Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Book recommendations from the Louise Brooks Society

If you are stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic and are wanting to catching up on your reading... may we recommend the following books on Louise Brooks, silent film, and early Hollywood. Many, but not all, of these titles are available through local independent bookstores like Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, national chain stores like Barnes & Noble, online stores like amazon.com, or specialty shops like Larry Edmunds in Hollywood. The latter was written up here in the previous post. Some of these titles, especially those published by larger publishers, might also be available as an e-book through your local library.

Before getting into books on the silent and early sound era, let's look toward the Louise Brooks bookshelf. Three essential books any fan will want to read are the biography by Barry Paris and Louise Brooks' own volume of memoirs, Lulu in Hollywood. Both are still available thanks to the efforts of the Louise Brooks Society, which helped bring them back into print. I would also recommend both Jan Wahl's wonderful Dear Stinkpot: Letters From Louise Brooks, and Pamela Hutchinson's recently reissued Pandora's Box (Die Büchse der Pandora), from BFI Film Classics. And, I might also put in a plug for a few of my recent books, Louise Brooks, the Persistent Star (a collection of essays), Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film, and Now We're in the Air: A Companion to the Once "Lost" Film.

There are a few other titles available, like Peter Cowie's Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever and Roland Jaccard's Louise Brooks: Portrait of an Anti-Star, but they are out of print and a bit harder to track down. Tom Graves' My Afternoon with Louise Brooks is also of interest, and I've written about it a number of times here on the Louise Brooks Society blog. Otherwise, be sure and check out the Books for Sale table here on the blog for even more related and recommended titles. On a final note, let me add that a title like Louise Brooks: Her men, affairs, scandals and persona is a pile of crap, and unless you like stepping in dog-shit, I would avoid it all together.

Among the new and recent releases realted to the silent and early sound era, I would recommend Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle, by Steve Massa. I recently wrote it here on the LBS blog. It is an interesting read, and not only because Arbuckle directed Louise Brooks in a 1931 short, Windy Riley Goes Hollywood.

Also recently released and more than deserving of a read is Donna Hill's Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol, His Life in Photographs. As Kevin Brownlow remarked, "Besides being superbly researched, Silent Idol is filled with outstanding photographs, [and] given the standard of reproduction they deserve. I recommend it wholeheartedly."

If you find yourself drawn to the exoticism of early Hollywood, then you will likely find yourself drawn to the Agata Frymus' Damsels and Divas: European Stardom in Silent Hollywood (Rutgers University Press). Film scholar Michael Williams stated, "Written with engaging clarity and scholarly vigour and founded on first-class archival research, Damsels and Divas is a hugely welcome addition to scholarship on Hollywood stardom in the 1920s. The book shines much-needed light on the extraordinary careers of European female stars Pola Negri, Vilma Bánky and Jetta Goudal as well as the discourses of ethnicity, gender and class that shaped the firmament in which they, as Frymus puts it, ‘shone briefly, but very brightly’."

Two other recent titles worth noting are Dan van Neste's They Coulda Been Contenders: Twelve Actors Who Should Have Become Cinematic Superstars (Bear Manor), a highly enjoyable read, and Barbara Tepa Lupack's Silent Serial Sensations: The Wharton Brothers and the Magic of Early Cinema (Cornell University Press). Regarding the latter, Jack Garner (Louise Brooks' friend and former staff film critic at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle) stated, "Silent Serial Sensations shines an overdue spotlight on a little-known but essential part of cinema history. Barbara Tepa Lupack tells the surprising and rich story of the creative Wharton brothers and their Ithaca studio in this well-researched and engaging history."

And finally, here are some links to some of my past book recommendations and where they were published.

Best Film Books of 2017: Silent Comedy Edition. Huffington Post

Best Film Books of 2017. Huffington Post

The BFI Re-Opens Silent Film Pandora’s Box. PopMatters

Pola Negri: Her films were silent. She wasn’t. Huffington Post

The Case for Marion Davies. Huffington Post

Two Film Historians and Their Lifelong Labor of Love. Huffington Post 

Son of Best Film Books of 2016. Huffington Post
Best Film Books of 2016. Huffington Post

Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies. Huffington Post

New Book Surveys Jules Verne on Film. Huffington Post

Spooky Film History Books for Halloween. Huffington Post

Best Films Books of 2015. Huffington Post

Best Film Books of 2014. Huffington Post

Best Film Books of 2013. Huffington Post 

Best Film Books of 2012. Huffington Post

The Movies: 10 Must-Read Books Coming This Fall. Huffington Post   

Best Film Books of 2011 Are Biographies. Huffington Post 

Director John Huston – the story of a story-teller revealed in new book. San Francisco Chronicle / SFGate

Walt Disney’s silent inspirations. San Francisco Chronicle / SFGate

Thomas Gladysz’s most treasured book. San Francisco Chronicle

Best Film Books for 2010. Huffington Post 

Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise Brooks by Jan Wahl. Huffington Post  

New Chaplin book by Kevin Brownlow. San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog

New book on Edison’s Frankenstein. San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog

Best film books of 2009. examiner.com

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Support the Louise Brooks Society, support Larry Edmunds Bookshop

If you love movies, and if you love reading about the movies - then you will love Larry Edmunds bookshop in Hollywood. Opened in 1938, it is a longtime Mecca for film buffs, film historians, writers, collectors, celebrities and just about anyone with an interest in film. Louise Brooks was living in Los Angeles when the store first opened. I wonder if she visited it before she left town. Chances are....

Like other small businesses closed since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, Larry Edmunds is having a hard time generating business. They still have plenty of books to sell (as well as film stills, memorabilia, old magazines, etc....), and they are still accepting mail order. And what's more, they have autographed copies of three of my books for sale - Louise Brooks, the Persistent Star, Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film, and Now We're in the Air: A Companion to the Once "Lost" Film. Why not place an order for those titles of some other film title you have been wanting to read.

Larry Edmunds bookshop if filled with all kinds of great stuff - and every-time I venture to Los Angeles, I make a point of dropping by to see what's new. This large store carries both new and old film books, so you will never know what they have without asking. It is time to dig out that list you have been keeping, and it is time to catch up on your Scott Eyman books and your Karie Bible books and even your Thomas Gladysz books.

Larry Edmunds bookshop hosts lots of events, not only with film historians but also with local authors otherwise known as celebrity actors and actresses! The store helped set up my recent booksigning at the Egyptian theater, and that's how they came to have some extra autographed books. So you never know what they might have under the heading of collectibles.... Their website is located HERE. And their Facebook page is located HERE. Contact them today!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Louise Brooks Society announcement regarding RadioLulu

The economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic is leading many of us to reevaluate our needs and expenses. Who knows what the future holds? For me, these expenses includes various costs incurred in running the Louise Brooks Society and its website. There are domain and web hosting fees, subscription fees, costs associated with research and with editing software, etc.... I have been running the Louise Brooks Society for 25 years, and it all ads up.

Listen while you can!

I intend to continue the Louise Brooks Society for as long as I can, but have decided to cut costs where I am able. Thus, with great regret, I am announcing that RadioLulu will cease streaming in the first week of April. I will also be cutting back on other background expenses associated with my wordpress website.

A melancholy Louise Brooks listens to a 78 rpm record in Prix de Beauté (1930)

I launched RadioLulu back in 2002, and enjoyed sharing with others the considerable amount of Louise Brooks-related audio and musical material I had gathered. The station's description reads "RadioLulu is a Louise Brooks-inspired, silent film-themed internet station streaming music of the 1920s, 1930s, and today. Located on the web at — RadioLulu features vintage and contemporary music related to Louise Brooks as well as the silent and early sound eras."

In the early years, I found an audience.... Famed film critic Leonard Maltin once rated the station a “Wow” on his website. The Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novelist Art Spiegelman (author of Maus) told me he tuned-in on occasion. As had the award-winning science fiction writer Richard Kadrey, and celebrated Dr. Who actor Paul McGann. In fact, when I first met McGann some years ago, his first words were "You’re the guy that does RadioLulu. It’s incredible. I listen all the time." In 2015, I received an email from a listener named Nick. He was employed at the Vito Russo Library at the Gay Center in New York City; Nick wrote to say that RadioLulu was played at the library every Saturday, and that “Everybody loves it.” It was nice to have a fan or two!

In the beginning, RadioLulu found a home on Live365, a streaming service for aspiring DJ's like myself. However, when that platform crashed in 2016 (read more HERE), and the expense involved in streaming skyrocketed, RadioLulu was left without a home. After a couple of months, it found a second home on SHOUTca.st, which was syndicated to other channels and devices through TuneIn. For a time, you could even listen to RadioLulu through your TV via ROKU.

