Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Around the World with Louise Brooks : The Enigma of Louise Brooks

It has long been thought that the post-WWII revival of interest in Louise Brooks began in France in the late 1950s. However, some newly uncovered material suggests that while this revival may have flowered in France in the late 1950s, it had its roots in Italy - a country where interest in the actress never seems to have entirely faded.

Consider this rather stunning 1941 magazine page - one page from a four page article published in Italy - which depicts the actress in a rather atypical fashion. Not only does it evidence interest in the actress at a time when she was largely forgotten, but, it describes her as an "enigma" and actress of great dramatic qualities (not just a pretty, alluring flapper-type). The almost violent nature of this imagery is a bit stunning for the time, as is the fact that these images were based on film cells from Pandora's Box (1929), not film stills or publicity photos. [In Italy, Pandora's Box was titled Lulu.]

This post is one in a number of posts excerpting material included in my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks. The entire four page article, which focuses on Brooks and another actress, will be reproduced in my forthcoming book, which I expect will be published this summer.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Official Trailer for Louise Brooks inspired film The Chaperone

A release date has been set and a trailer released for the new Louise Brooks inspired film The Chaperone. According to it's Facebook page and IMDb page and other sources, the film opens in theaters in New York on March 29, and in L.A. on April 5. Following its theatrical release, the film will air on PBS television.

Produced by PBS Masterpiece and based on the 2012 New York Times bestselling novel of the same name by Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone reunites the writer (Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes), director (Michael Engler), and star (Elizabeth McGovern) of Downton Abbey for "an immersive and richly emotional period piece." The film stars Haley Lu Richardson as a teenage Louise Brooks, as well as Campbell Scott, Victoria Hill, Geza Rohrig, Blythe Danner, and Miranda Otto (as dance great Ruth St. Dennis) and Robert Fairchild (as dance great Ted Shawn). A website for the much anticipated film has also been established at www.thechaperonefilm.com/ (There is also an old PBS webpage.)

The Louise Brooks Society and the Louise Brooks community has long anticipated the release of The Chaperone. (We're fans of the novel, and in fact, the Louise Brooks Society provided the cover image for the hardcover and softcover editions of the book in the United States, as well as other editions released around the world.)

The Chaperone takes place against the backdrop of the tumultuous early 1920’s. A Kansas woman (Elizabeth McGovern in the title role) is forever changed when she chaperones a beautiful and talented 15-year-old dancer named Louise Brooks (played by Haley Lu Richardson) to New York for the summer. One is eager to fulfill aspiration of dance stardom; the other is on a mission to unearth the mysteries of her past.

PBS Distribution puts it this way: "Louise Brooks the 1920s silver screen sensation who never met a rule she didn’t break, epitomized the restless, reckless spirit of the Jazz Age. But, just a few years earlier, she was a 15 year-old student in Wichita, Kansas for whom fame and fortune were only dreams. When the opportunity arises for her to go to New York to study with a leading dance troupe, her mother insists there be a chaperone. Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern), a local society matron who never broke a rule in her life, impulsively volunteers to accompany Louise (Haley Lu Richardson) to New York for the summer. Why does this utterly conventional woman do this? What happens to her when she lands in Manhattan with an unusually rebellious teenager as her ward? And, which of the two women is stronger, the uptight wife-and-mother or the irrepressible free spirit? It’s a story full of surprises—about who these women really are, and who they eventually become."

Besides a Facebook page, there are also Twitter account and Instagram account to follow the latest on this new film release.

Want to find out more? Check out this 2012 interview with Chaperone author Laura Moriarty by Louise Brooks Society director Thomas Gladysz on the San Francisco Chronicle website. There is also a related LBS blog posted at the time we had the privilege of introducing Laura Moriarty at one of her author events around the time of the book's release. Stay tuned to this blog and the Louise Brooks Society website and Twitter account for the latest news on this exciting new release.

What's a Louise Brooks Society blog post without a gorgeous picture of Louise Brooks? Here is a portrait of the 16 year old dancer (and future film star) taken during her first season (spoiler alert) with Denishawn dancing alongside legend Martha Graham (who is not a character in the new film, though was likely present during some of the NYC scenes depicted in the film). I think Haley Lu Richardson looks the part.

