Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Louise Brooks - the year in review 2020

It has been quite a year. 

Louise Brooks passed away 35 years ago, but still there is considerable interest in this singular dancer, silent film actress, & writer. This year, 2020, saw new articles, books, DVDs and despite the pandemic,  a few screenings and a major film retrospective. And too, Brooks' name and image continues to pop up here and there in the realms of fashion and popular culture, proving she remains a memorable 20th century icon.

At year's end, I thought it would be a good time to look back at 2020 through the prism of the LBS blog and some of the articles about the actress that have appeared on-line. Most of the headlines below come from this blog, with exceptions noted. The most recent news-worthy headlines are given first. Happy new year from the Louise Brooks Society, let's hope it's a good one, without any fear....

Update on Around the World with Louise Brooks, forthcoming in 2021 provided we all survive the pandemic

Beggars of Life, starring Louise Brooks, screens in theatre December 27 

Little seen Louise Brooks film The Show Off to screen in Australia 

New Louise Brooks novel released in Switzerland

"Lulu Forever: the 2020 Louise Brooks FilmPodium Retrospective (Zurich)" by Thomas Gladysz (Film International)

Louise Brooks - Lulu and Beyond online event with Pamela Hutchinson on October 28 

Once Lost Louise Brooks Film Now Online - Watch it NOW  

New Louise Brooks DVD - Prix de beaute released in Italy

"The Last Days of Louise Brooks" by Jan-Christopher Horak (Archival Spaces: Memory, Images, History, scroll down

Jack Garner, longtime film critic and friend to Louise Brooks, dies

"Double Lives: On Louise Brooks’s 'Thirteen Women in Films'” by Maya Cantu (Los Angeles Review of Books)

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

Louise Brooks - Two Parallel Lives by Laura Scaramozzino  

Richard Sala (1959-2020), friend of the Louise Brooks Society  

As seen on TV - Louise Brooks the Persistent Star gets screen time during LA news story  

Louise Brooks retrospective in Switzerland postponed 

Louise Brooks locations tour postponed until 2021  

Louise Brooks Society announcement regarding RadioLulu 

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

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

Louise Brooks Onscreen in Hollywood!

Pandora's Box starring Louise Brooks at Cinema City in Norwich, England  

Louise Brooks inspired film The Chaperone shows in Australia  

Diary of a Lost Girl, starring Louise Brooks, screens in Tulsa, Oklahoma 

New G.W. Pabst DVD Blu-ray set features Louise Brooks

Frank Martin signed etching of Louise Brooks for sale

Louise Brooks screening and booksigning at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles

New Book on German Cinema features Louise Brooks 

In the summer of 1995, I posted my first webpages about Louise Brooks and proclaimed the formation of a society dedicated to the silent film star. That was 25 years ago, at the beginning of the internet. The Louise Brooks Society is a pioneering website. It was the first site devoted to Brooks, one of the very first about silent film, and one of the earliest related to the movies. I am proud that I have kept it going to this day, making the LBS one of the older websites around.

At the beginning of this year, I was looking forward to this summer and celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Louise Brooks Society. But now, with all that has happened in 2020 — things I could not have imagined in January or February, I am resigned to merely marking the occasion. The pandemic, and Trump's failure to help the nation get through it, has certainly sucked the air out of the room. Who feels like celebrating when one is only trying to get by.... Happy 25th anniversary to the Louise Brooks Society.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Louise Brooks biopic screens on PBS in NYC on December 31

Is The Chaperone, the Louise Brooks biopic about her early days as a dancer, becoming a new holiday TV favorite? The PBS produced film made its television debut in 2019 just before Thanksgiving, with encore showings around the country on Thanksgiving day. And now, this year, The Chaperone is set to air again on at least one station on December 31, New Year's Eve. 

Many PBS stations have not yet released their program schedule for the end of this month, but one that has, WNET in New York City, is set to show The Chaperone at year's end. Here is their announcement.

New Year’s Eve TV

Stay in, stay healthy, and say goodbye to 2020 on Thursday, December 31.

Ring in the new year with United in Song: Celebrating the Resilience of America (Thursday, December 31, 8 p.m.), featuring Anna Deavere Smith and Denyce Graves. Say goodbye to 2020 with a concert celebrating the irrepressible strength of Americans. From the enormity of COVID-19 to the presence of social injustice, this special evening brings us together in the pursuit of our uniting as one America.

The special is followed by encores of two Masterpiece series. The Chaperone (Thursday, December 31, 9:30 p.m.) is a fictionalized story of young Louise Brooks leaving Kansas to pursue a dance career in New York City, escorted by her aunt, played by Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey).  

My Mother and Other Strangers (Thursday, December 31, 11:30 p.m.) is set in Northern Ireland during World War II. A village is transformed by the presence of American soldiers at the nearby base.

The Chaperone is based on Laura Moriarty’s 2012 New York Times bestselling novel. It tells the story of the summer a teenage Brooks left her Kansas home and headed off to New York City, where she studied dance at Denishawn.The show reunites several individuals associated with the hit PBS series, Downton Abbey. Among them is Julian Fellowes, who scripted Downton Abbey and adapted The Chaperone, and Elizabeth McGovern, who starred in the TV series and produced and stars in The Chaperone. Michael Engler, who directed episodes of the TV show as well as the Downton Abbey film, directed The Chaperone.

