Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Discovering Louise, by Marlu Akers Stroud

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Louise Brooks Society (which went online 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 third in a series of posts.
This piece, "Discovering Louise," is by Marlu Akers Stroud, a relation of the actress. Stroud wrote, "My grandmother (Louise's aunt) moved to California as a young married lady so that is where my mom was born and raised and subsequently myself. My mom and her sisters remember traveling as children to visit Myra's home but by that time Louise was gone and on her way. They never met Louise but were close to her sister June."


Louise Brooks (right), with her sister June
I was born in 1951. The name “Louise Brooks” was not a household name. I don’t remember ever being aware of her name until I was a young adult, maybe after her death. I’m not sure. This may seem surprising since Louise was a member of our family, a first cousin to my mother, but it is true. I did not know of her.

In 1989, Christmas, my mother gave me a copy of the biography by Barry Paris about Louise and told me that this book was about her cousin and she (Louise) had been a movie star in the silent films. That same year my sister-in-law did a genealogy chart. It did not include cousins but Louise was mentioned in a summary.  At that time I thought the whole thing was kind of interesting but I was not all that curious about her. I did not read the book until years later.

Looking back a few years; my grandmother, aunt to Louise and sister to Myra, Louise’s mother, lived with our family for a few years. Apparently she kept in contact with Louise by letter but if she told me about it I do not remember. Grandma used to burn the letters after reading them because the content “was not for our eyes”. Funny. To be honest, the only reason I read Mr. Paris’s biography is because my grandmother was mentioned in it. My grandmother died in 1976, nine years before Louise.

In the years since their deaths my mother and my sister-in-law would occasionally mention the LB websites and fan clubs but I was busy with my life and did not think much about it.

Fast forward to 2012. My first grandchild had been born and I became interested in the family tree, family history and the like. I was determined to create records to leave to my grandchildren. Thus my acquaintance with Louise Brooks.

In the beginning of my research I discovered that her name was actually Mary Louise. Mary is the name of her grandmother, my great grandmother. Mary is my mother’s name as well.

I then read the biography as well as other books, articles and various internet sources. I read about her mother. I printed every photo I could find. I spent hours and hours getting to know this infamous cousin. I watched Pandora’s Box as well as shorter video clips from other films and interviews. When I view photos of her smiling she reminds me of my grandmother as a young woman.  Also the picture of her as an older woman with such bad arthritis; this too was my grandmother, her aunt.

Eventually I made my way to the box containing my grandmother’s photographs. There were no pictures of Louise as an adult but there were a few of her as a child and a few of her immediate family.

In the beginning of this project I admit to being a little “star struck”. I thought it was pretty special to be related to a film star. She was beautiful, talented, intelligent and outspoken. But as of this day and this writing I feel sad about her life. I think she was a wonderful talent but I think she was very hurt by her childhood and by her mother and by the industry. She made some personal mistakes and she was victimized by some. She had a lot of bitterness. The end of her years were lonely and she was known to be pretty harsh with people, just as her mother had been.

When I think of Mary Louise Brooks I prefer to think of the little girl before the stardom. She was our cousin.  She was a sweet little person headed into a big, big world. Too early, too soon, and too young.

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