Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Louise Brooks and John Held, Jr.: A Dual Discovery

Louise Brooks and John Held, Jr.: A Dual Discovery
By Michael Smith

Back in 1995 during my junior year of high school I was sitting in History class learning about the 1920's.  In the chapter of our textbook dedicated to the Prohibition Era there was an illustration that really caught my fancy, and I was fascinated by the style of the men and women in the drawing.  The caption said the name of the artist but unfortunately I didn't write it down and it escaped my memory for the next few years.

Fast forward to 1999: I am taking an illustration class in college and the professor tells us to choose any illustrator we want, past or present, and make an illustration in his or her style.  I immediately knew who I would pick: the artist who created that drawing in my junior year high school History class textbook, but the problem was I didn't remember his name;  however, I knew the internet could help me.

After several computer-lab hours of searching terms like "1920's illustrators", "1920's cartoonists", and "1920's artists" on pre-Google era search engines that would be considered primitive today, I finally rediscovered the name of the artist I had originally discovered four years earlier: John Held, Jr.

But that wasn't the only thing I came across.

During my search through countless websites dedicated to 1920's culture, I saw a photo of an absolutely gorgeous girl with a perfectly trimmed jet black bob.  Her name was Louise Brooks and after doing a separate search for information on her, I learned she was a dancer and silent-film actress in the 20's and early 30's.  I was immediately smitten.  Wanting to see more pictures, I visited the Louise Brooks Society website for the very first time.  As I was browsing the photos, my professor walked behind me, stopped dead in his tracks, and exclaimed, "Wow, Michael, she is *beautiful*!!!" with much emphasis on the word beautiful.  I had been gazing wide-eyed at a portrait of Louise and due to my instructor's reaction I could tell she was something special, still making men stare all these years later.

About a month went by and I took a trip to New York City with the student newspaper staff at my college. Someone said they were going to go check out an old book store named Gotham Book Mart so I decided to tag along.  We arrived at the store, and since my fellow staff member said this place had been there for decades and decades, I asked the girl at the counter if they had anything by John Held, Jr. (since I also knew he worked in the city during his prime.) She didn't know the name and wasn't sure (I don't think they even had a computer to search their inventory) but she asked me what subject it would be and I told her he was an artist that did cartooning and illustration. So she pointed me towards a shelf that had comic strip related books on it and that was that.

I walked over to the shelf, and two seconds later a young man (probably a manager) walks out from the back room and asks me, "Did you just ask if we had anything by John Held, Jr.?" and I said, "Yeah..." He replies, "Did you know he designed our sign back in the 20's?" My eyes got huge and I don't even remember what I said, if anything, but I do remember immediately running out the door, looking up, and gazing at an original piece of art by one of my favorite artists from one of my favorite eras that had been hanging over a New York City sidewalk for seventy-plus years.  (See the attached photo of the sign, I found the photo on the internet.  I don't know who owns the copyright to this photo but I wanted to include it with my essay to show what the sign looks like.)

What are the odds??? Overall a pretty wild experience.

Part 2: What Louise Means To Me

If it wasn't for John Held, Jr., I don't know when I would have discovered Louise.  I know I would have stumbled upon her eventually due to my strong interest in the 20's because she is an icon of the era and any website or book about the Jazz Age wouldn't be complete without mentioning her, and it wouldn't be worth looking at without showing her picture.

Louise is my muse and in 2014 she inspired me to start a community page on Facebook called Louise Brooks Fan Club.  This page has over 6,000 Likes and gets more and more just about every day.  Since I also post photos of other beautiful actresses, showgirls, models, artwork, music, and fashion from the Roaring 20's, Louise Brooks to me is the personification of that decade.  Not only is she "the quintessential flapper" she is also the physical embodiment of the entire era.  Louise is the main focus of my page, tying all my seemingly-random posts together, making them all on-topic and appropriate.  But most importantly she helped me create a creative outlet for myself where I can share photos I like, music reviews I've written, clever captions I come up with, my sense of humor, and my random thoughts on art and beauty with thousands of people, something I've wanted ever since I first heard the word "blog".  And for that I will be forever grateful to our beloved Brooksie.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lulu gets around: Louise Brooks in the Dutch East Indies

This rare clipping depicts Louise Brooks arrival in Berlin to begin work on Pandora's Box. What is amazing about this clip is that it comes from Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad, one of the leading and largest daily newspapers in the Dutch East Indies. It was based in Batavia (now Jakarta) on Java, but read throughout the archipelago. Lulu sure did get around.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Louise Brooks in Norway, part 2

This post originally appeared on Facebook. The clippings were found by Tor Lier, and he also authored the commentary and provided the translations. It is a great haul of previously undocumented material.


An article in A-Magasinet, the weekly magazine format supplement of Aftenposten.
«Louise Brooks opdager Europa» (Louise Brooks discovers Europe).

Signed anonymously «Correspondent», this appears to be a translation of a syndicated article from another country. From the wording, I’d guess that it’s of German origin. . It would be too much of a task translating the whole thing, but here are some interesting passages: "She was at the top, and great things were expected of her, when the talkies fever broke out in America and made the situation uncertain for the movie stars. Louise Brooks, too, experienced difficulties. Her contract with Paramount had expired, and there were conditions attached to its renewal that the new star did not appreciate.

