Tuesday, February 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Official Trailer for Louise Brooks inspired film The Chaperone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 7, 2019

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

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

Opening Pandora's Box

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

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

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

Friday, February 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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