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Louise Brooks Tells All

Despite Brookss erratic conduct in Louie the 14th, Ziegfeld hired her to become listed on Will Rogers and W.C. Fields in the 1925 edition of his Follies. It became her last Broadway show. Among her many admirers that year was the atrabilious wit Herman Mankiewicz, then employed as second-string drama critic of the Times. Blithely playing truant from the Follies, she attended the opening of No, No, Nanette on Mankiewiczs arm. Because the houselights faded, her escort, who was simply profoundly drunk, announced his intention of drifting off to sleep and asked Brooks to create notes on the show for used in his review. She obliged, and the Times following day echoed her opinion that No, No, Nanette was an extremely meritorious paradigm of its kind. (Somewhat cryptically, the review added that the score contained more familiar quotations from itself… than even Hamlet. ) Escapades such as this did nothing to endear her to another, more dedicated Ziegfeld showgirls, but an abiding intimacy was raised between her and W.C. Fields, in whose dressing room she was always graciously received. Later, in a passage that tells us just as much about its author as about her subject, she wrote:

He was an isolated person. As a man he extended his hand to Beauty and Love plus they thrust it away. Gradually he reduced reality to exclude all but his work, filling the gaps with alcohol whose dim eyes transformed the planet right into a distant view of harmless shadows. He was also a solitary person. Years of travelling alone all over the world along with his juggling act taught him the worthiness of solitude and the release it gave his mind…. The majority of his life will stay unknown. However the history of no life is really a jest.

In September, 1925, the Follies left town on a national tour. Brooks stayed behind and sauntered through the role of a bathing beauty in a Paramount movie called The American Venus. Paramount and M-G-M were both pressing her to sign five-year contracts, and she lookedfor advice to Walter Wanger, among the former companys top executives, with whom she was having an intermittent affair. If, as of this crucial moment in my own career, she said long afterward in London Magazine, Walter had given me some faith in my own screen personality and my acting ability, he could have saved me from further mauling by the beasts who prowled Broadway and Hollywood. Instead, he urged her to take the Metro offer, arguing that when she chose Paramount everyone would assume that she had got the work by sharing his bed and that her major attribute had not been talent but sexual accessibility. Incensed by his type of reasoning, she defiantly signed with Paramount.

Throughout twelve monthsduring which Brookss friend Humphrey Bogart, seven years her senior, was still laboring on Broadway, with four seasons to hold back prior to the dawn of his film careerBrooks made six full-length pictures. The press started to pay court to her. Photoplay, whose reporter she received reclining during intercourse, said of her, She actually is so very Manhattan. Very young. Exquisitely hard-boiled. Her black eyes and sleek black hair are as brilliant as Chinese lacquer. Her skin is white as a camellia. Her legs are lyric. She caused many of the bright young directors who gave Paramount its reputation for sophisticated comedy; e.g., Frank Tuttle, Malcolm St. Clair, and Edward Sutherland. Chronologically, the set of her credits ran the following: The American Venus (for Tuttle, who taught her that the best way to get laughs was to play perfectly straight; he directed Bebe Daniels in four movies and Clara Bow in six). A Social Celebrity (for St. Clair, who cast Brooks opposite the immaculately caddish Adolphe Menjou, of whose style she later remarked, He never felt anything. He used to state, Now I really do Lubitsch No. 1, Now I really do Lubitsch No. 2. And thats just what he did. You felt nothing, dealing with him, yet see him on the screenhe was an excellent actor). Its the Old Army Game (for Sutherland, who was simply Chaplins directorial assistant on A FEMALE of Paris, and who made five pictures with W.C. Fields, which this was the initial, and which the 3rd, International House, is looked upon by many Fieldsian authorities because the Masters crowning achievement; Brooks married Sutherland, a hard-drinking playboy, in 1926one that has been rectified inside 2 yrs by divorce). The Show-Off (for St. Clair, adapted from the Broadway hit by George Kelly). YET ANOTHER Blonde (on loan to First National). And, finally, to round off the years work, Love Em and Leave Em (for Tuttle), the initial Brooks film which Eastman House includes a copy. Here begin my notes on the sustained and solitary Brooks banquet that the museum laid before me.

Day One: Evelyn Brent may be the nominal star of Love Em and Leave Em, a slick and graceful comedy about Manhattan shopgirls, but light-fingered Louise, as Brents jazz-baby younger sister, steals the picture with bewitching insouciance. She actually is twenty, and her body continues to be plump, quite husky enough for work in the fields; however the face, framed in its black proscenium arch of hair, has already been Lulus in embryo, particularly when she dons a white top hat to visit a costume ball (of which she dances a definitive Charleston). The plot demands her to seduce her sisters boyfriend, a feckless window dresser, and she does so with that fusion of amorality and innocence that was to become her trademark. (Of these scenes, I catch myself humming a tune from Pins and Needles: I was previously on the daisy chain, now Im a chain-store daisy.) Garbo could give us innocence, and Dietrich amorality, on the grandest possible scale; only Brooks could play the easy, unabashed hedonist, whose appetite for pleasure is indeed radiant that even though it causes suffering to her among others we cannot think it is in ourselves to reproach her. Most actresses have a tendency to pass moral judgments on the characters they play. Their performances issue tacit commands to the audience: Love me, Hate me, Laugh at me, Weep with me, etc. We get none of the from Brooks, whose presence prior to the camera merely declares, Here I’m. Make what you would of me. She will not care what we think about her. Indeed, she ignores us. We appear to be spying on unrehearsed reality, glimpsing what the fantastic photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson later called le moment qui se sauve. In the very best of her silent films, Brookswith no conscious intention to do sois reinventing the art of screen acting. I suspect that she was helped instead of hindered by the truth that she never took a formal acting lesson. When I acted, I hadnt the slightest notion of what I was doing, she said once to Richard Leacock, the documentary filmmaker. I was simply playing myself that is the hardest part of the planet to doif you know that its hard. I didnt, so that it seemed easy. I had nothing to unlearn. When I first caused Pabst, he was furious, because he approached people intellectually and you also couldnt approach me intellectually, because there is nothing to approach. To view Brooks would be to recall Oscar Wildes Lady Bracknell, who observes, Ignorance is similar to a delicate, exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is fully gone.

