Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pandora's Box for sale, belonged to producer of Louise Brooks film

Here is something you don't see every day.... An early edition copy of Frank Wedekind's Pandora's Box has come up for sale. What makes it unusual is not its age, though vintage copies of the classic play are uncommon. Rather, what makes this copy special is that it once belonged to Seymour Nebenzal, the producer of the 1929 G.W. Pabst directed film Pandora's Box, starring Louise Brooks. Not surprisingly, the seller is asking a premium. The book is for sale on eBay.

This likely second printing of the play also has Seymour Nebenzal's bookplate.

Seymour Nebenzal got into film production through his father Heinrich Nebenzahl. In 1926, Heinrich Nebenzahl and director-producer Richard Oswald founded the company Nero-Film. (That was the company that released Pandora's Box.) As head of this company, Seymour Nebenzal became one of the most important producers during the German transition from silent to sound film. Besides Pabst, he worked with the directors Douglas Sirk, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Fritz Lang among others. His European credits include People on Sunday (1930), Westfront 1918 (1930), Threepenny Opera (1931), M (1931), Kameradschaft (1931), L'Atlantide (1932), and Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933). Four of the aforementioned films were directed by Pabst.

In 1933, the Nazis forced him into exile. In Paris, he produced films by other German exiles such as Robert Siodmak (his cousin), as well as Max Ophüls and Anatole Litvak. In 1939, he went on to Hollywood where he became one of the first independent producers and worked with some of the same directors he worked with in Europe, namely Edgar G. Ulmer, Douglas Sirk, Léonide Moguy, Arthur Ripley, and Albert S. Rogell.

Speaking of Pandora's Box.... I own a number of copies of the Wedekind play, from early German editions to a first edition of the first American translation (both in softcover and hardback) to later translations and reprints to Eric Bentley's recent Monster Tragedy. Each feature something a little different - a translation, an introduction, or illustrations. (I especially treasure editions which depict or discuss Louise Brooks.) Earlier today I received in the mail the latest volume which I will add to my small collection. This hardcover volume, Five Tragedies of Sex, features translations of Wedekind's plays by Frances Fawcett and Stephen Spender (the noted English poet). Here is a picture of my new treasure, which I purchased through eBay.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Louise Brooks - Two Parallel Lives by Laura Scaramozzino

I just became aware of a new book, Louise Brooks. Due vite Parallele (Louise Brooks: Two Parallel Lives) by Laura Scaramozzino. From what I can tell, it's an Italian noir fantasy novel in which features a character named Louise Brooks. 

The publisher's description reads: "Louise Brooks è una giovane attrice. Vive a Hollywood ed è un'esponente del Nuovo Cinema Impulsoriale: un'elaborazione moderna del cinema muto del passato. Dopo una notte trascorsa in compagnia della collega Greta, riceve sul cellulare un messaggio inquietante: Edmond J. Lermann è morto. La ragazza non conosce nessuno con quel nome e quando prova a risalire al mittente del messaggio fallisce nell'intento. Grazie a Internet, Louise scopre che l'uomo esiste ed è morto davvero, ucciso con un colpo di pistola a Torino, in Italia, e che era originario della sua cittadina natale: Cherryvalle nel Kansas. Inizia così un'avventura in cui la giovane attrice si trova costretta a fare i conti con il proprio passato. C'è una voce che la perseguita da quando aveva otto anni. Una minaccia che non l'ha mai abbandonata e recita: 'Questa bambina è mia'."

Which in rough translation reads: "Louise Brooks is a young actress. She lives in Hollywood and is an exponent of the New Impulsive Cinema: a modern elaboration of the silent cinema of the past. After a night spent in the company of her colleague Greta, she receives a disturbing message on his cell phone: Edmond J. Lermann is dead. The girl does not know anyone with that name and when she tries to trace the sender of the message she fails. Thanks to the Internet, Louise discovers that the man exists and really died, killed with a gunshot in Turin, Italy, and that he was originally from his hometown: Cherryvalle, Kansas. Thus began an adventure in which the young actress is forced to deal with her past. There is a rumor that has haunted her since she was eight years old. A threat that has never left her and says: 'This girl is mine'."