That’s when Louise Brooks discovered Europe."

 (… A diatribe against American movie people’s dismissal of European films follows…)
"However, Louise Brooks, or her manager — or both of them together — had seen a German film and were amazed at what those poor Europeans were able to achieve.
Negotiations with German companies followed, and one day the lovely Louise found herself in Berlin."

(… The following paragraphs deal with German skepticism of having an American play Lulu, as we’ve heard from Louise herself and other sources.
"It cannot be denied that we had pictured a different kind of Lulu, perhaps a Greta Garbo, or why not Brigitte Helm?"

"The general audiences were ecstatic. This was just how they wanted Lulu, childishly innocent in all her sin, as if apologetic for all the evil she did.
However, the critics were cool. Many of them felt that the performance of the American star was very slight.
And the following day, the papers were furious: What was all this farce about the hunt for the perfect Lulu, when all the while the contract with the American star lay safely in the film company director’s safe? And criticism of poor Louise was as harsh as it can be in Berlin when you’ve accidentally upset the critics.
But in spite of all this, the film is playing to packed houses."
What I find odd here is the bit about Louise and he agent starting negotiations after taking an interest in German films. Unless I misremember, all reports tell of Pabst discovering Louise in A Girl In Every Port, and his offer coming to her out of the blue. Was this concocted by the article writer, or an after-the-fact embellishment from Louise’s agent?

Page two of the article:

And the photos from page 1 in larger size:

Thanks to Tor Lier for permission to reprint this material.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Louise Brooks in Norway, part 1

This post originally appeared on Facebook. The clippings were found by Tor Lier, and he also authored the commentary and provided the translations. It is a great haul of previously undocumented material.


In chronological order, some clippings from the archives of Aftenposten, the leading daily newspaper in Norway.

Aug. 30, 1926: Oslo premiere of Shingle-Eksperten (The Shingle Expert) (A Social Celebrity). Evidently considered a big enough picture to warrant two theaters.

The text reads: "ADOLPHE MENJOU has long since conquered both women’s and men’s hearts. In SHINGLE-EKSPERTEN he undoubtedly has one of his best parts, and he’s supported with surety and elegance by the lovely LOUISE BROOKS whose beauty has justifiably caught the attention of the whole world."
«Shingle» refers to the bobbed hair at which Menjou’s character is evidently an expert.

Jan. 19, 1927: Ad for Oslo showings of Før og efter bryllupet (Before and After the Wedding) (The Show-Off). Text reads: "In this jolly comedy, the triumvirate of everyone’s Lois Wilson; the lovely and charming Louise Brooks; and the famous comedian Ford Sterling, are leading the fun. Which guarantees a great time for the audience. This is a film you should see!!!"

May 18, 1927: Shingle-Eksperten (The Show-Off) in re-release.

Elsk Mig (Love Me) with Leatrice Joy and Edmund Burns could be either Hell’s Highroad (1925) or Made for Love (1926), I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Siste Chance (Last Chance) (Seven Chances)

Evig Din i 14 Dage with Clara Bow and Lawrence Gray has to be Kid Boots. Poor Eddie Cantor, the star of the film, isn’t mentioned!

Oct. 10. 1929: For once, the title «En pike i hver havn» is a literal translation of the original, A Girl in Every Port. Underneath, coincidentally, is an ad for a film featuring Sig Arno of Pandora’s Box. The original title of this film is Das Mädel mit der Peitsche (The Girl with the Whip)!

In an ad from five days later, Oct. 19, Louise is now first-billed over McLaglen!

Could not find a trace of the Pabst films in the ’29 or ’30 archives. Both Pandora and Diary may have fallen afoul of Norwegian censorship, which was quite strict, or there may have been other problems. However, the premiere of Prix de beauté (Skjønhetskonkurransen, literally «The Beauty Contest») (April 28, 1930) shows that the actress was not quite forgotten: «The Louise Brooks film of the year, made in Paris!»  Peculiarly, the ad credits cinematographer Rudolph Maté with being the director of the film!

Thanks to Tor Lier for permission to reprint this material.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Louise Brooks / silent film themed RadioLulu receives praise from NYC

Recently, the Louise Brooks Society received an email from a fan in New York City. Nick, who is employed at the Vito Russo Library at the Gay Center in NYC, wrote to offer congratulations on the 20th anniversary of the Louise Brooks Society. He also wanted it to be known that RadioLulu is played at the library every Saturday, and that "Everybody loves it."


The library is named for Vito Russo (1946 – 1990), an American LGBT activist, film historian and author who is best remembered as the author of the book The Celluloid Closet, which was first published in 1981. Louise Brooks appears on the cover of the softcover edition from 1987. An excellent documentary film was also made from the book. If you haven't seen it, track it down and given it a viewing.

According to the Gay Center website, "Founded in 1991 to encourage and facilitate the reading and research of LGBT literature, the Pat Parker/Vito Russo Center Library is named in honor of individuals who championed LGBT causes in their professional and personal lives. The Center Library is a lending library connected with others around the city, sponsor of a monthly reading group, and producer and/or collaborator for literary events of interest to the LGBT community."

