Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Some snapshots from Saturday's Louise Brooks TCM talk (part two)

I want to post a couple more pictures and a few more thoughts from Saturday's talk about Louise Brooks, which I gave over lunch to the Sacramento TCM Club. The event was organized by Sacramento TCM chapter head Beth Gallagher, a longtime friend. In Facebook posts prior to the event, Beth aptly described Brooks as "mesmerizing and modern onscreen" and a "fabulous and frustrating cinema icon." That's Beth, the redhead, pictured below.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I gave some prepared remarks before beginning a free form talk on Brooks, which also involved questions from those in attendance. What follows are my prepared remarks, with which I hoped to set the stage regarding Brooks and her career.

In her day, Louise Brooks was never considered a major star. And her career, relatively speaking, was brief. The actress appeared in only 24 films between 1925 and 1938 — a period spanning 13 years, four of which she was absent from the screen. By comparison, her celebrated contemporary Clara Bow (the “It” girl) appeared in 57 films over 11 years, while another contemporary, silent era star Colleen Moore, appeared in 48 films over 18 years. Of Brooks’ 24 films, she received top billing in only three productions. Notably, these were the three films she made in Europe. In the United States, Brooks was usually given second or third billing. In only one of them, Rolled Stockings - a film shot in Berkeley, was she considered the lead.

Brooks worked with film legends W.C. Fields, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, Michael Curtiz, and John Wayne. And while still young — then just 32 years old, she gave it all up and turned her back on Hollywood. Once the toast of two continents, Brooks went from the heights of world wide celebrity to a down-and-out existence, barely getting by and all but forgotten by her peers.

As film historians have pointed out, few actors have attained such a large reputation through so few films. Today, Brooks’ remarkable popularity rests on her iconic look — while her cinematic renown comes largely from her role as Lulu in the once derided, now acclaimed German silent, Pandora’s Box. That film, often ranked among the greatest of its time, was largely forgotten until its rediscovery in the 1950s. Since then, and especially in the last few decades, Brooks’ other surviving films have been reevaluated, and her reputation as an actress has grown significantly.

Though she left her mark on her time and accomplished a great deal, Brooks always thought of herself as a failure. Late in life she wrote “I have been taking stock of my 50 years since I left Wichita in 1922 at the age of 15 to become a dancer with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. How I have existed fills me with horror. For I have failed in everything — spelling, arithmetic, riding, swimming, tennis, golf, dancing, singing, acting, wife, mistress, whore, friend. Even cooking. And I do not excuse myself with the usual escape of ‘not trying.’ I tried with all my heart”.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, with whom she was acquainted, wrote “there are no second acts in American lives.” Brooks proves the exception.

Quite nearly everyone at the table sighed after I read the Brooks paragraph about taking stock of her life. I believe Brooks has found a few more fans.


  1. You may have already heard this, but the 2009 restoration of Pandora's Box will be making its Blu-ray debut on November 15. Check it out on Amazon.de. It's not clear whether it will have English subtitles.
    -Jason Holt


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