The BIG star of The Chaperone is Haley Lu Richardson, a talented young actress who plays Brooks in what I think was an Oscar worthy performance. She is charming, vivacious, and even inspiring. And what's more, I think Richardson gets Brooks. I think she really captures Brooks' spirit. I like the film, and am pleased to own it on DVD. My long article on the film, "Never the Victim: Louise Brooks and The Chaperone," was published on Film International. Please do check it out.

The Chaperone is an inspiring, holiday worthy film because it is essentially a story about overcoming adversity, about redemption, and hope. It is about making something of one's self when you doubted you could. Those who know Brooks' life story will know what I am talking about. If you haven't had a chance to see the film, track it down streaming online, on DVD, or on television.

Friday, December 25, 2020

On Christmas Day in 1927, Louise Brooks celebrates with friends and co-stars

On Christmas Day in 1927, according to various press accounts, Louise Brooks was a guest at the home of Wallace Beery.

Irene Thirer wrote in the New York Daily News about celebrity plans for celebrating Christmas. Among the guests Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Beery are expected to share the holiday are Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Hatton and "Eddie Sutherland and his lovely wife, Louise Brooks." Other newspapers across the country report the same. Rosalind Shaffer's syndicated Chicago Tribune piece, "Lavish Entertainments Mark Christmas in Hollywood," notes "Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Beery have a venison feast off a dear that Wallace killed for their day's feature. Raymond Hatton, Mrs. Hatton, Louise Brooks and Eddie Sutherland, her husband, dine with the Beerys."

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Happy Holidays from the Louise Brooks Society

Happy Holidays from the Louise Brooks Society. Below is a snapshot of the Louise Brooks Chirstmas bulb which hangs on my X-Mas tree. It has done so for a long time.... It is handmade, and crafted by a fan; I believe I purchased it on eBay a number of years ago -- perhaps as long ago as ten or fifteen years? Does anyone else have hand made Louise Brooks ornaments?If so, please share.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Reminder - Beggars of Life, starring Louise Brooks, screens in Wilton, New Hampshire on December 27

REMINDER: In person / in theatre screenings of films featuring Louise Brooks are few and far between these days. But happily, one of the actress' best films will be shown a few days from today. 

On Sunday, December 27th, Beggars of Life (1928) starring Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen, and Wallace Beery will be shown at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, New Hampshire. Admission is free though a $10.00 donations are encouraged to defray expenses - this special event will feature live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis. More information may be found HERE.

The theatre description of the film reads: "Classic late silent drama starring Louise Brooks as a train-hopping hobo who dresses like a boy to survive. After escaping her violent stepfather, Nancy (Brooks) befriends kindly drifter Jim (Richard Arlen). They ride the rails together until a fateful encounter with the blustery Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery) and his rambunctious band of hoboes, leading to daring, desperate conflict on top of a moving train."

  For those thinking of attending, here are the theatre's Covid 19 rules:

    If you are coughing or have any symptoms of cold or illness, STAY HOME!
    Note the staggered start times of the movies. Plan to arrive earlier than in the past to allow for hand sanitizing and temperature checks. Social distancing must be maintained in the ticket/concession area. Showing up 5 minutes before the film starts is not a good idea!
    Temperature checks will be conducted while purchasing your ticket.
    Social Distancing is required ANYWHERE in the building. Be considerate of others, especially while in the Ticket and Concession area.
    Seating capacity is reduced and is not reserved or blocked. YOU are responsible for Social Distancing within the Theatre. Arrive early to get your spot. Be considerate of others.
    Masks/Face Coverings are required (and not provided by the theatre) when moving within the building and STRONGLY SUGGESTED while seated.
    Please wash your hands at the Hand Sanitizer Station in the Lobby.
    The theatre reserves the right to re-seat you, or ask you to leave if you are not complying with the rules, to maintain a safe experience for the other patrons.

Can't make this New Hampshire event? Want to learn more about Louise Brooks and Beggars of Life? My book, Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film, as well as the DVD / Blu-ray of the film from Kino Lorber, are the perfect compliment to one another. And what's more, the DVD, featuring the best copy of the film available anywhere as well as the lively Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra score, also includes an informative audio commentary by your's truly!

My 106-page book on 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 (played by 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.” This first ever study of Beggars of Life includes more than 50 little seen images, and a foreword by actor and author William Wellman, Jr. (the director's son).

If you haven't purchased a copy of either the book or the DVD / Blu-ray, why not do so today? Each is an essential addition to your Louise Brooks collection.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Update on Around the World with Louise Brooks, forthcoming in 2021 provided we all survive the pandemic

At the beginning of this year, I was determined to finish my book project, Around the World with Louise Brooks, by the end of the year. I had by then accumulated a few hundred pages of draft material, and was managing to keep a steady, near daily pace of writing and editing, selecting images, fact checking, and writing and editing. And then the pandemic struck. . . . And despite the fact that I was sticking close to home and had extra time on my hands, anxiety about the future (and Trump's grievous mishandling of just about everything) dampened my enthusiasm about nearly everything. A pall hung in the air. 

Work on the project slowed, and though I have made a good deal of progress, the finish line still looks a ways off. Alas, Around the World with Louise Brooks won't be completed by the end of the year. Thus, I am pushing back the book's expected publication date, to the Summer or Fall of 2021. That should give me the time and the (mental) space to complete this large work, my most ambitious project yet. With that said, I wanted to give everyone an update on where things stand, and to share a bit of what I have so far accomplished. I hope you will be intrigued. 

