Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Neil Gaiman and Louise Brooks, and Kathy Acker too

With Netflix's new production of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman receiving so much publicity of late, I thought I would write a post recounting just some of the many and various connections between Neil Gaiman and Louise Brooks. Here are a few.... 

As readers of this blog may know, Neil Gaiman is well aware of the actress and may be described as a bit of a fan. He has mentioned Brooks on his blog, in tweets, and in interviews, and she also receives shout-outs in his graphic novels and works of fiction. As a matter of fact, in a 1999 interview, Gaiman was asked which actors, specifically which dead actors, he might like to cast in film adaptions of his works. He answered, "Oh, that's fun. If I could cast it with all dead actors, I'd have Peter Sellars playing... an awful lot of the parts! [laughs] Hm... Oh, that's a nice one. I dunno, that really moves into dream casting. You could get the young Brigitte Bardot playing Door, and Alec Guiness playing anybody Peter Sellars isn't. The young Alec Guiness, not an Obi-Wan Kenobi. And maybe Louise Brooks playing Hunter. Or anything, really, I don't mind what Louise Brooks plays; if all she wanted to do was hang around the set and make tea, I'd be there!" 

In a 2003 interview, Gaiman was asked " If you could pick your neighbors (living, dead, real or fictional), who would live to your right, to your left, across from you and below you?" He answered, ".... Underneath ... just random, unpredictable dead people. It'd be fun to go down into the cellar and talk with them. Cleopatra and Dracula and Louise Brooks and the rest ...."

One well known character in The Sandman is named "Death." Originally, Gaiman considered having Death look like Louise Brooks "with a sort of short, black bob, and much more stylish," according to illustrator Mike Dringenberg. Because of her striking Lulu-like look, there has been speculation that she is in fact based on Brooks. But that is not quite true, almost. Regarding the character, Neil Gaiman once wrote, "Mike Dringenberg was at that time the inker of SANDMAN (Sam Keith was penciling). He read my description of Death in the original SANDMAN outline and decided that she should look less like a young Nico or Louise Brooks (as I had suggested) and more like his friend Cinnamon. Mike did a drawing of her - the same drawing that appeared as a pinup in SANDMAN, and later as a T-shirt and a watch face." (Spoiler alert, the character named Death no longer resembles LB.)

Brooks gets a shout out in Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors ("She was, from the photographs, not a contemporary beauty. She lacked the transcendence of a Louise Brooks, the sex appeal of a Marilyn Monroe....") And, Brooks is referenced in Gaiman's most celebrated novel, American Gods, which was also turned into a popular TV series. In American Gods, the character named Czernobog, an ancient Slavic god, is visiting Cherryvale, Kansas - Brooks' birthplace, and that is where he refers to Louise Brooks as "the greatest movie star of all time. She was the greatest there ever was."

I have had the pleasure of meeting Neil Gaiman on a few occasions, and even  produced a couple of events with the author, where I had the honor of introducing him. He is a good guy.

Gaiman has great fans - and his events were some of my favorites of the many I put on. Below is a picture - from long ago and far away - of me and my wife and author Neil Gaiman. Some may recognize the t-shirt I am wearing.

On some of the occasions when I had the opportunity to speak with Gaiman, we chatted a bit about Louise Brooks. At that is when he autographed the cover of one of his graphic novels, The Books of Magic, which I believe contains a character inspired, at least in part, by Brooks.... Gaiman signed the cover, "For Thomas in memoriam Lulu..."

Back in 2010, when I was writing for, I penned a piece titled “Louise Brooks’ private journals to be revealed.” It was about the unsealing of Brooks' notebooks 25 years after her passing. Remarkably, my piece was tweeted about by the Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Roger Ebert, and writer Neil Gaiman!

 That's not the only time Gaiman has tweeted about Brooks. In 2021, he stated....

There are other connections and cross-references between Neil Gaiman and Louise Brooks, but these were the one's that I could come-up with easily without digging too deeply through my files - both digital and paper. But one last connection.... Notably, Neil Gaiman's bestselling novel, American Gods, is dedicated to Kathy Acker (1947-1997), the novelist and literary provocateur. She also happened to be a customer at the bookstore where I worked. I produced a couple of events with her, as well, and once went out drinking with her. She was pretty cool, especially when she would pull up out front of the store on her motorcycle all clad in leather.

Sometime before her death, I had a chance to ask Acker about one of her least known texts, Lulu Unchained. Acker was well regarded as an experimental novelist, and some of her best known works like Great Expectations (1983) and Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream (1986), riff on earlier literary texts. That's the case with Lulu Unchained, which riffs off of Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays and Alban Berg's later opera. Acker told me Lulu Unchained was partly an homage to Louise Brooks and her role as Lulu in Pandora’s Box. I wonder if Neil Gaiman was at it staging at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in July 1985.

That was long ago and far away.

