Saturday, January 31, 2009

Memoirs of a film obsessed bookseller

On a personal note: Earlier this week, I lost my job. I was laid off from The Booksmith, a San Francisco bookstore. . . . Feeling a little bit nostalgic, I thought I would devote this blog to looking back at my "career" as a film obsessed bookseller. I'm in the mood to take stock of what I've been working at and have tried to accomplish over the last decade. I'll try not to wander too far off-topic – with the usual topics being Louise Brooks, silent film, books, movies, and all things Lulu.

I've worked at The Booksmith for more than 21 years. And for the last 10-plus years, I served as the store's event coordinator. "What's that," you may ask? Basically, I set up, promoted, and hosted all of the author events. Over the last decade, I managed nearly 1000 readings and book signings. Obviously, I really love working with books and authors. I would not have done it otherwise. I've hosted many notable and bestselling writers, and even some historic events (among them Allen Ginsberg's last ever reading, and the first ever San Francisco bookstore events with the likes of Chuck Palahniuk, Sarah Waters, China Mieville and others). It was a great run. And my position as event coordinator was a great job, while it lasted. It was fun, even thrillington at times. Once, I got to meet Paul McCartney - a childhood hero, at a reception.

Because of my interest in film and film history, I've always tried to include related authors in the events program. It was a very small part of the program - but I always felt it was important to give film historians, biographers, and scholars - and the occasional film world personality - a platform, be it ever so humble. Fortunately, the store's previous owner was supportive of this "secret agenda" of mine, and allowed me to develop a series. Thank you, Gary Frank! You were a truly fine employer.

Through the years, the store managed to sell a lot of film books. And it's film section acquired a strong reputation around town. For example, I'm certain that The Booksmith was the only store in the San Francisco Bay Area that carried titles from McFarland - publishers of expensive and rather specialized books on the movies. And was it 800 or 900 copies of Louise Brooks: Portrait of an Anti-Star that the store sold in the early 1990’s? I seem to remember four foot tall stacks of that title in overstock. We sold them all. (I think The Booksmith single-handedly drove the book out-of-print and into the realm of a scarce collectible.)

So here goes, the rambling memoirs of a (silent) film obsessed bookseller. . . . 

First and foremost – and the personal highlight of my tenure as events coordinator – was the event with Louise Brooks biographer Barry Paris. Here’s how it came about.

For years, I used my position as a bookseller to lobby and even nag publishers to bring Paris’ outstanding biography of the actress (as well as Brooks’ own Lulu in Hollywood) back into circulation. Each had fallen out-of-print, and each was becoming increasingly hard-to-find. By the mid to late 1990’s, Brooks’ cult following – spurred by the explosion of the internet, was creating renewed demand for these two titles. I was aware of the interest, and I figured it was my responsibility – both as a bookseller and as director of the actress’ fan club – to try and get them back into print. Finally, after years of phone calls to editors, emails to marketing types, and conversations with sales reps and anyone else who would listen (along with a petition drive launched by the Louise Brooks Society), it happened.

In 2000, the good people at the University of Minnesota Press took a chance and brought both books back into print. The LBS received a prominent acknowledgment in each new edition, and the press rewarded the bookstore where I worked with a rare event with Barry Paris – one of the finest film writers going IMHO. He is also one of the coolest people I’ve ever met – and a brilliant raconteur. I could listen to him talk all day long.

In November 2000, the University of Minnesota Press flew the Pittsburgh, PA journalist to San Francisco, and those who attended his Booksmith talk (some from as far away as Sacramento and Los Angeles) were treated to a memorable evening - a once in a lifetime event. Paris spoke about his biography, and revealed information and anecdotes about the actress not included in his book.

Happily, both the Paris biography and Lulu in Hollywood have gone on to do quite well. Each is in a third or perhaps even fourth printing. A few years back, the director of the press told me each was among their best-selling backlist titles. To this day, I cherish my autographed copies of Louise Brooks. Admittedly, I own three signed copies (a hardback first edition published by Knopf, the paperback reprint – a now worn working copy which I carry around to libraries and archives, and the University of Minnesota reissue). Below is a scan of my signed paperback edition. Barry Paris rubber stamped it with Brooks’ image and wrote “To Thomas – who resurrected me & LB the way Tynan did in The New Yorker.” 

Half a dozen years later, I was able to score another significant Louise Brooks event. In 2006, the year of the Brooks’ centenary, I was pleased to host the first bookstore event for Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever with its author, the internationally renowned film writer Peter Cowie. Cowie is an accomplished film historian who has known and worked with many leading figures in the movie world. He was, for example, one of the few film writers to attend Ingmar Bergman’s funeral – check out his new book on the Swedish director, or his other new book on Joan Crawford, which I recently blogged about.

