Monday, July 15, 2019

An Early Glimpse at Louise Brooks' Wichita, Kansas

On May 1, 1924 Louise Brooks was in New Brunswick, New Jersey -- performing at the Rivoli Theatre as a member of the Denishawn Dance Company. Some five days later, she was dismissed from the company by Ruth St. Denis, bringing an end to a glorious beginning to her professional life as a dancer and actress.

Had she not left her home to join Denishawn in the summer of 1922, the 17 year old Brooks might have been among the crowds lining the streets to watch the Boys Loyalty Parade as it marched down Douglas Avenue in downtown Wichita on May 1, 1924.

A few days ago, the Wichita Eagle broke the news about a rare five minute film documenting that very parade, offering rare glimpses of the very streets a teenage Brooks knew as home. According to the Wichita eagle, the recently discovered "five-minute clip, now posted on the [Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum's] YouTube Channel, shows a snapshot of life in Wichita 95 years ago. In it, hundreds of people in dresses, suits and hats fashionable in the day are lined up along the 100 block and 200 blocks of East Douglas watching as men and boys in suit jacks, ties and page boy caps proceed down the street representing various groups, including schools like Hamilton, Allison and Horace Mann and groups like the Lions Club and Boy Scouts."

Something that jumps out to me are the handful of young women wearing bobbed hair and bangs, similar to the style Brooks wore while attending high school in Wichita. One young women in particular is readily apparent in the lower left hand corner of the frame through out the beginning of this appropriately silent film.



The description of the film on Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum's YouTube page reads: "Parade on the 100 block of East Douglas looking west towards the Broadview Hotel (view of the Holland Theater, 118 E. Douglas and the Rothenberg at 128) and looking East to the Eaton Hotel and beyond (including the Kress at 224 and Innes at 300). Officials view the parade from a viewing platform in front of the Kansas Theater (221) the Walk-Over boot Shop (219) and Taylor's Cafeteria (217 E Douglas). Groups in the parade include the American Indian Institute, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, YMCA, Boy Scouts, Allison, Roosevelt, Hamilton, Harry Street, Ingalls, Horace Mann, and Cathedral schools, unidentified group of African American young men, and an unidentified girls and boys band. Most are on foot, but some ride bicycles. Street cars are in some scenes. Later footage shows the group swearing allegiance to the flag in what looks like a park.Boys' Loyalty Parade was sponsored by the Wichita Rotary Club."

I don't know that Brooks ever saw a movie at the Holland or Kansas theaters (mentioned above), or got a bite to eat at Taylor's Cafeteria  -- but she did go to Horace Mann school and was a member of the local girl scouts. This bit of film brings us that much closer to experiencing and understanding her early life. Here is a rare image of Louise Brooks, taken from her sophomore high school yearbook., followed by another rare image.


To learn more about the silent film star's early days, visit Louise Brooks: Day by Day 1906-1939 part 1 on the Louise Brooks Society website.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Diary of a Lost Girl, #MeToo classic of the silent era starring Louise Brooks, airs on TCM

Diary of a Lost Girl, a #MeToo classic of the silent era starring Louise Brooks, airs on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) tonight. Here is the LINK to today's schedule; check your local listing for the time this must-see film will be shown where you live.


Louise Brooks plays the title role — the “lost girl” — in Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, or Diary of a Lost Girl. The film tells the story of a young woman who is seduced and conceives a child, only to be sent to a home for wayward women before escaping to a brothel. Beneath its melodramatic surface, the film is a pointed social critique aimed at German society.


Here is the film's synopsis on the TCM website, "Thymiane is a beautiful young girl who is not having a storybook life. Her governess, Elizabeth, is thrown out of her home when she is pregnant, only to be later found drown. That same day, her father already has a new governess named Meta. Meinert, downstairs druggist, takes advance of her and gets Thymiane pregnant. When she refuses to marry, her baby is taken from her and she is put into a strict girls reform school. When Count Osdorff is unable to get the family to take her back, he waits for her to escape. She escapes with a friend and the friend goes with the Count while she goes to see her baby. Thymiane finds that her baby is dead, and the Count has put both girls up at a brothel. When her father dies, Thymiane marries the Count and becomes a Countess, but her past and her hatred of Meta will come back to her."

