Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Celebrating National Silent Movie Day and silent film star Baby Peggy

Today is the 1st ever National Silent Movie Day, an new annual event dedicated to celebrating, preserving and creating access to silent film. Why such a day? Why such a celebration? While the silent cinema is regarded as a vital, telling and beautiful art form, it is also a misunderstood and sadly neglected aspect of our shared cultural history. And in ways, it is endangered. It is estimated that more than 70% of all silent films are LOST. Activism is need to remember and preserve this priceless art form before it is too late. To that end, a number of events are taking place across the United States and Europe. Visit THIS PAGE to learn about some of the screenings and other happenings taking place today, September 29, 2021.

In the words of Martin Scorsese, National Silent Movie Day is "exactly the type of activist spirit we need in the world of cinema right now." 

To mark the occasion and to do my bit, I posted for the first time ever a video of my 10 year old interview with the one-time silent film star Diana Serra Cary, who during the silent era was known as "Baby Peggy." Before her death at age 101 in February of 2020, Diana was considered the last living silent film star. She was a national treasure, and one of the sweetest people I ever met.

The occasion for my 2011 interview was "Shhhhh! Silents in the Library," a two-month, multi-display exhibition and event series at the San Francisco Public Library held in conjunction with the annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival. I curated the main exhibit, which was titled, "Reading the Stars: The Silent Era". It was comprised of all manner of vintage books about film dating from the silent era, including a few related to Baby Peggy. The books for the exhibit were loaned from my personal collection.

The interview was recorded by a professional videographer, but they flaked out and erased the tape. Now, all that remains, is this admittedly poor video recording of the occasion shot on a Flip from the audience. Still, it is a record worth preserving and sharing. Due to my poor video editing skills (I am a film historian, not a film editor), the event was in two parts, which I have since joined. In part one, SFPL librarian Gretchen Good introduces the event. (The showing of the Baby Peggy short The Kid Reporter is not included in the video.) In part two, I speak with Diana Serra Cary. 

I had put on a couple of events with Diana in the past, including a talk at the Booksmith and book signings at the Castro Theatre. I have also interviewed and written about Diana Serra Cary / Baby Peggy on a few occasions, for Open / Salon, SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle),, and elsewhere, but sadly, like so many silent films, those webpages have disappeared from the world wide web. However, one remaining piece I wrote, "The Return of Baby Peggy — The Last Silent Film Star," can be found on Huffington Post. 

Not only was Diana Serra Cary a major film star (she was the Shirley Temple of the silent era), she was later in life a bookseller and an author. Like me. If you haven't seen any of her films - most of which are lost, though some survive - I would recommend you check them out. A few have been released on DVD. Also on DVD is a fine documentary from 2013 called Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room. Well worth checking out are Diana's four books, two of which are pictured below. Her memoir, Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star, made me cry.

I also greatly enjoyed the biography she wrote about her silent era "rival", Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star


"Celebrating National Silent Movie Day and silent film star Baby Peggy" by Thomas Gladysz

Monday, September 27, 2021

File under unlikely - Max Factor mentions Louise Brooks

File this under unlikely: In late 1935, renown beautician & "Hollywood Make-Up Genius" Max Factor penned an article under the title "Hollywood Beauty Secrets."  The piece looked at changing notions of beauty, comparing the standards of Depression era America in 1935 with the "neo-classic beauty" of the earlier flapper era of 1920s America. And what's more, this particular Max Factor's article mentions Louise Brooks as representative of a flapper.

To me, this article is unlikely on a couple of accounts. First and foremost, because it was published in 1935, during a period when Brooks had not appeared in a film in four years and was little thought of in Hollywood. When she did appear in films a year or two later, in 1936 and 1937, her roles were always described as a "comeback." What is also unlikely about this article is that it appeared in a newspaper in Manchuria, China of all places!

It is known that Max Factor wrote a handful of syndicated newspaper articles which appeared in various American newspapers in the mid 1930s. However, I have never been able to track down this particular article in an American newspaper. That makes this appearance in a Shanghai newspaper something special.

In addition to its unlikely attributes, this piece is interesting in the attitudes it reveals. Does anyone know what theater / revival house Max Factor is referring to at the opening of the article?

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Louise Brooks, and the avant-garde design of Polish magazines

Louise Brooks was a truly an international star. And she still is. My forthcoming two volume work, Around the World with Louise Brooks, makes that very point by including more than 75 vintage non-American magazine covers which feature the actress - including these four from Poland. I think they look rather fabulous.

Polish graphic design has long been held in high regard, especially the avant-garde efforts coming out of inter-war Poland. In ways, Polish design rivaled the avant-garde, post-revolutionary efforts from the Soviet Union, which are better known and better documented (and were later squashed by the likes of dull socialist realism). If you want to learn more about Polish cinema, Polish design, and/or interwar Polish culture, be sure and check out, a website chock-full of articles on those very topics. 