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

Friday, August 19, 2022

Need help translating Yiddish Louise Brooks film advertisement

I wonder if any readers of this blog can help translate a couple of lines of Yiddish text. Pictured below is a 1925 newspaper advertisement for The Street of Forgotten Men, the first film in which Louise Brooks had a role. I am wondering what the Yiddish text above the films English language title says, as well as the centered text below the title. Is either the title of the film in English, or something else. The bold Yiddish text in the upper right corner of the ad is like the name of the NYC theater where the film showed, the Rivoli.

My apologies about the quality of the scan. This is the best available. Thanks much to anyone who can offer any insight.

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

Friday, August 12, 2022

A little bit about Louise Brooks and Salman Rushdie

I first met the great writer Salman Rushdie years ago, when he was still under heavy security. It was an informal book signing, and he agreed to a snapshot with me, my brother, and sister-in-law. (That's me in the Michigan State University sweatshirt. I hadn't time to change, having to rush out the door after being tipped-off to the impromptu event at the last second.) 

Over the years, Rushdie came by my old bookstore and signed books, ever gracious. He was usually accompanied by security. Whenever he visited, I always chatted him up. Once, we talked a bit about Louise Brooks, whom Rushdie had name-dropped in his 1999 novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet. The brief passage reads, " . . . by the emerging gay icon lil dagover, who insists on lower-case initials, wears men's suits and a monocle and a Louise Brooks haircut, and plays like an expressionist dream." 

While chatting, Rushie also mentioned his friend, the writer Angela Carter, who he knew was a big fan of Brooks. Rushdie told me that Carter once said something to the effect that if she ever had a daughter, she would name the child Lulu.

Back in 2005, I wrote a blog post after Rushdie did a "drop-by." I wrote then, "Yesterday, I had the opportunity to chat with novelist Salman Rushdie. He dropped by the store where I work to sign copies of his new book, Shalimar the Clown. In the course of our conversation, I asked him about the name of one of the characters in the new novel, Maximilian Ophuls. Rushie said it was based on the once famous director, Max Ophuls. At first, Rushdie recounted, he adopted the name because of its  blending of the German and the French. Later in the writing process, he said he intended to change the character's name - but, as Rushdie put it, "the character wouldn't let me."

Rushdie is obviously a film buff. In the course of our conversation, the author spoke of Ophuls' work, and mentioned the titles of a number of the director's films dating from the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's. Rushdie has also written a long essay on The Wizard of Oz, which was published in a book on the film. 

As long time readers may recall, for a number of years I had a quotation from Rushdie at the top of this blog. It read, "To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world." I have always felt it explains my approach to Louise Brooks.
This blog is authored by Thomas Gladysz, Director of the Louise Brooks Society ( Original contents copyright © 2022. Further use prohibited.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Nitrate and Gin, a poem by Shawn D. Standfast

Longtime Louise Brooks fan Shawn D. Standfast sent me a poem "about Louise Brooks" titled "Nitrate and Gin." It comes from his 2019 collection Dark Passages: Moments of Transition, published by Sirens Calls Press. Copies of the book can be purchased through amazon HERE.

Nitrate and Gin

A dancer from Kansas
Cherryvale born and bred
Dancing gave you opportunity
Your ticket to New York City

You met the juggling man
Found The street of forgotten men
Dreams flickered on the silver screen
Seeped in nitrate and gin

A jazz baby moving with rhythm
Flowing lines with acting so sublime
A social celebrity in silk stockings
A Venus in evening gowns

Lost in a world of make believe
Choices made upon a whim
Going where boredom led
Not wanting to play their game

Speeding your way to Berlin
Leaving a beggar’s life behind
Fame and immortality waited
Lulu was your destiny

Returning to Hollywood full of hope
Only to find the marquee lights fading
Replaced by bit parts and empty promises
A lost girl imprisoned by Pandora’s Box


Monday, August 8, 2022

Remembering Louise Brooks, who passed away on August 8, 1985

Remembering Louise Brooks (November 14, 1906 – August 8, 1985), dancer, actress, writer, and inspiration to many. She is a 20th century icon. She is gone, but not forgotten. HERE is a link to her "Find a Grave" page. Why not visit the page and leave some virtual flowers.

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

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Unlikely Louise Brooks, number 1 in an occasional series

This post is the first in an occasional series focusing on unusual finds, unusual material, and unusual connections all related to Louise Brooks - even if only tangentially. I run across these sorts of things regularly... and this a way to share them with my few readers.

Motion Picture Reviews was one of a handful of small-time publications which reviewed films back in the day. It was issued by the Motion Picture Committee of the Women's University Club, which was the Los Angeles Branch of the American Association of University Women. (Did other branch's around the country issue printed reviews? I don't know.) Well anyways, this slight, unillustrated and rather plain monthly publication was aimed at parents who wanted to know which films were "best" for children. Here is their statement of purpose from their first issue, which is dated January 1930. 

And here is a statement from their third issue, which states that the films they reviewed were shown to them by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences courtesy of the Association of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All of which suggests that as a group, they had some credibility. 

