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Louise Brooks: A Biography by Barry Paris
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Louise Brooks: A Biography (original 1989; edition 2000)

by Barry Paris

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236187,898 (4.27)5
No other movie actress made so strong an impact with so short a roster of films. Yet Louise Brooks spent a quarter of a century in oblivion before an unsought "resurrection" confirmed her place in cinema history and generated her brilliant second career as a writer-iconoclast. Her story begins in turn-of-the-century Kansas: at age ten, a seasoned performer; at fifteen, discovered by Ted Shawn and soon touring nationwide with Martha Graham and the Denishawn company; at seventeen, fired from Denishawn as a "bad influence" - and on to Broadway, to the 1925 Ziegfeld Follies (and an affair with Charlie Chaplin). And at nineteen, signed to a ten-picture contract by Paramount, Louise Brooks became a flapper supreme, a symbol of Jazz Age caprice and the new sexual freedom. Women all over America copied her look, but they could never copy her style. "Love is a publicity stunt," she said, "and making love - after the first curious raptures - is only another petulant way to pass the time waiting for the studio to call." Nevertheless, for Louise Brooks filmmaking generally came second to the pursuit of pleasure, notably at William Randolph Hearst's estate, San Simeon. An enthusiastic celebrant of the hedonistic life of New York and Hollywood in the twenties, she counted among her friends and rivals Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, and Clara Bow; Buster Keaton, John Gilbert, and W. C. Fields. But when talkies exploded onto the screen and Paramount used her "unproven" voice as an excuse to renege on a raise, she astonished the studio by quitting on the spot. Next stop: Berlin, where, under the sensitive direction of the great G. W. Pabst, Brooks turned in a legendary performance as the temptress Lulu in Pandora's Box, a film now hailed as a masterpiece but universally panned at the time - as were her other European pictures, The Diary of a Lost Girl and Beauty Prize. Her return to the Hollywood she had so haughtily rejected was the first step in her steep decline, through B movies, an abortive ballroom-dance career, a humiliating retreat to Witchita, and a long alcoholic slide to the bottom. Friends eventually enabled Louise Brooks to make a new life in Rochester, New York, where she wrote a series of incisive essays about the silent screen. First printed in small film journals and later gathered in her memoir Lulu in Hollywood, these essays, together with Kenneth Tynan's 1979 New Yorker profile and the revival of her best pictures, brought her belated, bitter-sweet recognition as one of the great figures of cinema. Barry Paris's riveting account of Louise Brooks's life is charged with all the passion and vitality of the woman herself. Through his unique access to her provocative diaries and letter, Paris takes us beyond the icon to the sexual and psychological truth of "the girl in the black helmet," a beautiful woman of willful temperament and thorny intelligence who scorned her own career yet left an indelible mark on the history of film. -- from dust jacket.… (more)
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Title:Louise Brooks: A Biography
Authors:Barry Paris
Info:University of Minnesota Press (2000), Paperback, 624 pages
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Louise Brooks: A Biography by Barry Paris (1989)

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Probably one of the most heartbreaking and clearly one of the best biographies I've read. This is a life worth knowing about, including an epic rise and fall, followed by rebirth and then an obscure end. The writer's insight and thorough research buttress a sympathetic but not uncritical account. ( )
  DaveDempsey | May 5, 2010 |
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No other movie actress made so strong an impact with so short a roster of films. Yet Louise Brooks spent a quarter of a century in oblivion before an unsought "resurrection" confirmed her place in cinema history and generated her brilliant second career as a writer-iconoclast. Her story begins in turn-of-the-century Kansas: at age ten, a seasoned performer; at fifteen, discovered by Ted Shawn and soon touring nationwide with Martha Graham and the Denishawn company; at seventeen, fired from Denishawn as a "bad influence" - and on to Broadway, to the 1925 Ziegfeld Follies (and an affair with Charlie Chaplin). And at nineteen, signed to a ten-picture contract by Paramount, Louise Brooks became a flapper supreme, a symbol of Jazz Age caprice and the new sexual freedom. Women all over America copied her look, but they could never copy her style. "Love is a publicity stunt," she said, "and making love - after the first curious raptures - is only another petulant way to pass the time waiting for the studio to call." Nevertheless, for Louise Brooks filmmaking generally came second to the pursuit of pleasure, notably at William Randolph Hearst's estate, San Simeon. An enthusiastic celebrant of the hedonistic life of New York and Hollywood in the twenties, she counted among her friends and rivals Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, and Clara Bow; Buster Keaton, John Gilbert, and W. C. Fields. But when talkies exploded onto the screen and Paramount used her "unproven" voice as an excuse to renege on a raise, she astonished the studio by quitting on the spot. Next stop: Berlin, where, under the sensitive direction of the great G. W. Pabst, Brooks turned in a legendary performance as the temptress Lulu in Pandora's Box, a film now hailed as a masterpiece but universally panned at the time - as were her other European pictures, The Diary of a Lost Girl and Beauty Prize. Her return to the Hollywood she had so haughtily rejected was the first step in her steep decline, through B movies, an abortive ballroom-dance career, a humiliating retreat to Witchita, and a long alcoholic slide to the bottom. Friends eventually enabled Louise Brooks to make a new life in Rochester, New York, where she wrote a series of incisive essays about the silent screen. First printed in small film journals and later gathered in her memoir Lulu in Hollywood, these essays, together with Kenneth Tynan's 1979 New Yorker profile and the revival of her best pictures, brought her belated, bitter-sweet recognition as one of the great figures of cinema. Barry Paris's riveting account of Louise Brooks's life is charged with all the passion and vitality of the woman herself. Through his unique access to her provocative diaries and letter, Paris takes us beyond the icon to the sexual and psychological truth of "the girl in the black helmet," a beautiful woman of willful temperament and thorny intelligence who scorned her own career yet left an indelible mark on the history of film. -- from dust jacket.

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