[Two pieces to start with are "Polish Cinema's Golden Age: The Glamour & Progress of Poland's Interwar Films" by Juliette Bretan, and "The Vintage Charm & Chic of 1920s Poland" by Anna Legierska. I would also recommend exploring Juliette Bretan's contributor page, which links to some of the other interesting articles she has penned on interwar culture in Poland.] On with the show....

While researching Polish film magazines, I came across a handful of examples of issues which also display a striking cover design. I wish to share them here, just because they are rather cool looking. 

The first shown likely comes from Pandora's Box, as it depicts Carl Goetz (as Schigolch?), dates from 1929, and bears a photo credit from the Polish distributor of the celebrated 1929 German film. As there is no specific reference to the film (which in Poland went under the titles Lulu and Puszka Pandory) in the magazine, and as I am not all that familiar with Goetz's career, I won't say for sure. He was in two other German film which were released just before this magazine was published. And too, I have not compared the still on the cover with the film itself, though it looks like it could be a still from the scene when Goetz is discovered on the balcony by Dr. Ludwig Schön. If anyone knows for sure, please send me a message. Now, on with the show....

The remaining covers I am showing because they are, simply put, eye catching, and also reflect the modernist design tendencies mentioned above. Or, because they stylishly feature American movie stars like Buster Keaton, Clara Bow, W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, Anna May Wong, and others. Or, because they are just too darn cute. Each of the magazines pictured here date from 1929, 1930, or 1931.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Myra Brooks, leading Wichita book reviewer

Like her daughter Louise, Myra Brooks was a reader of books. And what's more, she was also a reviewer of books. On and off from the mid-to-late 1930s through the early 1940s, Myra appeared before various groups in Wichita speaking about new and recent releases. She also spoke about the news of the day, classical music - especially Richard Wagner, and other topics of interest. Myra's talks were given in local halls and auditoriums, hotel meeting rooms, restaurants, and in private homes.

The clipping shown here, from March 1941, notes Myra would talk about Art of Living, by the noted French writer Andre Maurois. The book is an inspirational title, not unlike some of the other books Myra read and reviewed. Evidently, Louise's Mother decided to review this book after Maurois, a famous novelist at the time and someone still read today, spoke in Wichita a month earlier in February.

The article goes on to state that Myra is a popular book reviewer known throughout Kansas. This was at a time when daily newspapers like the Wichita Eagle did not, generally speaking, review books. (One notable exception back then was the New York Times.) If one wanted to learn about new books, one might have to subscribe to a magazine that ran reviews, or, attend a local book club or study group. Myra, in fact, was a member of a few different groups, including the Study Guild which discussed the news of the day, as well as the Saturday Afternoon Musical Club which discussed opera and classical music.

Based on newspaper clippings which I recently came across, here are some of the titles and topics Myra Brooks spoke about. (A few clippings noted Myra would speak, but did not specify which book or topic. Lacking specifics, I didn't list those happenings.) Myra Brooks got a fair amount of press in Wichita, which must have been gratifying, as her contract as a speaker with the Redpath Chautauqua had not renewed back in 1927. She was also popular, and held her own against the competition, as th clipping below shows. What is also notable is the quality of books Myra Brooks spoke about. Like Andre Maurois, many of these authors are still known and  read today.

January 1934  reviews The Meaning of Culture by John Cowper Powys for the R.E.D. Club (at the Y.M.C.A) 

April 1934  reviews Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain for the Tuesday morning book review club

November 1934  reviews Nijinsky by Romola Nijinsky for the Social Order of Beauceant

December 1934  reviews Nijinsky by Romola Nijinsky for the Twentieth Century Club

December 1934  reviews Nijinsky by Romola Nijinsky for the R.E.D. Club (at the Y.M.C.A)

December 1934  reviews Stars Fell on Alabama by Carl Carmer for the Current Book club

January 1935  reviews The Life of Nijinsky by Lucy Moore for the Leal Book club

January 1935  reviews The Biography of Richard Wagner for the Sedgwick County Medical auxiliary; Brooks also played some of her records of Wagner's music

February 1935  reviews Heaven is My Destination by Thorton Wilder for The Current Book Club 

April 1935  reviews The Life of Nijinsky by Lucy Moore for the Monday Book Review club

April 1935  speaks on the operas of Richard Wagner at a concert honoring the composer at the University of Wichita; news reports state the auditorium was filled

May 1935  reviews Phantom Crown by Bertita Harding at a tea party held for the Girl Reserves

May 1935  reviews The Biography of Richard Wagner for a local chapter of the Daughter of the American Revolution; Otto Fischer plays Wagner on the piano

May 1935  speaks on the operas of Richard Wagner at a concert at the University of Wichita

