Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Uncommon and unflattering

This uncommon image of Louise Brooks is for sale on eBay. In her youth, Brooks was one of the most photogenic of stars. It was difficult to take a bad picture of the actress. However, I think this image is one of the least flattering portraits of Brooks I have ever seen. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lulu on Long Island

Pandora's Box will be screened on March 21st at 7:30 pm at the Cinema Arts Centre on Long Island. (The event is noted under "Special Events" on the organizations website.) The screening will feature live musical accompaniment by Ben Model, who has composed an original score. I would love to hear from anyone who attends this event.

p.s. It seems there are almost as many screenings of Pandora's Box and other Brooks films this year as there were last year, when the Louise Brooks centenary took place. Certainly, the number of screenings in 2007 surpasses those in 2005.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pandora's Box in San Jose

Do you know the way . . . . Pandora's Box will be shown March 9th in San Jose, California. The screening is part of the Cinequest festival. From the festival website:
Pandora's Box (1929)

Directed by G.W. Pabst; Starring Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, Gustav Diessl.
Friday, March 9th @ 7:00pm California Theatre • $10 Ticket includes organ accompaniment by Dennis James at the Mighty Wurlitzer.

The incandescent, iconic Louise Brooks plays Lulu, a flower girl turned cabaret dancer, who entices and destroys the lives of the men who love her. Upon it’s initial release, Pandora’s Box was considered a failure in both Germany and the United States, but the film is now recognized as a timeless classic (like Brooks herself).

"There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!"
– Henri Langlois, Founder of the Cinématheque Française.

While 2006 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Louise Brooks, it also served as a rebirth of sorts, as new audiences were introduced to the timeless beauty and appeal of “the girl in the black helmet”. Brooks was the ultimate Hollywood rebel, defiantly quitting her contract with Paramount in 1928 in order to go to Berlin to work with director G.W. Pabst. She made Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl for Pabst, (as well as a third film, Prix de Beaute, in France), before returning to the Hollywood. But having burnt her bridges with Paramount, she found herself blackballed by the studios. She landed a few small parts in low budget films and ended her career in a western B-movie, supporting John Wayne, in 1938. What “might have been” had been destroyed by her keen intelligence, capricious nature, and deep disdain for the industry and most of its denizens.

For years Brooks languished in anonymity, working various jobs from dance instructor to sales clerk at Saks Fifth Avenue. In the mid-fifties, she was “rediscovered” by film historians and critics. She was encouraged to write about her experiences, and the resulting published essays proved to be clever, insightful and devastatingly honest. Her book Lulu in Hollywood was published in 1982 and is still in print. Louise Brooks died in 1985 at the age of 78.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Fashion decrees

Here is a clipping I ran across while looking through old newspapers on microfilm. As can be seen, Louise Brooks is one of the models included in this syndicated fashion column.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Inter-library loan finds

A bunch of inter-library loans have come in recently! I went through four more months of the North China Daily News, and came across advertisements and brief write-ups for The American Venus and A Girl in Every Port. Both films played in Shanghai in the fall of 1928. Remarkably, one of the advertisements for A Girl in Every Port took up nearly three-quarters of a page! I also went through some reels of the Arkansas Gazette (from Little Rock, Arkansas), Knoxville News-Sentinal (from Knoxville, Tennessee), and Illinois State Journal (from Springfield, Illinois) - and found a few film reviews in each. Citations for each of these finds have been added to the LBS bibliographies.

I  went through a few months of the Long Island Daily Press and Daily Long Island Farmer. I was hoping to find material on Louise Brooks' Ziegfeld Follies appearances or on later screenings of her films in the Big Apple. However, this New York City area newspaper didn't cover Manhattan goings-on - and thus I turned up nothing of interest. (Previously, I had lots of luck uncovering Brooks' material in the two Brooklyn newspapers. I have yet to look at the Staten Island newspaper.) Similarly, my look-through the Daily Clarion-Ledger (from Jackson, Mississippi) also turned up nothing. And, my request for the Denver Times was declined - as no lending institution could be found in Colorado or elsewhere. Fortunately, I have in the past gotten access to a couple of other Denver papers.

I also went through some microfilm of the Trenton Evening Times. I had requested the month of September 1925, as this month sometimes turns up material on The Street of Forgotten Men (which opened a couple of months earlier and was still in circulation around the country)  as well as the 1925 Miss America contest. The contest - which served as the backdrop to Louise Brooks' second film, The American Venus - was held in the second week of September in nearby Atlantic City, New Jersey. In my searching, I managed to uncover a couple of articles about the contest, as well as a comic strip called "Petey Dink." For about two weeks, it focussed on the Miss America contest. Here is a typical strip.