It was something of a coup to get Cowie, as he lives in Switzerland and doesn’t get to the States that often. Initially, his publisher, Rizzoli, scheduled him to do media and a small tour of east coast venues like the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. With enthusiasm, I managed to lobby the publisher to bring Cowie further west. 

In November of 2006, just a couple of days before what would have been Brooks’ 100th birthday, The Booksmith and the LBS co-sponsored a special event at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco, where we screened rare films and Cowie spoke about the actress and his new book. Since then, the store has sold dozens and dozens of copies of Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever, a not-inexpensive coffee table book and a fine addition to the Louise Brooks bookshelf. 


As with Barry Paris, it was a pleasure to meet Peter Cowie. I had the chance to sit down over dinner and talk with the author about Louise Brooks and film in general. Not only did Cowie correspond with the actress – his letters were the basis for his book, but he was the person responsible – as I learned – for getting an image of the actress on the cover of A Dictionary of Cinema, published by Barnes in 1968! The Cowie event proved to be another memorable evening, and a treat for the fans who attended it. Fortunately, many of the actress' most devoted fans secure a now rare autographed copy of Cowie's lavish book.

The one other event I set-up with a more-or-less direct connection to Louise Brooks was with Frederica Sagor Maas. For those for whom her name does not ring a bell, let me mention that she was a screenwriter during the 1920's and 1930's. Maas wrote a handful of films starring the likes of Clara Bow and Norma Shearer, as well as the scenario for the now lost 1927 Louise Brooks' film, Rolled Stockings. Today, she is perhaps most well known for having written the 1947 Betty Grable movie, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. That film, Maas' last, was also the name of her 1999 memoir.


I came across an advance copy of her delightful book in May of 1999, at the annual booksellers convention. I was scouting for interesting new film titles and nearly fell over in disbelief when Leila Salisbury of the University of Kentucky Press started telling me about this "unusual" memoir. It was unusual because the author was 99 years old, and had just penned her first book! When I noticed references to the many silent film stars Maas had known and worked with - everyone from Erich von Stroheim and Clara Bow to Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford - I could hardly control my excitement. Determined to meet the author, I wormed my way into a luncheon the next day at Musso & Frank's in Hollywood. That was where I met Maas for the first time and made a connection with the publisher.

Eventually, I managed to secure a July event with the screenwriter, who was then 99 years old. (Maas is still alive, I believe, and is 108 years old.) Though hard of hearing and with impaired vision, Maas sat down in front of a Booksmith audience and answered questions posed by myself. What was it like in 1920's Hollywood? Was von Stroheim as difficult as his reputation suggests? How did you come to meet Joan Crawford - then named Lucille LeSeur - when she first arrived in Los Angeles? And what were your impressions of Louise Brooks? Everyone in attendance was delighted and amused - and perhaps even a little taken aback as this frail but still sharp tongued 99 year old women referred to Crawford as a "tramp."

The next day, Mass appeared at San Francisco Silent Film Festival, an organization with whom The Booksmith had worked with for more than a decade. Mass spoke briefly, and then signed books for a throng of people fascinated by her experiences in Hollywood. After it was all over, we managed to sell more than 100 copies of Maas' remarkable book. Pictured above is a snapshot of Maas along with my bobbed-haired wife and I. The picture was taken at the historic Castro Theater, home to the annual festival.
Over the years, there were two other film events I set up with contemporaries of Louise Brooks. One was with Diana Serra Carey, the child star known as Baby Peggy. Born in 1918, Carey started in films at the age of three and rocketed to international fame during the silent era. Her film career, however, had largely ended by the time Brooks' was beginning in 1926. Later in life, she went on to write a handful of insightful books, including the delightful What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star as well as a biography of her contemporary, Jackie Coogan. I also had the opportunity to host Gloria Stuart (born 1910), for her autobiography, Gloria Stuart: I Just Kept Hoping. As an ingénue, Stuart made a splash in films in the early 1930’s and later found renewed fame for her role as the 101 year old Rose in Titanic. After each event, I asked both Carey and Stuart if either had known Louise Brooks. It’s something I always ask. I am a nerd that way. As I recall, neither had met the actress with whom I am so "obsessed," but each remembers knowing of her back then. For me, that is perspective I find interesting.

Brooks' contemporaries, or near contemporaries, are few and far between these days. And so, for the events program (and in pursuit of my "secret agenda"), I mostly booked talks with biographers, historians and scholars who have written about early film. I love movie history. And as any one who reads this blog knows, I also love reading biographies. Booking film-related authors into the events program was one way to meet people who shared my passions.