October 1935 
reviews Mary, Queen of Scots by Stephan Zweig for the Social Order of Beauceant; preceding the review, Myra Brooks spoke for 20 minutes on current events 

December 1935  reviews A Personal History by an unknown author for the Social Order of Beauceant

January 1936  reviews an unknown title for the pledges of Alpha Tau Sigma

February 1936  reviews A Women's Best Years by W. Beran Wolfe for the Social Order of Beauceant 

March 1936  reviews The Dupont Dynasty by John K. Winkler for the Social Order of Beauceant 

April 1936   reviews The End of Summer (a play) by S.N. Behrman for the Social Order of Beauceant; preceding the review, Myra Brooks spoke for 20 minutes on current events  

April 1936  reviews an unknown book for the members of the Osteopathic Women's club

April 1936   participates (as a numerologist) in a numerology coffee put on by the Iota Mu chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha

April 1936  talks on a "Biography of Cosima Wagner" at The Current Book Club

May 1936  reviews Sparkenbroke by Charles Morgan for the Social Order of Beauceant 

November 1936  reviews Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell for the Iota Mu chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha (at the Lassen Hotel); at least five to six dozen attend the event

November 1936  reviews I am the Fox by Winifred Van Etten for the College Hill P.T.A. (at the College Hill School auditorium)

December 1936  reviews Inside Europe by John Gunther for the Iota Mu chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha (at the Lassen Hotel); at least five to six dozen attend the event

January 1937  performs selections from The Ring of the Niebelung with Otto Fischer on the piano at a meeting of the Kansas Bar Association

February 1937  reviews The Street of Fishing Cats by Jolán Földes for the Iota Mu chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha (at the Lassen Hotel)

February 1937  gives a lecture recital about Cosima Wagner, assisted by Otto Fischer on the piano at the Twentieth Century Club (the Wichita Eagle reported that Myra Brooks wore a "stunning floor length gown of black satin"

March 1937  reviews Phantom Crown by Bertita Harding for the Iota Mu chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha (at the Lassen Hotel)

March 1937  reviews The Street of Fishing Cats by Jolán Földes at a meeting of the Oxford Art Club

October 1937  Myra Brooks and Otto Fischer perform in Coffeyville at the Coffeyville Matinee Music club 

October 1937  Myra Brooks and Otto Fischer perform a program of music by Richard Wagner at Friends of Contemporary Music in Wichita

November 1937  give a lecture recital with Otto Fischer of music by Richard Wagner at a meeting of Job's Daughters (at the York Rite Temple)

November 1937  Myra Brooks and Otto Fischer perform a two-piano transcription of Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Niebelung at The Current Book Club

December 1937  Myra Brooks and Otto Fischer give recital of Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Niebelung at the University of Wichita

December 1937  gives a presentation of a number of current biographies at the Wichita Art Association

March 1938  reviews The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang at an art class at Wichita Art Museum

April 1938  reviews The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang at The Current Book Club

March 1939  reviews Prohibiting Poverty by Prestonia Martin at The Current Book Club

November 1939  reviews My America by Louis Adamic at The Current Book Club

January 1940  speaks on "music in the European capitals since the outbreak of World War II" at the Saturday Afternoon Musical Club

March 1940  reviews an unknown book at the Wichita Art Museum

April 1940  gives a lecture recital about Cosima Wagner, assisted by Otto Fischer on the piano, at the Study Guild

May 1940  lectures on Pagliacci, an Italian opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo, at the Music Study Group 

July 1941  lectures on the Ring Operas, specifically Die Walkure, at which she played recordings including Wotan's Farewell sung by Lawrence Tibbett, at a Study Guild meeting (at Droll's English Grill)

September 1941 lectures on "What Every Woman Wants to Know" at a Study Guild meeting (at Droll's English Grill)

November 1941  reviews The Voyage by Charles Morgan

January 1942  reviews From Many Lands by Louis Adamic at The Current Book Club 


Louise Brooks returned home to Wichita in August of 1940. Around that same time, Myra Brooks' book reviewing began to taper off. Myra, who shared her interests and passions with her daughter as well as the he people of Wichita, passed away at the age of 60 in 1944.

Friday, September 17, 2021

More on Myra Brooks and the Redpath Chautauqua tour of 1927

Since my September 13, 2021 post "Myra Brooks and the Redpath Chautauqua tour of 1927", a handful of additional details have come to light. . . .  I want to share some of this "new" information.

One thing I learned was that Myra Brooks was paid $75.00 per week as a touring member of the Redpath Chautauqua. On December 16, 1926 Myra signed a contract to tour for 12 weeks in 1927 beginning around the middle of April, and running through the middle of July. There was also an option in the contract to extend the contract by six weeks, should all go well.