The search goes on. I put in some more ILL requests. And we shall see what turns up next time.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Paper sculpture

Check out these paper sculptures of Louise Brooks-like figures. Very nifty!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

City Girls

Back on Valentine's Day, I blogged about the Berlinale International Film Festival and its series called "City Girls," which is devoted to movies of the 1910's and 1920's. One of the films screened as part of the series is Love Em and Leave Em (1926), which features Louise Brooks as a department store employee.

Well, as it turns out, there are a couple of new books out in Germany which features the actress on the cover! I have already placed my order. (I adore the image of Brooks on the cover of these new books. She is so direct - almost defient looking. So modern !)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pandora's Box

"Pandora's Box," as depicted by Arthur Rackham (for sale on eBay)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Arcadia books

Chances are, you’ve seen Arcadia Publishing books in your local bookstore. They are the photo-filled paperbacks (with often sepia color covers) that document the local histories of communities, business, schools, sports and ethnic groups across the nation. I own a bunch of them, mostly books about the San Francisco Bay Area (where I live now) and the Detroit area (where I grew up). Among my Bay Area books are a couple on the movie theaters of San Francisco and Oakland - each of which have made for interesting reading in local history.

During my December trip to Detroit, I picked up a just published book on Detroit's Downtown Movie Palaces, which has also proved to be quite interesting. In that book, I was able to see images of a few of the theaters where Louise Brooks' films first played in the Motor City. Another recent acquisition is The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz.

I was especially interested in this title because - through my research - I know that all of Brooks' American silent films played in Chicago, and usually at a Balaban and Katz theater. (Balaban and Katz, the dominant theater chain in the Windy City, were also the primary exhibitors of Paramount films in Chicago.) Thus I was not suprised to see The Canary Murder Case (1929) advertised on the marquee of the Uptown theater (as depicted on page 74 of this book).

A few other titles from Arcadia which I hope to check out eventually include Cleveland's Playhouse Square (the cover image depicts a marquee trumpeting the name of Ethel Shutta - Brooks' one time co-star in the Follies), Stepping Out in Cincinnati: Queen City   Entertainment 1900-1960, and South Jersey Movie Houses. I am interested in the history of theaters, and like local history. These books make for great reading.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I made a small discovery.

Today, I went to the 40th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, which is held every two years in San Francisco. The fair is the largest rare book show in the West. I've gone many times. Generally speaking, I like to go and just browse. I rarely make a purchase, as the first editions and autographed copies are beyond my budget! Nevertheless, its fun to look. Today, for example, I saw nice copies of Charlie Chaplin's My Trip Abroad (1922) and Sessue Hayakawa's The Bandit Prince (1926) - each in their original dustjacket! I also found a remarkable illustrated book from 1930 called Modern Picture-Houses and Theaters. I will try and track down a less expensive copy of this latter book for myself, as it looked very interesting.

While walking the aisles, I also came across a Louise Brooks item I had never seen before, or even known about. Actually, it was my wife who spotted it first! I was about to leave a booth, having seen all I thought I wanted to, when my wife said, "Did you see that?" No, I hadn't. And there was a vintage Louise Brooks item staring me in the face. Wow!

A New York dealer was offering two sets of Czech sheet music dating from the late 1920s / early 1930s. One set of sheet music - containing about 12 pieces and dating from 1929, measured approximately 9" x 12". The second set, a miniature version of the first - dated from 1931 and measured approximately 4" x 5". Each group, seemingly, contained the same set of songs. And contained within each of these sets was a song called "Zasu" (described as an "English vocal waltz") which featured Louise Brooks on the cover. I was flabbergasted! I offered to buy the one sheet - but the dealer was only selling them as a set. He wanted $4800.00 for the lot, and that was far too much for me.

From what I was able to find out, the sheet music was from the Liberated Theatre, an avant-garde theater company located in Prague. "Zasu" - as I believe were all the songs in the set - was composed by Jaroslav Jezek - who is today considered one of the great Czech composers of the inter-war period. (Jezek is sometimes spoken of as a Gershwin-like composer, as Jezek was influenced by jazz and composed in both the popular and classical styles. Coincidentally, there is an exhibit about Jezek closing at the end of the month at the National Museum in Prague. ) Besides being composed by a famous Czech composer, each of the song sheets were strikingly designed by Frantisek Zelenka - an equally acclaimed Czech artist. Thus the premium on these vintage items. A famous composer + an acclaimed artist + their ephemeral nature and rarity = extraordinary value.

I was desperate to obtains some sort of visual documentation of this item, and asked the dealer for a photocopy or scan of this single piece, but he would make no promises.

