Louise Brooks was transformed from an erstwhile silent film actress to an American Icon. The quintessential flapper girl of all time. A girl a million men have fell in love with. Make that a million and one.
Her name is less famous than that of her peers. Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, Theda Bara. But her face is better known than all three. The bobbed hair, the swan like neck, the sculptured lips and that stare. The stare worthy of a sphinx. A look that has been described as' blank amorality'. She is self assured, her beauty not classic but unique. The face was described as the face 'the camera loved'.
Born in 1906 in Kansas. Her father a judge, her mother a showbiz wannabe. Mary Louise Brooks or Brooksie as her friends called her found that school and dance came easily to her. By age 10 she was performing. At age 15, with her dance teacher, she left the dusty roads of Kansas for the big city, New York.
In leap frog fashion she went from bit player to star in one than another dance troupe. Finally securing a position with the Ziegfeld Follies. She was noticed by a movie scout and was soon in pictures. What happens next is the stuff of dreams.
Her acting ability has been a point of contention. Compared to the 'over-the-top' mannerisms displayed in silent films, her style was natural, understated. But what the film critics failed to see was obvious to her adoring fans. She was real, she was one of them. Soon her look was copied my thousands of women. In fact she came to represent the jazz culture of the twenties.
The 'flapper' , the Charleston, the waistless dress above the knees, cold gin and hot cars, the bob, girls as wild and carefree as the boys. Louise was made for the 20's and the 20's where made for Louise. Her fame forever locked in this comet ride of a decade.
It became clear to Paramount that Louise was hard to handle. She was a contradiction. She could party all night but sit alone on the set reading Goethe. She was dismissive of her fame and worst of all she rebuffed the sexual advances of studio executives. She left Paramount when she was offered a contract renewal without a raise. Within a day she was approached by a German director to act in his studio.
It was in Germany that Louise Brooks did her best work. Eventually starring as Lulu in 'Pandora's Box'. Her defining role of a lifetime. But the death knoll for Hollywood had been sounded. Her movie career spanned a scant 7 years. She should have been forgotten like a hundred other actors from the silent films.
Iconography is not a career move. It's not even an occupation. For Louise Brooks it was a burden. She never became unfamous. She fled back to Kansas never to act again. Eventually she was lured to Rochester, New York to review films. By all accounts she was a credible writer. By the 1960's she was a recluse, still in Rochester. She died in August 1985. Known so well, known not at all.
Ironically her mother wrote these words at the height of her fame, 'Fame, wealth, popular applause are but by-products and should never be an end in themselves'.
Only the image remains. Her soul made flesh on remastered DVD's and her massive portfolio of hauntingly beautiful stills. Louise Brooks defined America for one brief moment, certainly that means something.