by Barry Paris
Excerpt from Chapter One
‘Nobody burned more bridges than Louise Brooks, or left prettier blazes on two continents. People around her scrambled for cover, but she watched the flames with a child’s pyromaniacal glee – the star of a flicker gone wild. With the advent of talkies, her name would largely disappear, but her face would not: a girl in a Prince Valiant bob, with electrifying eyes that drilled straight to the heart from the silent screen and left you weak when you met their gaze.Eyes that beckoned not so much “come hither” as “I’ll come to you.”
They danced in the face of a perfect little dancer who shared the stage at sixteen with Ted Shawn and Martha Graham. The eyes snared Florenz Ziegfeld, who swept her into his Follies. The eyes – and her grace – acted like a powerful magnet on Charles Chaplin, who tramped the streets around Manhatten with her during the heady days of his Gold Rush premiere in 1925. Broadway was full of pretty chorus girls with beautiful bodies, and Louise was one of them, but Brooksie had a brain as well as a body, though she wouldn’t use either to get financial security. “I just wasn’t equipped to spoil millionaires in a practical, farsighted way,” she once said. Louise had no inclination to chase any man for long.
Nor did she chase stardom; instead, it kept chasing her. And she in turn kept chasing it away. If rehearsals got dull, she slipped off to W.C.Field’s dressing room for a private display of comic juggling. If she did the Charleston till 3a.m. and didn’t feel like performing the next day, she stayed home.For such impetuosity the producers and directors called her an insufferable brat. Louise, on the other hand, called it “that precious quality of youth: indifference to the censure of those whom one did not admire.” Precious or pugnacious, her attitude seemed only to fuel, not retard, her meteoric rise…Women all over America copied her hairdo, and for two years in Hollywood, every little breeze whispered Louise. But they could never copy her caprice.’
“Love is a publicity stunt,” she once wrote, “and making love – after the first curious raptures – is only another petulent way to pass the time waiting for the studio to call.” Not that she ever sat around waiting for the studio to call. On the contrary, she did her best to elude the calls. And when talkies hit the movie colony and the stars trembled lest their voices be their death knells, Louise Brooks was not among the terror-striken. A certain wealthy sportsman desired her company on a European cruise, and she astonished Paramount by simply quitting. And then in a kind of afterthought to unemployment, she accepted an offer to make a film in Berlin for a director she’d never heard of. She was no great authority on American directors, let alone German expressionist-realists…Brooks and Berlin. Louise and Lulu. They were made for each other in 1928. Berlin had sex, sin, decadence and despair; Brooks had everything but despair. One didn’t despair on $2000 a week.’
Published by Hamish Hamilton 1990