Later in the day, I did some internet research on Jezek, Zelenka and the Liberated Theatre. And, after a little looking around, I did manage to track down a Czech compact disc featuring a vintage recording of "Zasu" with the composer at the piano. I ordered a copy. When that disc arrives, I hope to place the song on RadioLulu. And perhaps the CD will reveal a little but more about the song and any connection to Louise Brooks which may exist.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lulu at Harvard

Pandora's Box will be shown at Harvard University on Tuesday, February 20. Showtime is 7 pm. The film is being shown with live piano accompaniment as part of a series of "Silent Film Classics." More information can be found on the sponsor website.

From the Harvard Film Archive website: "In Pandora's Box , Louise Brooks provides one of the great performances of the silent era as Lulu, the hedonistic but otherwise innocent prostitute who unwittingly brings down all who come into contact with her. Released just as sound films began to flood the market, Pandora's Box had multiple problems with the censors as well: Lulu sleeps with a father and his son, gambles, lies, and befriends cinema's first sympathetic lesbian. Panned and forgotten in its own time, it was rediscovered in the 1950s when numerous film historians agreed thatPandora's Box was a masterpiece and Brooks, a minor star best known for her black helmet haircut, a major talent."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love em and Leave em in Berlin

Love em and Leave em will be shown in Berlin on Sunday, February 18th. (Apparently, the film had also been shown on February 9th.) These screenings are part of the Berlinale International Film Festival, which is running a series called "City Girls" devoted to movies from the 1910's and 1920's. The series features films staring the likes of Louise Brooks, Greta Garbo and Clara Bow. For more about the series, check out Jess Smee's informative article, "Girls in the City," in the current issue of Spiegel International. More information about the festival and the series can also be found on the Berlinale website, including the festival program which includes two pages (in pdf format) devoted to our Miss Brooks. It's worth checking out.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Stolen Moments preview

In the past, I've written about Stolen Moments, Donna Hill's rather excellent podcast about "Rudolph Valentino, silent films and everything movies." If you're a fan of silent films and you haven't given it a listen, you should. It's quite enjoyable. The January installment was recently posted, and it sketches this year's programs.  Donna is planning podcasts devoted to Roman Novarro, silent comedy, some of the silent film festivals around the country and - Louise Brooks! Sometime in the coming months, there will be a Brooks showing featuring Barry Paris, Kevin Brownlow and myself. Stay tuned (pun intended) for further details.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

More inter-library loans and more

This week, I looked at some more inter-library loans. I went through the Salina Sun (located in a small town in Kansas) andHamilton Spectator (located in a small town in Ontario, Canada), and found some Denishawn material in each. Curiously, small town newspapers typically gave greater coverage to the Denishawn troupe than did big city newspapers. I also went through some microfilm reels of the Houston Post-Dispatch (Texas) and Hartford Courant (Connecticut), and found some articles, reviews and advertisements for Louise Brooks' films. Citations were added to the LBS bibliographies, and I also placed a couple of more loan requests.

I am also currently reading Louis Horst: Musician in a Dancer's World (Duke University Press, 1992) by Janet Mansfield Soares. Horst was the longtime musical director of the Denishawn Dance Company, including the two seasons Brooks was a member of the group. I am liking the book a good deal, and have gathered a few leads on Brooks-Denishawn research.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Lulu in Catholicism

Back in 1988, the Rochester Times-Union ran an article about Barry Paris and his then not-yet-published biography of Louise Brooks. This was one of the articles I obtained on my recent visit to the Rochester Public Library.

The article read, in part, "Although he's already delivered a 1,050-page manuscript to publisher Alfred A. Knopf Inc., Barry Paris hasn't stopped his voracious research on the life of Louise Brooks, the silent screen star who spent her last three decades in Rochester. Paris, a Pittsburgh-based writer, says he heard that on April 11, 1963, Brooks delivered a lecture to the Catholic Womens Clubs of Rochester on "The Influence of Movie Stars on the Freedom of Women." The article went on note that Paris was in search of a copy of the lecture, as no record of it seems to have survived. "He asks that anyone who attended the lecture and either taped, or obtained a copy, or tooks notes on it - or just has a clear memories of it - write to him . . . ."

That clipping led me to request an interlibrary loan of the Courier Journal, the weekly Catholic newspaper based in Rochester. I went through  issues dating from April, 1963 hoping to find Brooks' lecture printed in full. No such luck! However, I did find a previously undocumented article announcing Brooks lecture, which was slated to take place on April 15th. The three paragraph article provided a few more bits of information, so the search goes on.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Forged letter for sale

There is a letter by Louise Brooks for sale on eBay. This 1966 letter references the actress dealings with journalists and editors, and her departure from the Catholic Church. Curiously, the seller - a known dealer - admits that the letter is signed "in a forged hand."  And that the entire letter is a "clever forgery." Yet still they want good money for it. Curious and curiouser.
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