Much of the footage I used in my book trailer for Let’s Misbehave comes from a documentary about the life of Louise Brooks entitled Looking for Lulu. The entire documentary can be viewed on YouTube, starting with this first instalment.
Even if you don’t know her name, you might recognise the face and the haircut. Long before Princess Diana or Jennifer Aniston, the most copied hair style was Louise Brooks’ iconic bob.
Louise was a small town girl from Kansas who began her career in New York as a dancer, first with the Denishawn Modern dance Company, then with the Ziegfeld Follies. It was while she was still in New York that she attracted the attention of Charlie Chaplin, and the two had a brief affair.
In 1925 the 19-year old Louise was offered a five year contract in movies with Paramount. Her naturalistic acting style, coupled with her expressive eyes, gave her performances a subtlety that was quite new in its time.
During this stint in Hollywood, her outspoken, independent attitude and unapologetic sexuality became as much her trademark as the bobbed haircut. Louise was no-one’s puppet, and when Paramount tried to use the advent of sound to strong-arm her, she simply turned her back on Hollywood.
Effectively black-listed in America, Louise moved to Europe where she made three movies with German director Georg Pabst. It was these films, Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl and Prix de Beaute, that secured her immortality and an iconic status that lasts to this day.
Returning to America in 1931, she made a few unremarkable sound films before retiring into obscurity. For many years it seemed that she would be remembered more for her troubled personal life and alcoholism than her movies, until she was discovered living as a recluse in New York by James Card, curator of the George Eastman House. With his encouragement, she moved to Rochester, NY and started a successful second career as a film historian and writer. She died there in 1985 at the age of 78.
Like Gabrielle, the heroine of Let’s Misbehave, Louise’s life was filled with conflict and tragedy. And both women were determined to live life on their own terms. At least Gabrielle got to have her happy ending.