Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Loves of Lulu - the First American Lulu (not Louise Brooks) part 1

Recently, while doing some research on Louise Brooks' first film, The Street of Forgotten Men, I came across a 1925 magazine clipping mentioning the The Loves of Lulu, which reportedly was the first American stage presentation of Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays. Notably, the play opened in New York City in May of 1925 - at the same time as Brooks was dancing in the Ziegfeld Follies and The Street of Forgotten Men was in production just across town. How's that for historical overlap?

I was intrigued to find out more, and to learn more about Margot Kelly, the actress who first played Lulu in America. She has a few film credits, but seems primarily to have been a stage actress. Below, is a rather striking photo of Kelly as Lulu. Notably, this photo was taken by Edward Thayer Monroe, who also photographed Brooks. How's that for coincidence?

Interestingly, I also came across a 1924 letter from the Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill to Kenneth Macgowan in which O'Neill mentions Margot Kelly and his interest in the Lulu plays. O'Neill writes, "I've been going over, with the English translations of the separate plays as a trot, the combination made by Wedekind himself of Erdgeist & Pandora's Box which he called Lulu. Margot Kelly dug up a copy of it in Library of Congress. It looks good. I'm strong for it, provided we can get a good translator. I'll even promise to help on the dialogue. This Erd-Pandora work of Wedekind's ought to be done somehow. It's the best thing of its kind ever written and we ought to do it at the P.P." [Provincetown Playhouse] Ah, what might have been.

Kenneth Macgowan, to whom the letter was addressed, ran the Provincetown Playhouse as its producer, and with Eugene O'Neill as a business partners. In the 1930s, Macgowan went into film as a producer, and even won an Academy Award. Later, he authored a notably early history of film titled Behind the Screen (1965). While it briefly discusses G. W. Pabst, it does not mention Louise Brooks. 

Well, anyways, here is another striking portrait of Margot Kelly. While looking her up online, I came across another portrait, which looks like it was taken ship-board. Kelly, it seems, had been to England, where she played Lulu. The caption on the back of the photo reads, "American actress too daring for London stage Margot Kelly returns from London where she received the "cold shoulder" in the play Loves of Lulu which was a big hit in this country but too risky for Englishmen." She seems like quite a personality.

I have dug up some more on Margot Kelly and her role as Lulu which I will post in the next blog. All this is interesting to me as background on the way Louise Brooks role as Lulu was received just four years later.

This blog is authored by Thomas Gladysz, Director of the Louise Brooks Society ( Original contents copyright © 2022. Further use prohibited.

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