Apparently, the novel - which is something of a genre bender - has a contemporary setting, and in it silent films are still being made, though with contemporary methods. The book is being described as a noir thriller with elements of science fiction and fantasy. However, the fact that the novel's character is an actress named Louise Brooks, and she has a connection to Cherryvale (including an incident of sexual abuse), links the book to the historic silent film star.

image via Facebook
I don't know much about the author, Laura Scaramozzino. As best as I can figure, she has two other Italian books to her credit, including Screaming Dora (2019), which was published by Watson, the same publisher as Louise Brooks: Two Parallel Lives. I sent her an email with a few questions, but have yet to hear back.... I hope the book gets translated into English, as I would like to read it. There is an air of mystery about it that seems intriguing. An Italian-language review of the book, by Fabio Orrico, can be found HERE. Orrico concludes his review by stating, "Laura Scaramozzino, in a span of just over a hundred pages, links stories and history, realism and fantasy, elaboration of mourning and revenge." (This might make for a good Quentin Tarantino film.)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Three of a kind - More on Louise Brooks and Colleen Moore and Clara Bow

A follow-up to my previous post on Louise Brooks and Colleen Moore and Clara Box . . . and a brief excerpt from volume 1 of my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks. The previous post, which I recommend everyone check out if they haven't already, concerned the regular  comparison made of Louise Brooks with Colleen Moore and Clara Bow. Such comparisons were not limited to the United States. In fact, they were made in Brazil, Finland and other countries. Here are a couple-three examples.

Just as Louise Brooks was sometimes compared to and even mistaken for Colleen Moore because of  their similar look, the actress was also sometimes paired with Clara Bow due to their not dissimilar screen personas – that of the flapper or modern young woman. This Paramount magazine ad from Brazil notes each actress' role in three films, including Brooks' role in Glorifying the American Girl. Despite being long considered for a role in the Florenz Ziegfeld-produced film, Brooks never appeared in its 1929 release (nor did Bow, who was also considered).

The Central and Republica theaters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil knew they were onto something special when they promoted "two stars in one day" featuring the "seductive" Bow and the "charming" Brooks – each featured in newly released Paramount films. Not sure which film or actress to choose? This newspaper ad suggests moviegoers must "decide for yourself".

This Finnish magazine portrait describes the “renowned Paramount star Louise Brooks” as a “self-assured flapper type” and a mix of both Clara Bow and Colleen Moore.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Louise Brooks and Colleen Moore and Clara Bow too

In my last blog, I included a couple of 1934 clippings about Sue Read, a pretty, bob-haired young radio singer who was said to resemble Colleen Moore and Louise Brooks. It was an apt comparison, as the soprano and both actresses were pretty in a similar way, and both sported short, sharp bobs.

Colleen Moore
The Sue Read comparison was far from the first time that Brooks and Moore were spoken of together. Over the years, I have come across a number of instances of the two actresses being paired and compared. Usually, the association had to do with their similar hairstyle. And too, both played flappers on screen.

Another actress with whom Brooks was sometimes compared was Clara Bow. And again, over the years I have come across a number of instances of the two actresses being paired and compared in newspapers and magazines published not only in the United States, but also around the world. In fact, a few pages in my forthcoming two volume work, Around the World with Louise Brooks, addresses the Louise Brooks / Colleen Moore  & Clara Bow nexus.

I mention all this because just recently I came across a few clippings that take the Brooks and Bow comparison to a new length. In July 1927, the Selma Times in Selma, Alabama ran a couple of pieces on the local showing of It's the Old Army Game. And in both clippings, Brooks was described as Clara Bow's double!

"Clara Bow has taken the American public by storm with her personality and pep -- and now comes along the clever little Louise Brooks whom critics acclaim her nearest double." This copy was, no doubt, supplied by Paramount -- the studio for whom both actresses worked -- or some allied publicist. The above piece goes on to described Brooks as "Pert, pretty, peppy, snappy, talented, happy and 'bound to get there'."

Another piece which ran a couple of days later also described Brooks as Clara Bow's double, despite the fact that Brooks better resembled Colleen Moore rather than Bow, who was a vivacious redhead who sported a somewhat different hairstyle. In this second piece, Brooks is described as "piquant pert little Louise Brooks." It also mentions that Brooks, or is it Bow, "who takes in the local sheiks."

I think the "double" comment had more to do with a perceived similarity in personality, rather than physical appearance. It's too bad that the two actresses never appeared in a film together. The closest they ever came to doing so was in It's the Old Army Game -- Brooks replaced Bow -- and in the original casting of Glorifying the American Girl, in which both were set to star. The latter film was made later with an entirely different cast.

Had the two starred together in a film, they would have ignited the screen - talk about flammable nitrate! Both had "IT". They would have also offered a study in .....

