Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Louise Brooks as the bride of Tom Thumb, and other early performances

Many fans of Louise Brooks, at least those who have read Barry Paris' outstanding biography, will be familiar with the image of Louise Brooks as the bride of Tom Thumb. It was the first ever role for the pint-sized performer, who was just 3 years old.

What else do we know about the image and the circumstances behind its making? Very little, it turns out, until now. Recent research has revealed that . . . .

This photograph of little Louise Brooks was taken ahead of a September 2, 1910 production of Tom Thumb Wedding at the Christian Church in Cherryvale, Kansas. Admission to this Friday evening event, a benefit, was 15 and 25 cents.

Despite bad weather around the state, many turned out. The following day, a newspaper article stated there was “good attendance,” and that the “program pleased the audience, and netted the sum of $30 for the church.” Doing the math, that means the audience could have numbered around 100.

Here is a picture of the venue for Brooks' first performance, the Christian Church in Cherryvale. This postcard image dates to right around the time that Brooks' appeared as the bride of Tom Thumb.

Over the eight years, Brooks would dance and perform in public on a number of occasions in Cherryvale. For example, Brooks took piano lessons from a woman named Bertha Nusbaum, and on August 6, 1915 as one of Nusbaum’s piano students, an eight year old Brooks performed the “Little Fairy Waltz Op. 105, No. 1” by Ludovic Streabbog at the home of a neighbor. Below is a video recreation of the event :)

Another early documented performance took place on March 7, 1917 when a ten year old Brooks performed “Anitra’s Dance” (from the Peer Gynt ballet by Edvard Grieg) at the Cherryvale Arts Festival. Cherryvale resident Reba Randolph accompanied on piano.

On January 18, 1918 a then eleven year old Brooks, who was referred to as “Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary” in the local newspaper, lead a “Dance of the Flowers” with 12 other Flower Maidens in a Mother Goose Pageant at the local High School. This event, held while the war in Europe was still raging, was a benefit for the local Red Cross fund.

Below is a picture of the Cherryvale High School, where on May 9 and 10, 1918 Brooks performed as the Fairy Queen in “On Midsummer's Day,” a benefit to raise money to purchase Victrolas for the school.

Tomorrow's blog will highlight another of Brooks' early performances as well as the impact the First World War had on the future actress.

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