Monday, October 19, 2015

Naomi D. Beebe - her story of discovering Louise Brooks

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Louise Brooks Society (which went online back in 1995), fans of the actress were asked to submit their story of discovery -- of how they first came across Louise Brooks. This is the second in a series of posts of individual accounts of discovery.

This piece, "RETURNING TO LULU An Autobiographical Journey of Obsession," is by Naomi D. Beebe, a longtime fan of the actress. 
I beheld the cover of a paperback book that looked like some nostalgic cinema marquee through the  window of the local bookstore.  Lulu in Hollywood, the title read in burning Art Deco. Having been an admirer of classical art nearly all of my young life, I was astonished that the cover artwork had caught my eye. Upon closer examination, the mystery of its appeal eventually sank in. Entranced by those gleaming black eyes in a rather crude two-dimensional drawing, the subject gave me the peculiar sense that I was somehow studying a portrait of myself in the future, or stranger yet, the past.

I was tired of the latest of my Hollywood impersonations. I grew up in a family full of avid readers, musicians, thespians, writers, costumers and artists. Later in life, I would become all of those things and mostly in some professional capacity or another. In the early 80s, I had a desperate desire to be Emma Samms.  She was the up-and-coming British born actress who starred in Goliath Awaits, a low-budget made-for-TV movie co-starring Mark Harmon.  Samms’ character, Lea, was a young, raven-haired beauty trapped in the era of the 1920s in the hull of a great ship that had been sunk by a German submarine during a war many years before she was born. I did not quite possess the nymph-like quality that was Samms’ and it aggravated me because, even by this early stage in my life, I had practically transformed surreptitiously impersonating famous people into a kind of art form.

I loved that 1920s style and had the black eyes and dark, wavy hair, but the face just wasn’t quite right.  A couple of years later, just as I was becoming weary of the “Lea” character, I came upon the cover of that Louise Brooks’ autobiography.  The face on the cover attempted a kind of doll-like quality that was betrayed by an unapologetic gaze that could only belong to an independent woman; a woman, who like me, was likely described by others as “too intense.”  I had to have that book.  I hungrily read each and every page of those memoirs and, after finding it impossible to put down, the obsession was complete.  I had so much in common with that eerily familiar image that it haunted me.

Unbeknownst to me, in only a few more years, I would walk away from the music industry in much the same way Brooks walked away from Hollywood.  After a disastrous stint in a band that included a famous rock guitarist whom shall remain unnamed and whom I thought would be my ticket to stardom and financial security, I found that constantly placating his narcissism became a compromise that I found impossible.  Just as the black-eyed girl in that book, I inspired profound rage and hatred in those with high opinions of themselves with my inadvertent penchant for telling the ugly naked truth.  After the one-time rock star exasperated me with one of his sophomoric jokes, asking me what it would be like if men could suck their own cocks, without even a moment’s pause, I declared that he would likely be a hunchback.  Although he found my quick and lethal wit detestable, he couldn’t help but laugh.  It was both amusing and excruciatingly accurate.

Soon, I had started my own string of rock bands, one of which even earned me full membership status with ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, due to a song that I had co-written and performed entitled “Gypsy Woman” being played overseas in more than one country.  Like most of the songs I wrote and still write, it was autobiographical and served to mock its author.  As for romance, I took only a few lovers, characteristically much younger than I, for I found no use for amorous company.  This is where I was different from the woman in that book.  I was far too busy moonlighting as a would-be rock star, celebrity impersonator, artist, vocal and guitar coach, and more.  Thus, I found it much easier to avoid the inconvenience of commitment by dating beautiful men who were much younger than me.  When you grow up without a father from a very early age, you have no idea what purpose a man in your life serves with exception to the momentary thrill of a random fling now and again.

By my late 30s I was finished with that nonsense.  Many years earlier, I had surrendered to music completely to the point that I, again, found that I could not sellout when I was offered an opportunity to record at a multi-million dollar studio in Seattle.  I left a mere two weeks into the project after being asked to sing songs that portrayed women as needy, pathetic creatures forever searching for someone to save them.  I knew that if I continued down that road, I would wake up one day with the money and fame I had initially sought after, but would have lost myself in the process.  I would rather be dead.  To the chorus of the throng who called me ‘crazy,’ I walked away forever.

Some things never change.  My impersonations continued.  I branded myself as “Xena, the Warrior Princess” as a premier personal trainer for nearly a decade.  I even painstakingly hand-crafted a Hollywood worthy costume that was virtually identical to the one worn by Lucy Lawless in the TV show. After graduating from college and finding that Xena was objectified too much, and loathing those blue color contacts, I quickly metamorphosed into Joan Jett, complete with leather to match my wicked tat.

After my unstable and tragically self-centric mother died, I found myself moving yet again.  The thing I hated the most was transporting all of my books from place to place.  I had also inherited a few more thanks to my mother’s similar voracious appetite for reading.  A curious thing happens when you unpack books.  Only someone who loves to read knows about this phenomenon.  As you glance at each cover, you are taken back to each of the worlds to which those texts transported you.

And standing out among all of that scholarly reading was my guilty pleasure, Lulu in Hollywood.  I had found that graduating in the top one-percentile of my class with a nondescript Bachelor of Arts degree from a celebrated liberal arts college was worthless in the marketplace.  Worse yet, the small stipend from my mother’s estate was running dry.  No one would hire a woman who so closely resembled Joan Jett no matter how iconic she might be to me.  The image is just too wild, although so personally relevant.

Whose image could I adopt this time?  My personas mustn’t lie.  That’s implicit.  It has to be someone who is just as rebellious and independent as me, but delightfully obscure enough for the average employer to completely overlook.  Of course!  The girl in the black helmet!  My self-destructive, fiercely independent and forever unmanageable doppelganger - Louise Brooks!

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