Sunday, December 26, 2004

Research trip notes (part one - Michigan)

My recent trip to the midwest (a combined visit home / mad dash from library to library) was the most complicated research trip I've ever taken. Over the course of six days, I visited five libraries in two states, while driving hundreds of miles and suffering freezing temperatures. (One day, the wind chill reached 15 degrees below zero!) All the while, I was terribly sick with an awful head cold. Nevertheless, except for getting lost on a couple of occassions while trying to make my way from city to city, things went off without a hitch. I hit all my marks - unearthing at least two hundred clippings - and returning home with a three-inch stack of photocopies! (I spent about $90.00 on copies.)
My first stop in Michigan was in a cold Ann Arbor, where temperatures were in the teens. I made my way to the University of Michigan's Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, and on the way, walked past Hill Auditorium - site of two Denishawn performances during the years Louise Brooks was a member of that pioneering dance company.
At the library, I spent about four hours in the microfilm collection. First, I looked through Detroit Saturday Night, a hard-to-get-ahold-of weekly entertainment paper published throughout the 1920's and 1930's. (This is the only city-based entertainment publication I know of - except for those published in New York. Does anyone know of others?) At the time, Detroit was the third largest metropolitan area in the United States, and Detroit Saturday Night covered the city's lively music, stage, and film happenings. I managed to find a bunch of brief articles about Brooks' films at the time of their Detroit showings.
Next, I dipped into the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Michigan. The Michigan Daily was a goldmine of articles, reviews and advertisements for the two Denishawn performances. I was stunned by the extensive coverage - including front page articles, long reviews, and large, quarter page advertisements. Denishawn was big news in Ann Arbor in the early 1920's, and Brooks herself was mentioned in a few pieces. I have looked at a few other student papers from the time, and never found too much. However, this unearthing of valuable material will lead me to look more closely at other such periodicals.
The University of Michigan library also has a couple of French publications. The Petit Parisian was a Paris newspaper which yielded vintage articles on Diary of a Lost Girl and Beggars of Life from the time of their first French screenings in 1929 and 1930, respectively.
I also looked at more than a years worth of Cinematographie Francaise, a French trade journal. This weekly film magazine also turned out to be a goldmine of articles, images, and advertisements regarding Pandora's Box and Beggars of Life. There was a stunning full page advertisement for Diary of a Lost Girl, as well as numerous articles on Prix de Beaute. Brooks was on the cover of this publication on May 11 and June 8 of 1929.
Because I had run out of time (and needed to drive to Lansing that night), I was not able to sift through three German newspapers the U-M library has on microfilm. One day, hopefully, I will be able to return and look through the Kolnische VolkszeitungWeimarische Zeitung, and Leipzieger Volkszeitung for material on the two Pabst films.
This was my second Louise Brooks-research trip to Lansing. Last year, I visited the State Library of Michigan, where I gathered articles and reviews on all of the Denishawn performances in that state. I had, at the time, also scoured the leading Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Flint and Kalamazoo newspapers for vintage film reviews. This time, I concentrated on the Grand Rapids and Battle Creek papers, with a quick look through the Saginaw paper. I found a bunch of material in theGrand Rapids Press and the Battle Creek Enquirer and Evening News. However, I was not so lucky with the Saginaw Daily News, where I only managed to turn up some nifty advertisements. Here is a typical example.
I spent more than four hours at the State Library of Michigan, and now feel that I have largely completed by survey of major Michigan newspapers.
From Lansing, I made my way to the suburbs of Detroit, where a couple days later I took the opportunity to visit the Royal Oak Public Library. This suburban library holds the Daily Tribune - a typical small-town paper "serving Detroit's progressive suburbs." I didn't expect to find much, perhaps just some brief articles or advertisements. I found those, but was even more delighted to find an article on Brooks entitled, "Will Follies Grad Act with Funny Man." This March, 1926 article, if it can be believed, quotes Brooks as saying she didn't want to appear with W. C. Fields.
"Recently Paramount announced she was to have the feminine lead opposite W. C. Fields, also late of the Follies, in The Old Army Game. When interviewed, Louise flashed those eyes of her and said, 'They may think I'm going to do the part, but I won't. I'm not going to play around with a funny man.'" The articles goes on. "When, if ever, Pola Negri, Lya de Putti from Hungary, exploited as the 'rage of Europe' and the exotic Louise go to work on the same lot, there might ought to be no dearth of excitement around the Famous Players studio."
This unattributed article was not the only gem found. I also came across a syndicated March, 1928 feature photo of Brooks wearing clothes of 1900, 1912 and 1928. This is one item I have never seen before! Which goes to show, you'll never know what you'll find . . . .

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