Louise Brooks Society - all about the silent film & Jazz Age icon who played Lulu in Pandora's Box. The Louise Brooks Society is the largest & most comprehensive website devoted to any silent movie star. The LBS is an online archive - a place on the information superhighway where individuals can learn about the life and times of the actress.
I finally got around to watching Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the based-on-a-true story about a literary forger starring Melissa McCarthy. It is a brilliant film, but not one I can say I enjoyed watching. Truth-be-told, it is just too much of a downer. McCarthy is really, really good in the role of Lee Israel, the author and biographer who turns to forging letters from famous writers after her own career stalls out. Richard E. Grant is also superb in his supporting role as Isreal's problematic friend. Both McCarthy and Grant deserve Academy Award nominations.
[After a well received theatrical run, the film is now out on DVD. More info HERE.]
I was keen to see this film for various reasons, not least of which was the fact that among the more than 400 letters Israel forged were a bunch by Louise Brooks. The actress's role in Israel's book Can You Ever Forgive Me? is prominent. Nearly three chapters are given over to Brooks in Israel's slim 2008 book, in which she admits to forging at least a handful of letters from the silent film star. Four of the Brooks forgeries are depicted in the book. However, in the film, Brooks' role is greatly diminished. By my count, the actress is mentioned twice and pictured once.
Brooks is first mentioned during a rapid recital of the personalities who's letters Israel forged or embellished: Fannie Brice, Noel Coward, Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman and others. The second mention comes near the end of the films when (spoiler alert) Israel's character is seeing a lawyer, who tells his client that he enjoyed reading the Louise Brooks' letters.
An image of Louise Brooks can also be spotted in the film, pinned to a bulletin board above Israel's couch in her New York City apartment. In the screen capture below, Grant is lounging on the couch after he and Israel return from a night out drinking.
Curiously enough,this is not the first film in which co-star Richard E. Grant is seen next to a picture of Louise Brooks. The first was the not-so-dissimilar Withnail and I (1987), an acclaimed indie film about two out-of-work actors -- the anxious, luckless Marwood (Louise Brooks devotee Paul McGann) and his acerbic, alcoholic friend, Withnail (Grant) -- who spend their days drifting between their squalid flat, the unemployment office and the pub. Here is a screen capture from that film.
Grant, it should be noted, also had a role in the last season of Downton Abbey, and as any regular reader of this blog may know, that acclaimed television series has a number of well-known connections to Louise Brooks.
Well, back to Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which I've written and blogged about in the past. There is a piece in my 2018 book, Louise Brooks, the Persistent Star on my own "brief encounter" with Israel - via email. I've also blogged about Israel's book and the film. Those with an eye for the obscure may notice Louise Brooks' name on the cover of the original edition of Can You Ever Forgive Me? It is the third on the list, x'ed out Louise Brooks.
Well, here is something of a minor mystery in my ongoing research into the history of Louise Brooks and radio. It begins with these two 1950 clippings from the San Francisco Examiner newspaper.
Sing It Again was a weekly one-hour Saturday-night music variety quiz show that featured home viewers trying to identify songs with the help of special clues that were performed by the show's regulars. (The show has been described as a kind of audience participation version of Name That Tune.) If the player answered correctly, he or she received a chance to identify the "phantom voice" for a jackpot prize.
The program first aired on CBS radio in September, 1948. Musical quiz shows were the rage and CBS decided to out-do them all with a program that would feature popular performers and the largest jackpot ever offered. Musical conductor Ray Bloch assembled a cast consisting of handsome crooner Alan Dale, songstress Eugenie Baird, and pianist-singer Bob Howard. The master of ceremonies was the affable Dan Seymour.
Like most game shows, this show had a gimmick: A song would first be performed straight, then sung again -- hence the show's title -- with new lyrics describing a famous celebrity. If the contestant (or a listener phoned at random) solved the puzzle, they would have the opportunity to try to identify the "phantom voice" from clues offered during the preceding weeks. (If you are interested in here an episode of the show from 1949, visit this PAGE. Spoiler alert, the famous celebrity sung about in this episode is Claudette Colbert!)
