Sunday, June 12, 2005

What I did in NYC


Recently back from a very hot and humid New York City, where I spent three days searching for yet more material on Louise Brooks. Despite the expense, this trip was worthwhile. I acquired nearly two inches of photocopies, which included many new articles, images and clippings!

The bulk of my time, about two-and-a-half days, was spent at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (which is located at Lincoln Center). I looked through an amazing range of material including clipping files, scrapbooks, bound volumes of old periodicals, collections of movie stills, pressbooks, programs and even some microfilm. I found reviews and articles in magazines I had never before had the opportunity to examine, such as Film ProgressCanadian Moving Picture DigestThe Exhibitor, Pictures, and Cinelandia (a Spanish-language film magazine published in Hollywood). These publications are exceedingly hard to find - and this library / archive holds some of the few remaining copies.

I also went through some bound issues of Filmkunstler und Filmkunst, a German film periodical. In it, I found an article on Brooks and the making of Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) which included a small drawing by Louise of her friend Lothar Wolff - "Woofie", who served as G. W. Pabst's publicist. Very rare indeed! Another unusual publication I looked through was Mensajero Paramount, a Spanish-language "house organ" published by Paramount. (I would guess it was meant for Spanish speakers in the United States, or perhaps Mexico and Latin America.) In it I found four-page illustrated articles on four of Brooks' films, including La Ciudad del MalReclutas por los AiresMendigos de Vida, and El Crimen de la Canaria. (Can you guess their English-language titles?)

I also went through two scrapbooks, each filled with clippings, devoted to the actors Neil Hamilton and William "Buster" Collier, Jr. Hamilton, who went on to fame as Commisioner Gordon in the Batman TV series, had a important role in The Street of Forgotten Men (1925), Brooks' first film. The Hamilton scrapbook contained many articles, reviews, advertisements and other clipping related to that film. The Collier scrapbook was not a fruitfull, but I did acquire a few clippings related to Just Another Blonde (1926).

As well, I was able to examine original programs from the NYC screenings of Brooks' films. Back in the 1920's, motion pictures were usually shown along with a live stage show which might include music and a variety act. The program for The American Venus (1926) at the Rivoli Theater, for example, contained a fashion show and appearances by some of the original 1925 Miss America contestants. The program for Rolled Stockings (1927) at the Paramount Theater contained an appearance by the great stage singer Gertrude Lawrence (who can be heard on RadioLulu). I was also able to look at the press books for A Girl in Every Book (1928), It Pays to Advertise (1931), God's Gift to Women (1931), Windy Reilly Goes Hollywood (1931) and Empty Saddles (1937). Press books, sometimes called campaign books, were the studio-issued press packets sent to theaters and newspapers to promote a film.

I didn't find as much Denishawn material as I had hoped at Lincoln Center. The Denishawn clippings and programs - dating to the time Louise Brooks was a member of that dance company - were not very numerous, but I did acquire photocopies of a few items. 

I had hoped to spend a full day at the New York Public Library (located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street), but because I had mixed up its hours with the mid-town Manhattan branch across the street, I was only able to spend about four hours over two days at that research branch. (My priority was Lincoln Center.)

Nevertheless, I found some interesting material. I went through the Brooklyn Daily Times, one of the leading NYC newspapers. In it, I found articles and reviews for each of Brooks' American silent films. This was my second trip to that library, and on this trip I had intended to look for Denishawn reviews in the various New York papers. In a rush, I was able to get about a dozen more - but I just didn't have the time to make a thorough search for reviews of each performance in each newspaper. (The library itself was just a couple of blocks away from Town Hall, where Brooks and Denishawn performed on a couple of occassions.)

I left New York feeling I got a lot done, but also knowing there is still more to be found. One day, I will have to return . . . .

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