Of all her fellow dancers, Brooks looked up to Martha Graham the most. In later years, she told Kenneth Tynan, “Graham['s] genius I absorbed to the bone during the years we danced together on tour.”

Brooks, apparently, also made an impression on Graham. In her autobiography, Blood Memory, Graham wrote, “Louise Brooks was a member of the Denishawn Company and breathtakingly beautiful. She wore her hair always in that pageboy. Everything that she did was beautiful. I was utterly absorbed by her beauty and what she did. Even before she was introduced to me, I remember watching her across the room as she stood up with a group of girls from Denishawn, all dressed alike. Louise, though, was the absolute standout, the one. She possessed a quality of strength, an inner power that one felt immediately in her presence. She was very much a loner and terribly self-destructive. Of course, it didn’t help that everyone gave her such a difficult time. I suppose I identified with her as an outsider. I befriended her, and she always seemed to be watching me perform, watching me in the dressing room. She later said, ‘I learned how to act by watching Martha Graham dance.”

Thursday, February 7, 2019

BBC Radio 4 to air Louise Brooks radio drama on February 9

BBC Radio 4 will air an original radio drama about Louise Brooks on February 9. The 57 minute piece, titled Opening Pandora's Box, was written by Katie Hims. More information can be found HERE.

Opening Pandora's Box

How do you turn a celebrated silent film into an audio drama? Wedekind's controversial 19th Century Lulu plays formed the basis of the 1929 German movie, Pandora's Box. Its star, Louise Brooks, will forever be associated with her iconic performance as Lulu, the ultimate 'femme fatale'. 90 years on, writer Katie Hims wonders what on earth to do about Lulu.

The Writer/Lulu ..... Kate O’Flynn
Justin/Alwa ..... Joseph Ayre
Simone/Geschwitz ..... Ayesha Antoine
Kerry ..... Kerry Gooderson
Dr. Schön ..... Tony Turner
Schigolch ..... Michael Bertenshaw
Piani ..... Ronny Jhutti
The Kind-Faced Man ..... Christopher Harper
Rodrigo ..... Don Gilet
Dr. van Zarnikow ..... Sam Dale
Charlotte ..... Franchi Webb

Written by Katie Hims
Original Music by Neil Brand
Directed by Toby Swift

Friday, February 1, 2019

R.I.P. Jan Wahl - author extraordinaire and friend of Louise Brooks

With great sadness, the Louise Brooks Society marks the passing of Jan Wahl (1931-2019), author extraordinaire and friend of Louise Brooks. The Toledo Blade noted the esteemed children's author passed away on January 29 at the age of 87. (Read the Blade newspaper obit HERE.) As all fans and devotees of Louise Brooks know, Wahl and Brooks were longtime friends and correspondents. A generous, 200 page collection of letters from the actress to the author (with helpings of Wahl's commentary) can be found in Wahl's Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise Brooks (Bear Manor Press, 2010).

My interest in Louise Brooks brought Wahl to my attention, and me, apparently, to him. (Wahl was not on the internet, so how he heard about me and the Louise Brooks Society I don't really know. I think someone told him about me - and that someone may well have been his niece or nephew from Atlanta, Georgia, with whom I was briefly acquainted.) Shortly before Dear Stinkpot's official release in early 2010, Wahl sent me an autographed copy - the first he signed - of his then new book. It is something I will always treasure.

Later on, I wrote an article about Wahl's book - which I love and have read two or three times -  for Huffington Post. That piece and another I wrote on an earlier Wahl book, Through a Lens Darkly, appear in my most recent book, Louise Brooks: The Persistent Star.

I also had the privilege of exchanging a few letters with Wahl as well. And, we also spoke on a phone a few times, with Wahl regaling me with stories of his friendship with Brooks. A few of those stories could / can never see print. The last time we spoke, a few years ago, Wahl called to ask my opinion of the worth of Alfred Stieglitz portrait of Louise Brooks. He wanted it to find a good home.