In 1950, Sing It Again became one of the few programs ever to be simulcast (broadcast on both radio and television). However, the move to TV resulted in changes in format: the size of the jackpot was reduced, and everyone was replaced except for singer Alan Dale, who by then had become the show's top attraction. Comedian Jan Murray became the show's master of ceremonies.
1950 press photo of Eugenie Baird and Alan Dale on Sing It Again
Could Louise Brooks have been the "phantom voice" mentioned in the two clippings shown above. It's possible. In 1950, the former silent film star was living in New York City, which was also the home to Sing It Again. (The show, produced by Lester Gottlieb Productions, was made at the CBS Playhouse #3 in New York.) Brooks had done a bit of radio work for CBS in the early 1940s, prompted by her friendship with William S. Paley, the head of CBS.
Sing It Again was broadcast nationally, and newspapers across the country carried listings for the show. However, the only paper I've been able to find which took an interest in identifying the "phantom voice" was the San Francisco Examiner. Here is another clipping from earlier in August, 1950 which mentions Irene Castle and Gloria Swanson.
Could Louise Brooks have been the "phantom voice"? We may never know. This time in Brooks' life is poorly documented, and few pictures of the former star dating from this period are known. Except for one, I couldn't find any recordings of the Sing It Again show online. Perhaps they exist in an archive or OTR collection somewhere. Or perhaps there still exist old records for the show identifying who the various guests and "phantom voices" were. Old radio magazines might also be useful in solving this minor mystery. If any reader of this blog has access to such records or archive or audio recordings, please let me know.
The Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts will host a reading group on June 19 to discuss The Chaperone. More information can be found HERE.
Turn the Page Book Group - The Chaperone Wednesday, June 1910:00—11:00 AM Simoni Room Morrill Memorial Library 33 Walpole St., Norwood, MA, 02062
The Morrill Memorial Library’s monthly Turn the Page Book Group will meet on Wednesday, June 19 at 10 am and 7 pm to discuss The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. The library describes the book as "A novel about the friendship between an adolescent, pre-movie-star Louise Brooks, and the 36-year-old woman who chaperones her to New York City for a summer, in 1922, and how it changes both their lives."
A New York Times bestseller and the USA Today #1 Hot Fiction Pick, The Chaperone is a captivating account of the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in the summer of 1922. It was recently made into a feature film starring Elizabeth McGovern by the creators of Downton Abbey.
Copies of the book in a number of formats will be available to pick up at the Circulation Desk. Light refreshments will be served.
To sign up for either the morning or evening session, led by Patty Bailey and first-time guest host Geri Harrold, please call 781-769-0200, x110, or stop by the library Reference or Information desk. Well more than half of the seats are taken for this highly anticipated event.
On a not unrelated note, author Laura Moriarty was recently on "One on One with Victor Hogstrom," a television show on the local PBS affiliate (KPTS Channel 8) in Wichita, Kansas. In the thirty minute show, Moriarty discusses the mission of her novels. She also talks about The Chaperone, the novel she wrote about a certain Kansas-born film star that has been made into a new movie.
One on One with Victor Hogstrom: Laura Moriarty - YouTube
As most fans know, a handful of Louise Brooks' films, like Beggars of Life and The Canary Murder Case, were based on once well known books of the same name. Other films were based on well known stage plays, like The Show Off and It Pays to Advertise, each of which were also published in book form.
Researching Brooks and her films can turn up some rather unusual items.... And over the years, I have come across a few examples of vintage books which also share the title of a Brooks' film - but otherwise have no real connection to the film itself. They are, to say the least, biblio-curiosities.
The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) is the title of Brooks' first film. Directed by Herbert Brenon, it was based on a short story, "The Street of the Forgotten Men" by George Kibbe Turner, which appeared in Liberty magazine earlier in 1925. [Remarkably, thirteen of Turner's stories or novels were turned into films between the years 1920 and 1932.]