Most every one of the film writers I set-up events with has authored other books. Here, I'll mention those titles for which they appeared at a Booksmith event. Some of those I hosted include David Stenn (author of Clara Bow: Runnin Wild), Suzanne Lloyd (Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter and the co-author of Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian), Robert S. Birchard (author of Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood), Matthew Kennedy (author of Joan Blondell), Jeanine Basinger (author of The Star Machine), Steven Bach (author of Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl), Carol Hoffmann (author of The Barrymores), and Arthur Lennig (author of Stroheim). I will never forget the time when my wife and I took Lennig out to dinner after his event and he told us stories of meeting Bela Lugosi when he was just a boy. Of course, Lennig went on to write (and rewrite) The Count, the great biography of the actor who played Dracula. It is another favorite book.

There were also events with the prolific author John Baxter, the distinguished photo historian Mark Vieira (author of Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood), John Wranovics (author ofChaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of the Tramp, the Writer, and the Lost Screenplay), Mark Cotta Vaz (author of Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong), and Emily Leider (author of Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino). A special thanks goes to Leider, who has long championed my efforts as a bookseller and who introduced me to Kevin Brownlow over brunch at her house in San Francisco! Thank you Emily.

I also hosted a couple of events with “my doppelganger,” Mick LaSalle (the San Francisco Chronicle film critic and author of two fine books on pre-code film, Complicated Women andDangerous Men). I call him my doppelganger because we look a little alike, and have even been mistaken for each other on a few occasions. When we first met, LaSalle was decidedly (and notoriously in some quarters) not swayed by Brooks' reputation. But, as he told me a year or so ago, his opinion of the actress is changing. Over the years and on a handful of other occasions, I also had the honor of hosting the internationally renowned, British-born film writer David Thomson. He is a splendid fellow, very knowledgeable, and a great raconteur. And, he has written a handful of laudatory pieces on Louise Brooks. I hosted him for The Biographical Dictionary of Film and The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, as well as The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood, his book on Nicole Kidman, and most recently for “Have You Seen?:” A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films.

As mentioned earlier, film-related writers made up only a small part of the over-all events program. Mostly, I arranged readings with novelists, poets, artists, musicians, and other literary and non-fiction writers. However, that didn't stop me from pursuing my "secret agenda" - and a Louise Brooks connection. As documented in Louise Brooks in Contemporary Fiction, more than a handful of contemporary writers are more than a little interested in the life and films of the actress. For example, Robert Olen Butler, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, is a fan of Louise Brooks. I have hosted him a number of times, and he told me so.

On various occasions at Booksmith events, I've also chatted with other authors about Louise Brooks. Again, I'm a nerd that way. One of the most memorable such events was with Don Bachardy, the world renowned artist who for decades was Christopher Isherwood's life partner. Isherwood, of course, authored The Berlin Stories, which eventually became the musical and film, Cabaret (which bears its own Brooks connection). For his Booksmith event, I interviewed Bachardy before an assembled crowd of a few dozen and asked him about his then new book of drawings and diary entries, Stars in My Eyes (University of Wisconsin press, 2000). That books features the written and drawn record of Bachardy's (and Isherwood) weekend with Louise Brooks. Check it out if you want to know more.

Some of the other writers I've chatted-up include the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (a member of the LBS), novelist and Lulu on the Bridge filmmaker Paul Auster (author of The Book of Illusions), horror and fantasy author Clive Barker, novelist and screenwriter Jerry Stahl (author of I, Fatty), novelist and social critic Theodore Roszak (his novel Flicker is a must read), and the acclaimed poets Bill Berkson and Mary Jo Bang (author of Louise in Love). Nearly each of these writers have included Louise Brooks in their work - either as a character, a reference, or an allusion. And each did events at The Booksmith.

Berkson - one of the so-called New York School poets - told me of the time he and Frank O'Hara went to see Prix de Beaute in New York City in 1961. Each later wrote a poem inspired by the actress. (Another New York School poet, John Ashberry, once told me at The Booksmith of the time he met Louise Brooks in a hotel in Paris.)

Because I love literary ephemera, for the Mary Jo Bang reading (as with the Barry Paris and Bill Berkson events), I printed a limited edition autographed broadside celebrating the occasion. Depicted below is the triptych of Mary Jo Bang broadsides, as well as an autographed Mary Jo Bang trading card. The Booksmith used to produce such cards for each of its author events.