However, that second home on SHOUTca.st, while affordable -- was limited and problematic. If too many individuals listed, then I exceeded my bandwidth and the station was knocked off the air until the beginning of the next usage cycle. All too often, I received emails from individuals asking what happened to the station. I was dissapointed to be dissapointing others.

I am not sure what the future holds for RadioLulu. Hopefully, I would like to make use of its many hours of content and turn it into thematic podcasts with shows devoted to different topics -- like the music of Prix de beaute or Beggars of Life, with shows of songs recorded by Brooks' co-stars and contemporaries, with vintage music about the movies, etc.... RadioLulu features more than 850 recordings! And notably, many of them come from rare 78 rpm discs you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else. It is important that this old music still be heard.  I am referring to vintage track like George Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me” (Brooks knew Gershwin, and this was her favorite Gershwin song according to Barry Paris), Xavier Cugat’s “Siboney” (recommended by Brooks in her rare booklet, Fundamentals of Good Ballroom Dancing), and a few numbers by Sid Kay’s Fellows (the jazz band seen playing in the wedding reception scene in Pandora’s Box). Read more about RadioLulu's programming HERE.

Louise Brooks holding a portable record player, circa 1925

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Recommended reading - Rediscovering Roscoe The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle

Before the coronavirus interrupted life as we knew it, there was a book I was meaning to write-up here on the Louise Brooks Society blog. That book is Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle, by Steve Massa. It is an excellent read, and a book that belong on the shelf of anyone interested in silent era comedy.

Today is Roscoe Arbuckle's birthday. He was born on this day in 1887. He would have been 133, but regretably only lived to the age of 46. As Massa stated on Facebook earlier today, Arbuckle was "One of the great innovators of silent comedy, he was much maligned during his life but a substantial number of his films survive to perpetuate his talents and secure his place in film comedy history."

According to Bear Manor, Massa's publisher: "Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle was a silent comedy trailblazer — the teacher of Buster Keaton, a collaborator of Charlie Chaplin — whose reputation was eclipsed for many years by his involvement in one of Hollywood's first scandals. Rediscovering Roscoe is a film by film examination of his work as a performer, director, and all around comedy creator. Having learned and developed his craft on the stage, Arbuckle came to films in 1909. After joining Mack Sennett's Keystone Company he became one of the most important pioneers of American silent comedy, as well as a screen icon known around the world. This filmography details his initial forays into films and mastering of the medium, but also his banishment from the screen and ultimate comeback. It is lavishly illustrated with more than 500 rare photographs and advertising images."

Arbuckle's career was indeed legendary. Early on, he worked with both Mabel Normand and Harold Lloyd, as well as with his gifted nephew Al St. John. He mentored Charlie Chaplin and discovered both Buster Keaton and Bob Hope. He was one of the most popular silent stars of the 1910s, and one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. Arbuckle wrote, directed, and starred in dozens of short films, as well as a handful of feature films. All of these films, as well as those he directed under a pseudonym after his fall from grace following the Virginia Rappe trial, are covered in Massa's detailed book.

Louise Brooks adored this portly actor, who she described as "the great Roscoe Arbuckle." In Kevin Brownlow's book, The Parade's Gone By, she states "I thought he was magnificent in films. He was a wonderful dancer — a wonderful ballroom dancer in his heyday. It was like floating in the arms of a huge doughnut — really delightful."

Brooks and Arbuckle worked together on Windy Riley Goes Hollywood. This flaccid 1931 short from Educational Pictures was directed by Arbuckle under the pseudonym William Goodrich, with Brooks starring as Betty Grey, a dancer. As Massa notes in his section on the film, Windy Riley is not one of Arbuckle's better surviving talkies, but it does give a behind-the-scenes look at a real movie studio. Additionally, for fans of Brooks, it shows the actress dancing — and we get to hear her voice, which is pleasant and records well.

In its short review, Motion Picture Herald stated, “The auto record of Windy Riley from New York to Hollywood and the subsequent excitement at a studio when he works a fake publicity stunt, cannot be rated more than fair. The story by Ken Kling is not at all unusual. Jack Shutta, Louise Brooks, William Davidson, Dell Henderson, Wilbur Mack and Walter Merrill do their best but not very successfully.”