The Street of Forgotten Men was also the title of a book by John Vande Water. The book's full title, The Street of Forgotten Men : ten years of missionary experience in Chicago, pretty much explains what it's about. This "other" book was published by Eerdmans, a publisher of religious books based in Grand Rapids, Michigan; the copies I've seen have no date of issue - but to my eye, look to postdate the 1925 film. (I've emailed the publisher, which is still in business, asking for a date of issue.) Besides it's title, skid-row / Bowery setting, and theme of redemption, the book and film are unrelated. Anyone interested in reading or just checking out Vande Water's book can do so HERE.
A "street of forgotten men" is a catchphrase, and the name sometimes given to those parts of a town where the homeless would congregate. Street of Forgotten Men was, as well, the name given to a 1930's short film which "toured" the Bowery and it's unfortunate denizens. It is not listed on ImDb, but can be viewed below.
Street of Forgotten Men 1930s - YouTube
Another catchphrase or idiom which became the title of a Louise Brooks film and a later book is "a girl in every port." The 1928 Brooks' film by that name was directed by Howard Hawks, and was based on a story by Hawks and James K. McGuinness, with a scenario by Seton I. Miller.
So far, I've come across three works titled A Girl in Every Port. The earliest seems to be Forrest Additon's book of poems and drawings, which is subtitled "The Odyssey of a Deep-Sea Sailor." As you might expect, this 1938 vanity press publication is a collection of slightly saucy sing-songy poems which recount various encounters with women around the world. Many of the poems are accompanied by one of Additon's sometimes saucy drawings. In a foreword, the author takes pains to assure his readers these are not his stories, oh no, but just those he has heard from sailors the author has encountered during his travels.
It is difficult to choose the "best" piece in this volume, but here at least is a representative one. It is called "Wolly Golly."
The author, in case you are wondering, was a self-published writer and amateur artist who worked for many years in the furniture manufacturing business in Flowery Branch, Georgia. He is also credited with authoring the Illinois state song. When Additon died in 1958, Florida's Fort Lauderdale News considered him enough of a local celebrity (he had retired to Florida) that it ran an obituary on the front page.
I am lucky enough to own an autographed first edition copy of this Additon's self-published book. (The publisher is Henry Harrison, a poetry publisher based in New York City. The New Yorker described Harry Harrison as a vanity publisher who charged authors to publish their work, a la the Vantage Press.) I am not sure why I own a copy of this title, but I do. I guess it's because I am a book collector of sorts. My hardcover copy (pictured below) is in it's original dustjacket, and is in very good condition. Laid in are a couple of pieces of author related ephemera, including a reproduction of a 1937 drawing of Joseph C. Grew, the one-time ambassador to Japan. "T.M.I." you may say. Ok, I'll move on.
I also own an ephemeral booklet titled A Girl in Every Port. Published in 1942 by the Dramatic Publishing Company of Chicago, this 30 page, one act comedy by James Fuller continues the theme of randy sailors and their romantic adventures in various ports of call. The playlet calls for one man, named Jim "who loves them all," and seven women named Marilyn, Mary, Mimi, Mandy Lou, Maude, Tina (a maid), and Miss Margrave. Mmmmmm..... My copy is pictured below.
One other vintage book I've come across titled A Girl in Every Port is a 1942 work of fiction by William McClellan published by the Phoenix Press (a renowned publisher of mysteries, westerns, and genre fiction during the 1930s and 1940s). McClellan also author Waterfront Waitress (1937), Lady Interne (1939), Midnight in Morocco (1943) and other works, each of which was published by the Phoenix Press. I don't know anything else about A Girl in Every Port except that it seems to continue the same cliched trope of sailors on the loose around the world. As did, no doubt, Donald R Morris' 1956 paperback subtitled "Sailors & Sex in the Orient" published by Berkley (not pictured).
Lastly, here is a rare French book titled Prix de beaute. Published in Paris by Editions du Petit Echo de la Mode sometime in the 1920s (possibly in 1929), this 158 page work by C. N. Williamson shares its title with the 1930 French film starring Louise Brooks. I don't know much else about it, as I am awaiting the arrival of the copy I have ordered from France.