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post about Jan. I am including it here in it's entirety....

"I just got off the phone with Jan Wahl, the celebrated children's book author and longtime friend of Louise Brooks.

We talked about many things, including books, old theaters, the movies - both classic and contemporary, and of course Brooks herself. This is the first time Jan and I have spoken on the phone, though we have exchanged letters and books. (I also met Jan's niece some years back.)

Jan recounted a number of stories about the Brooks, some of which were included in his books and other writings, and some of which I had never heard before (and wouldn't dare repeat).

Jan has known and befriended many interesting and famous people over the years. He several months working with noted filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer during the filming of Ordet (The Word), and later turned that into a fascinating book from the University Press of Kentucky. He was also for a time the personal secretary to Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), the celebrated novelist and short story writer.

In the course of our 30 minute conversation, Wahl also recounted anecdotes of encounters with the likes of artist Jasper Johns, sculptor Alexander Calder, and photographer Edward Steichen.

His very first book, Pleasant Fieldmouse (1964), was illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Another early book, Cobweb Castle (1968), was illustrated by Edward Gorey, whom he knew.

I want to encourage everyone to seek out Jan Wahl's books. They are recommended, and he is a gifted writer and storyteller. These two books by Wahl, Dear Stinkpot: Letters From Louise Brooks, and Through a Lens Darkly, belong on the bookshelf of every Brooks fan. Go get a copy today!"


Just a few years ago, I tracked down a nice hardback first edition copy of Wahl's 1978 collection of stories called Youth's Magic Horn. Wahl authored many book, most of which were for kids. This one was for adult readers, and what's more, uniquely so, it is dedicated to Louise Brooks. I regret I never sent it to Jan to autograph, and that I never told Jan how much I liked it. (Proving themselves as writers is a BIG theme in Dear Stinkpot.) I think he would have liked to have heard that. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Pandora's Box starring Louise Brooks shows in Skipton, UK on February 3

Pandora's Box, starring Louise Brooks, will be shown by the Skipton Film Club at the Plaza Cinema, Skipton, England on Sunday, February 3. More information about this event can be found HERE.

According to an article in the local newspaper, the Craven Herald & Pioneer, a spokesman for Skipton Film Club thought this screening may well be the first time Pandora's Box has shown in Skipton. The spokesman added, “Pabst was one of the great directors of the silent period. Here, he gives us a film that has a look that even now contemporary audiences find thrilling. To see a film from this era is a rare event for spectators – it is the first silent feature the film club have presented for its enthusiastic following.... For those who have not seen a silent film on the big screen you are in for a treat – the use of camera is dazzling and the film treats its audiences as adults – it certainly does not pull its punches in its depiction of depravity and corruption in a doomed society."

For more on the film, be sure and visit the Louise Brooks Society website page devoted to Pandora's Box.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Today: Pandora's Box at the Clinton Street Theater in Portland, Oregon

Thanks to longtime Louise Brooks Society member Camille Scaysbrooks for letting everyone know about this screening of Pandora's Box at the Clinton Street Theater in Portland, Oregon. The acclaimed 1929 silent film will be shown on 16mm with a live score performed by Abronia -- a Portland group composed of two guitars, bass, pedal steel, saxophone, and one giant drum. More information can be found HERE.

Castle Thunder Cinema presents a special night of MUSIC and FILM. PANDORA’S BOX (1929, 16mm) will be accompanied LIVE by the music of Portland-based sextet ABRONIA.

PANDORA’S BOX is director G.W. Pabst’s best-known masterwork, crafted especially for the  ineffably vibrant Louise Brooks. Brooks effortlessly electrifies the folkloric story of hustlers, lovers, pimps, fathers, gamblers, murderers, judges, prostitutes, schemers and decadent wealth.

Crafted at the end of the Silent Era, the film brings together the best techniques of Weimar cinema in a tapestry of archetypes. Raw humanity glimmers among theatrical trappings and bewildering
Brechtian travesties displaying the ‘gaiety that comes from desperation’ for which Weimar-era Germany was known.

