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?

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