Another writer and fan of the actress is Neil Gaiman, who I've hosted four or five times. Gaiman is the popular author of the Sandman graphic novels as well as works of fantasy likeNeverwhereStardust, and Coraline (which is just about to be released as a film). A few months back, I hosted Gaiman for The Graveyard Book, which this past week won the Newberry Medal. After his October reading, I presented the author, who I have known for a long time, with a Louise Brooks pin as a small token of our friendship. He immediately attached it to his black leather jacket! That made me feel good. Pictured below is a long ago snapshot of Gaiman, myself, and my wife taken after one of his Booksmith events.

As you may notice, I am wearing one of my Louise Brooks t-shirts! Neil Gamain has referenced the actress in interviews as well as in two of his books, Smoke and Mirrors and the multi-award winning American Gods. As well, The Books of Magic (DC Comics, 1993) features a character somewhat inspired by Louise Brooks. One of my prize possessions is this autographed copy of that graphic novel.

One of Gaiman's literary idols, the late experimental novelist Kathy Acker, used to be a Booksmith customer. I remember chatting with her about Louise Brooks on a few occasions; once she told me about a Brooks-inspired play she wrote called Lulu Unchained. To this day, I am still searching for a copy of the text.

Earlier in this rather long blog - and I sincerely thank anyone who has read the whole thing, I mentioned the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. For more than 10 years, my wife and I helped organize the book-table and signings which took place at that annual event. It has been a truly wonderful experience. Not only have I been able to see some great films and meet Festival guests like Fay Wray, Leonard Maltin and Sydney Chaplin (Charlie's son), but I had the pleasure of helping arrange booksignings with a score of esteemed authors and film writers. Pictured below is one of them, film & television actor / producer William Wellman, Jr. - son of the great film director and the author of The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture. Not only did Wellman Sr. direct such notable films as WingsThe Public Enemy and A Star is Born, he also directed Louise Brooks in Beggars of Life.

The group of authors I helped bring to the SFSFF includes my late friend Emil Petaja (author of Photoplay Edition), Frank Thompson (author of Lost Films), Cari Beauchamp (author ofWithout Lying Down), Anthony Slide (author of Silent Players), William Mann (author of Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines), Allan R. Ellenberger (author of Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol) and others.

And thanks to Gavin Lambert (author of Nazimova, who I telephoned out of the blue one day), Richard Dyer MacCann (author of The First Film Makers), and Eve Golden (author of Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara) who each generously autographed bookplates so their readers and fans could get a special signed book at the festival. I've always enjoyed brings books and readers together. For me, that's what it was all about. Making connections. (Back in 2007, journalist Michael T. Toole interviewed me for the TCM website about my participation in the Festival. That interview can be found here.)

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with not only distinguished authors but also with a swell bunch of editors, publicists, and event organizers. I would be remiss in not thanking my wife, Christy Pascoe, who helped with and attended so many of these happenings. And Jim Barter, my erstwhile co-worker at The Booksmith. And Gary Meyer, owner of the Balboa Theater. And Leila Salisbury, formerly with the University Press of Kentucky and now with the University Press of Mississippi. And Kathryn Zuckerman, outstanding Knopf publicist. And a huge thanks to Stephen Salmons, Melissa Chittick and Stacey Wisnia of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. All of you helped make all of this happen.

So where to from here? I hope to spend some time working on both the Louise Brooks Society website and RadioLulu (each long overdue!) as well as some Louise Brooks projects I’ve long had in mind. As I have been telling people lately, after having advanced the cause of so many other authors’ work, it’s time to take a couple of months off and work on my own book or two or three.

There is a song I love. It’s “Closing Time,” by a now defunct late 1990’s group Semisonic. (That band evolved out of Trip Shakespeare, who recorded a song and CD called Lulu. And at the Booksmith, I once hosted an author event with Semisonic’s drummer, Jacob Slichter. . . . ) Well anyways, the song’s lyrics conclude like this: “Closing time - every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end...” For the time being, that’s my motto.

Friday, January 30, 2009

1985 Lotus Eaters video features Louise Brooks

My friend Gianluca also alerted me to a 1985 Lotus Eaters video which features clips of Louise Brooks. The video features an introduction of sorts by Max Headroom. Remember him ? (Is this clip taken from his short-lived show?) More about the band on their Wikipedia page.

Interestingly, this song & video would pre-date by about 6 years the OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) recording of "Pandora's Box (It's a long, long way)."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Guy Maddin mentions Louise Brooks

Guy Maddin, the acclaimed Canadian director of My Winnipeg and other works, mentioned Louise Brooks in a recent interview. Maddin was at the Rotterdam Film Festival to promote a new short film titled Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair. According to an article in IFC Film News, "It's an archetypal Maddin film, conflating sex, death and film history in a manic seven minutes" The film's central image is that of Isabella Rossellini blasted out of an electric chair.