Diary of a Lost Girl is the second film Brooks made under the direction of G.W. Pabst. The first, Pandora’s Box, was also released in 1929. Like Pandora’s Box, this second collaboration was also based on a famous work of literature. Diary of a Lost Girl was based on the bestselling book of the same name by Margarete Böhme. At the time of its publication, one critic called it “the poignant story of a great-hearted girl who kept her soul alive amidst all the mire that surrounded her poor body.” That summation applies to the film as well.

If you can't watch Diary of a Lost Girl on TV, consider getting the DVD and book. In 2010, the Louise Brooks Society published a corrected and annotated edition of the original English language translation, bringing this important book back into print in the United States after more than 100 years. It includes an introduction by Thomas Gladysz, Director of the Louise Brooks Society, detailing the book's remarkable history and relationship to the 1929 silent film. This special "Louise Brooks Edition" also includes more than three dozen vintage illustrations and is available through amazon.com



In 2015, Kino Lorber released the best available print of the film on DVD and Blu-ray. This recommended release features an audio commentary by Thomas Gladysz. Like the book, the film is also available through amazon.com

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol: His Life in Photographs

Speaking of Rudolph Valentino, there is a new release available which I want to recommend. It is Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol: His Life in Photographs by Donna Hill. This book is a newly expanded and revised edition of a title first released in 2010. I have a copy of the original release, and am pleased to have a copy of this new edition which is so much more. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should state that my wife, Christy Pascoe, designed the front and back covers of the new edition.)

The blurbs on the fron and back of the book, by film historian authors Kevin Brownlow, Leonard Maltin, and Tracy Goessel, rightly praise this outstanding work.

Back in 2010, when the book's original edition was first released, I wrote a piece about it for the now defunct examiner.com. It was one of the book's early reviews. I am running most of it below, as what I said then still applies. Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol: His Life in Photographs is an outstanding book.


It’s surprising there hasn’t been a book like Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol until now. Donna Hill’s handsomely illustrated pictorial surveys the life of one of the great film stars and personalities of the Jazz Age. It is a singular achievement.

In the years since Valentino’s death in 1926, some four dozen books have been published which relate to the actor. Along with a number of biographies and “books about” the film star, there have also been a handful of recollections by friends and co-workers, a book chronicling the annual Valentino memorial service, another looking at his legacy, and even a few “transcripts” of psychic encounters with the actor from beyond the grave.  A few of these books have been illustrated.

The sheer volume of literature about Valentino suggests that despite his short life - he died suddenly at age 31 –  there is still a lot to talk about when talking about the man himself.

Hill’s book tells Valentino’s remarkable story through images. Intentionally so, it concentrates on the person – not so much the films. (That material, hopefully, will one day end up in another illustrated book.) For fans as well as those not familiar with the actor, these remarkable images reveal the charm and glamour of a man who continues to enchant movie lovers to this day.

As Valentino biographer Emily W. Leider (author of Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino) notes in her foreword, Valentino was an actor in life before he became one by profession. Leider writes, “The pictures tell us that long before he appeared in films, Valentino displayed a love of finery, a propensity for posing before the camera, and a preoccupation with his own image.”

Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol is an abundance of visual riches. We see young Rodolfo in his school uniform, and with members of his soccer team. There is also a formal portrait taken just before his departure for the United States in 1913, as well as similar portraits taken after his arrival in America - each meant to suggest to family back home that he had already made a success of himself.
There is a rare film still in which Valentino is a mere background extra in his first film – as well as an image of Valentino dressed in Chinese garb in hopes of winning a role in D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms. There is a remarkable image of Valentino posing as Nijinsky. Elsewhere, Valentino is pictured in rapt attention of Douglas Fairbanks at a Liberty Bond Rally in 1918.

We see Valentino having fun on the Santa Monica Pier in 1920 – and on the set during the making of The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. There are location shots taken in Truckee, California – and another relaxing with Gloria Swanson between scenes during the making of Beyond the Rocks. There are candid shots with movie stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Thomas Meighan – as well as Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan. Valentino is pictured at a Marion Davies poolside party. Another depicts Valentino alongside a microphone before a radio broadcast.