Beyond those I already found by searching through a couple of newspaper databases (see the updated  9-13 post), I also found that Myra Brooks participated in a number of additional stops on the 1927 summer tour. (I have yet to find any corresponding documentation, i.e. newspaper articles - but still, this is a start!) Based on various correspondence, these additional dates could include: 

Cleveland, Tennessee            @ June 9  --  this is her first event

Florence, Alabama                @ June 12

Paris, Tennessee ???              @ June 22

Ypsilanti, Michigan               @ August 

it's likely there are other dates

On August 4, 1927 Myra wrote from The Huron hotel in Ypsilanti, Michigan asking for the correct dates for the reminder of her tour. She received these dates in return. (I knew about the two in bold.) 

Alma, Michigan                     August 8

Belding, Michigan                 August 9

Cadillac, Michigan                August 10

Traverse City, Michigan        August 11  ???
-- this date conflicts with a documented appearance in Waterloo, Indiana

Manistee, Michigan               August 12

Muskegon, Michigan            August 13

Benton Harbor, Michigan  August 17

Michigan City, Indiana         August 16

Racine, Wisconsin               August 17

Kewanee, Illinois                  August 18

Lincoln, Illinois                    August 20

In letters written while she was on tour, Myra said she was having the time of her life, and how she enjoyed speaking before a crowd. She also alluded to the concern's others on the tour had about the quality of her voice, and also, curiously, about the way she dressed. Myra Brooks was not asked back. In November, she received a letter from Redpath headquarters stating she "had not made the rating."

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Meet Myra Brooks and her daughter Louise

I can't believe this gem of an article has escaped me until now. "Meeting the Mother of a Film Favorite," a profile of Myra Brooks, dates from February 1927. It paints a vivid portrait of a vivid personality. I hope you will read it and enjoy. 

BTW, as this article appeared in a Chicago newspaper, I would guess that the journalist, Bertha Fenberg, conducted her interview with Myra in Chicago, where Brooks' Mother was living and working for Golden Rule Magazine, which today we might term a "self-help"journal. It was also around this time that Myra was trying to land a position with the Redpath Chautauqua.

But first, two comments on the imagery. Notably, the M.I. Boris portrait of Louise Brooks is inscribed "Dear Mother from Louise"! I would guess Myra supplied this to the newspaper. I hope she got it back. Secondly, I am not sure that the portrait of "Louise at the age of 8" is the future actress. I don't believe I have ever seen this picture before, and it doesn't really look like her. But, I could be wrong.... I have been before.


Monday, September 13, 2021

Myra Brooks and the Redpath Chautauqua tour of 1927

Chautauqua was an American social movement which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Remnants of the original Chautauqua movement still exist today. In the Teens and Twenties, touring Chautauqua groups -- assemblies which included speakers, musicians, performers, preachers, and "specialists of the day" -- brought culture, educational programs, and entertainment to small towns and rural communities across the country. 

In the summer of 1927, Louise Brooks' mother, Myra Brooks, was a featured speaker who toured the American Midwest as part of the Redpath Chautauqua. I have managed to reconstruct Myra's tour through newspaper archives, and document most all of her engagements.


More often than not, Myra M. Brooks (as she was billed) gave an afternoon talk on the topic of "Girls of Today". For most of her engagements, Brooks was paired with the Ellenor Cook Company, a small group that performed "folk songs and dances from many lands" (namely Russia, Poland, and the Balkans). On a few occasions, Brooks gave a talk on the subject of "Abundant Living," and was paired with the Albert Vierra Hawaiians, musicians whose performance was titled "An Evening in Hawaii." Aside from a few clippings, not much exists online about either the Ellenor Cook Company or Vierra's Hawaiians. But the images shown here should give a taste of what they were like.

If Brooks received any sort of press ahead of her appearance, it was often mentioned that she was the mother of the actress Louise Brooks, thus adding to her credibility as an authority on the subject of "Girls of Today". However, I don't know that Myra M. Brooks necessarily authored the subject of her talk, as I have found a few earlier Chautauqua talks with the same title given by Florence Heintz (who was possibly a National Camp Fire Executive).

Typically, the Redpath Chautauqua was promoted as stopping in a town or community for five days, with any given act performing on one of those days. After their performance, an act or pair of acts would sometimes move ahead to the next stop while other acts stayed on and did their bit. Some of the other individuals and acts who appeared as part of this Redpath Chautauqua tour were the Chicago Male Quartet, a group of singers, Bohumir Kryl and his band, R.B. Ambrose, who gave a lecture on applied electricity, Australian Tom Skeyhill and his "thrilling lecture" on "Mussolini and the Blackshirts," and Ruth Bryan Owen (the daughter of William Jennings Bryan) who gave a travelogue lecture on the Holy Land. There was also Philip La Follette, the son of the famous Wisconsin Senator and himself the future two time Governor of the Badger state, and Edwin Whitney, head of the Whitney School of Expression in Boston, who delivered a monologue rendition of The Message from Mars. (The latter was based on a once popular stage play which was turned into a film in 1903, 1913, and 1921.)