In the interview, Maddin reveals, "We dialed down the violence of the electric chair until it more or less stimulated Isabella instead of blasting her violently through the roof. We clothed her in prison garb modeled after Louise Brooks' costume in "Diary of a Lost Girl," and then we built an electric chair even though I had a lead on the original chair used at Auburn State Prison -- the one photographed by Andy Warhol -- a collector in Toronto has it. It was built by Gustav Stickley, the famous designer, and it looks like really nice furniture, but it had a few straps on it, it had some burns, so we built a chair that looks a little more expressionistic. . . . "

Last July, at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I had the chance to meet and chat with Maddin. He was a special guest of the Festival in 2008, and introduced and read the title cards for a Lon Chaney film. Maddin is a splendid fellow, and I really enjoyed speaking with him. He is passionate not only about film making - but film history.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another Italian entry

My friend Gianluca - the go-to man for all things Louise Brooks in Italy - alerted me to this Italian music video which includes a couple of fleeting appearances by Louise Brooks. I admit to knowing nothing about the singer, Carmen Consoli. But I like the song.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, Author, Dies at 76

John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and novelist, has died. He was 76. Updike won numerous literary awards, including two Pulitzers, for Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, and two National Book Awards. One of his better known novels is The Witches of Eastwick, which was turned into a film. The obit in today's New York Times described him this way:  "A literary writer who frequently appeared on best-seller lists, the tall, hawk-nosed Updike wrote novels, short stories, poems, criticism, the memoir Self-Consciousness and even a famous essay about baseball great Ted Williams. He was prolific, even compulsive, releasing more than 50 books in a career that started in the 1950s." 

Back in 1982 in the New Yorker, Updike favorably reviewed Louise Brooks'  Lulu in Hollywood, which had just been released. Years later, at a booksigning, I asked Updike about the actress and her memoir. He paused, and then declared Brooks the finest actor turned writer. That, I thought, was high praise from someone so accomplished.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Valentina and Louise Brooks

An interesting looking Italian-language article on Valentina and Louise Brooks. 

Valentina, la forma del tempo. Ultima settimana in mostra le tavole di Crepax alla Triennale di Milano e per la prima volta i visitatori possono acquistare un pezzo della mostra

L'esposizione chiude i battenti l'1 febbraio 2009, ma sono già on-line le tavole da prenotare per l'acquisto

Triennale Bovisa ha presentato la mostra Guido Crepax. Valentina, la forma del tempo, dedicata al lavoro del fumettista Guido Crepax e a Valentina, il suo personaggio più celebre, creato nel 1965. 

In perfetto equilibrio tra una donna reale e un simbolo di trasgressione, la fotografa milanese Valentina Rosselli è, infatti, il personaggio femminile più famoso nella storia del fumetto.
Il suo volto, il celebre caschetto e molti tratti della sua personalità sono ispirati all’attrice Louise Brooks, diva del cinema muto e protagonista del film Lulù di Georg Wilhelm Pabst(1928).

Oltre al mondo culturale, politico, ideologico ed estetico del suo autore, Valentina incarna una sorta di “spirito del tempo” della società italiana attraverso i grandi cambiamenti degli anni Sessanta, Settanta e Ottanta.
Questa mostra, a cinque anni dalla scomparsa, si è posta per la prima volta l’obbiettivo di analizzare Crepax dall’interno. Scavando a fondo nei ricordi e nei reconditi della mente che, come ogni ambiente borghese che si rispetti è rigorosamente rappresentata da una casa e suddivisa in stanze. Ogni stanza rappresenta un diverso modo di intendere e vivere il tempo. La forma del tempo ovvero il tempo nelle sue diverse forme, perché esso non è mai univoca unità di misura.

Tra gli aspetti distintivi e innovativi di questo allestimento, la multimedialità (con elaborazioni video, punti interattivi e ambienti sonori che riproducono e amplificano l’attualità delle invenzioni linguistiche di Crepax e il suo ininterrotto dialogo col cinema), e una particolare relazione con il visitatore (che, grazie alle gigantografie dei disegni sulle pareti, alla proiezione di immagini e a speciali invenzioni interattive danno l’impressione di entrare fisicamente nello straordinario mondo creato dalla fantasia di Crepax). La mostra è articolata in sezioni tematiche (stanze), in cui le tavole originali dei fumetti si alternano a elaborazioni e interpretazioni multimediali.

Per la prima volta i visitatori possono acquistare un “pezzo” della mostra.

