Louise Brooks (1906-1985), born Mary Louise Brooks, was a dancer, Ziegfeld girl, silent film actress, memoirist (Lulu in Hollywood), and in her later years, an icon rediscovered and beloved by French film historians such as Henri Langois, who remarked, "There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!" She was best known for her roles in Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, both 1929 German films directed by G.W. Pabst.
In Pandora's Box, Brooks is cast as Lulu, a modern woman whose sexualized behavior turns destructive, and who eventually meets Jack the Ripper. The racy plot inspired by playwright Frank Wedekind's work, Die Büchse der Pandora, was at the time considered melodramatic, and Brooks's performance was not immediately recognized as noteworthy. It was not until decades later that Pandora's Box would be regarded as an exemplar of the era.
Brooks was also known for her distinctive, dark bobbed hair, which helped cement her place as a fashionable tastemaker, and for her outspoken personality, the latter of which lead to being blacklisted in Hollywood for her refusal to reshoot scenes for the talkies at Paramount. Twice married and divorced, she was a self-proclaimed "kept woman" most of her life, linked to figures such as Charlie Chaplin and George Marshall. Though Brooks fell out of favor for a time and eventually left the movie industry (alcohol among her struggles), she embarked on a second career as a writer of well-received film essays, several of which were published in journals such as Film Culture, Image, and Objectif, among others. She died in Rochester, New York.
Read more about Brooks in the essay, "The Girl in the Black Helmet" by Kenneth Tynan.
This article was originally published in June 2012, and has been updated for the
June 2013 paperback release.
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