Mary Louise Brooks (1906-1985), commonly known as Louise Brooks, was an American film actress and dancer noted as an iconic symbol of the 1920’s flapper and for popularising the bobbed haircut.
When I recently posted some 1920’s images I kept coming across pics of her. She was not only striking in appearance, a stunner, her look would not be out of place today. She would probably feature amongst the ranks of today’s super models.
- Brooks was born in Kansas, the daughter of a lawyer who was too busy with work to give attention to his children and a mother who was an artist who, according to biographer Barry Paris, decided that any "squalling brats she produced could take care of themselves".
- At the age of 9 Brooks was sexually abused by a neighbour. It skewed her ideas of relationships and caused her to state in later life that it contributed to wrong choices, that for her “nice, soft, easy men were never enough – there had to be an element of domination". Brooks revealed the molestation to her mother many years later, only to be told by mommie dearest that Brooks must have caused it by leading him on.
- In 1922 Books became a dancer in a Los Angeles modern dance company, in 1924 moving on to a chorus girl in George White's Scandals, then to a featured dancer in the 1925 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway.
- Paramount Pictures signed her to a five-year contract 1925. That same year she also caught the eye of Charlie Chaplin, who was in LA for the premiere of his film The Gold Rush, having having an affair with him.
- Brooks played the lead in a number of 1920’s silent films, including performances with Adolphe Menjou and W C Fields. The films were often light comedies and she was frequently cast as a flapper.
Flappers were a generation of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms. Flappers had their origins in the liberal period of the Roaring Twenties, the social, political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of World War I, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.
The slang word "flapper", describing a young woman, is sometimes supposed to refer to a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly. However, it may derive from an earlier use in northern England to mean "teenage girl", referring to one whose hair is not yet put up and whose plaited pigtail "flapped" on her back; or from an older word meaning "prostitute". The slang word "flap" was used for a young prostitute as early as 1631. By the 1890s, the word "flapper" was emerging in England as popular slang both for a very young prostitute, and in a more general – and less derogatory sense – of any lively mid-teenage girl.
- Brooks came to typify the 1920’s flapper and her bob haircut started that trend that many women imitated.
- Denied a promised raise by Paramount and in any event loathing Hollywood, Brooks left for Europe to make films for G. W. Pabst, the prominent Austrian Expressionist director. The portrayals of sexuality in her European films, including one of the first screen depictions of a lesbian, led to the films being heavily censored.
- A return to Hollywood in 1931 saw few film offers, Brooks having been blacklisted by Paramount. She turned down a role in The Public Enemy with James Cagney, which started the career of Jean Harlow and virtually finished that of Brooks.
- Brooks declared bankruptcy in 1932, began dancing in nightclubs to earn a living and attempted an unsuccessful comeback in 1936. She briefly returned to Wichita, where she was raised, commenting later that “that turned out to be another kind of hell. The citizens of Wichita either resented me having been a success or despised me for being a failure. And I wasn't exactly enchanted with them. I must confess to a lifelong curse: My own failure as a social creature."
- After failed stints at operating a dance studio, a radio actor, a gossip columnist and some years as a Saks Fifth Avenue salesgirl, she became a call girl. “I found that the only well-paying career open to me, as an unsuccessful actress of thirty-six, was that of a call girl ... and (I) began to flirt with the fancies related to little bottles filled with yellow sleeping pills.” (1982)
- In the last years of her life she became a successful writer about films.
- Brooks had a number of marriages, no children (referring to herself as “Barren Brooks”) and, although she experimented with same sex relationships, maintained that she was not into lesbianism. Her relationships included a one night stand with Greta garbo, who she described as masculine but a "charming and tender lover".