I consulted two different newspaper databases, and found that some newspapers from 1927 are either no longer extant and not available online, and thus, this tour schedule is likely not complete. There are some evident gaps. For each stop, I listed on which day and what talk Myra M. Brooks gave (always in the afternoon), along with the act with which she was paired.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee -- June 18, 1927 (in a big tent on Tennessee College campus)
despite downpour of rain, there was a record crowd

Ellenor Cook and Miss Eugenia Folliard
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Nicholasville, Kentucky -- July 3, 1927
Vierra Hawaiians "An Evening in Hawaii"
Myra M. Brooks "Abundant Living"

Lexington, Kentucky -- July 4, 1927 (at Stoll Field at the University of Kentucky)

Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today" 

Marshall, Michigan -- exact date not known, etither July 5, 6, 8, or 9
Vierra Hawaiians "An Evening in Hawaii"
Myra M. Brooks "Abundant Living"

Brookville, Indiana -- July 7, 1927

Vierra Hawaiians "An Evening in Hawaii"
Myra M. Brooks "Abundant Living"

Battle Creek, Michigan -- July 9, 1927
The local paper reported "The lecture by Myra M. Brooks in the afternoon on Girls of Today, while humorous and entertaining, was also instructive and provided much food for thought."

Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Georgetown, Kentucky July 12, 1927
Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Danville, Kentucky -- July 14, 1927
The local paper stated "Mrs. Brooks charming personality reflects very definitely the practice of the principles about which she will lecture."

Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Bedford, Indiana -- July 19, 1927 (in a tent on the Voris Lot)

Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today" 

Columbus, Indiana -- July 20, 1927
Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today" 

Logansport, Indiana --  July 25
The local newspaper gave Brooks a long review.

Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Huntington, Indiana -- July 26, 1927
Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Elkhart, Indiana -- August 1, 1927
The local newspaper reported: "Mrs. Myra Brooks, who is associate editor of a leading psychology magazine, and is vitally interested in young people, spoke on 'Girls of Today.' She reminded the audience that she has a daughter herself and is familiar with the problems of youth. Mrs. Brooks' daughter is Louise Brooks, a movie actress. . . ." Notably, Rolled Stockings, had just recently played at the Lerner Theater.

Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Battle Creek, Michigan -- August 3, 1927

Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Port Huron, Michigan -- August 5, 1927
Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today" 

Waterloo, Indiana -- August 11, 1927
The local paper stated "Myra M. Brooks, well known writer and teacher, will give her challenging lecture 'Abundant Living' which sets forth a new psychology of increased health, beauty and youth."

Vierra Hawaiians "An Evening in Hawaii"
Myra M. Brooks "Abundant Living"

Benton Harbor, Michigan -- August 15, 1927
Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today"

Racine, Wisconsin -- August 17, 1927
Ellenor Cook Company
Myra M. Brooks "Girls of Today" 

The Records of the Redpath Chautauqua are held at the University of Iowa. Despite the documentation shown above, I could not find mention of Myra Brooks in those particular records. There are a small number of records for Ellenor Cook and for the Vierra Hawaiians, but none for Brooks. I have emailed the University to ask if they knew of other records which are not online which mention Brooks.

The advertisements shown below, which both mention Myra Brooks, appeared in the Port Huron newspaper. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Another Louise Brooks-related mystery

In 1927, Louise Brooks' mother went on tour. Myra Brooks joined the Chautauqua circuit, an adult education / social movement that brought culture to small towns and communities across the United States with speakers, musicians and entertainers of all kinds. As such, Myra Brooks spoke in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee on the topic "The Girl of Today." (I will detail her tour in a later post.) 

Not surprisingly, local newspapers often referred to Myra as the Mother of the film star / "screen favorite" / young actress Louise Brooks. Once, in a slip of purple prose, Myra was even referred to as the Mother of "the charming queen of filmland." However Myra's daughter was referred to, certainly the highlight of Myra Brooks' Summer long tour was likely Benton Harbor, Michigan. The local newspaper, the News Palladium, even profiled the visiting speaker.

This article was the most significant coverage Myra Brooks received for her Chautauqua activities. It is also typical of what was written about her. It repeats many of the same talking points found in other articles published around the Midwest.

