Louise Brooks the Scandalous Icon
Louise Brooks was easily the most recognizable flapper at the peak of her popularity, in the 1920s. She was an actress, model, and dancer. Louise Brooks is generally credited with popularizing the stereotypical flapper haircut, as her dark hair was cut in a blunt, boyish bob. Interestingly enough, this haircut was inadvertent – it was merely how she had worn her hair since she was a child. Brooks was born November 14, 1906, in the rural town of Cherryvale, Kansas. Even at a young age, she knew she wanted to be a performer. She would put on vaudeville-style routines for her family and friends. When she was in high school, her family moved out west to California. It was then that she was discovered by a producer who was impressed by her dancing in a chorus line. Louise became a movie star.
Tragically, like many films from the early days of Hollywood, some of Louise’s most important films are missing. They are considered lost forever, either through bureaucratic snafus or, more commonly, film-wiping penny pinching. These roles include her leads in A Social Celebrity and The American Venus. The UCLA film archive offers a reward to anyone who can prove conclusively that they have fragments or full reels of a lost film. Despite some of her work being destroyed, Louise still stands as the quintessential and has a core, cult fan base. Her films have been restored and re-released by the Criterion collection. It was in film that Louise found most success.
Louise Brooks’ most famous role is her starring role in famous director G.W. Pabst’ Pandora’s Box. The film was controversial (as many things were during the reluctant early 20s) because of its stark portrayal of contemporary sexuality. It even featured, quite shockingly for the time, the first lesbian film character. In Pandora’s Box, Brooks’ character, Lulu, enjoys a promiscuous lifestyle. She sleeps around with various men and extorts gifts, like jewelry and clothing from them – the classic gold digger. Lulu continues to muck about in an irresponsible manner. Her bad behavior and disregard for other people eventually leads to her own unraveling and the destruction of those who love her. Like most of her films, this was a box-office smash. She received thousands of fan letters and
By the 1940s, Louise had become disenchanted with her flapper style and Hollywood. She perceived it to be an industry created solely on money and shunning actual cinematic art. The switch from silent films to films with sound, called talkies, did not do much for her career. Brooks’ voice was deemed unsuitable for talking pictures. She dropped out of the movie industry but struggled to find success in other areas. Brooks flitted between being a gossip columnist, an aspiring writer, a radio actress, and, during one stint of desperation, a prostitute. However her life was not to be entirely sad. In the 1950s, Louise Brooks was rediscovered by film historians and hailed as greater than Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich. Film historians personally purchased her a New York apartment and gave her a stipend, so that she would be able to live out her remaining years peacefully. Louise Brooks died of a heart attack on August 8, 1985.