Do You Recall?
Louise Brooks: Silent Screen Star
Louise Brooks, a product of Cherryvale, became one of the most controversial actresses during the 1920s. Who would have ever known that the daughter of a small-town attorney and granddaughter of a country doctor would become one of America's most dazzling silent movie stars of the era.Mary Louise Brooks, also known as "Brooksie" was born Nov. 14, 1906, to Leonard and Myra Brooks at 531 East 7th Street in Cherryvale. Four children were born of this marriage. Having been forced to care for her siblings due to a sickly mother, Myra told her husband that he was her escape to freedom and the arts. If there were any "squalling brats" born to them, they would have to take care of themselves. She was not the most loving mother.If not for Louise's talent for dance, Mrs. Brooks would not have helped enhance and promote her career. Louise made her debut at age 4, when she portrayed the bride in a church-benefit production of "Tom Thumb's Wedding". Venus Jones and her little sister, Vivian Jones (Vance) of "I LOVE LUCY" fame, were childhood friends and lived across the street from each other for about a year. They often made mud-pies together and romped outside the local monument company among the tombstones. How odd that these two beauties would both become professional actresses later in life.By age 10, Louise became known as a professional dancer, performing at men's and women's clubs, fairs, theaters, and dance halls throughout southeast Kansas. Although her father highly objected, her mother, in the interest of improving Louise's image, had a barber chop off her long black braids and shape what remained of her hair in a straight Dutch bob with bangs. Later, she would become known for this Buster-Brown/Page Boy type cut. Thousands of women were attracted to that style, and adopted it as their own, in a way that has been repeated many times since then.At age 15, she was discovered by Ted Shawn and began touring nationwide with Denishawn Company. These locations also included Wichita and Pittsburg, Kansas as well. Often she had what we would call "temper tantrums", but her mother, Myra, usually came to her rescue. However, at age 17, she was fired from Denishawn as a "bad influence", but went on to the George White "Scandals Review" and later to the 1925 Ziegfeld Follies (which also included an affair with Charlie Chaplin). In 1922, she realized that she had to get rid of her Kansas accent and to learn etiquette of the socially elite. Since she could not afford speech lessons, she found a soda jerk who was working his way through Columbia University and within a month, her accent was eliminated.Because of her dark-haired look and being the beautiful, modern woman that she was, she was not popular in the Hollywood crowd. She was ahead of her time. At age 19, she signed a 10-year contract with Paramount Studios and became the flapper symbol. An icon of the age, women all over America copied her look, but they could never copy her style.Louse came into her own when she left Hollywood for Europe.She appeared in a few German productions which were very well made and further proved that she was an actress with an enduring talent. German director, G.W. Pabst, cast her as Lulu in the movie Pandora's Box (1929). It has been hailed as a masterpiece of silent cinema. He also directed her in Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) which further proved her talent.In 1930, she returned to Hollywood which was the first step of her decline. After appearing in several B movies, she permanently abandoned the film industry in 1938. He last film was a western with John Wayne, the Overland Stage Raiders. She only made 25 movies in her career, but after that, she spent most of her time reading and painting. She also became an accomplished writer, authoring a number of books, including her own autobiography. On Aug. 8, 1985, Louise died of a heart attack in Rochester, N.Y. at the age of 78. Although she was never "accepted" by Hollywood, her influences continue on as another southeast Kansas native proves her talent.