Who Remembers Louise Brooks?

Louise Brooks was an American dancer, model, showgirl and silent film actress. She starred in 17 silent films. She started her career as a dancer in a dance company. In her second year with the company she danced in a starring role, but because of a conflict with one of the founders of the company, she was fired from the troupe. She quickly got a job as a chorus girl, and then was a featured dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies. In this position she was noticed by the producer of Paramount Pictures, and he signed her to a five year contract.

Louise Brooks

Over the next few years she had the leading role in many silent comedies and flapper films. It is felt that her best American film was Beggars of Life, a story of a young girl running away from home and riding the rails. She was now rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, and was often a guest at San Simeon, the Hearst estate. By then she was sick of the Hollywood scene, and miffed at not receiving a promised raise, she left Paramount and moved to Europe.

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While in Germany she starred in Pandora’s Box, a controversial film that frankly handled sexuality, including the portrayal of a lesbian, and Diary of a Lost Girl, equally shocking to most people. These films were very adult and were heavily censored.

Two years later when she returned to Hollywood, she was cast in two more modest roles. But they didn’t bring her recognition. When she left Paramount she was put on a sort of blacklist, and she received very few offers. Then her director for Beggars of Life offered her the female lead in his new film, The Public Enemy, starring James Cagney.

Louise Brooks

It could be the role to put her back on top, but she turned it down. Instead she went off to New York to be with her lover, and the role was given to Jean Harlow. She explained later that she hated making pictures because she hated Hollywood. Turning down this role was what really ended her film career, as she had few serious roles after that. For the rest of the time that she was in movies, she played bit parts and roles in B pictures.

Her last bit of glory was the last film she made before retiring. It was in a western with John Wayne. It was a romantic lead, and one of the most noticeable things about it was her dark, long flowing hair. She was hardly recognizable, because her trademark had been her closely fitting bob, which was sometimes called a black helmet. That was her last concession to Hollywood.

Louise Brooks Zeigfeld

When she retired from films she tried opening a dance studio that failed. She moved to New York and did some radio acting and worked as a gossip columnist, and then as a sales girl in Saks Fifth Avenue. It was a long fall from the heights of her film career.

Louise Brooks died of a heart attack in 1985.