Portland-based sextet Abronia’s atmospheric stir of angular psychedelic western sound blasts a call to arms perfectly suited to Pandora’s Box and the film’s contest between love and violence.

Castle Thunder Cinema specializes in unique experiences in cinema—bringing unorthodox formats to unexpected spaces. Alleys, warehouses, clubs, theaters, scratches, splices, lights in the dark.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

International Holocaust Remembrance Day - Jewish Presence in the Career and Films of Louise Brooks

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a memorial day commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War. In light of continuing anti-Semitism in the United States and the world, I thought to take a few moments to consider this solemn event and to  note a few instances of Jewish presence in the films and career of Louise Brooks. Though the actress herself was not Jewish, Jewish faith and Jewish culture did play a small part in her career. It is important to remember.

To begin, I have included a couple of clippings I have come across in preparation of my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks, which should be released this Spring. These initial clipping come from a chapter in the book which looks at Brooks' presence in the ethnic / non-English language press in the United States.

This first clipping comes from The Forward newspaper, which carried the news in Yiddish and English of Brooks’ marriage to Eddie Sutherland, despite the fact that neither were Jewish. Founded in New York City, The Forward (or Forverts) had a circulation of more than 200,000 and was considered for many years the largest Jewish newspaper in the world.

And here is a February 1928 newspaper advertisement, also from The Forward, advertising A Girl in Every Port at the Roxy Theatre in New York City. Most all of Brook's American silent films were advertised in this and other Jewish newspapers, and most all of them contain a bit of Yiddish.

Brooks' films were advertised in Jewish publications not only in the United States, but elsewhere as well. Here is an example from Warsaw, Poland for Pandora's Box, or Lulu. As I noted in an earlier blog, when the film debuted in the Polish capital, the orchestra was led by a noted, local Jewish conductor.

The still below from Pandora's Box clearly shows a Menorah in Lulu's apartment. The actor looming over Lulu is Fritz Kortner, Brooks' co-star in the film and a noted German actor who was also Jewish.

Another prominent Jewish actor in a Brooks' film was Kurt Gerron, who played Dr. Vitalis in Diary of a Lost Girl. He can be seen in the still below kissing Louise Brooks on the cheek. Tragically, Gerron was sent to and eventually died in a Nazi concentration camp. A deeply moving documentary about his life, Prisoner of Paradise: The Story of Kurt Gerron, is available on DVD.

Louise Brooks films were shown all around the world, including in Jerusalem in what was once Palestine. Would you believe, for example, that Brooks' last film, the 1938 Western Overland Stage Raiders, was shown in what is now the nation of Israel in 1942? Below is a simple newspaper listing. I have also found listing for the film showing at the same time in Haifa.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

I don't think they ever met, but Jonas Mekas played a small role in the later day life of Louise Brooks

Jonas Mekas, the "godfather of American avant-garde film," has died at the age of 96. The Lithuanian-born American filmmaker, poet, and artist was a seminal figure on many fronts.

According to his Washington Post obituary, "Mr. Mekas, who arrived in the United States in 1949 as a refugee, was weighted by the scars of wartime Europe and energized by postwar America. He was at the center of a historic era for the avant-garde. He published poetry and memoirs, made hundreds of films and videos, wrote an influential column for the Village Voice and opened Anthology Film Archives, where future filmmaker Martin Scorsese was a frequent attendee in his youth.

Scorsese, John Waters and James Franco were among Mr. Mekas’s admirers, and although he never approached mainstream popularity, his friends and collaborators included some of the most important artists of his time and some of the most famous people in the world."

Those important people and famous artists included Jacqueline Kennedy, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, photographer-filmmaker Robert Frank, Peter Bogdanovich, and others. For more about Mekas, check out his superb website at jonasmekas.com, as well as his Wikipedia page, or the obits in the New York Times and the NPR (National Public Radio) website. Mekas was a man of many connections.