However, what stands out is the articles reference to Myra Brooks being the author of a "widely read" book, Health, Beauty, and Psychology. The article also mentions that Myra Brooks is an associate editor of The Golden Rule, a publication based in Chicago, and that she writes a regular column and weekly article. The mystery here is that no copy of Health, Beauty, and Psychology has ever been found. And what's more, I have never been able to find any of Myra Brooks articles, let alone issues of The Golden Rule. Other articles about Myra Brooks from the Summer of 1927 also mention the Golden Rule magazine, and the fact that she was a writer, but no others mention the book. In one instance, an article mentions that Myra Brooks is "a contributor to Golden Rule and Psychology of Health Magazines." Unless it is a mistake, this line suggests there were two magazines!

In his biography of Louise Brooks, Barry Paris also mentions that no copy of Health, Beauty, and Psychology is known to exist. My guess is that if it exists, it wasn't so much a book (of which there would likely be at least a record somewhere), but some sort of self-published booklet, like Louise's own The Fundamentals of Good Ballroom Dancing. Neither titles are listed on World-Cat, nor the Library of Congress online listings.

I think I was able to find out a little something about The Golden Rule, but could not lay my hands on any issues in order to read any of Myra Brooks reported contributions. If this is the same magazine, then The Golden Rule to which Myra contributed was first printed in 1919 by George Williams in Chicago. It was overseen by Napoleon Hill, the famous self-help author whose books include Think and Grow Rich (1937), one of the biggest selling books of the 20th century.

If anyone can access issues of The Golden Rule (from 1927, or 1926) and locate any of Myra Brooks' writings, that would be GREAT! And if anyone can located a copy of Health, Beauty, and Psychology, that would be even better. I am curious to know if they reference Louise Brooks. 

[Making matters more difficult, there was a populist poet of the time named Myra Brooks or Myra Brooks Welch who authored uplifting verse like "The Touch of the Master's Hand." Try searching for Myra Brooks and you will likely encounter the other Myra Brooks. Which explains why our Myra Brooks often had her name listed as Myra M. Brooks while on tour.]

A few weeks after Myra Brooks' August 1927 lecture in Benton Harbor, the 1927 Louise Brooks' film, Evening Clothes, opened at the local Liberty Picture theater. And in what was a first and only occurrence, the article about the film led with a reference to the actress' Mother!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

A follow-up to Louise Brooks and the mystery of missing time

In my last post, I wrote about two little documented periods in the life of Louise Brooks. One of them was the couple three weeks Brooks spent in Paris, France in the Fall of 1924. She had gone there with Barbara Bennett, and not long after their arrival, Bennett decided to return to the United States. Suddenly on her own, and with little money, the 18 year old Brooks was at loose ends.

According to Brooks, she was sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Edouard VII (39 Av. de l'Opéra) in Paris when Archie Selwyn encountered her. The well connected American producer persuaded her to go with him to London, where he got her a job dancing at the Cafe de Paris in London. According to the International Herald Tribune, Selwyn was reported to be in Paris as of October 14; he was in Paris with his wife and staying at the Hotel Claridge (37 Rue François), working to secure a contract with the Spanish singing star Raquel Meller, who is performing in Paris to great acclaim at the Palace.

So, now we know how Brooks got to London (where she lived at 49A Pall Mall) and how she got a job at the Cafe de Paris (3-4 Coventry St.), at which she began dancing on October 20. On October 21, 1924, Variety reports that Brooks was "cordially received upon opening last night at the Cafe de Paris cabaret," and that Layton & Johnstone have returned to the establishment for an extended engagement.

From January 1925, the first depiction of Louise Brooks in a European publication. As this early portrait doesn't show up in American publications, I am going to assume it was taken in London.

News sometimes travels slow, especially in small-town Kansas. On November 6th, the Burden Times from Burden, Kansas reported that the Cherryvale Republican reports that the Wichita press reports that Brooks was in Paris, France. The Burden paper notes, "Her departure from France was sudden and her parents have not received a letter from her since her arrival in Paris." Unfortunately, the Cherryvale Republican is not available for 1924, and I am not sure it is even extant. Thus, I cannot trace the lineage of the reportage mentioned in the article pictured here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Louise Brooks and the mystery of missing time

In researching the life and career of Louise Brooks, there are two brief intervals which remain something of a mystery. The first was Brooks' first visit to Paris in 1924. The second were the months following Brooks' marriage to Deering Davis when the couple was traveling and living in the American Southwest. I have wondered where she was exactly, and/or what might she have been doing? 

In compiling a chronology of her day-by-day activities, which can be found at Louise Brooks: Day by Day 1906-1939 and Louise Brooks: Day by Day 1940-1985, I have been frustrated in my attempts to locate any online records (i.e. newspapers articles, etc....) which might shed even a little light on Brooks' activities during these time periods. Until now....