Louise Brooks is the women in red
According to Brooks, Arbuckle "made no attempt to direct." Instead, "he sat in his chair like a man dead. He had been very nice and sweetly dead ever since the scandal that ruined his career" and forced him to work on third rate material under a pseudonym.

Though Windy Riley Goes Hollywood was largely a failure, Arbuckle can be credited with numerous successes. Those earlier films are at the heart of Massa's splendid new book. Besides it's heavily annotated filmography, Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle includes a foreword by critic Dave Kehr, an introduction by musician Ben Model, a succinct biography of Arbuckle, the story of his banishment and work under a pseudonym, a guide to seeing the films today, and an insightful essay, "The Screen Must Have a Fat Comedian." There is a lot packed into its nearly 700 pages.

As Model notes in his introduction, "The so-called “silent” era was more than the starting point of American film comedy. It was its Big Bang. Not only were the basics of screen comedy developed and established during that time — specifically from the early ‘teens through 1929 — but something else magical came from the cauldron of silent film comedy: the comedian/filmmaker." Prominent among them is the one and only Roscoe Arbuckle. Massa's book makes the case for his greatness.

Besides Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle, Steve Massa is the author of  two other books which I am pleased to own, Lame Brains and Lunatics: The Good, The Bad, and the Forgotten of Silent Comedy (Bear Manor Media, 2013), and Marcel Perez: The International Mirth-Maker (CreateSpace, 2014). Each are groundbreaking. Massa is also the author of another groundbreaking work, Slaptstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy (Bear Manor Media, 2017). I liked it so much that my Huffington Post articles, "Best Film Books of 2017" and "Best Film Books of 2017: Silent Comedy Edition," featured it TWICE.

Back then, I wrote, "One can’t say enough about this book, and that’s why it’s included in this round-up as well as in my earlier piece on the Best Film Books of 2017.... I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Steve Massa has written a highly recommended book which belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in early film comedy or women’s film history." The same, I would say, applies to Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Louise Brooks film Prix de beauté made available for online streaming during coronavirus crisis

Yesterday's blog,Where and how to stream Louise Brooks and silent & classic film from home, featured a segment on Italy's Cineteca Milano. In response to the worldwide coronavirus crisis, that prestigious film archive has made parts of its rich catalogue available to stream online. Among the 500 films available for streaming are a number of silent era features and shorts, including the 1930 Louise Brooks film, Prix de beauté.

To access the Cineteca Milano film catalogue, you must first register at this address - click HERE. Instructions are pretty easy to follow, even if you don’t speak or read Italian. I used the the Chrome browser, which can translate pages on the fly. Once you have set up your free account, search for Louise Brooks, or Miss Europa (the Italian title for Prix de beauté).

I can't stress enough what an extraordinary opportunity this is to view this RARE version of this great Louise Brooks film. First, consider this. The sound version which most Louise Brooks fans are familiar with was released on DVD by KINO. That version runs 1 hour and 28 minutes. This Italian version runs 2 hours and 3 minutes. That's 35 more minutes! I realize that "projection speeds" or FPS can account for varying lengths - but I have watched the Italian version and believe it does contain footage I haven't seen before!

As is known, Prix de beauté was released as both a sound and silent film, and, it was released in four different languages, French, English, German and Italian. (I don't know that the film was released in four different language as both a silent and sound film. That questions still needs to be resolved.)

The version made available through the Cineteca Milano is the silent Italian version. There is no music, and the subtitles are in Italian. Here is the basic film information offered by Cineteca Milano.

TITLE: Miss Europa
ORIGINAL TITLE: Prix ​​De Beauté
FILM DIRECTOR: Augusto Genina
YEAR: 1930

CAST & CREDITS: Cast: Louise Brooks Georges Charlia Augusto Bandini; Subject: Augusto Genina Rebé Clair Bernard Zimmer Alessandro De Stefani; Screenplay: GW Pabst René Clair; Photogafia: Rudolph Maté Louis Née; Editing: T. Edmond Greville; Scenography: Robert Gys; Costumes: Jean Patou; Production: Sofar-Film

SYNOPSIS: Lucienne, who has a modest job in an office, is a very beautiful and unscrupulous girl. Unbeknownst to her boyfriend, she takes part in the beauty contest for Miss Europe and wins it but then chooses to be his wife, giving up the courtship of a prince. One night, however, she leaves the house and her husband because she wants to try to live in luxury and, above all, she needs to feel surrounded by the admiration of others. The prince has not forgotten her and helps her to enter the world of cinema but her husband will find her and, not knowing how to forgive her, will be ruthless with her.
As I mentioned above, I have viewed the silent Italian version of Prix de beauté. I have always thought it was a good film, but now feel it is better in this longer, silent edition. I also now feel that Louise Brooks did some of the best acting of her career in this film, especially in scenes which I think are not present in the sound version I am far more familiar with.