I will end this rambling post with the yet unrelated work of fiction, except that this one depicts Louise Brooks on it's cover! The book is Loot by Rob Eden, published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1932. Rob Eden was the pseudonym of Robert Ferdinand Burkhardt, a genre author whose works include Honeymoon Delayed as well as other pulp plots like The Girl with the Red Hair, Blond Trouble, Short Skirts, and In Love with a T-Man. The copy on the front of the dustjacket reads "Torn between loyalty to her newly found brother and love for his enemy, Robin Moore makes her choice!" Sounds like a great read, doesn't it!!
Louise Brooks can rightly be called a persistent star. And with the recent release of The Chaperone, this now more-famous-than-ever silent film actress is enjoying renewed attention. As Positively Kansas host Sierra Scott says, "She is once again a movie star more than 30 years after her death."
A segment devoted to Louise Brooks featured on a recent airing of Positively Kansas is now online. This episode of the Wichita TV show is worth watching, and not just because it includes your's truly, Thomas Gladysz, director of the Louise Brooks Society (via Skype), as well as local Kansas commentators.
Positively Kansas Episode 509 - YouTube
Episode 509 of Positively Kansas was first broadcast on KPTS Channel 8, the PBS affiliate in Wichita, Kansas on May 31, 2019. The episode's descriptor reads in part, "See why a famous silent film star from Wichita is more popular than ever, decades after her death." The show gets most all of it's facts right, except for one glaring error. During the segment discussing Brooks' childhood, an image of a young girl is shown that is NOT Louise Brooks. This image has shown up elsewhere and is said to be a youthful Brooks, but it ain't. It's just a sweet looking girl with a dutch boy haircut.
Otherwise, the approximately eight minute segment devoted to Brooks has a good selection of images along with brief film clips from Pandora's Box and It's the Old Army Game.
Do all local PBS affiliates have their own local interest show? Has WXXI, the PBS affiliate in Rochester, New York done anything recently on the timelessness of Louise Brooks? Brooks lived in Rochester during the last decades of her life, and used to watch a fair amount of television, especially old movies, cultural programs, and informational shows like they might have shown on PBS in the 1960s and 1970s.
October 3, 4, 5, 2019 at the Doncaster Little Theatre in Doncaster, England
A new musical, set in the glamorous excess of the 1920s, telling the story of iconic movie star Louise Brooks.
We join Louise on location during the making of the 1928 movie Pandora’s Box, a movie in which there are uncanny parallels between the life of Lulu, the main character in the movie, and Louise, the actress.
A tempestuous star with a reputation as an unrepentant hedonist, Louise harbours a secret which holds the key to her apparently self destructive behaviour. A secret well hidden in a whirlwind of sexual adventures, and a party lifestyle which defined the roaring 20s.
The sensational 1929 Louise Brooks film, Pandora's Box, will be shown on June 3rd on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in the United States and Canada. The German silent, directed by G.W. Pabst, will air at 5 pm Pacific and 8 pm Eastern. For Monday's complete schedule of films, please visit HERE.
This is Louise Brooks' best known film. And for good reason. Brooks lights up the screen as Lulu,a lovely, amoral, and somewhat petulant showgirl whose behavior leads to tragic consequences. As Brooks biographer Barry Paris put it, her “sinless sexuality hypnotizes and destroys the weak, lustful men around her.” And not just men. . . Lulu’s sexual magnetism had few bounds, and this once controversial film features what may be the screen’s first lesbian character.
One of the pleasures of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is opportunity to meet some of the authors, scholars, and film world personalities in attendance at the annual event. I haven't missed a summer festival since it began in 1995, and over the years I have met everyone from actors Fay Wray and Sydney Chaplin (Charlie's son) to authors like Anthony Slide and Kevin Brownlow. There are others, including some with connections to the world of Louise Brooks.
