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.

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