I have seen a silent version once before. In 2013, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened a version of the film, which ran 1 hour and 48 minutes. That version was restored in a silent version by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna from a silent copy with Italian intertitles from the Cineteca Italiana and a French sound copy from the Cinémathèque française.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival program essay on Prix de beauté states "Even as Brooks earned some kudos for her performance, particularly from the French critics, the film was a quick flop in Europe and didn’t even merit a U.S. release." While it is true that the film wasn't shown in the United States until 1957 when the Eastman House screened a print, it is NOT TRUE that "the film was a quick flop in Europe." In fact, it was something of a sensation. In Paris, the film enjoyed an extended run and ran  for more than two months. The film was shown across France and Europe in 1930 - in Germany, Norway, Switzerland, and elsewhere. The film continued to be shown in Europe - in Hungary, Spain, Iceland (shown below) and Turkey in 1931, in Poland and Switzerland in 1932, in The Netherlands in 1933, and in Luxembourg in 1934.

I have also documented screenings in Haiti in 1932, 1933, 1935, and 1936 - as well as in Algeria and even Madagascar in 1933. The film was a huge hit in Ro de Janiero, Brazil in 1930, and was also shown in Japan. There was even a revival screening in Uruguay in 1952!

A full record of the rich exhibition history of Prix de beauté will be documented in volume 2 of my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks. In the mean time, here is a record of where the film was shown, as well as under what title.

Under its French title, documented screenings of the film took place in Algeria, Belgium, Haiti, Japan, Madagascar, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Elsewhere, Prix de beauté was shown under the title Vanidad (Argentina); Miss Europa (Austria); Miss Europa (Brazil); El Premio Fatal (Cuba); Miss Europa and Der Schönheitspreis (Czechoslovakia) and Miss Európa (Slovakia); Miss Europa (Danzig); Beauty Prize and Miss Europe (England); Miss Europa and Preis der Schönheit and Der Schönheitpreis (Germany); A szépsvg vására or Szépségvásár and Miss Europa (Hungary); Fegurðardrottning Euröpu (Iceland); Miss Europa and Premio di bellezza and Regina di bellezza (Italy); Premija par skaistumu and Skaistuma godalga (Latvia); Miss Europa (Der Schonheitspreis) (Luxembourg); Miss Europa and Schoonheidsprijs (The Netherlands); Skjønhetskonkurransen (Norway); Kobieto nie grzesz and Nagroda pieknosci and Nie Grzesz Kobieto (Poland); Miss Europa (Der Schonheitspreis) and Weib, sündige nicht (Poland, German language publication); Prémio de Beleza (Portugal); Nagrada za lepoto and Zrtev velike ljubezni (Slovenia); Premio de belleza (Spain, including Catalonia); Miss Europe (Switzerland); Kuzellik Kirali-Casi and Güzellik Ödülü (Turkey); Nie Grzesz Kobieto! (Ukraine); Приз краси and Приз за красоту (U.S.S.R.); Vanidad (Uruguay); Vanidad (Venezuela).

In recent years, numerous screenings of the film have been taken place around the world, including first ever showings under the title Prix de beauté (or Beauty Prize or Miss Europe) in Australia, Canada, Europe, United States and elsewhere.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Where and how to stream Louise Brooks and silent & classic film from home

Interested in Louise Brooks? Like silent and classic films? Wondering what to watch during these trying times? Here are a few suggestions.... more to come in the following days.

First off, let me recommend Ben Model's “The Silent Comedy Watch Party”.  The premiere episode  will stream live on Sunday March 22 at 3pm EDT (New York, east coast USA). Hosted by silent film accompanist Ben Model and film historian Steve Massa, the one-hour program will present three rare slapstick comedy shorts. The films will be streamed live — Ben Model will accompany them live on piano, and Steve Massa will introduce the films. The show will live-stream on YouTube (scroll down for link and embed). More info HERE.