There is a portrait of Valentino ardently inscribed to Mary Miles Minter – as well as another inscribed to his wife of one month, the lovely Jean Acker. A number of others show him with second wife Natacha Rambova (some on the Mineralava tour when Valentino was on strike against Paramount).
One rare image shows Valentino in court during his trial for bigamy, another with the Mayor of New York, one pensively looking out the window of a Detroit hotel, another demonstrating the tango. We see him floating in the Great Salt Lake  – with beauty contest winners – aboard ship on his way to Europe. And once there, posing with the likes of Rene Clair, Emil Jannings, and members of his Italian family. Everyone wanted to meet Valentino and have their picture taken with the famous movie star – and so they did, ambassadors, policemen, and fans (but always in public).

There are photographs of Valentino attending a premiere, arriving by train in Los Angeles, riding a horse, with his beloved dogs, and attending Mae Murray’s wedding with Pola Negri. One could go on.

As this new book shows, Valentino was more than the “Latin Lover” or the “sheik” he played in his most famous films. The strength of this book – indeed its finest achievement – is its humanizing effect. There are images of Valentino at work and at home, with friends, costars, and lovers. Through family photographs, candid shots, snapshots taken while traveling, and other behind-the-scenes images, we come to know Valentino the man.

In assembling these images, Hill has selected many from her own collection (thirty years in the making) and borrowed others from fellow collectors and archives, including a few from the Valentino estate. Many of the 400 images found in this new book are rare. Some have not been published or generally seen since the 1920’s.

Strictly speaking, Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol is not the first illustrated book devoted to the Italian-born actor. But, it is by far the best. It is also beautifully printed. If you are a fan of Valentino in particular or silent film in general, then this book is a must for your collection.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Louise Brooks and Rudolph Valentino : A Meditation and an announcement

It's too bad there isn't a photograph of Louise Brooks and Rudolph Valentino together. What an iconic image that would be - Lulu and the Sheik, the flapper and the Latin Lover.

The two actors did know one another - if only in passing. Like many young women of the time, Brooks was a fan of Valentino and saw a number of his films, a fact she recorded in her diary. On January 1, 1921, the 15 year old Brooks began a diary. Four days later, she wrote that she saw Once to Every Woman, starring Dorothy Phillips and "Rodolph Valentino," at a local theater in Wichita, Kansas. Later that year, in September, she saw The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, and wrote in her diary that she had "cried a barrel-full." Two-months later, in November, she saw Valentino in The Sheik and declared him her favorite, adding "What female don't admire the con man stuff."

We also know from later letters that Brooks encountered Valentino - or at least observed Valentino - from afar at parties and social gatherings. She wrote as much in a letter to Jan Wahl, one of her long term correspondents in later life. She also spoke of the last time she ever saw Valentino alive during one of her 1962 radio broadcasts, emphasizing his mysterious presence. That was in 1926, just days before Valentino died at a tragically young age. From one newspaper account at the time, we also know that Brooks attended his Valentino's funeral mass in New York City.

For a time, there were other points of intersection. The two actors shared a studio, Paramount (Famous Players-Lasky), and a screenwriter, Monte Katterjohn. He wrote two of Valentino's best films, The Sheik (1921) and Moran of the Lady Letty (1922), as well as a few of Gloria Swanson's films, another favorite of the young Louise Brooks. Katterjohn also wrote Brooks' break-out film, A Social Celebrity (1926). One could go a bit further, and note the general resemblance between Brooks and Valentino's estranged wife, Jean Acker. Both were pretty, and both effectively sported a bob haircut.



After Valentino died, Paramount rushed Valentino's biggest hit, The Sheik, back into circulation. I have run across a number of instances when the Valentino film and a Brooks film, usually the August 1926 release The Show-Off, were paired as part of a double bill,or followed one another in theaters not only in the United States, but also in Latin America and elsewhere around the world.



I mention all this because on Friday, August 23rd I will be speaking briefly about Louise Brooks and Rudolph Valentino at the 92 annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial service at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. I also plan to share some extremely rare material on the subject. At this annual event, fans from all corners of the globe come together to mark the passing of a true talent and legend. The Valentino Memorial, held each year on August 23rd (beginning at 12:10 pm, the time of Valentino's death), is the longest running annual event in Hollywood, pre-dating the Academy Awards. The event is free and open to the public. During the last few years, this event has also been streamed over Facebook, and I expect it to be so again.