1924 passport photo

On September 18, 1924, Brooks applied for and was given an emergency passport. On September 20, she left the United States aboard the RMS Homeric bound for Europe. The trip took a week. Brooks was traveling with friend Barbara Bennett (of the famous Bennett family), and we know they went to Paris. But we know little else, except that the boat landed in Cherbourg, France on the 27th. 

the RMS Homeric

Here is the clipping from the International Herald Tribune (the European edition of The Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News), an English-language newspaper located in Paris, which mentions Brooks' arrival. This is the earliest mention of Brooks in an European publication.

Just recently, I came across a brief mention of the trip in the Wichita Eagle. On October 12, 1924, the newspaper reported Brooks is in Paris, France, noting, "Her departure was sudden and her parents have not received a letter from her since her arrival in Paris. She went abroad as a member of a company expecting to appear in the French capital." 

A comment and an observation. First, how did the Wichita Eagle know Brooks was traveling to Europe? My guess is that one of her parents likely told the paper - this being a time when locals traveling abroad or even just visiting the next town over made the news. And if her parents did alert the paper, they likely did so because they were worried about Brooks and had not heard from her; this might have been their way to find out something, anything, via the newspapers of the day. Secondly, Brooks did not travel to Europe with a company of performers, as the Wichita Eagle says. She went on a "vacation" with a wealthy friend. The Wichita paper was likely misinformed, or told something that wasn't exactly true. Perhaps Louise herself told or suggested to her parents that she was traveling to Europe to work, when in fact that wasn't her intention. I wonder what Brooks did in Paris for the couple three week she was there. I have searched the Parisian newspaper of the time, but have never found any mention of the budding performer.

By October 19, 1924, Brooks was in London, England living at 49A Pall Mall. And on October 20, she began dancing at the famous Cafe de Paris nightclub in the heart of the English capital.

= = =  = 

Here is another mystery. Why did Louise Brooks marry Deering Davis, a decidedly unglamorous looking Chicago playboy?

The other brief period of time that is something of a mystery is interval following her more-or-less sudden marriage Davis in October 1933. As Barry Paris writes in his thoroughly researched biography, "The Associated Press reported that, for a honeymoon, the Davies would go by car to a ranch in Tucson, via Colorado Springs. Davis liked the Southwest and wanted to settle there, but it was too close to Kansas for Louise's comfort. Nothing is known of their three months traveling, except that Davis and Louise - with the aid of a Victrola and the odd nightclub here and there - had plenty of time of time to work up their dance act." The underline is mine for emphasis.

What we know is this: on October 10, 1933, Brooks (age 26) married wealthy Chicago playboy Deering Davis (age 36) at City Hall in Chicago, Illinois. The ceremony was read by Judge Francis J. Wilson, and witnessed by Davis' brother and sister-in-law, Dr. and Mrs. Nathan S. Davis III. After a few days, the couple left for a three month honeymoon in Tucson, Arizona, where they were expected to "live on a ranch." The marriage made news across the country. On October 11, the two newspapers in Tucson carry stories reporting Brooks would soon come to reside on a ranch near the Arizona town. I recently came across those two Tuscon clippings. Here is one of them - they are both very similar.

News of the Deering Davis - Louise Brooks wedding ran in newspapers across the country for the next few days. All of these stories, which were mostly captioned photos on the picture page, said pretty much the same thing.

And then that's it until February of 1934, when the couple reemerges in Chicago and perform as dancers on a few occasions. I know they were on their honeymoon, but I have wondered why they otherwise dropped off the radar. Too me, it doesn't make sense. Certainly, a celebrity couple driving around the Southwest would have made the news in local papers in Colorado or Arizona. Did they pass through Kansas? Did they in fact live on a ranch in Tucson, Arizona? I wonder if something else was going on.

If they did live on a ranch, which ranch was it? What kind of ranch was it? Was it a "dude ranch"? Or was the ranch the kind individuals with a drinking problem spent time at in order to dry out or pull themselves together? I think we know Brooks was unhappy at this time in her life. In 1932, she declared bankruptcy, and couldn't get work in films. And the United States was in the grips of the Depression. This stretch of three to four months was about the longest I have found (for the 1920s and 1930s) for Brooks not to have had her name in the papers. There was always something, a mention in a gossip column, an appearance at a restaurant or nightclub or theater. But for three or four months, they was nothing. Who knows? Perhaps Brooks and Davis were just practicing their dance routine.

Friday, September 3, 2021

An account of Louise Brooks 1940s Wichita interlude

This post is the third in a series highlighting newly available material uncovered as more issues of the various Wichita newspapers have come online. As mentioned, I have been systematically plowing through them, gleaming bits of new information, some of which I have been adding to my extensive three part chronology on the Louise Brooks Society website beginning at Louise Brooks: Day by Day 1906-1939. This material focuses on the early 1940s, when Louise Brooks returned to Wichita after giving up o Hollywood. For more on this period in Brooks' life, see Louise Brooks: Day by Day 1940-1985.