Time zone info “The Silent Comedy Watch Party

    Pacific Time – 12 noon
    Mountain Time – 1pm
    Central Time – 2pm
    Eastern Time – 3pm
    Argentina Time – 4pm
    UK/England – 7pm
    Europe/Scandinavia et al – 8pm (20:00)
    Eastern Australia – 3am Monday; Western Australia – 6am Monday
    Japan (Tokyo) – 4am Monday

Yesterday, Forbes magazine ran an article by Sheena Scott titled "Where To Stream Films And Shows For Free". I recommend you check it out. The author surveyed the online offerings from various archives and institutions, including the British Film Institute (BFI) and Cineteca Milano. Regarding the latter, she wrote. 
The Milan Cinematheque was one of the first film archives to have its rich catalogue be available to stream online for free due to the spread of the Coronavirus. Italy is the country most hit by the virus and is now on lockdown. To access the film catalogue, you must first register at this address (click here). Instructions are pretty easy to follow, even if you don’t speak or read Italian.

According to Le Figaro, the number of people who registered increased from 300 to 19,000, four days ago. That number must have by now further increased. The Morando Morandini Collection, named after the Italian film critic, offers over 500 films dated from the beginning of cinema. There is thus an important proportion of silent films, majority of which of course are Italian, with a few added gems from France (see notably an early sound film by Augusto Genina’s Prix de beauté, named Miss Europa in the catalogue, starring the “It” girl of the 1920s Louise Brooks), the U.S. (see for example Paul Leni’s silent classic The Man who Laughs (L’uomo Che Ride) starring Conrad Veidt), and Germany (see, for example, F.W. Murnau’s classic silent Faust).
WOW! As is known, the silent and sound versions of Prix de beauté was released in four different languages. This generous offering - a rare opportunity - from the Cineteca Milano means that fans of Louise Brooks can now watch the silent Italian version of Prix de beauté (1930), one of the actress' great films. Even if you have seen this film before, you will want to watch this version.

Louise Brooks, stuck at home, in the 1930 film, Prix de beauté

Subscribe and stay tuned to this blog for more recommended viewing and reading in the coming days.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Effects of the Coronavirus on the Silent and Classic Film World

The coronavirus has hit the film world, and rightly so, a number of upcoming festivals have been cancelled or postponed. Among the silent & classic film festival which have been effected are the Turner Classic Film Festival (news link) and Toronto Silent Film Festival (announcement link). I recently signed books at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood following it's screening of the 1929 Louise Brooks film Pandora's Box. And just recently, the American Cinematheque has suspended all screenings and public events at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and its sister venue, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Other rep houses and theaters have closed, while other classic film screenings have been can cancelled.

Also postponing it's annual event is the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Set to kick-off at the end of April, the SFSFF is now set to take place November 11 through November 15 at the historic Castro theatre. The festival added, "We have an exceptional program planned that we look forward to sharing with you. We’ve already announced our restorations of Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives, the delightful Baby Peggy short The Kid Reporter, and the beautiful color-stencil San Francisco, the Golden Gate City. Complete details will be announced in the Fall."

Louise Brooks one-time home, New York state, is a hotspot, and in New York City 75% of non-essential workers have been told to stay home. Here in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area is under a "shelter-in-place" order, while Sacramento is under a voluntary "shelter in place". 

With so many Americans at home, it is a good time to catch up on reading, listing to music, or watching favorite films or television shows. (Besides practicing good hygiene and social distancing, it's also valuable to maintain good mental health!) In the coming days, I will put together a few posts of online resources for fans of Louise Brooks and early film. Be part of the smart set and stay home. In the meantime, check out the Louise Brooks Society website.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Louise Brooks and the Coronavirus of 1918 (an addendum)

Ace Louise Brooks researcher Philip Vorwald provided some additional information about Louise Brooks' mystery illness, as referenced in the previous LBS blog, "Louise Brooks and the Coronavirus of 1918." (See update below.)