I wish to thank the event's current organizer, Tracy Terhune, for inviting me to speak at the event. Not only is Tracy an authority on the life and films of Valentino, but he is also the author of a book on the remarkable history of the Valentino memorial, Valentino Forever: The History of the Valentino Memorial Services. I should also add that Tracy is the son of Max Terhune, one of the stars of the Three Mesquiteers series of Westerns which included Overland Stage Raiders (1938), Louise Brooks' last film! That is Max Terhune , with Brooks' hands on his shoulders.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Q & A with Tom Graves, author of My Afternoon with Louise Brooks

If you haven't already done so, I would like to encourage you to check out Tom Graves' Kickstarter campaign for a limited edition copy of his book, My Afternoon with Louise Brooks. It is an account of the day Graves' spent with Louise Brooks back in 1980, when he was a young journalist.

As many of us are, Tom Graves is a longtime fan of Brooks deeply enamored by the actress and her films. Recently, he answered a few questions from the Louise Brooks Society about the actress and how he came to meet her.

LBS: Take us back to the beginning. How did you first come across Louise Brooks and her films?

TG: I saw Kenneth Tynan on The Dick Cavett Show and he was talking about his new book Show People. Cavett was more interested in Tynan's New Yorker profile of Louise than anything else. I was fascinated with his discussion because I did know who Louise Brooks was and about the film Pandora's Box, which I had not seen.  I bought his book, read the profile, and a film society soon after brought to Memphis Pandora's Box.  I was enthralled by it.

LBS: You are one of the few journalists who can claim to have met Louise Brooks. What led you to search her out?

TG: I thought she was deserving of a full biography beyond Tynan's great profile in The New Yorker.  I was 28 years old and excited by the prospect of writing my first book.  It took a great deal of moxie on my part to dare go to Rochester, New York in hopes of meeting her.  I had contacted Betty Fussell who had written an excellent biography of Mabel Normand.  Her advice to me was to go to Rochester and camp out on Louise's doorstep to get to meet her.  She thought that was a paramount importance. A few years ago Betty Fussell was at the Nashville Book Festival and I was also presenting a book there and I got a chance to finally meet her and tell her that because of her advice back in 1982 that I had actually gotten to spend an afternoon with Louise.

LBS: What was your initial impression of Brooks?

TG: That she was a bit of a grouch and really wasn't used to company.  Right off the bat I could tell how unusually intelligent she was. She spoke just like she wrote and she was a wonderful writer.  Thankfully she warmed up to me and we had a long and incredible conversation about many, many things.

LBS: What was her apartment like?

TG: I wrote that it was as orderly as an army foot locker.  Everything was in its place.  The books all had bookmarks and/or paperclips marking what I assumed was references to her.

LBS: Louise was a great reader. Do you remember seeing any particular books laying about?

TG: I do. One in particular stood out; it was Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia and it was bookmarked right where I deduced a reference to Louise was. I also noticed a copy of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon and it appeared to be a foreign edition.  It was released abroad before being released in the U.S.  Again it had the paperclip marking it.

LBS: Do you have a favorite Louise Brooks' film?

TG: Yes, it would of course be Pandora's Box.  I don't think Diary of a Lost Girl is quite as good.

LBS: Of her lost films, which would you most like to see?

TG: I always have assumed Windy Riley Goes Hollywood was lost.  I'd be interested in it because it was after Pandora's Box plus it was directed by disgraced comedian Fatty Arbuckle.

LBS: Your long-form essay, "My Afternoon With Louise Brooks," has been published elsewhere. What is new with this limited edition book?

