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Louise Brooks, Flapper, 20s Silent Screen Star, Singer, Dancer, Courtesan, and Icon

Updated on October 27, 2016
TessSchlesinger profile image

Globetrotter, author, and thinker with interests in environment, minimalism, health, dancing, architecture, décor, politics, and science.

Louise Brooks was the ultimate pin up girl and flapper of the 20s. The first woman to sport a bob with the kind of sexuality that would have sizzled in the 60s, she quickly became a household name. She was also a dancer, a showgirl, a model, and an actress for the silent screen. All told, she starred in twenty five movies. Her most famous films were Pandora’s Box, and Diary of a Lost Girl filmed in 1929 and Miss Europe filmed in 1930. 'Lulu,' as she was known, was born on November 14th, 1906 in Cherryvale,Kansas. Her father was a lawyer and her mother a pianist. She was sexually abused by her neighbor when she was nine and her mother blamed her for the neighbour molesting her. "What have you done to the poor man?" she asked her daughter. Louise Brooks later claimed that this set the tone for her sexual preferences in later years.

She was the most seductive sexual image of woman ever committed to celluloid.  Kenneth Tynan - author and critic
She was the most seductive sexual image of woman ever committed to celluloid. Kenneth Tynan - author and critic

Louise Brooks: Dancing Led to Hollywood

As a young girl, Louise saw a dance show and was instantly smitten. She told her mother that was what so wanted to become. So in 1922, at the age of 14, she joined a dance company. She stayed with the company for two years but was fired for being arrogant. She was told “You want life handed to you on a silver salver.”

She was not to be without work, though, and quickly found employment almost as a chorus girl (with the help of friends).. Subsequently, she appeared in Follies on Broadway where a talent scout from Hollywood noticed her. She was quickly contracted to a five year contract with Paramount which lasted from 1925 to 1930.

Louise Brooks: actress, dancer, showgirl, author, singer, and fashion icon
Louise Brooks: actress, dancer, showgirl, author, singer, and fashion icon | Source

List of Films : Filmography Louise Brooks

In 1926, she starred in six movies: The American Venus, A Social Celebrity, It's the Old Army Game, The Show Off, Just Another Blonde, and Love 'Em and Leave 'Em.

In 1927, Lulu starred in four films: Evening Clothes, Rolled Stockings, Now We're In the Air, and The City Gone Wild.

1928 brought two movies: A Girl in Every Port and Beggars of Life.

In 1929, three more movies followed: The Canary Murder Case, Pandora's Box (her most famous),and Diary of a Lost Girl.

1930, the final year of the five year contract brought only one movie, Miss Europe.

Between 1931 and 1938, she filmed another seven movies: It pays to advertise, God's Gift to Women, Windy Riley Goes Hollywood, Empty Saddles, When you're in love, King of Gamblers, and Overland Stage Raiders.

Lulu, as Louise Brooks was known, was photogenic and loved the camera.
Lulu, as Louise Brooks was known, was photogenic and loved the camera.

Love, Sex, and Fame

She rose to stardom rapidly due to a ‘naturalistic’ acting style and a face that fascinated. She soared in comedy, playing the ultimate flapper girl. She ranked W. C.Fields amongst her famous co-stars, and was a frequent guest at the San Simeon estate of William Randolph Hearst. She loved sex and had some famous lovers, including Charlie Chaplin whom she met at the premier of The Gold Rush.

While filming in Germany, she met Greta Garbo and famously had a one night stand with her. She was bisexual.

Louise Brooks married twice but had no children. She declined to marry George Marshall who appeared to be the love of her live, and he stopped asking her when he discovered her many affairs. One of her affairs was with William S Paley, the founder of CBS. He was to give her a small financial income for the rest of her life and it was this that kept her from taking her life in more difficult times.

Louise Brooks Documentary

Louise Brooks: Independent Spirit did not like Hollywood

Miss Brooks did not lack an independent mind. When she was promised a pay rise but did not receive it, she left Hollywood for the European film circuit and while there made some of her greatest films. She had come to the attention of the European film making community as a result of her role as a vamp in the 1928 film A Girl in Every Port. The move to Europe was an easy one for her as she was not fond of the Hollywood set.

This did not mean that Hollywood had finished their love affair with her. Indeed, she had become world famous, and there was a strong demand for her as a star. When Hollywood invited her back when audio movies were invented, she declined, thereby, forever remaining a silent screen icon. Her refusal also resulted in Hollywood blacklisting her saying that she didn’t have a voice suitable for sound movies.

Louise Brooks had a one night stand with Greta Garbo whom she considered a masculine but charming and considerate lover.
Louise Brooks had a one night stand with Greta Garbo whom she considered a masculine but charming and considerate lover. | Source

Louise Brooks Played Sexy Parts in Film

Her movie roles in Germany involved a part as a lesbian, and in real life, Miss Brooks admitted to having lesbian affairs, including one night with Greta Garbo. However, in later years she said that she did not believe that there was such a thing as a lesbian, and that it was learned behavior, and a desire for experimentation.

Love and sex was far more important to Louise Brooks than filming. So it was that when Hollywood offered her a movie in 1931, she declined in order to be with her love, George Marshall in New York. Her refusal marked the end of any return to the silver screen for her.

A dancer at 15

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Dancer and gossip columnist

During her subsequent years, Miss Brooks opened a dance studio (not successful), worked as a radio actress, a gossip columnist, and even as a sales girl at Saks Fifth Avenue. As none of this seemed to work for her, she chose the life of a courtesan for a while, having a few rich men as clients. Perhaps, her biggest downfall was her addiction to alcohol, for the habit had formed early, and she could never live without it.

She starred in the documentary,Memories of Berlin in 1976, had her book, Lulu in Hollywood published in 1982, and did an interview with Richard Leacock in 1984 called Lulu in Berlin. It was released after her death in 1985.

Louise Brooks will be remembered for her hairstyle, her beautiful face, her film roles on the silent screen, the controversy whispered about in her possible lesbian relationships, and her sexually liberated way of life..

She passed in New York on the 8th August, 1985 at the age of 78.

© 2016 Tessa Schlesinger

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