Pamela Hutchinson and Thomas Gladysz
This year I renewed friendships with authors William Wellman Jr. and Pamela Hutchinson (author of the BFI book on Pandora's Box), and made a new acquaintance, film scholar Gwenda Young. She is a professor of film history and lecturer in film studies at University College, Cork, Ireland. Gwenda is also the author of numerous articles about film history, including three articles about Clarence Brown, and co-editor of two books of critical essays. In 2003, along with Kevin Brownlow, she curated a retrospective of Brown's films at the National Film Theatre, London.
Gwenda was on hand to promote the release of her excellent new book, Clarence Brown : Hollywood's Forgotten Master (University Press of Kentucky). It is a good read, well researched, and full of fascinating bits about early Hollywood, including Louise Brooks. It is highly recommend.
I won't attempt to summarize the book, but will instead offer this publisher synopsis:
Greta Garbo proclaimed him as her favorite director. Actors, actresses, and even child stars were so at ease under his direction that they were able to deliver inspired and powerful performances. Academy–Award–nominated director Clarence Brown (1890–1987) worked with some of Hollywood's greatest stars, such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Mickey Rooney, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy. Known as the "star maker," he helped guide the acting career of child sensation Elizabeth Taylor (of whom he once said, "she has a face that is an act of God") and discovered Academy–Award–winning child star Claude Jarman Jr. for The Yearling (1946). He directed more than fifty films, including Possessed (1931), Anna Karenina (1935), National Velvet (1944), and Intruder in the Dust (1949), winning his audiences over with glamorous star vehicles, tales of families, communities, and slices of Americana, as well as hard-hitting dramas. Although Brown was admired by peers like Jean Renoir, Frank Capra, and John Ford, his illuminating work and contributions to classic cinema are rarely mentioned in the same breath as those of Hollywood's great directors.
In this first full-length account of the life and career of the pioneering filmmaker, Gwenda Young discusses Brown's background to show how his hardworking parents and resilient grandparents inspired his entrepreneurial spirit. She reveals how the one–time engineer and World War I aviator established a thriving car dealership, the Brown Motor Car Company, in Alabama―only to give it all up to follow his dream of making movies. He would not only become a brilliant director but also a craftsman who was known for his innovative use of lighting and composition."
In a career spanning five decades, Brown was nominated for five Academy Awards and directed ten different actors in Oscar-nominated performances. Despite his achievements and influence, however, Brown has been largely overlooked by film scholars. Clarence Brown: Hollywood's Forgotten Master explores the forces that shaped a complex man―part–dreamer, part–pragmatist―who left an indelible mark on cinema.
Clarence Brown's other early films include Trilby (1915), The Last of the Mohicans (1920), The Eagle (1925, with Rudolph Valentino), The Goose Woman (1925), Flesh and the Devil (1926), Kiki (1926), A Woman of Affairs (1928), Anna Christie (1930), Romance (1930). The last three starred Greta Garbo, and for the last two, Brown received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Another early effort is Brown's 1924 film, The Signal Tower, which was one of the films being shown at this year's event. (I had written an article for the Ukiah Daily Journalon The Signal Tower, which was filmed in Northern California.)
Any silent film buff should be well acquainted with Brown's body of work. (I have seen about ten of the above mentioned films, and wish to see more.) However, what piqued my interest in Gwenda Young's book were mentions of Louise Brooks. Young notes the Jazz Age's sometime preference for androgynous women (including Brooks), and later quotes the actress on John Gilbert's feminine masculinity. Young also quotes Brooks on Clarence Brown dislike of lesbians, despite his having worked with Garbo and other not-so-straight actors so often.
Quoting from Brownlow's interview with Brown, Young also discussed the director's racial attitudes. "Even more revealing, perhaps, was an anecdote he told about a feud he had with actress Louise Brooks over an incident that occurred back in the 1920s. While attending a party at her house, he had been shocked that she permitted her black guests to share the swimming pool with whites: 'If I've been sour to Louise Brooks it's because she and Eddie Sutherland [Brooks's then husband] didn't draw the color line'."