As I have mentioned previously, Around the World with Louise Brooks will be a two volume work. Each thick volume will be oversized, measuring 8 x 10 inches. The first volume will be devoted to "The Actress," and the second volume to "The Films". I expect each to run around 450 to 500 pages, perhaps more, with each featuring hundreds of images and some 50,000+ words of text. Lately, I have been concentrating on the first volume, and have put together 45,000 words of text spread over 469 pages. For the second volume, I have less accomplished but still have 20,000 words written and 484 pages compiled. Always in fear of project creep, I am trying to keep everything in focus, and I may end up cutting things here and there. Here are the expected covers for each volume.


At this reduced size, the background text on each cover is a little hard to make out. However, I can tell you that the background text design is based on material drawn from each book. The text on the cover of volume one features variant versions of Brooks' name from around the world, while volume two features alternative foreign titles for Brooks' films. What follows is some descriptive copy I wrote about each book.

Around the World with Louise Brooks (volume 1), The Actress  

Louise Brooks was known by many names: in Czechoslovakia she was Louise Brooksová, in Latvia Luīze Bruksa, in Russia Луиза Брукс, and in Spain the more familiar Luisa Brooks, except in Catalonia where she was sometimes Loma Brooks. 

Around the World with Louise Brooks is a groundbreaking, two-volume, multilingual look at the life and career of an international icon. Through ephemera and hundreds of vintage magazine and newspaper clippings, this first volume traces the sometimes surprising way the actress was depicted in more than four dozen countries across six continents. Along with collecting dozens of vintage postcards and just as many magazine covers, this volume sketches Brooks' special relationship with Canada, notes her depiction as Modan Gāru in Japan, and documents her inclusion in New Zealand's unique shaped text ads, while a chapter on the United States locates the actress in the pages of America’s non-English ethnic and émigré press. Among the book's many highlights – many of which have not been seen in decades – are Brooks' first portrait in a European publication (dating from before her movie career), her 1929 message to her Japanese fans, and the only known advertisements for King of Gamblers which name the actress – despite the fact she had been cut from American prints of the film. Suggesting she might have included in overseas prints ... ? Around the World with Louise Brooks is a cinematic gazetteer of sorts, taking readers back in time to Australia, Brazil, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Romania, Uruguay and elsewhere.

The chapters in volume one are:

 1    Introduction   
 2    European Soul   
 3    Portrait of a Star   
 4    Postcards of a Star   
 5    Mit Anderen Worten: Louise Brooks en los Estados Unidos
 6    Canada: Neighbor to the North   
 7    New Zealand’s Shaped Text Ads
 8    Louise Brooks as Modan Gāru   
 9    Trade Ads from Around the World     
10   Magazine Covers                 
11   Odds & Ends              
12   Further 

Around the World with Louise Brooks (volume 2), The Films 

Louise Brooks' films were shown just about everywhere – in the Canary Islands, in Iceland and Palestine and Estonia, in Dutch Guiana and French Algeria and British Malaysia. BUT, not all of her films where shown everywhere, and not at the same time, and not under the same title.

Around the World with Louise Brooks is a groundbreaking, two-volume, multilingual look at the transnational career of iconic actress. Through various documents as well as hundreds of vintage newspaper and magazine clippings, this second volume focuses on each of Brooks’ 24 movies, showing when and where and under what title each were shown – from grand movie palaces in Berlin and Bombay to humble open air spaces in Singapore and Darwin (Australia). The little known though rich exhibition history of the German-made Pandora’s Box, the actress’ greatest screen triumph, is newly documented through scarce material from Cuba, Indonesia, Japan, Poland, Portugal, and the Soviet Union. Also well represented are Brooks’ two other European films, Diary of a Lost Girl and the French-made Prix de beauté, each of which circulated with success in Asia and Latin America, with the latter making its way to Haiti, Turkey, Ukraine, and even Madagascar. Along with little seen movie posters from Belgium and Sweden, one of this book's other highlights include a rare still of Brooks in an uncredited part in her first film which was published not in the United States, but elsewhere; there are, as well, newspaper ads documenting the last known public screenings (sometimes years after their first release) of the actress’ now lost movies. Around the World with Louise Brooks is a kind of cinematic travel guide, taking readers not only around the world but also back in time to Argentina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, India, Jamaica, Mexico, and South Africa – as well as to nations which no longer exist and countries yet to be born.

The chapters in volume two are:

 1    Introduction
 2    The Films Around the World
 3    The Street of Forgotten Men
 4    The American Venus through The Show-Off
 5    Love Em and Leave Em and Just Another Blonde
 6    The Four Films from 1927    
 7    A Girl in Every Port through The Canary Murder Case
 8    The Three European Films
 9    Into the Sound Era: The Films of the 1930s  
 10  Further

This two page spread from Around the World with Louise Brooks shows four Dutch-language newspaper ads which were part of a week-long advertising campaign on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia).

Louise Brooks was and still is an international star. And though it borders on being a cliché, it’s true that this singular actress is more popular and better regarded in Europe than she is in the United States, the country of her birth and the place where she made the majority of her films. 