I read a number of scattered reviews, and must admit that they contain little of interest -- EXCEPT WHEN THEY THREW SOME SHADE,which they occasionally did, as in the write up for The King of Gamblers, shown below. Sounds like a real recommendation to me. Below is a page of reviews from 1930. The review of the Lon Chaney reissue, The Phantom of the Opera, caught my eye. As did the write-up for Playing Around (1930), an Alice White film. It sounds fun. I wonder what they said about Dracula (1931), or Frankenstein (1931). Check out the run of the magazine HERE.

As far as I can tell, the publication ran from 1930 to 1944, which puts it somewhat out of range as far as Louise Brooks' primary career is concerned. But still, I found a few things of interest. Brooks three films from 1931, It Pays to Advertise, God's Gift to Women, and Windy Riley Goes Hollywood, were all covered. It is interesting to me that Brooks was not mention in the piece on Windy Riley; certainly, she was a bigger name than Jack Shutta, who played the title role?

Motion Picture Reviews did not review Brooks' sole 1936 film, Empty Saddles, but they did cover the the two films from 1937 which are part of her filmography, When You're in Love, and The King of Gamblers. The latter is a doozy. BTW, this publication also didn't bother writing up the other Louise Brooks' western, Overland Stage Raiders (1938). Who knows? Perhaps they didn't care for cowboy flicks, or westerns, or serials? Which is odd, because kids sure did.

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

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Loves of Lulu - the First American Lulu (not Louise Brooks) part 3

This post is a brief follow-up to the two previous posts about Margot Kelly, the first American actress to play Lulu. Kelly played Wedekind's famed character in The Loves of Lulu in New York in May, 1925 at the time Louise Brooks, who would play Lulu in the 1929 film, Pandora's Box, was performing in the Ziegfeld Follies and taking on a bit part in her first film, The Street of Forgotten Men

Margot Kelly in 1913

Camille Scaysbrook, a longtime member of the Louise Brooks Society noted on Facebook, she searched in vain for a positive review of the provocative play. "I tried in vain to find a positive review, given that everyone from Alexander Woolcott down seems to have considered it the stinker of the year. Amazingly, the only one who liked it was the great George Jean Nathan. His might have been the sole positive review, as it's quoted in advertisements. He also wrote positively (and insightfully) of it in Arts and Decoration."

Inspired by Camille, I went looking for more commentary on the play, and can confirm her findings - everyone hated The Loves of Lulu. Not only did Alexander Woolcott dislike the play, so did another famous critic of the time, Edmund Wilson. And so did John Mason Brown, who, writing in Theater Arts Monthly, called it an "unpardonably bad production." Critic Philip Hale stated, " The audience on the first night of The Loves of Lulu (Wedekind's Erdgeist) laughed ironically and coarsely, guying the whole performance." The New Yorker said it was "played for farce value, perhaps unintentionally."

Writing in The New Republic, Wilson said the play "failed so completely." In Vanity Fair, Woolcott said it lacked "perversion." Ouch! Even Picture Play magazine, which generally focused on films, got in on the massacre. Before noting The Loves of Lulu "played about a week to all but empty houses," Picture Play stated, "It was adapted from a German play called Erdgeist, by Wedekind, which in the original is a morbidly interesting work of real force and coherence. But the translation was so garbled and the acting so bad that it landed in the same heap with its almost illiterate neighbors."

In fact, many of the bad reviews the play received criticized the translation, which was by Samuel Eliot. His translation was the only translation into English at the time. And, according to Peter Bauland's 1968 book, The Hooded Eagle: Modern German Drama on the New York Stage, Margot Kelly's The Loves of Lulu was something rare -- the only professional production of a Wedekind play in New York for many years. Bauland writes, "Between the closing of The Awakening of Spring in 1917 and the off-Broadway performance of Erdgeist as Earth Spirit in 1950, the only professional production in New York of a play by Frank Wedekind came on May 11, 1925. This was Samuel A. Eliot, Jr.’s translation of Erdgeist known as The Loves of Lulu. The German play, written in 1894, was first produced in Leipzig in 1898; its first successful staging was Max Reinhardts 1902 presentation in Berlin. It was Erdgeist and its sequel, Die Biichse der Pandora (Pandora s Box), not granted a permit to be performed in Germany until 1919, that earned for Wedekind his notorious reputation: that of being nothing more than the prophet of a cult which maintained that all human action was the product of tyrannical sex drives, and that in the face of this pressure, man cannot have both happiness and dignity. The reputation was undeserved, for despite Wedekind’s insistence on the power of glandular forces, this is certainly an oversimplification of his motives, and he seldom dealt with sex naturalistically."

All of this got me to wondering, how familiar with Wedekind's original German play could all of these critical critics have been? About the only middling review the play received was in The New Leader, a socialist weekly newspaper. Here is their review.

As I mentioned in the last blog, all this is interesting to me as background on the way Louise Brooks role as Lulu was received in the United States 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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