As mentioned, Mekas wrote an influential column for the Village Voice. In fact, he was that publication's first film critic. Mekas also co-founded the influential magazine Film Culture, with his brother Adolfas Mekas. According to the obit in the Guardian (UK), "The brothers founded one of the great American movie journals, the quarterly Film Culture, in 1954 – at a time when mainstream culture did not think those two words belonged next to each other. The quarterly was a forum for the exchange of ideas and information about the emergent avant garde cinema that would convulse the art and movie worlds for three decades: the new American cinema, as Mekas dubbed it, or American underground film, as it is now more commonly known. In Film Culture and his weekly column in the Village Voice (1959-1981), Mekas for years banged the drum for other and minor, alternative and iconoclastic kinds of film-making: a cinema, as he called it, 'less perfect and more free'. His ecumenical approach to film culture, by no means characteristic of the wider, often schismatic avant garde for which he was the foremost impresario, was part of his saintly appeal: if you were making film-art that was personal and sincerely conceived, Mekas was on your side, come what may."

I don't think that they ever met, but Jonas Mekas did play a small role in the later day life of Louise Brooks. In that, other's noticed what Mekas noticed.

At a time when old movies and forgotten film stars didn't receive all that much press, Mekas name-checked Louise Brooks in his September 23, 1959 column in the Village Voice -- noting the forthcoming showing of a Brooks' film at the Film Center at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA. [The film was Prix de beaute (1930), which was making its American debut thirty years after it was first shown in Paris. Notably, among those in attendance were the poets Frank O'Hara and Bill Berkson, each of whom would write a poem inspired by Brooks.]

But wait, there's more.... At a time when Louise Brooks was little remembered, she appeared on the cover of the Fall 1965 issue of Mekas' magazine, Film Culture.

Additionally, Mekas published an early article by Brooks, "Charlie Chaplin Remembered," in the Spring 1966 issue of Film Culture. It was only her second published piece in the United States, and it certainly helped raise her profile among the film world's intelligentsia. In the years that followed, Film Culture would publish other pieces by Brooks including "On Location with Billy Wellman" (Spring 1972) and "Marion Davies' Niece," (October 1974) and "Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs" (issue 67-68-69, 1979). In the latter issue, she is name-checked on the cover, alongside other significant figure like Bruce Conner, Kenneth Anger, and Blaise Cendrars (each of whom also figure to some degree in Brooks' life or legend.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Charming Louise Brooks look-alikes from afar - Lotti Loder & Maria Louise Iribe

While researching Louise Brooks and scouring materials near and far, I come across various actresses and show business personalities that somewhat resemble Louise Brooks. Off course, they catch my eye, especially since they often sport bobbed hair, a style popular in the late 1920s. Here are two examples of actresses which I recently came across.

Lotti Loder was a brunette leading lady of German / Hungarian ancestry who briefly featured in a few early Warner Brothers talkies. She was born in 1910 in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany as Lottie Kathe Lodermeyer, and died on March 28, 1999 in Miami, Florida. As an actress, she is best known for roles in Oh, Sailor Behave! (1930), A Soldier's Plaything (1930 - directed by Michael Curtiz, who went on to direct the 1931 Louise Brooks' film, God's Gift to Women), and Men of the Sky (1931). It seems her career never really took off, despite the fact she received significant billing in two of the three prior films. Playing herself, she can also be seen in the 1930 short, An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros. Silver Jubilee. She was married to John "Jack" Raymond. A few further details can be found on her Imdb page.

Marie-Louise Iribe was born in 1894 in Paris, France as Pauline Marie Louise Lavoisot. She was an actress and director, best known for co-directing and acting in Hara-Kiri (1928), and directing The Erl King (1931) and Der Erlkönig (1931). Her acting credits mostly date from the Teens in a handful of shorts, including a few directed by Louis Feuillade and Jacques Feyder. She appeared in a few more films in the Twenties, including Marquitta (1927), directed by Jean Renoir and produced by Iribe. Her last acting credit was in Le Roi des aulnes (1930). Iribe's first marriage, in 1921, was to the French actor André Roanne, with whom she co-starred in  L'Atlantide (1921); Roanne went on to appear in the Louise Brooks' film, The Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). Marie-Louise Iribe died in Paris on April 12, 1934. A few more details can be found on her Imdb page.

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