Le opere sono ingrandimenti stampati su Forex delle tavole originali che sono stati utilizzati sulle pareti dell'allestimento della mostra.

Sul sito della Triennale tutte le informazioni e l'elenco completo dei pezzi disponibili, con relativi costi 


26 gennaio 2009 

Sunday, January 25, 2009


For those on Twitter, I have established an account for the Louise Brooks Society. The LBS can now be found on Twitter at " LB_Society "  I found a few other silent film twitter-ers there as well (for Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton).

And, I have set up a Facebook feed for this blog at  for those wanting to follow this blog there. 

Ever heard the phrase "circles within circles" ? Well, now we have "social networking sites within social networking sites," I guess.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

George Perle, Composer and Theorist, Dies at 93

George Perle, a Pulitzer Prize winning composer, author,  and theorist has died. He was 93 years old. I was alerted to his death by an article in today's New York Times. This from the New York Times piece: 
For many years Mr. Perle was most widely known as a theorist and author. He published his first articles on 12-tone music in 1941 and became the most eloquent spokesman for the style. His 1962 book, “Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern,” became a classic text that was published in many translations. He set forth his own method in “Twelve-Tone Tonality” in 1977.
But his most revolutionary writing was on Berg. Considered an authority on the composer by the early ’60s, Mr. Perle was granted access to Berg’s unpublished manuscript for the opera “Lulu” in 1963. When he ascertained that the third act, long thought to be an unfinished sketch, was actually about three-fifths complete and cast an entirely new light on the opera, he protested publicly that Berg’s publisher was repressing an important part of the work. His efforts led to the completion of the third act and the presentation of the complete opera in 1979.

As many of you know, Berg based his Lulu opera on Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays. Pabst's version of Lulu, Pandora's Box - a film staring Louise Brooks, came in between.

I was most familiar with Perle's work as an author and musical scholar. Perle wrote The Operas of Alban Berg (1980 and 1985), a two-volume study widely regarded as the definitive analysis of Berg's operas. I have a copy of the second volume, which is devoted to Lulu.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Joan Crawford

Yesterday, I received the new Joan Crawford book. It's by Peter Cowie, the internationally renown film writer familiar to fans of Louise Brooks for his 2006 pictorial, Louise Brooks; Lulu Forever. Like that earlier title, Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star is published by the good folks at Rizzoli and is a beautifully printed coffee table book. This new book features a foreword by Mick Lasalle, author of Complicated Women and film critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. There is also an "afterword" by George Cukor, the late director. Cukor died in 1983, his text consists of the eulogy he delivered in 1977 at the memorial service for Crawford, who had died that year.

I haven't had time to sit down and read the whole books (which I intend to do), though I have read bits and pieces and have "read" all the pictures. 

What's caught my eye, so far, are the reference to Louise Brooks. Cowie starts the book this way: "The inspiration for this book stemmed from my research for Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever(Rizzoli, 2006). Joan Crawford was often linked with Louise in references to the Jazz Age, the flapper era, the frenzy of the Charleston, and even weekends at Hearst castle. Yet while Louise treated Hollywood with ill-disguised scorn, Joan Crawford embraced it, and would not rest until she had become its star of stars."

To me, that is an interesting, and surprising, comparison. Are their any Louise Brooks / Joan Crawford fans out there? What do you think? Be sure and check out this lavish new book.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The United States of Tara

Louise Brooks is referenced on "The United States of Tara,"  according to a syndicated article about the new television series which airs at 10 pm on Sundays on Showtime.

It's interesting to note that "Tara" was created by Diablo Cody, who wrote the 2007 comedy "Juno." Both "Tara" and "Juno" feature young characters who are wise beyond their years and show off a startling knowledge of pop culture of decades past. Juno was a punk aficionado. Tara's son Marshall offers university-level lectures on the silent films of Louise Brooks and plays Thelonious Monk to drown out T's tantrums.

Has anyone seen this series, and if so, what was said about Brooks?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Another Weimar book of interest

Though I haven't seen a copy, one book I am anxious to look at is Women in Weimar Fashion: Discourses and Displays in German Culture, 1918-1933, by Mila Ganeva, an assistant professor of German at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. This expensive new book (it retails for $75.00) was published by Camden House last summer.

Has anyone seen a copy of this new title? I would like to hear from you. I'm wondering if there is anything about Louise Brooks contained within. Here is the publisher's description.

