new movie.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A few biblio-curiosities: unrelated vintage books with the titles of Louise Brooks' films

As most fans know, a handful of Louise Brooks' films, like Beggars of Life and The Canary Murder Case, were based on once well known books of the same name. Other films were based on well known stage plays, like The Show Off and It Pays to Advertise, each of which were also published in book form.

Researching Brooks and her films can turn up some rather unusual items.... And over the years, I have come across a few examples of vintage books which also share the title of a Brooks' film - but otherwise have no real connection to the film itself. They are, to say the least, biblio-curiosities.

The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) is the title of Brooks' first film. Directed by Herbert Brenon, it was based on a short story, "The Street of the Forgotten Men" by George Kibbe Turner, which appeared in Liberty magazine earlier in 1925. [Remarkably, thirteen of Turner's stories or novels were turned into films between the years 1920 and 1932.]  

The Street of Forgotten Men was also the title of a book by John Vande Water. The book's full title, The Street of Forgotten Men : ten years of missionary experience in Chicago, pretty much explains what it's about. This "other" book was published by Eerdmans, a publisher of religious books based in Grand Rapids, Michigan; the copies I've seen have no date of issue - but to my eye, look to postdate the 1925 film. (I've emailed the publisher, which is still in business, asking for a date of issue.) Besides it's title, skid-row / Bowery setting, and theme of redemption, the book and film are unrelated. Anyone interested in reading or just checking out Vande Water's book can do so HERE.

A "street of forgotten men" is a catchphrase, and the name sometimes given to those parts of a town where the homeless would congregate. Street of Forgotten Men was, as well, the name given to a 1930's short film which "toured" the Bowery and it's unfortunate denizens. It is not listed on ImDb, but can be viewed below.

Another catchphrase or idiom which became the title of a Louise Brooks film and a later book is "a girl in every port." The 1928 Brooks' film by that name was directed by Howard Hawks, and was based on a story by Hawks and James K. McGuinness, with a scenario by Seton I. Miller.

So far, I've come across three works titled A Girl in Every Port. The earliest seems to be Forrest Additon's book of poems and drawings, which is subtitled "The Odyssey of a Deep-Sea Sailor." As you might expect, this 1938 vanity press publication is a collection of slightly saucy sing-songy poems which recount various encounters with women around the world. Many of the poems are accompanied by one of Additon's sometimes saucy drawings. In a foreword, the author takes pains to assure his readers these are not his stories, oh no, but just those he has heard from sailors the author has encountered during his travels.

It is difficult to choose the "best" piece in this volume, but here at least is a representative one. It is called "Wolly Golly."

The author, in case you are wondering, was a self-published writer and amateur artist who worked for many years in the furniture manufacturing business in Flowery Branch, Georgia. He is also credited with authoring the Illinois state song. When Additon died in 1958, Florida's Fort Lauderdale News considered him enough of a local celebrity (he had retired to Florida) that it ran an obituary on the front page.

I am lucky enough to own an autographed first edition copy of this Additon's self-published book. (The publisher is Henry Harrison, a poetry publisher based in New York City. The New Yorker described Harry Harrison as a vanity publisher who charged authors to publish their work, a la the Vantage Press.) I am not sure why I own a copy of this title, but I do. I guess it's because I am a book collector of sorts. My hardcover copy (pictured below) is in it's original dustjacket, and is in very good condition. Laid in are a couple of pieces of author related ephemera, including a reproduction of a 1937 drawing of Joseph C. Grew, the one-time ambassador to Japan. "T.M.I." you may say. Ok, I'll move on.

I also own an ephemeral booklet titled A Girl in Every Port. Published in 1942 by the Dramatic Publishing Company of Chicago, this 30 page, one act comedy by James Fuller continues the theme of randy sailors and their romantic adventures in various ports of call. The playlet calls for one man, named Jim "who loves them all," and seven women named Marilyn, Mary, Mimi, Mandy Lou, Maude, Tina (a maid), and Miss Margrave. Mmmmmm..... My copy is pictured below.


One other vintage book I've come across titled A Girl in Every Port is a 1942 work of fiction by William McClellan published by the Phoenix Press (a renowned publisher of mysteries, westerns, and genre fiction during the 1930s and 1940s). McClellan also author Waterfront Waitress (1937), Lady Interne (1939), Midnight in Morocco (1943) and other works, each of which was published by the Phoenix Press. I don't know anything else about A Girl in Every Port except that it seems to continue the same cliched trope of sailors on the loose around the world. As did, no doubt, Donald R Morris' 1956 paperback subtitled "Sailors & Sex in the Orient" published by Berkley (not pictured).

Lastly, here is a rare French book titled Prix de beaute. Published in Paris by Editions du Petit Echo de la Mode sometime in the 1920s (possibly in 1929), this 158 page work by C. N. Williamson shares its title with the 1930 French film starring Louise Brooks. I don't know much else about it, as I am awaiting the arrival of the copy I have ordered from France.

I will end this rambling post with the yet unrelated work of fiction, except that this one depicts Louise Brooks on it's cover! The book is Loot by Rob Eden, published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1932. Rob Eden was the pseudonym of Robert Ferdinand Burkhardt, a genre author whose works include Honeymoon Delayed as well as other pulp plots like The Girl with the Red Hair, Blond Trouble, Short Skirts, and In Love with a T-Man. The copy on the front of the dustjacket reads "Torn between loyalty to her newly found brother and love for his enemy, Robin Moore makes her choice!" Sounds like a great read, doesn't it!!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Lulu: The Louise Brooks Story - a new musical coming to the UK

1928 Limited presents

Lulu:The Louise Brooks Story

October 3, 4, 5, 2019
at the Doncaster Little Theatre in Doncaster, England  

A new musical, set in the glamorous excess of the 1920s, telling the story of iconic movie star Louise Brooks.

We join Louise on location during the making of the 1928 movie Pandora’s Box, a movie in which there are uncanny parallels between the life of Lulu, the main character in the movie, and Louise, the actress.

A tempestuous star with a reputation as an unrepentant hedonist, Louise harbours a secret which holds the key to her apparently self destructive behaviour. A secret well hidden in a whirlwind of sexual adventures, and a party lifestyle which defined the roaring 20s.

Tickets and additional information HERE.

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