Rereading the aforementioned paragraph, I pause at the sentence She will not care what we think about her. Query: Was it precisely this quality, which contributed so much to her success on the screen, that enabled her, in old age, to throw that success so lightly away?

To come back to Frank Tuttles film: Tempted by way of a seedy and lecherous old horseplayer who lives in her rooming house, Brooks continues on a betting spree with funds raised by her fellow-shopgirls in aid of the Womens Welfare League. The aging gambler is played by Osgood Perkins (father of Tony), of whom Brooks thought to Kevin Brownlow years afterward, The very best actor I ever caused was Osgood Perkins…. Guess what happens makes an actor great to utilize? Timing. You dont need to feel anything. Its like dancing with an ideal dancing partner. Osgood Perkins would offer you a line so you would react perfectly. It had been timingbecause emotion means nothing. (Emphasis mine.) This comment reveals what Brooks has learned all about acting in the cinema: Emotion by itself, however deeply felt, isn’t enough. It really is what the actor showsthe contraband that he / she can smuggle at night camerathat matters to the audience. A variation of the dictum cropped up in the mouth of John Striebels popular comic-strip heroine Dixie Dugan, who was simply predicated on Brooks and first appeared in 1926. Bent on obtaining a job in The Zigfold Follies, Dixie reflected, All there’s to the Follies racket would be to be cool and appearance hot. Incidentally, Brookss comparison of Perkins with a dancing partner reminds me of a remark she once made about Fatty Arbuckle, who, beneath the assumed name of William Goodrich, apathetically directed her in a 1931 two-reeler called Windy Riley Goes Hollywood: He sat in his chair such as a man dead. He previously been excellent and sweetly dead since the scandal that ruined his career…. Oh, I thought he was magnificent in films. He was an excellent dancera wonderful ballroom dancer in his heyday. It had been like floating in the arms of an enormous doughnut.

What images do I retain of Brooks in Love Em and Leave Em? Many comedic details; e.g., the scene where she fakes tears of contrition by furtively dabbling her cheeks with water from the handily placed goldfish bowl, and our last view of her, with all her sins unpunished, merrily sweeping off in a Rolls-Royce with who owns the department store. And, throughout, every closeup of this blameless, unblemished face.

In 1927, Brooks moved with Paramount to Hollywood and played in four picturesEvening Clothes (with Menjou), Rolled Stockings, THE TOWN Gone Wild, and today Were in the Air, none which come in the Eastman vaults. To commemorate that year, I’ve a publicity photo taken at a residence she rented in Laurel Canyon: poised on tiptoe with arms outstretched, she stands on the diving board of her pool, wearing a one-piece black swimwear with a good white belt, and looking such as a mix of Odette and Odile in a few modern-dress version of Swan Lake. Early in 1928, she was lent to Fox for an image (happily preserved by the museum) that has been to improve her careerA Girl atlanta divorce attorneys Port, written and directed by Howard Hawks, who had made his first film only 2 yrs before. Alongside Carole Lombard, Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell, and Lauren Bacall, Brooks thus claims a location on the list of actresses on David Thomsons list (in his A Biographical Dictionary of Film) of performers who have been either discovered or taken to new lease of life by Hawks. As in Love Em and Leave Em, she plays an amoral pleasure-lover, but this time around the mood is a lot darker. Her victim is Victor McLaglen, a seagoing roughneck engaged in perpetual sexual rivalry along with his closest friend (Robert Armstrong); the embattled relationship between your two men brings in your thoughts the skirmishing of Flagg and Quirt in What Price Glory?, that was filmed with McLaglen in 1926. In A WOMAN atlanta divorce attorneys Port, McLaglen, on a binge in Marseilles, sees a performance by an open-air circus whose star turn is billed as Mamselle Godiva, Neptunes Bride and the Sweetheart of the ocean. The submarine coquette is, needless to say, Brooks, looking svelter than of old, and clad in tights, spangled panties, tiara, and black velvet cloak. Her act includes diving off the very best of a ladder right into a shallow tank of water. Instantly besotted, the bully McLaglen becomes the fawning lapdog of the dame of class. He proudly introduces her to Armstrong, who, unwilling to wreck his buddys illusions, refrains from revealing that the ladys true character, as he knows from the previous encounter with her, is that of a small-time gold-digger. In a scene charged with the subtlest eroticism, Brooks sits beside Armstrong on a sofa and coaxes McLaglen to completely clean her shoes. He readily obeys. As he does so, she begins, softly, reminiscently, but purposefully, to fondle Armstrongs thigh. To these caresses Armstrong will not respond, but neither does he reject them. With one man at her feet and another at her fingertips, she actually is just like a cat idly licking its lips over two dishes of cream. This must surely have already been the sequence that convinced Pabst, once the film was shown in Berlin, he had found the actress he wanted for Pandoras Box. By the finish of the picture, Brooks has turned both friends into mortal enemies, reducing McLaglen to circumstances of murderous rage blended with grief which Emil Jannings could not have bettered. There is absolutely no melodrama in her exercise of sexual power. No effort, either: she actually is simply following her nature.

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