In early 1940, Louise Brooks was a resident of Los Angeles. She was living in a modest apartment, and trying to eek out a living. She and her business partner Barrett O'Shea ran a dance studio, which at best was only moderately successful. She and O'Shea also did occasional exhibition dancing, as when on April 20 they danced at the Arrowhead Spring Hotel in nearby San Bernadino. Things came crashing down when in June Los Angeles newspapers reported that Brooks and other "Hollywood folk" had been the victim of a con-man / swindler. Brooks lost $2,000, then a considerable amount of money.

With little seemingly to keep her (Brooks' acting career had come to a halt), the one time silent film actress left Hollywood and returned home to Wichita in August. By September, the Wichita papers were carrying stories about the Brooks new career, as a dancer and dance instructor. 

To Brooks, who had toured the United States as a Denishawn dancer and had been celebrated as an actress and screen beauty around the world, Wichita must have seemed a comedown. But still, she carried on. She also had to earn a living. 

The Wichita newspapers reported that Brooks and a new partner, Hal McCoy, had opened a dance studio. They also reported on their various engagements. On September 23, 1940, Brooks and Hal McCoy dance at the Crestview Country Club in Wichita, Kansas during a program sponsored by the College Hill Business association. On October 21, Brooks and Hal McCoy dance at the Young Republican meeting at the state's Central Republican headquarters. Hundreds turned out according to local press reports. The event celebrated National Young Voters for Wilkie Day, which was being observed throughout the nation. A broadcast speech by Wendell Wilkie was heard. On October 27, the Wichita Eagle reports that Brooks was enlisted by the Wichita Country Club to instruct locals on new dances including the Conga and Rumba, with the first such instruction taking place October 29.

On November 7, local newspapers report that Brooks is among the local talent participating in a benefit musical for crippled children for Wesley Hospital. On November 14 (her 34th birthday), Brooks speaks about and demonstrates new dances (the tango, rhumba, conga, etc...) at the Wichita Little Theater as part of its workshop program. And on November 24, a classified advertisement for Brooks' self-published booklet, The Fundamental of Good Ballroom Dancing, begins running in the Wichita Eagle. The ad runs nearly every day for a month.

All this activity likely didn't add up to much. We can't be sure how many dance engagements the Brooks - McCoy team had, but it wasn't likely very many. In January of 1941, Brooks ran an advertisement for what today may be called a life coach. The advertisement in the Wichita Eagle promotes private Tuesday morning classes in which Brooks offers "a rare opportunity to reap the benefits of her career among the most fascinating women of the theatre, screen, and society. Learn the way to grace and dominant sureness...." The depression was still on, and Brooks, likely in need of money, was trading on her onetime fame.

Brooks continued on continuing on. The second world war had begun in Europe. On March 28, Brooks participates in a benefit for Greek war relief at the Miller theater in Wichita. Brooks originated a comedy jitterbug number performed by locals Jim Kefner and Jack Walker. Advertisements for the event credit the Louise Brooks Dancing School. And on April 29, Brooks demonstrated ballroom and South American dances at Jubilesta, a fundraiser for the local P.T.A. and student council of the Wichita high school East. According to press reports, Brooks directed a student conga chain. Funds raised by the event went toward the purchase of a movie screen for the school.

For Brooks, the sky fell in again on May 21, 1941. According to Wichita press reports, Brooks was involved in an automobile accident when the car she is traveling in overturned after encountering an oil slick on South Hillside, just outside Wichita city limits. The car was badly damaged, and Brooks was treated at St. Francis Hospital. "Hospital attendants said that she suffered a three -inch laceration on the scalp and numerous bruises. Miss Brooks said attending physicians shaved a portion of her head to stitch the wound. 'I hate to lose my hair worse than to suffer the hurts,' Miss Brooks said." 

Reporting by then old news in her nationally syndicated gossip column, Dorothy Kilgallen wrote in June: "Louise Brooks, the silent screen star, suffered severe burns recently. Had all her hair singed off." In November, Kilgallen again gave a shout-out to Brooks, writing the actress was "stranded in Wichita, Kan. and s-o-s-ing friends for any kind of job."

Evidently, Brooks attempt to establish a career as a dancer & dance instructor in Wichita had fizzled. In August of 1942, Brooks was hired as a sales girl at Garfields, a department store in Wichita. Brooks works the accessories counter. By the middle of September, Brooks employment at Garfields had come to an end. That Fall, there was also a press report that Brooks helped students at Wichita University stage a skit for their forthcoming Spring Celebration. Brooks was once again at loose ends. 

In January of 1943, wealthy New York investment banker Albert Archer calls Brooks in Wichita, and she asks him to wire her the money to get to New York. Some four days later, Brooks departs Wichita by train, with a stop in Chicago. On January 15, she arrived in New York City. Her Wichita interlude had come to an end.

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