With Around the World with Louise Brooks, my intention is to tell the story of Brooks and her career not as it is usually told – not as Barry Paris so masterly tells it in his acclaimed 1989 biography – but differently, though the collective voice of the world. Gathered in these two volumes are newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, and clippings of all kinds as well as various examples of material culture (postcards, posters, sheet music, publicity manuals and other ephemera) which document the mechanics of Brooks’ stardom. The actress’ international reputation – both popular and critical, is surveyed, as is the manner in which her films were exhibited and reviewed in numerous countries on six continents. 

This "where are they now" type piece comes
from Chile, and is dated to 1932.

Each volume contains more than a handful of images which few if anyone has seen in nearly 90 years. Volume one features rare portraits and productions shots taken in Europe as well as more than 80 different postcards, cigarette cards and other product cards of the actress and more than 70 vintage magazine covers from nearly 20 countries. Volume two includes a full record of all of the alternative / overseas / foreign language titles of Brooks' films, something never before fully documented. As volume two also documents, Brooks' American films were not released overseas on their American release dates; in fact, they were released on different dates in different countries and sometimes one or two or even three years after they were first released in the United States! And sometimes, they were released out of order, with a 1927 films showing ahead of a 1926 film. And sometimes, they were advertised with different artwork, some of it originating overseas, making it a bit different if not unique. (Or in other words, American films were tailored to the audiences to the audiences to which they were shown.)

Most importantly, film titles were often but not always translated into the local language, and sometimes wholly different titles were given to a film. Take for example 1926 film, The American Venus. In England, it was sometimes shown under its American title, but also under The Modern Venus, a significant tweak which might well have been intended to broaden the film's appeal. Another example is Now We're in the Air, the 1927 film starring Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton. The two actors had teamed up for a series of popular comedies, and as a buffoonish duo had earned the nicknames Riff and Raff. In many Spanish speaking countries, the film went by the title Reclutas por los aires, which translates into English as “Recruits in the air.” Similarly, in Sweden, the film was shown under the title Hjältar i luften, which translates into English as “Heroes in the air.” Both of these titles are not so different from the film’s American title. However, in other European countries, the title of the film was changed to some variation on the nicknames of the two main characters. In Austria, Now We're in the Air was shown as Riff und Raff als Luftschiffer, in Greece under the title O Riff kai o Raff aeroporoi, in Romania as Riff es Raffal a foszerepekben, etc…. Notably, I also found that a few films were shown under two or even three alternate titles, and sometimes in different languages in the same country, as when Brooks’ American films was shown in Poland under both a Polish and a German title depending on the ethnicity of the region. In compiling a record of the titles of Brooks’ films in other languages, I never translated a title from English and assumed it was the title used in the past. Instead, I have relied solely on the actual titles found in vintage articles, reviews, or advertisements.

Europe is best represented in these two volumes, with the most material coming from the two countries where Brooks was and still is best regarded, Germany and France. As well, there is a good deal of material from Latin America and the Caribbean, but not as much as I would like from Central America.  Japan and China, as well as Australia, are each well represented, though I wish I could uncover more from Southeast Asia. There are a few clippings from islands in the Pacific ocean. Africa and the Middle East are least represented for reasons I discuss in the book.

A rare German-language advertisement from the Free City of Danzig, present day Gdansk, Poland where the 1929 film Pandora's Box opened at the same time as the 1928 film A Girl in Every Port (Blaue Jungen - Blonde Madchen).

In fact, Around the World with Louise Brooks includes material from 50 of the 77 sovereign states recognized as independent nations in 1930. A few, like Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia, have since split into two or more countries, while others have been renamed or, like the Free City of Danzig, no longer exist as an autonomous entity. Time has not only shifted borders, but also changed how we think of peoples and nations. Included in this two volume work is material from various colonies and protectorates administered by England, France, and The Netherlands – including India and French Indochina (present day Vietnam) and the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia). Additionally, there is a bit of material from territories under the control of the United States, such as the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the then territory of Hawai’i, and the Panama Canal Zone. 

In detailing Brooks' career, I have largely avoided material from the United States. The sole chapter on America, "Mit Anderen Worten: Louise Brooks en los Estados Unidos," is made up of material from non-English language publications – including the German, Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese language press. Like their overseas counterparts, they too offered a different perspective. 

A New York City advertisement from the Jewish Daily Forward

Around the World with Louise Brooks includes all manner of new and unusual information. There is a record of Brooks' travels outside the United States, as well as a bibliographical essay highlighting her inclusion in a surprising number of books published in Europe and elsewhere. With various aspects of Brooks’ career newly revealed, a few commonly held beliefs are called into question. For example, how well received overseas were Brooks’ early American films? And was Brooks herself much noticed? Did director G.W. Pabst cast Brooks as Lulu after seeing her in the Howard Hawks film, A Girl in Every Port, as is often said, or was it some other film? Or not a film at all? (I uncovered a 50 year old account which sheds new light in this question.) Also, was Pandora’s Box as much a failure outside Germany as is sometimes thought? Was Diary of a Lost Girl completely withdrawn from view after it was first censored? Was Prix de beauté as much of an international failure as has also been suggested? And lastly, was it only in France where Brooks’ reputation was revived in the 1950s, or did other countries like Italy and Poland play a role?  Around the World with Louise Brooks sheds light on these questions and reveals a different Louise Brooks. 