TG: The text itself is available in complete form in my book Louise Brooks, Frank Zappa, & Other Charmers & Dreamers. This book contains the best of my long-form journalism from the 80s until the present and the Louise Brooks material is the lead piece.  I seldom write articles or reviews any longer but concentrate on books. I always thought it would be great if my Louise pieces could be a book unto themselves and thought how nice it would be to have an antiquarian-grade small gift book available to other Louise Brooks true fans.  Its limited edition will make it an instant collectible to anyone who buys one of the 100 copies.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

My Afternoon With Louise Brooks - Kickstarter campaign for a limited edition book

I encourage everyone to check out My Afternoon With Louise Brooks - a Kickstarter campaign for a limited edition, signed and number hardback book by Tom Graves. This Kickstarter campaign runs two months, so check it out NOW! More information about this very special project can be found HERE.


Pledging now guarantees you one of the 100 signed and numbered copies of My Afternoon With Louise Brooks, Tom Graves' critically-acclaimed long-form journalism article about his visit to the apartment of silent film recluse Louise Brooks.  As a bonus, this special edition book contains the childhood chapter of the aborted Louise Brooks biography that Tom Graves wrote prior to being de-authorized by Miss Brooks.  The book is approximately 80 pages in length. This will be entirely a Kickstarter funded special edition geared for the fans of Louise Brooks who wish to know precisely what it was like meeting the famed cult figure in her declining years.  When the Kickstarter goal is met production will immediately begin and funders will receive a copy of the hardcover collectible book shipped to their home.  The book is limited to 100 copies and will NOT be available after this press run.  So pledge now to secure your copy(s).


Tom Graves is best known as a writer of gritty fiction and nonfiction including his biography of bluesman Robert Johnson, Crossroads. His most recent book is the critically-acclaimed White Boy: A Memoir, the story of how Graves overcame the racism of his family and city. He was also a writer and producer of the Emmy-winning film Best of Enemies about the acrimonious 1968 debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. He owns the publishing company Devault Graves Books.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? and the Louise Brooks connection

I finally got around to watching Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the based-on-a-true story about a literary forger starring Melissa McCarthy. It is a brilliant film, but not one I can say I enjoyed watching. Truth-be-told, it is just too much of a downer. McCarthy is really, really good in the role of Lee Israel, the author and biographer who turns to forging letters from famous writers after her own career stalls out. Richard E. Grant is also superb in his supporting role as Isreal's problematic friend. Both McCarthy and Grant deserve Academy Award nominations.

[After a well received  theatrical run, the film is now out on DVD. More info HERE.]

I was keen to see this film for various reasons, not least of which was the fact that among the more than 400 letters Israel forged were a bunch by Louise Brooks. The actress's role in Israel's book Can You Ever Forgive Me? is prominent. Nearly three chapters are given over to Brooks in Israel's slim 2008 book, in which she admits to forging at least a handful of letters from the silent film star. Four of the Brooks forgeries are depicted in the book. However, in the film, Brooks' role is greatly diminished. By my count, the actress is mentioned twice and pictured once.

Brooks is first mentioned during a rapid recital of the personalities who's letters Israel forged or embellished: Fannie Brice, Noel Coward, Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman and others. The second mention comes near the end of the films when (spoiler alert) Israel's character is seeing a lawyer, who tells his client that he enjoyed reading the Louise Brooks' letters.

An image of Louise Brooks can also be spotted in the film, pinned to a bulletin board above Israel's couch in her New York City apartment. In the screen capture below, Grant is lounging on the couch after he and Israel return from a night out drinking.


Curiously enough,this is not the first film in which co-star Richard E. Grant is seen next to a picture of Louise Brooks. The first was the not-so-dissimilar Withnail and I (1987), an acclaimed indie film about two out-of-work actors -- the anxious, luckless Marwood (Louise Brooks devotee Paul McGann) and his acerbic, alcoholic friend, Withnail (Grant) -- who spend their days drifting between their squalid flat, the unemployment office and the pub. Here is a screen capture from that film.

Grant, it should be noted, also had a role in the last season of Downton Abbey, and as any regular reader of this blog may know, that acclaimed television series has a number of well-known connections to Louise Brooks.

Well, back to Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which I've written and blogged about in the past. There is a piece in my 2018 book, Louise Brooks, the Persistent Star on my own "brief encounter" with Israel - via email. I've also blogged about Israel's book and the film. Those with an eye for the obscure may notice Louise Brooks' name on the cover of the original edition of Can You Ever Forgive Me? It is the third on the list, x'ed out Louise Brooks.




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