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A few bits about Louise Brooks and Tulsa (and Sue Read)

The other day, I was thinking about Louise Brooks and Tulsa.... and whatever connections there may be between the actress and the Oklahoma city. The earliest mention of Brooks in one of the Tulsa newspapers occurred in 1922, when the Tulsa World ran an item about the 15 year old in its "All Over Oklahoma and Neighboring States" column. Under Kansas news, the Tulsa paper reported an item out of Independence.

As a member of Denishawn, Brooks also visited the city. The young dancer and future actress was just 17 years old at the time. The occasion was a Monday, February 4, 1924 evening performance by the Denishawn dancers at the city's Convention Hall - (less than three years after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre). There was considerable interest in the event, which a local newspaper called one of the "treats of the season." Brooks was one of the company of 26.

Of course, most all of Brooks' silent and sound films showed in Tulsa, Oklahoma when first released in the 1920s and 1930s. One curious piece I came across just the other day appeared in Radio News Guide, a regional publication published in Tulsa about the then new medium of radio. It highlights a young soprano, Sue Read, who bears a striking resemblance to Brooks, a resemblance commented on in the clipping.

[I wondered whatever happened to her, but couldn't find much. Apparently, she continued to sing and make radio appearances throughout the 1930s and 1940s. She also made appearances at local clubs and events in the 1940 and late 1950s in and around Pennsylvania. If she is the same Sue Read, she was a former Powers model and a descendant of George Read, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.] The same picture of Sue Read appeared in The Microphone, a weekly New England publication which billed itself as the "Original Radio Newspaper."

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A bit more from Around the World with Louise Brooks via the USA

As I blogged just recently, most all of the material in my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks, have been sourced from international publications. The only exception is a chapter from volume one, "Mit Anderen Worten: Louise Brooks en los Estados Unidos," or "In Other Words: Louise Brooks in the United States." That chapter surveys the actress and her career through the voices of America's many non-English language ethnic and emigre newspapers and magazines.

To date, I have come across a handful of Spanish-American and German-American newspapers and magazines, as well as Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Yiddish and Japanese language American newspapers -- all of which carried material of interest. In each, I have found multiple examples of articles about Louise Brooks, advertisements for her films, and other "interesting" stuff. Much of it will go into Around the World with Louise Brooks. I also found a single advertisement for a Brooks' film, Evening Clothes, in a Slovenian-American newspaper, and it to has found its way into my book.

Another single instance find is an article which only mentions Brooks which was published in a Danish-American newspaper. Since it only references the actress, I won't be including it in the book besides mentioning it. Instead, I thought I would present it here, as it has such an interesting backstory.

This article, "Ungdom og Stjernetitler" or "Youth and Stars," was published in Bien, a weekly Danish language newspaper published in San Francisco, California. The article appeared on a page of news about Los Angeles and California, and was penned by Erling Bergendahl, a young Norwegian writer who lived for a short time in the United States. This piece was one of two Bergendahl penned for Bien about Hollywood. (BACKSTORY ASIDE: Bergendahl was mention two other times in this Danish-American newspaper. The first time was in 1925 in regards to a lecture or talk he gave in Minneapolis. The second time was in December of 1927 in regards, apparently, to a party he attended at Jean Hersholdt's home at which Swedish actor Lars Hanson was also present. In this later piece, Bergendahl was described as an author.)

Dated January 1928 (though published in a June issue), Bergendahl's "Youth and Stars" looks at the film careers of a handful of up-and-coming Paramount actors, including Ruth Taylor, Charles Rogers, Nancy Carrol, Richard Arlen, Louise Brooks, Gary Cooper, Fay Wray, James Hall, Lene Chandler, Mary Brian and Jack Luden. Bergendahl assesses each actor. In a paragraph on Richard Arlen, Bergendahl states, "Louise Brooks, Arlens Hustru, har ikke haft nogen særlig optræden endnu, og forfatteren av denne artikel har ingéh ovedreven tro paa hendes stjernefremtid. Det samme gjælder James Hall," which translates into English as "Louise Brooks, Arlen's partner, hasn't had any special performances yet, and the author of this article has no great belief in her future stardom. The same goes for James Hall." Fair enough, as Brooks' best performances - including A Girl in Every Port and Beggars of Life and her three European films, were still ahead of her.

Not long after this piece was written, Bergendahl - broke and homesick, returned to Norway after being lent money for the passage by a friend, the Czech-born American talent agent and producer Paul Kohner. (BACKSTORY ASIDE: Among his various credits, Kohner was an associate producer of the 1930 American version of G.W. Pabst's 1929 film White Hell of Pitz Palu, which was released by Universal and once played on a bizarre double bill in Hollywood with the 1931 Brooks' film, It Pays to Advertise. As a Czech-emigre, Kohner was also friendly with another Czech-born talent tied to Pabst, actor Franz Lederer. Brooks'  Pandora's Box co-star and Kohner were friends in Hollywood in the early 1930s.)