Brooks was a significant star in Japan, where most all of her films were well advertised.
Around the World with Louise Brooks contains a number of similar ads, each boldly graphical.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

And a last nifty new Louise Brooks related find #4

During this pandemic era, I continue to stay home and conduct what research I can over the internet. And recently, I came across a few items which I had never seen before. I thought I would share them with readers of this blog. Here is the fourth installment in a short series of new finds.

I have long felt that Louise Brooks carried the shame of her 1924 dismissal from the Denishawn Dance Company for the better part of her life. I think Brooks viewed herself as a dancer, an artist if you will, and her dismissal from the company by Ruth St. Denis -- an artist she early admired, was a cause of personal shame. Brooks rebounded of course, and found work with the George White Scandals and Ziegfeld Follies before moving on to a successful career in the movies. But still, I think, she never really let go of that early humiliation.

I say this because Brooks, to some degree, continued to follow the careers of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. They were long in her thoughts, I believe, and Brooks likely desired some sort of closure, or at least understanding. In a 1964 letter to Jan Wahl, Brooks mentioned that she once attended one of Shawn's classes in 1926, while she was making pictures for Paramount on Long Island. Who knew?

Brooks never again danced with Ruth St. Denis or Ted Shawn, but she did go see them dance in 1949, twenty-five years after she was dismissed from Denishawn. On November 10, 1949, Brooks saw Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn perform "Creative Dances on Ethnic Themes" at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. 

Brooks letters, especially those to Wahl, are sprinkled with references to Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, and Brooks' time with Denishawn. In the same 1964 letter referenced above, Brooks said she had even received an invitation to Jacob's Pillow, where the 50th Golden Wedding anniversary of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn would be celebrated. I don't think she went.

In their later years, Brooks carried on a correspondence with Ted Shawn. Brooks also wrote about her time with Denishawn in her private journals, and in her book, Lulu in Hollywood. Brooks' time with Denishawn was important to her, and as late as 1979, Brooks wrote a letter to dance historian Jane Sherman (herself a one-time Denishawn dancer) saying she believes she was omitted from accounts of Denishawn.

I mention all this because just recently I came across an extraordinary March 1929 Los Angeles clipping which by chance juxtaposes Louise Brooks and Ruth St. Denis. Brooks was starring in The Canary Murder Case, which had just opened. And Ruth St, Denis was dabcing at a venue in Los Angeles. At the time this clipping was published, Brooks was in New York City, so she likely never saw this obscure bit. But I wonder if Ruth St. Denis did, and what she might have thought. The famed dancer did have a clipping service (which gathered publicity from magazines and newspapers, I once had the chance to look through her scrapbooks), and Ruthie may have checked out what press she had received from time to time. If she had seen it, I wonder what went through her mind about her once wayward student?

Friday, December 11, 2020

Mank and Lulu, and contact tracing the origins of Rosebud

In the nearly 80 years since its release, Citizen Kane is still regarded as one of the – if not the greatest film ever made. So much so, a handful of related films have sprung up in its wake, as well as a shelf of books exploring the life and work of the film’s rightly celebrated director, Orson Welles.

The latest is Mank, David Fincher’s cinematic look at the life of hard-drinking screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Its story centers on Mankiewicz’s life as he was writing the script for Citizen Kane (1941), and the difficulties which arose between the screenwriter and Welles, the producer, director and star of the film who is also credited as co-screenwriter. Fincher’s film, which is now streaming on Netflix, is based on a script by his late father, Jack; it stars Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz and Amanda Seyfried in the role of Marion Davies, a famed actress of the time who is widely thought to be the model for a key character in Citizen Kane.

The film is a flashback to a Hollywood that was (and still is) wrestling over creative control . . . . and writing credits. As a look back, a number of Hollywood personalities are portrayed. Besides Marion Davies, also depicted are producer Irving Thalberg and his wife, actress Norma Shearer, studio head Louis B. Mayer, actor John Gilbert, and possibly, obliquely, Charlie Chaplin; there may be others. There are also shout-outs to actors Wallace Beery and Lon Chaney. Louise Brooks is not portrayed or mentioned, but she does have a possible small part to play in the story behind the story of Citizen Kane.

It is not known exactly when or where Brooks and Mankiewicz first met, but the showgirl and the writer likely became acquainted in 1925, around the time Brooks, a dancer in the chorus, was appearing in the Summer edition of the Ziegfeld Follies. According to the Barry Paris biography of Brooks (who cites earlier letters the actress wrote in the 1970s), Brooks’ Follies dressing room was regularly visited by a number of somewhat older men who enjoyed the company of the vivacious 18 year old. Among them were writer Michael Arlen, producer Walter Wanger, film star Charlie Chaplin, and Herman Mankiewicz, then a drama critic for the New York Times.

The showgirl and the writer-critic hit it off. She was a high school dropout with a literary bent. He was a wordsmith, part and parcel of NYC’s Jazz Age intelligentsia and someone who seemed to know just about everybody, including the personalities associated with the Algonquin Roundtable. (For a short time, Brooks lived at the Roundtable’s main stomping ground, the Algonquin Hotel ..., and perhaps that is where Mank and Louise met.) However they first became acquainted, Mankiewicz took Brooks under his wing, and gifted her with conversation as well as books by the likes of Aldous Huxley. She gifted him with her presence. They were literary friends. She called him “my favorite person.” (In the New York Times in 1982, John Lahr described Mankiewicz's mentor-ship as the "Louise Brooks Literary Society.")