Gwenda's book is a honest portrayal of a flawed human being who was also a great director. And rightly so, the book has received a good deal of praise. The Wall Street Journal called it "A sweeping and elegantly written biography. It is as gracefully told, as delicate and memorable, as the best work of its subject. Young's book effortlessly portrays a man who never let the Hollywood system interfere with his filmmaking instincts." While Emily Leider, author of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, said "Gwenda Young's research for her study of the films directed by Clarence Brown is beyond excellent. It is extraordinary."
I was very please to meet Gwenda Young at this year's Festival (she had come all the way from Ireland) and have her sign my book. UK film historian Kevin Brownlow, who wrote the foreword to the book and was also in attendance at this year's event, also signed my copy. My double autographed copy of Clarence Brown: Hollywood's Forgotten Master is a book I will long treasure!
If you are a fan of Louise Brooks, chances are you also have an appreciation for Colleen Moore. . . . On May 25, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, California is celebrating the great bobbed-hair actress with a day of her films. It is an event you won't want to miss!
Frederick Hodges (piano) So Long Letty (1920, Christie Film Company, DVD) In this farce comedy based upon the hit stage play, Colleen Moore and T. Roy Barnes are a seemingly mismatched couple living next door to another couple, Walter Hiers and Grace Darmond, of similar temperament. The couples switch partners in the pursuit of happiness. First time on our screen.
Preceded by: A Tribute to Colleen Moore (1979) A special reel of rare clips.
MORE COLLEEN MOORE Saturday, May 25, 7:30 pm Suggested member donation $5, not yet member $7 BUY TICKETS
Jon Mirsalis (Kurzweil keyboard) Her Wild Oat (1927, First National, 35mm) Colleen Moore plays the owner/operator of a lunch wagon who decides to splurge on a vacation among the rich at the Hotel Coronado. She is snubbed at first by the other guests, but when she impersonates a duchess, things heat up. First time on our screen.
Preceded by shorts: Life in Hollywood #2 (1927, Goodwill Pictures) Colleen Moore A Roman Scandal (1919, Christie) Colleen Moore
It has been three years since the acclaimed television series went off the air. And the InStyle story notes a couple of the changes that have taken place since last we saw the show's much beloved characters: "Another prominent shift between the beloved PBS drama and its upcoming theatrical reboot? Michelle Dockery’s hair! Dockery (aka Lady Mary Crawley) has elevated her flapper-esque bob in the years since the series’s finale — she now has that coveted micro-fringe blanketing the top of her forehead. Though a retro style, the daring look has found a modern audience among stars like Emma Roberts and Charlize Theron."
Lady Mary Crawley has worn her hair short in the past, but this new look with bangs is something a little different.It a classic 1926 Louise Brooks bob.
Though sometimes obscure, there are many connections between Downtown Abbey and Louise Brooks. The show's creator and writer, Julian Fellowes, is enamored with the story of Louise Brooks. In the past, he has noted how much he appreciated Barry Paris' 1989 biography of the actress, and has also noted that his mother wore bobbed hair and was said to resembled the silent film star. Besides penning the TV show, Fellowes also penned the script for The Chaperone, the new film from PBS Masterpiece which tells the story of Louise Brooks 1922 trip to New York City. The Chaperone came about when Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern was hired to read the audio book version of Laura Moriarty's novel of The Chaperone. (The Louise Brooks Society provided the image of Louise Brooks which adorns the cover of both the book and the audio version.) McGovern liked Moriarty's book so much she bought the film rights and went on to produce The Chaperone film. Besides recruiting Fellowes to write its script, McGovern also brought Downton Abbey series director Micheal Engler on board to direct the film.
The one other Louise Brooks connection to Downton Abbey is actress Shirley MacLaine. Like Fellowes, she is an admitted devotee of Louise Brooks, having once hoped to play the silent film star in old age. In Downton Abbey, she plays the mother of Elizabeth McGovern's character, who is the mother of Michelle Dockery's character.
The Downton Abbey movie opens in theaters onSeptember 20.
DOWNTON ABBEY - Official Trailer [HD] - In Theaters September 20 - YouTube