Small world, you might say. But here is where things get interesting all over again.... Kohner was also the future husband of Mexican-American actress Lupita Tovar, one of the stars of the Spanish-language version of Dracula. According to the 2010 book, Lupita Tovar the Sweetheart of Mexico, by Pancho Kohner, when "asked how he could repay the kindness [of the loan],  Paul suggested an introduction to Bergendahl's friend, the Norwegian Nobel Prize-winning author, Knut Hamsun. On his next trip to Europe, Paul and Erling visited Hamsun on his farm, south of Oslo. Hamsun was grateful for Paul's generosity to his young friend, so when Paul ashed if he could buy the film rights to his book Victoria, Hamsun said yes." (BACKSTORY ASIDE: Hamsun is considered a pioneer of literary modernism best known today for his 1890 novel Hunger. It has been reprinted many times, including once in 1998 in an edition which included an introduction by Paul Auster, author of Lulu on the Bridge. Hamsun's 1898 novel, Victoria, has also proved popular; it has been made into a film seven times. The first film adaption appeared in 1917, and the last nearly 100 years later in 2013 in a version produced by Pancho Kohner.)

Bergendahl's friendship with Hamsun wasn't his only literary connection. In the early 1930s, he  worked on a couple of Norwegian features, directing one and producing another. Bergendahl wrote and co-directed Lalla vinner!, a Norwegian adventure story, in 1932. The following year, he produced Cheer Up!, an important but little known avant-garde backstage musical comedy directed by Tancred Ibsen (the grandson of two of Norway’s most famous nineteenth-century writers, dramatist Henrik Ibsen and Nobel Prize winner Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson). Cheer Up!, originally titled Op med hodet, is a fascinating, bold, experimental work well worth checking out. However, it failed upon release in Norway and Bergendahl's film career pretty much ended with it. Later, he went on to become a successful businessman, representing Columbia Pictures and acting as President of the Norwegian Film Producer's Association. (Bergendahl may have also directed or somehow been involved in a film which aided the post-WWII recovery in Norway, as this clipping from Bien seems to suggests.)

I couldn't find a picture of  Erling Bergendahl to include with this blog, but I found his life story an interesting one - one spurred on by an ever so slight connection, a thread really, with Louise Brooks.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Giving it away at a Louise Brooks screening

I suppose we have all heard about how, in the past, theatres would give away things for free in order to lure viewers. I remember my mother, who as a girl and young women went to the movies in the 1930s and 1940s, telling me about the films she went to see where the theatre gave away dinnerware and silverware. The give away was usually one piece at a time, so you had to go to the movies pretty regularly to build a set.

In the past, while searching for yet more material about Louise Brooks and her film, I have run across a few advertisements in which a theatre was giving away a dinner plate or piece of silverware in conjunction with the showing of a Brooks film. Last night I found something wholly new. I found a couple of advertisements for a theatre in Brooklyn which was giving away gold. This first example, shown below, promotes a February 4, 1927 showing of Love Em & Leave Em at which $5.00 in gold would be given away for free every evening.

Today, $5.00 may not seem like much; that amount couldn't get you into a movie theatre. But back in 1927, when ticket prices were either 5 or 10 cents, it was a good deal of money. In fact, $5.00 in 1927 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $73.68 in 2020, a difference of $68.68 over 93 years. Here is another example of a gold giveaway from September 1927.

It seems as though the Monroe theater discontinued its gold giveaway promotion sometime around 1928, as the Brooks' films I found advertised then, such as A Girl in Every Port and Beggars of Life, do not mention the practice.

It's interesting that Brooks is listed first, ahead of the male star, in both of these ads. Especially so in regards to Love Em and Leave Em, where Evelyn Brent - who is not mentioned, was considered the lead star in the picture. It is also interesting that the Monroe really had to sell itself, offering not only gold but also "first class pictures" and a "new orchestra." Both ads date to more than two years before the Depression, when times were still good.

According to Cinema Treasures website, the Monroe was a single screen, nearly 500 seat venue which started as a vaudeville house (in 1915?) and later, by 1926, was showing films. (Check the Cinema Treasures page for photos of the exterior of the building.) The Monroe closed decades later, and has since been demolished.

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