Brooks’ restlessness – usually in the form an invitation to a night out, led to an increasing number of absences from the Follies. One such occasion was an invitation from Mankiewicz to attend the September 16th Broadway opening of No, No, Nanette, a stage play which Mankiewicz was assigned to review. At dinner before the show, Mankiewicz downed a number of cocktails, and according to the Paris biography, he was “too drunk to stay awake, much less write a coherent review.” And so, the Paris biography notes, “the secretly literate Louise rose to the occasion, took notes, and wrote it for him.” Brooks’ review, “No, No Nanette Full of Vigorous Fun,” which appeared under Mankiewicz’s byline, was published in the New York Times on September 17, 1925. At the time, no one knew the piece, which largely mirrored the opinion of other New York critics, was actually penned by a teenage chorus girl with a penchant for slightly purple prose.

Brooks, around the time she knew Mank in NYC

Brooks and Mankiewicz each headed to Hollywood around the same time. Brooks, then under contract to Paramount, relocated to Los Angeles at the beginning of 1927. And by the end of that same year, Mankiewicz was there as well as head of Paramount's scenario department. In 1927 and 1928, Mankiewicz wrote the titles (the printed dialogue and explanations) for a few dozen films starring the likes of Clara Bow, Wallace Beery, Adolphe Menjou, Esther Ralston and others – and beginning in 1929, the script and dialogue for dozens more talkies. In fact, Mankiewicz wrote the titles for two of Brooks’ films, The City Gone Wild (1927), the lost James Cruze-directed gangster film, and The Canary Murder Case (1929), the celebrated murder mystery based on the bestselling book by S.S. van Dine. Brooks had starring roles in each.

Brooks's arrival in Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 1927

In the 1920s and 1930s, newspaper and magazine columnists regularly reported on the Hollywood social scene. But surprisingly, Mankiewicz and Brooks’ name never show up together in reference to their attendance at a movie opening, Hollywood nightclub, or party. The closest the two came to any sort of documented contact was in August, 1930 when Los Angeles Times columnist Myrna Nye reported that Brooks attended a Russian themed party at the home of Dimitri Tiomkin in Los Angeles. Also in attendance among the many guests** was Herman Mankiewicz’s younger brother Joseph, another prominent character in Mank. I would assume that Brooks and Joseph Mankiewicz were, at least, acquainted, if only because one says hello to the brother of friend. But whether Herman Mankiewicz and Brooks met again after New York City we don’t know.

A significant part of Mank is set at San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst’s estate on the Central Coast of California. Brooks spent time there in the late 1920s, at the height of her fame in America. Brooks recalled those visits in her essay “Marion Davies’ Niece,” which first appeared in Film Culture in 1974 and later in her 1982 book, Lulu in Hollywood. Brooks’ essay centers on Pepi Lederer, Davies’ niece and the brother of screenwriter Charles Lederer (another friend of Mankiewicz, and another character in Mank). Brooks and Pepi, a distraught personality who later committed suicide, were close – likely as close as or even closer than Brooks was with Marion Davies, Hearst’s longtime mistress. Brooks knew them all as a regular guest at both Hearst Castle and Davies’ Santa Monica beach house. (The home movie screen capture below shows Brooks sipping a drink at Davies' Santa Monica beach house sometime in 1927 or 1928.)

Brooks at Davies' Santa Monica beach house

Brooks spent only a few years in Hollywood in the 1930s, mostly at the beginning of the decade and then at the end. She left Hollywood for good in 1940, right around the time Mankiewicz was penning the script for Citizen Kane. About two-thirds through the Netflix film, Mank's brother Joe visits him after reading the script. He asks whether Mank wrote the script as a way of getting back at Hearst for various personal and political slights, and if the rumors are true that “Rosebud” is actually named after Hearst’s “pet name for Marion’s genitalia," adding, “I know you would never stoop to that.” Mank laughs it off, and says “only because I haven’t heard.” 

In “Remembering Orson Welles,” a 1989 piece by Gore Vidal which first appeared in the New York Review of Books (and later in his book, United States: Essays 1952-1992), the famed novelist states, “In actual life, Rosebud was what Hearst called his friend Marion Davies’s clitoris.” Really? How does Vidal, a latter day figure who claimed no interest in the sex lives of others, know this to be true? Inquiring minds want to know.... Or at least I do. In a follow-up letter to the editor of the New York Review of Books in defense of his claim (which otherwise seems a tossed off sentence in Vidal's remembrances of the director), Vidal notes he had met both Hearst and Davies, but admits neither told him about the significance of Rosebud. Vidal also notes Herman Mankiewicz was a visitor to San Simeon and friend of Davies, and then leaves it at that, but not before referencing some of Louise Brooks' observations of San Simeon and the then just published biography by Barry Paris.

Vidal is being coy… and inquiring minds still want to know who told Vidal Rosebud was Hearst’s pet name for Davies’ clitoris? And ever so long ago, how might that information have gotten to Mankiewicz? If in fact it did? Vidal mentions that he would spill the beans “at a later date” (but seemingly never did), and relates how he also knew Charles Lederer, Davies’ screenwriter nephew. Vidal’s friendship with Lederer came about in the late 1950s, around the time according to Vidal the “matter of Rosebud was much discussed”. The only other clue Vidal offers readers is this, “After all, alcoholic ladies often discuss intimate matters with intimates.” Is Vidal referring to Davies, Brooks, or even himself? 