"In the Weimar Republic, fashion was not only manipulated by the various mass media -- film, magazines, advertising, photography, and popular literature -- but also emerged as a powerful medium for women's self-expression. Female writers and journalists, including Helen Grund, Irmgard Keun, Vicki Baum, Elsa Maria Bug, and numerous others engaged in a challenging, self-reflective commentary on current styles. By regularly publishing on these topics in the illustrated press and popular literature, they transformed traditional genres and carved out significant public space for themselves. This book re-evaluates paradigmatic concepts of German modernism such as the flaneur, the Feuilleton, and Neue Sachlichkeit in the light of primary material unearthed in archival research: fashion vignettes, essays, short stories, travelogues, novels, films, documentaries, newsreels, and photographs. Unlike other studies of Weimar culture that have ignored the crucial role of fashion, the book proposes a new genealogy of women's modernity by focusing on the discourse and practice of Weimar fashion, in which the women were transformed from objects of male voyeurism into subjects with complex, ambivalent, and constantly shifting experiences of metropolitan modernity."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Onion Radio News

The Onion, America's leading satirical newspaper, has an on-line faux radio station called Onion Radio News. I read the paper on occasion (and usually either chuckle or laugh out-loud), but haven't checked out the radio station. Until recently, that is, when I became aware of the station founder's tongue-in-cheek connection to Louise Brooks.

A visit to the Onion radio news home page reveals that 

The Onion Radio News has been the most highly regarded broadcast news source in the world since visionary Onion publisher T.Herman Zweibel made the bold move in 1922 to shut down the popular Onion Telegraph News and focus on the then embryonic medium of radio. From day one Zweibel intended to employ this new technology for the public good, and for the first two years he devoted much of his airtime to denouncing silent film actress Louise Brooks.

Overnight, Zweibel's vitriolic attacks gained sufficient listenership to attract wealthy sponsors like Campbell's Liquid Beef and Spotto potato detergent. The financial success of the Onion Radio News led Zweibel to hire professional "pronouncers," as they were called then, who were charged with the important task of reading items from the printed version of The Onion to fill time between Zweibel's marathon anti-flapper rants.

I hadn't been aware!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide

There is a new book out called Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era, by Noah Isenberg. This 368 page book is published by Columbia University Press. Besides its rather striking cover.

What caught my attention is the lengthy chapter by Margaret McCarthy entitled "Surface Sheen and Charged Bodies: Louise Brooks as Lulu in Pandora's Box (1929)." I haven't had time to sit down and really read this dense essay, but I hope to as I expect to have a lot of time on my hands sometime soon. Have any readers of this blog had a chance to look at this book?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bob blogs

Within the last week, there have been a number of newspaper articles and on-line blogs about the bob. Apparently, as some are claiming, the hairstyle worn by Louise Brooks and numerous others in the early decades of the 20th century is celebrating its 100th anniversary. According to "What's the Story with . . . the Bob," an article in today's British Herald newspaper, the cut wascreated in 1909 by Polish-born French hair stylist  Antoine de Paris. I hadn't known that. Fashion historian Christy Pascoe once told me that the American dancer Irene Castle deserves the credit - as she helped popularize short hair for women during the teens. During the 1920's, the popular screen star Colleen Moore (see link) sported a bob. It was part of her look, and it looked great on her.

Louise Brooks, of course, wore her hair short most all of her life. From the time she was a little girl, as images of the actress show, Brooks sported a bob - or Buster Brown type cut. It was not an uncommon cut for little girls. Years later, the famous stylist Sydney Guilaroff claimed to have given Brooks her signature look. "He gave her that trademark hairstyle (which became known as a shingle) at the grand cost of $1.50, which, he states in his autobiography ' was quite expensive for those days.' " That according to a 1996 article by Robert Osborne in the Hollywood Reporter.

I mention all of this because of the numerous recent articles and blogs about the bob - which also mention Louise Brooks. In "The Bob is 100 years Old," LOOK (from England) proclaimed "One of the first celebs to make the bob truly her own was actress Louise Brooks, who sported the style in '20s. Since then, the style has evolved through the ages - the latest reinvention of which has to be Victoria Beckham's Pob!"  A google news search on "Louise Brooks" will turn up additional results. Articles mentioning the bob and the actress recently ran in the Courier Mailfrom Australia and the Telegraph in England. Brooks is mentioned and prominently pictured in both pieces. Also, there is an excellent article in the Independent. And again, Brooks is prominent. 

And thus is history written.

There are many who claim the bob as a Louise Brooks invention. She didn't create the cut, and really can't be credited with helping popularize it. Certainly, in her day, she was identified with the bob - in all of its stylistic varieties. I have come across numerous instances of articles from the 1920's remarking on the appearance of the actress, especially her trademark hairstyle. And today - ever since the late 1980's - that look has come to be identified almost exclusively with the actress.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Louise Brooks manga

I came across this image of Louise Brooks, which is part of a vintage Hollywood manga contest. Not sure who the artist is. More on the on-line contest, as well as further examples of older Hollywood stars done manga style, can be found here.  It's kinda cute. Kinda.

