Louise Brooks

Active - 1925 - 2014  |   Born - Nov 14, 1906   |   Died - Aug 8, 1985   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Western, Crime, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The daughter of a Kansas attorney, Louise Brooks was 15 when she accompanied her mother to New York. A talented if not inspired dancer, Brooks performed with the Denishawn dance troupe, then worked in such annual revues as George White's Scandals and The Ziegfeld Follies. Signed to a Paramount film contract in 1925, she was largely confined to nondescript leading lady roles in such films as W.C. Fields' It's the Old Army Game (1926), directed by her then-husband Eddie Sutherland. Better roles came her way in Howard Hawks' A Girl in Every Port (1927) and William Wellman's Beggars of Life (1928). With her darkly exotic good looks and distinctively bobbed-and-banged haircut, Brooks gained popularity with filmgoers, but neither critics nor studio executives were particularly impressed with her acting ability. All this changed when she was invited to work in Berlin by director G.W. Pabst. Her haunting, provocative performances in Pabst's Pandora's Box (1928) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) not only established her as a screen personality of the first rank, but also fostered a Louise Brooks "cult" which continued to flourish.

Alas, when the temperamental Brooks refused to return to Hollywood to film sound retakes for her silent picture The Canary Murder Case (1929), she was effectively blacklisted in Hollywood. Despite another brilliant performance in René Clair's Prix de Beaute (1930), Brooks found herself consigned to thankless supporting roles when she returned to America. Soon she was scrounging for work in two-reel comedies and bit roles; her last screen appearance was a demeaning leading lady assignment in the 1938 Three Mesquiteers Western, Overland Stage Raiders, which she accepted because she needed 300 dollars in a hurry. She spent the next two decades in virtual obscurity, occasionally obtaining radio work, but generally limited to clerical and salesgirl jobs. She was rescued in the mid-'50s by a millionaire media executive with whom she'd allegedly had an affair, and who provided her with a modest monthly annuity for the rest of her life. She moved to Rochester where she formed a lasting friendship with film buff/curator James Card of the George Eastman House. It was Card who drew the reclusive Brooks out of her shell with a series of well-received Louise Brooks retrospectives. In her last two decades, she began a whole new career as a writer, producing well-researched and well-balanced articles on movie history. Still, she remained a mercurial personality to the end, alternately attracting and repelling her admirers with her unpredictable behavior. In 1982, Louise Brooks collaborated with Hollis Alpert on her witty, extremely candid autobiography, Lulu in Hollywood.

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