Between the lines, Vidal infers that Davies let slip the meaning of Rosebud to another women friend who also liked to drink. But who might that other female drinking buddy have been? Inquiring minds still want to know. It might have been Pepi Lederer, who is known to have had problems with substance abuse. Or it could have been someone we don't know about, or don't suspect. Brooks is also a possible, or even a probable, candidate. She was friendly with Marion and knew her circle of friends; and significantly, she had been friendly with Mankiewicz. And she also liked to drink. However, the question remains, did Mankiewicz and Brooks have any sort of contact in the late 1920s or 1930s?

But let's get back to Gore Vidal. I don't think Vidal ever met Brooks, or corresponded with her. But I do know that she knew who he was. In a March 1977 letter to biographer Tom Dardis, she wrote: "I hope you got more nourishing stuff out of me on Keaton and Schenk than I got out of Ish-Ish on Auden and Vidal." Starved for gossip in her Rochester, New York apartment, Brooks is referring to the English novelist Christopher Isherwood, whom she had met just the month before in February 1977 when he and his partner, the artist Don Bachardy, came to visit. At the time, Isherwood told Bachardy,  "She's much the most intelligent actress I've ever met."

In his highly regarded 2016 book, Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker's Journey, film historian and Welles scholar Harlan Lebo states “‘Rosebud’ may have been Hearst’s personal nickname for Davies’ genitalia—a bit of gossip that Mankiewicz supposedly learned from silent screen star Louise Brooks." The keywords in this sentence are not "Rosebud" and "genitalia," but "may have been" and "supposedly." Lebo doesn't know for sure, and he is making sure we note both his caution and his uncertainty. Lebo also states that Rosebud could also have been the name of a racehorse Mankiewicz knew of, as has been suggested by others, or the name of Mankiewicz's childhood bicycle. In Welles' film, Rosebud is the name of Kane’s childhood sled. Or perhaps. . . . this significant prop could merely be a McGuffin. For Welles, “It didn’t mean a damn thing … We inserted that as a dramatic gimmick, nothing more.” But if it was just a dramatic gimmick, or simply the name of Kane’s childhood sled, why did Hearst (as Vidal wondered) react as strongly as he did back in 1941, wanting at one point to destroy every known print of Citizen Kane?  

            Herman Mankiewicz                                                           Pepi Lederer             

Harlan Lebo is a widely respected Welles scholar, an author, and an academic. I mention his book because it is the only one on Welles which I am familiar with which references Louise Brooks in connection with Rosebud. But as is made clear in the above paragraph, Lebo mentions the connection in a qualified manner as one of a few theories (anatomical reference, racehorse, toy, etc...) related to the meaning of Rosebud. That's valid. In an email exchange, Lebo stated "I would like to think that the Rosebud = genitalia story is not true, because if it was, Mankiewicz couldn't have picked a better way to commit career suicide." That is also a valid point. 

In his book, Lebo notes his attribution about Davies comes from "Fiery Speech in a World of Shadows: Rosebud's Impact on Early Audiences," a chapter that Robin Bates and Scott Bates wrote for Ron Gottesman's compendium called Perspectives on Citizen Kane. Lebo also noted that Bates' source was Kenneth Anger's 1984 book, Hollywood Babylon II.

As Lebo is certainly aware, and as anyone familiar with film history knows, Kenneth Anger is a problematic figure. His titillating and sometimes snarky books, Hollywood Babylon and Hollywood Babylon II, are full of unsubstantiated gossip. What's in them may be true, or not, or only partly true, but how are we to know? When you place an unflattering picture next to an unsubstantiated claim, a certain amount of implication arises. Like yeast.

On page 159 of Hollywood Babylon II, Anger notes that Rosebud was William Randolph Hearst's pet name for Davies' "pussy-poo". He also notes that Davies drank, and likely shared a "giggled confidence" with someone -- "was it Louise Brooks?" Anger then ads, "as secrets will, one whisper led from mouth to ear to the steel-trap mind of Herman Mankiewicz -- and he made a mental note: Marion Davies = Rosebud." Interestingly, Anger employs a question mark when asking "was it Louise Brooks?" Even he is unsure, or doesn't really know, or won't say.

Despite its unreliability, Anger's 1984 book is worth mentioning as it is the first published source for the Davies-Rosebud-Brooks connection that I have come across. But still inquiring minds want to know, where did Anger get his information? Was it Brooks herself? I think it unlikely, but nevertheless a possibility. Kenneth, if you are reading this, shoot me an email and let me know.

Brooks and Anger met in Paris in the Fall of 1958, while Brooks was being celebrated/rediscovered by Henri Langlois. Anger, along with Lotte Eisner, Preston Sturges, Thomas Quinn Curtis, Man Ray and others visited Brooks, who was holed up in her hotel, reluctant to face the renewed attention to her career. The friendship seemingly continued. Anger went easy on Brooks in Hollywood Babylon (a book first released in France in 1959), describing her as "one of the loveliest visions ever to grace a screen," and only mentioning how she "went from stardom to a Macy's counter in a vertiginous fall from glory." He could have said worse. In 1974, Anger mounted an Art Deco film festival in San Francisco, and among the films he screened was Brooks' sole French effort, Prix de Beaute -- then a rarity. In more recent years, Anger has dropped Brooks' name in reference to comments she supposedly made about his avant-garde films. Notably, when journalist Tom Graves visited Brooks in her Rochester apartment in 1980, one of the books he noticed laying about was a foreign edition of Hollywood Babylon.