Monday, January 5, 2009

RadioLulu stats

For those who don't know, the Louise Brooks Society has its own online radio station, called RadioLulu. (the station can be found at 

RadioLulu is a Louise Brooks-inspired radio station broadcasting music of the Twenties through today - including film music, songs by the actress' contemporaries, vintage jazz & dance bands, and contemporary pop songs about the silent film star. 
This unique station features music from six of the actresses' films - including the haunting themes from Prix de Beaute and Beggars of Life. There is Maurice Chevalier's much-loved 1929 recording of "Louise," as well as other vintage tracks associated with the actress. RadioLulu also plays Brooks-themed songs by contemporary rock artists such as Soul Coughing, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (OMD), Marillion, Ron Hawkins, and Sarah Azzarra.
Brooks co-stars and contemporaries are featured among the rare recordings of silent film stars heard on RadioLulu. Interspersed throughout are tracks by the likes of Rudolph Valentino, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, Adolphe Menjou, Ramon Novarro, Dolores Del Rio, Lupe Velez, Bebe Daniels and others.
On RadioLulu, you'll also hear torch singers, Jazz Age crooners, dance bands, show tunes, standards and some real hot jazz!  And, there are even tracks featuring the great Polish chanteuse Hanka Ordonówna, the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht (singing "Mack the Knife" in 1929), and the contemporary cartoonist Robert Crumb (playing on "Chanson por Louise Brooks"). And what's more, you're unlikely to find a station that plays more tracks with "Lulu" in the title than the always eclectic and always entertaining RadioLulu! Here's your chance to hear some great music, including many rare recordings from the silent film era.

For lack of anything else to post, here are my newly received radio station stats.

Total Listening Hours
Last Month: 402
This Month: 499

Total Station Launches
Last Month: 858
This Month: 955

Station Presets
Last Month: 1711
This Month: 1734

Favorite Station Designations
Last Month: 41
This Month: 41

Give RadioLulu a listen! The Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman (author of Maus and other works) has. He told me so!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Steven Soderbergh said

According to an article on, "X-Men star Hugh Jackman has withdrawn from negotiations to star in Cleo, Steven Soderbergh's upcoming rock 'n' roll musical about Cleopatra. It was revealed in October that Traffic director Soderbergh planned to cast Catherine Zeta Jones as the Egyptian queen with Jackman as her lover, Roman general Marc Anthony.

Speaking at the Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival, Soderbergh said he wanted Cleo to be similar to "an Elvis musical".  The acclaimed director went on to explain, "I've always wanted to do a musical, I felt like a female protagonist was probably a good idea, because the majority of the audiences for musicals are female. I started thinking about Catherine because I knew she could sing and dance and the list  [of possible subjects for the film] got pretty short at that point."
Soderbergh then added "I know Cleopatra stole that haircut from Louise Brooks, but Catherine looks great in it.

Yes she does. Anyone who saw Chicago knows that Catherine Zeta Jones wears a bob a la Brooks with the best of them.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Two new editions of Lulu in Hollywood

Two new editions of Lulu in Hollywood have just been released. 

Louise Brooks' acclaimed book of autobiographical essays, first published in the United States in 1982, have over the years been published in England and in translation in France, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands and Japan. Now comes two new editions - one from France and the other from Russia.

The new French edition was published in October by Tallandier. The book is 187 pages and has been translated by Rene Brest. I haven't yet gotten a copy, but plan to. It can be ordered through Amazon France or Amazon Canada. I usually order French-language books through because it it easier for me to navigate the site.

I don't know much about the Russian edition, except that it was published by a company called Rosebud (it may be their first publication), in cooperation with a Museum of Cinema.  Over the last year or two, I had been in email contact with a Russian publisher concerning a new edition of Lulu in Hollywood. Perhaps this is it.  My google translation add-on indicates, apparently, that the Louise Brooks Society, Estate of the Louise Brooks Estate, and the George Eastman House, all receive special thanks in this new edition.

More about this new edition can be found on this Russian-language LiveJournal page and on this Russian Cinematheque webpage. From what I can deduce, the publication of this new edition coincided with a mini-retropsective of Brooks' films in which three of the actresses films were screened along with Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu. Some of the links on the latter Russian-language webpage lead to a Russian-language filmography and discussion of Brooks' films.
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