In that blog, I described the Spanish Flu which ravaged the United States at the end of WWI, adding "Wherever this strain of influenza came from, it effected everyday life and must have been on everyone's mind, even little Louise Brooks, who was born in Cherryvale, Kansas in 1906. By all accounts, she was a healthy child, but on November 29, 1917 the Cherryvale Republican newspaper reported that Brooks had been out of school for more than a month due to illness. The nature of her illness is not known, though given the historical context, one might suspect a serious case of the flu."

Garfield school building in 1913

In the previous blog, I also supplied the clipping from the Cherryvale newspaper, which actually ran twice, the first time on November 23, and the second time on November 29. The wording on each news bit was the same, even down to Louise's expected "return next Monday." The November 23rd clipping is shown below.

Philip Vorwald emailed with some additional details, including scans of Louise's report card from the time. Of course, they don't tell us from what the 11 year old suffered - scarlet fever has also been suggested - but they do show just how long Louise was out of school.

Philip wrote, "After I read your blog today, I went back to her report cards from elementary school in Cherryvale, and found the absent days in sixth grade, 1917-1918....

There are six "six week" periods of the 1917-1918 school year. Louise's report card shows her completely missing the "2nd" six week school period; no grades at all. Curiously, no absent days are recorded either though. If the "1st" six week period began at the beginning of September, then this missing "2nd" period would have begun in the third week of October, 1917, and run through November, which now matches the November 29 description of five weeks, and back to school."

Whatever caused Louise to be out of school for so long is uncertain, but it must have been worrisome for her parents. The Brooks family left Cherryvale for Independence in the summer of 1918. The Independence newspaper reported that Louise enrolled in school on September 8, 1918. (For more on LB's daily life at the time, see "Louise Brooks: Day by Day 1906-1939 part 1" on the Louise Brooks Society website.)

Despite a sense of normalcy, the flu effected daily life throughout much of 1918 and into 1919. Articles like this appeared in the local newspaper.

UPDATE: Documentary filmmaker Charlotte Siller has identified the illness which led to Louise Brooks missing school as typhoid fever.

Want to know how the Spanish Flu effected your hometown in 1918? If you have access to newspapers.com or newspaperarchive.com, or if your local library has digital access to the later, or a run of your local newspaper from the time - try doing a search using the year 1918 and the keyword "influenza."

Monday, March 9, 2020

Louise Brooks and the Coronavirus of 1918

The 1918 influenza pandemic, which was colloquially known as "Spanish flu" or the "grip," was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving the H1N1 influenza virus. It is thought to have lasted between January 1918 and December 1920, and infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the world population. The worldwide death toll is estimated to have been between 17 million and 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. Among the dead were an estimated 675,000 Americans.

It is not known for sure were the disease came from, though at the time it was suggested Spain - which was especially hard hit, hence the name Spanish flu. Others claim France or Austria - then in the grip of the first World War, as the point of origin. And still others now claim the epidemic originated in the United States, specifically Kansas. In fact, the location of the first recorded outbreak of the flu pandemic in the United States was in Haskell County, located in the Southwest part of the state. It has also been claimed that, by late 1917, there had already been a first wave of the epidemic in at least 14 US military camps, some of them located in Kansas and nearby Oklahoma.

U.S. Army photo of the influenza ward at Camp Funston, Kansas, showing the many patients ill with the flu.
Wherever this strain of influenza came from, it effected everyday life and must have been on everyone's mind, even little Louise Brooks, who was born in Cherryvale, Kansas in 1906. By all accounts, she was a healthy child, but on November 29, 1917 the Cherryvale Republican newspaper reported that Brooks had been out of school for more than a month due to illness. The nature of her illness is not known, though given the historical context, one might suspect a serious case of the flu.

Brooks and her family knew soldiers serving in the war. In fact, the Cherryvale newspaper reported that Louise had helped at a social gathering in February, 1918 to welcome home a family friend, Sergeant Lee Douthat, who was stationed in Camp Doniphan, in Oklahoma. Louise was also present in March, 1918 when her cousin, Robert Rude, visited the Brooks’ home while on furlough from the same Camp Doniphan. The war was not just "over there."

In July, 1918 the local newspaper reported that the Brooks family was packing their household in preparation of moving from Cherryvale to Independence. The move, the paper stated, was being made so that the Brooks children could take advantage of better school facilities in the larger Kansas town. Wherever they lived, however, the local newspapers were filled with articles like this, which was printed in the Independence newspaper in October, 1918.