RadioLulu is a Louise Brooks-inspired, silent film-themed station streaming music of the 1920s, 1930s, and today. Located on the web at — RadioLulu features music from the films of the silent and early sound era, as well as recordings by early stars, show tunes, a little sweet jazz, cabaret artists, contemporary tracks and more. In addition, there are theme songs, novelty numbers, torch singers and crooners — as well as a numerous tracks with “Lulu” or “LouLou” in the title. And of course, there’s Maurice Chevalier’s much-loved “Louise”. All together, RadioLulu features more than 430 tracks totaling almost 23 hours!

More about the station can be found on the LBS website at

Thursday, November 19, 2015

New book with Louise Brooks cover

A new French novel features Louise Brooks on the cover. The book, released 17 Septembre 2015, is Archives of wind by Pierre Cendors. I would love to hear from anyone who has read the book to know if Louise Brooks features in the book in any way. Below is the book's publisher web page translated into English.

Archives of wind

Pierre Cendors

An engineering director - Egon Storm - withdraws from the world before the broadcast of a trilogy that revolutionizes the history of cinema. Since his solitude he mentions in a final message the existence of a mysterious man: Erland Solness.

Based on this simple plot, Pierre Cendors book with us wind Archive text with strange powers, hypnotic. A metaphysical thriller? An ecological road movie? Fitting dizzying levels of reality, pushing ever more power of fiction, the author was never gone so far in his work.

"My story is not a novel. It is not more of a will than a confession. It is a talismanic formula to leave the world without leaving a white shamanic speech, something like a playground out in the great cosmic game is played where our existence. "

The Author

Pierre Cendors is a French language writer born in 1968. Archives of wind is his fifth novel.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Discovering Louise, by Marlu Akers Stroud

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Louise Brooks Society (which went online in 1995), fans of the actress were asked to submit their story of discovery -- of how they first came across Louise Brooks. This is the third in a series of posts.
This piece, "Discovering Louise," is by Marlu Akers Stroud, a relation of the actress. Stroud wrote, "My grandmother (Louise's aunt) moved to California as a young married lady so that is where my mom was born and raised and subsequently myself. My mom and her sisters remember traveling as children to visit Myra's home but by that time Louise was gone and on her way. They never met Louise but were close to her sister June."


Louise Brooks (right), with her sister June
I was born in 1951. The name “Louise Brooks” was not a household name. I don’t remember ever being aware of her name until I was a young adult, maybe after her death. I’m not sure. This may seem surprising since Louise was a member of our family, a first cousin to my mother, but it is true. I did not know of her.

In 1989, Christmas, my mother gave me a copy of the biography by Barry Paris about Louise and told me that this book was about her cousin and she (Louise) had been a movie star in the silent films. That same year my sister-in-law did a genealogy chart. It did not include cousins but Louise was mentioned in a summary.  At that time I thought the whole thing was kind of interesting but I was not all that curious about her. I did not read the book until years later.

Looking back a few years; my grandmother, aunt to Louise and sister to Myra, Louise’s mother, lived with our family for a few years. Apparently she kept in contact with Louise by letter but if she told me about it I do not remember. Grandma used to burn the letters after reading them because the content “was not for our eyes”. Funny. To be honest, the only reason I read Mr. Paris’s biography is because my grandmother was mentioned in it. My grandmother died in 1976, nine years before Louise.

In the years since their deaths my mother and my sister-in-law would occasionally mention the LB websites and fan clubs but I was busy with my life and did not think much about it.

Fast forward to 2012. My first grandchild had been born and I became interested in the family tree, family history and the like. I was determined to create records to leave to my grandchildren. Thus my acquaintance with Louise Brooks.

In the beginning of my research I discovered that her name was actually Mary Louise. Mary is the name of her grandmother, my great grandmother. Mary is my mother’s name as well.

I then read the biography as well as other books, articles and various internet sources. I read about her mother. I printed every photo I could find. I spent hours and hours getting to know this infamous cousin. I watched Pandora’s Box as well as shorter video clips from other films and interviews. When I view photos of her smiling she reminds me of my grandmother as a young woman.  Also the picture of her as an older woman with such bad arthritis; this too was my grandmother, her aunt.

Eventually I made my way to the box containing my grandmother’s photographs. There were no pictures of Louise as an adult but there were a few of her as a child and a few of her immediate family.

In the beginning of this project I admit to being a little “star struck”. I thought it was pretty special to be related to a film star. She was beautiful, talented, intelligent and outspoken. But as of this day and this writing I feel sad about her life. I think she was a wonderful talent but I think she was very hurt by her childhood and by her mother and by the industry. She made some personal mistakes and she was victimized by some. She had a lot of bitterness. The end of her years were lonely and she was known to be pretty harsh with people, just as her mother had been.

When I think of Mary Louise Brooks I prefer to think of the little girl before the stardom. She was our cousin.  She was a sweet little person headed into a big, big world. Too early, too soon, and too young.