A first French edition of Hollywood Babylon,
like the one Brooks likely owned

However, in a 1962 letter to frequent correspondent Jan Wahl, Brooks was critical of Anger, and even more critical of Hollywood Babylon, describing it as "A bunch of old dead photographs. A lot of ridiculous mumbo junk. A bunch of old dead gossip. . . ." Had Anger learned the secret meaning of Rosebud during his 1958 meeting in Paris, one might guess that he would have used such a juicy morsel in the first volume of Hollywood Babylon. He didn't. It only shows up in Hollywood Babylon II, which was published in 1984. And so, if Anger deduced the meaning of Rosebud from Brooks, it likely happened in the 1960s or 1970s. And if it was through Brooks, she must have also suggested to Anger that she told Mankiewicz, or someone else, who then relayed it to the screenwriter.


With all this said, however, we still don't know and are likely to never know the origins of the tittle-tattle that Brooks supplied Makiewicz with the secret meaning of Rosebud. Perhaps she did, perhaps she didn't. Perhaps Kenneth Anger made it up.

If you haven't seen Mank, be sure and check it out. It is streaming on Netflix, and is an pretty decent if historically problematic film. Gary Oldman is terrific, as is Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst. And if you haven't seen Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, check that out first. It is a great film. And then you'll understand why all the fuss over Rosebud.

1965 portrait of Brooks by Roddy McDowell


** Also at this notable party were Dashiel Hammett, Humphrey Bogart, Edmund Goulding, King Vidor and Eleanor Boardman, David O. Selznick, Irving Berlin, Colleen Moore, Ernst Lubitsch, Sam Goldwyn, Agnes DeMille, Constance Bennett, Paul Bern, Kay Francis, Benjamin Glazer, Basil Rathbone, Maurice Chevalier, Marie Dressler, and others.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

And another nifty new Louise Brooks related find #3

During this pandemic era, I continue to stay home and conduct what research I can over the internet. And recently, I came across a few items which I had never seen before. I thought I would share them with readers of this blog. Here is the third installment in a short series of new finds.

This new find has to do with a rare personal appearance by Louise Brooks while she was a film star. By my count, Brooks made less than five or six such appearance. On most of these occasions, she appeared on stage prior to the showing of a film. On November 5, 1926, for instance, Brooks made a personal appearance at a benefit pre-release midnight showing of We're in the Navy Now at the Rialto Theater in New York City; We're in the Navy Now was directed by Brooks' then-husband, Eddie Sutherland, who was also on hand. (As were Paramount stars Betty Bronson, Ricardo Cortez, Richard 'Skeets' Gallagher, William Powell, Evelyn Brent, and Philip Strange. And Helen Morgan sang!) The event was a benefit showing in aid of the New York American Christmas and Relief Fund.

Another such occasion took place on April 9, 1927, while Brooks and the cast and crew of Rolled Stockings were filming in Berkeley, California; this time, Brooks (and James Hall) made a personal appearance prior to a screening of Evening Clothes at the nearby American theater in Oakland, California. Here is the advertisement for the occasion.

My new find documents the time in July 1927 when Brooks and other Paramount stars were asked (by the studio, no doubt) to attend the Pacific Coast premiere of the Emil Jannings' film, The Way of All Flesh, at the Criterion theater in Los Angeles. I don't know if Brooks appeared on stage, or merely was in the audience - but this was a special occasion as all loge seats for the evening cost $1.65, a large amount at a time when most seats cost less than one dollar.

Besides Emil Jannings himself (making his first American stage performance to mark his first Paramount film) were other Paramount stars such as Pola Negri, Clara Bow, Fay Wray, Bebe Daniels and others - including Brooks' past and future co-stars Esther Ralston (American Venus), Wallace Beery (Now We're in the Air, Beggars of Life), Noah Beery (Evening Clothes), Fred Kohler (City Gone Wild), Chester Conklin (A Social Celebrity), and Adolphe Menjou (A Social Celebrity, Evening Clothes). Their names are all listed at the bottom of this newspaper advertisement.

Incidentally, also possibly present was Frederico Sagor Maas, who penned the story behind The Way of All Flesh. Notably, Maas also wrote the story that served as the basis for Rolled Stockings. I first met Frederica at a publisher's lunch at Musso & Franks in Hollywood in 1999. Enthused about her then forthcoming book, I arranged to put on an event with Maas at the bookstore where I worked in San Francisco. It was her first  bookstore event. Because she was nearly blind and 99 years old, we sat together and I interviewed Maas before a a modest those enthusiastic store crowd. Later we went out to dinner and she told stories about Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, Eric von Stroheim and others, as well as what it was like to work in early Hollywood. Be sure and check out her recommended memoir, the Shocking Miss Pilgrim. The following day, she did a booksigning at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, something I helped arrange, and she sold more than 60 books in flash. No "swell fish" there.

To mark the occasion, the bookstore I worked at used to issue trading cards in conjunction with the various events we put on. Here is the card for Frederica Sagor Maas, which depicts her in the 1920s, around the time she worked with the film legends mentioned above. I treasure my autographed copy of her book, and my autographed copy of her trading card. Here is a LINK to the blog I wrote about her when she died in 2012 at the age of 111.

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