Louise Brooks loved going to the movies, even as a preteen. Highlighted in the article above was the notice that the movie houses in Independence would be closed until further notice (as they were most everywhere around the country). Group gatherings were discouraged, and generally banned.


As the influenza spread throughout the population, local papers reported on those who had gotten sick and those who had died, including, eventually V. L. Wagner, the owner of the three movie theaters in town. There were also reports of young soldiers - the sons of Independence parents - dying in army camps across the country; a popular high school athlete passed away, as did local citizens from all walks of life. Daily life at the time must have been an anxious, even frightening experience.

I could post dozens of similar newspaper clippings, some of which are heart wrenching, like the letter home from a young soldier who described conditions at the camp where he was quarantined and how his fellow soldiers were dying in rapid succession. As a precocious teen, and as someone who read, young Louise was likely aware of much of the suffering and sorrow which surrounded her.

Eventually, the influenza abated, and the various prohibitions against people gathering were lifted. The day after Louise's 12th birthday, the Evening Star ran a story announcing "Influenza Ban is Lifted."

As the article suggests, life began to return to something like normal. Brooks returned to school. And the movie theaters reopened. On September 2, 1919 Brooks attended a showing of Boots, starring Dorothy Gish, at the Best theatre in Independence. And on September 5 she took in You Never Saw Such a Girl, starring Vivian Martin, at the Best theatre. The occasion was Paramount's annual better motion pictures week.

Louise Brooks in Independence in 1919
If you want to learn more about the influenza of 1918 and how it affected America, I would strongly recommend the PBS "American Experience" documentary "Influenza 1918."

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Louise Brooks film Beggars of Life to show in UK on March 15

The Stroud Film Festival has announced that the 1928 Louise Brooks film, Beggars of Life, will be shown on Sunday, March 15, 2020 at the Lansdown Hall in Lansdown, England. This special screening, with live musical accompaniment, is being presented by the Lansdown Film Club. More information and ticket availability can be found HERE.

The promoter's description of this event reads thus: "Silent movie with live musical accompaniment composed and played by luminary of American old-time country music, Kate Lissauer with arguably the UK’s finest Bluegrass guitarist, Jason Titley, plus internationally awarded 5-string banjo great, Leon Hunt. Beggars of Life directed by William Wellman the year after he made Wings (first film to win an Academy Award) is a tense drama about a girl (Louise Brooks) dressed as a boy who flees the law after killing her abusive stepfather. With the help of a young hobo, she rides the rails through a male dominated underworld in which danger is close at hand. Picture Play magazine in 1920’s described the film as 'Sordid, grim and unpleasant,' adding, 'it is nevertheless interesting and is certainly a departure from the usual movie.' If you like country music and iconic silent movies, this is a rare treat not to be missed… ."

A brief write-up about the event in the local Gloucester Punchline stated, unusually so, "It's a silent classic western starring, unusually for the time, a woman in the lead role. Louise Brooks was big news at the time and still has a number of followers."

Want to learn more about this outstanding drama? In 2017, I authored Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film. My book grew out of the considerable research I did for the audio commentary which I provided for the Kino Lorber DVD / Blu-ray release of the film that same year.

This first ever study of Beggars of Life looks at the film Oscar-winning director William Wellman thought his finest silent movie. Based on Jim Tully’s bestselling book of hobo life—and filmed by Wellman the year after he made Wings (the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar), Beggars of Life is a riveting drama about an orphan girl (screen legend Louise Brooks) who kills her abusive stepfather and flees the law. She meets a boy tramp (leading man Richard Arlen), and together they ride the rails through a dangerous hobo underground ruled over by Oklahoma Red (future Oscar winner Wallace Beery). Beggars of Life showcases Brooks in her best American silent—a film the Cleveland Plain Dealer described as “a raw, sometimes bleeding slice of life.”

My book features 15,000 words of text and more than 50 little seen images, as well as a foreword by actor William Wellman, Jr., son of the legendary director. The book is available from amazon.com, B&N and select independent bookstores in the United States. Both my book and the Kino disc are also available on amazon.com in the United Kingdom. On the UK amazon site the book has received two 5 star ratings, with readers stating:

"A great companion to go with the film, Thomas is the go to man for anything Louise Brooks."

"It's a very fine and informative small book about [the] Wellman movie Beggars of Life."


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