Louise Brooks is a 20th century icon. Her hair is her trademark. Her distinct Dutch bob framed a face of astonishing beauty. Fair skinned and freckled, Brooks appeared on film as something almost luminous. Her sleek black hair - the famous "black helmet" - defined a face both inviting and enigmatic. Her's was a "face that the camera loved."
Ironically, Louise Brooks is perhaps least remembered for what she was - a gifted actress. Between 1925 and 1938, she appeared in 24 films. Early on, she worked with directors Malcom St. Clair, Eddie Sutherland, William Wellman and Howard Hawks in films such as It's the Old Army Game (with W.C. Fields, 1926), The Show-off (with Ford Sterling & Lois Wilson, 1926), Love Em & Leave Em (with Evelyn Brent, 1926), Beggars of Life (with Wallace Beery & Richard Arlen, 1928), A Girl in Every Port (with Victor McLaglen, 1928), and The Canary Murder Case (with William Powell & Jean Arthur, 1929).
Brooks' accomplishments did not go unheralded. During the late 1920's, the one-time Denishawn dancer and Ziegfeld girl inspired both the long running comic strip "Dixie Dugan," as well as the stage play "Show Girl." In 1927, according to biographer Barry Paris, Louise Brooks was the fourth most written about actress (in terms of major magazine articles) after Clara Bow, Joan Crawford and Colleen Moore.
Brooks' career in Hollywood is overshadowed by what is certainly her best-known role, as "Lulu" in the classic German film, Pandora's Box (1929). Under the direction of G. W. Pabst, Brooks' subtle, erotically charged style of acting emerged. Upon its release, Pandora's Box largely failed in Germany and was barely reviewed in the United States. Brooks' style was so natural that critics complained she either couldn't or didn't act. Today, Pandora's Box is considered a landmark of the silent cinema.
Brooks made two other films in Europe - Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), again with Pabst, and Prix de Beauté (1930), an early French sound film (based on a story by Pabst & Rene Clair). With the promise of work in Europe, Brooks had quit Paramount in an act of defiance. Upon her return to the United States, she found herself relegated to supporting roles in B-grade films. Her keen intelligence, rebellious nature and self-destructive streak all contributed to her exile from Hollywood - and what might have been one of the great careers in film history. Brooks' last movie was Overland Stage Raiders (1938), a western serial with John Wayne.
After years of obscurity and near poverty, a new Louise Brooks began to emerge - that of author. Throughout the 50's, 60's and '70's, her thoughtful essays appeared in magazines like Sight and Sound, Film Culture, and Focus on Film. Once derided as a brainy show-girl, Brooks' second career as an insightful writer took shape. In 1982, a bestselling and widely reviewed collection of her work appeared under the title Lulu in Hollywood.
In the years since her death, numerous cinematic, literary, musical, cartoon and dramatic homage have been paid the actress. Brooks' reputation has come full circle. A woman of remarkable endurance, Louise Brooks has become a magnet of meaning - a 20th century icon.
Thank you to the Louise Brooks Society for the biography.