Mary Louise Brooks was born in
Cherryvale, Kansas, on November 14, 1906. She
made her "professional debut" as Tom
Thumb's bride in a benefit church show in
Cherryvale, and by the time she was eleven she
was dancing on a regular basis at the Cherryvale
Opera House. She and her family moved to Wichita,
Kansas, in 1919.
In 1922, at the "ripe old
age" of fifteen, Brooks traveled to New York
to study with the Denishawn Modern Dance Company.
From October 1922 through the spring of 1924, she
performed in hundreds of cities across the
country, including her new hometown of Wichita.
She next appeared in George White's Scandals
Revue and The Ziegfeld Follies.
On August 24, 1925, Brooks's
first movie, The Streets of Forgotten Men,
was released by Famous Players Lasky. By 1926 she
was working for Paramount, and over the next
three years she was featured in over a dozen
films including American Venus (1926), Rolled
Stockings (1927), Beggars of Life
(1928). Notable film stars she had the pleasure
of working with included W.C. Fields, Ford
Sterling, Lois Wilson, Evelyn Brent, Wallace
Beery, Richard Arlen, Victor McLaglen, William
Powell, and Jean Arthur.
Brooks became a silent screen
icon. Her distinctive Dutch bob hairdo was
imitated by women across the country. She was the
inspiration for the long-running comic strip
"Dixie Dugan," as well as the stage
play "Show Girl." In 1927 she was the
fourth most written about actress in terms of
major magazine articles, after Clara Bow, Joan
Crawford and Colleen Moore.
In 1928, Brooks left Paramount
to do film work in Europe, and it was while
working with famed German director G.W. Pabst
that she appeared in the role for which she is
best known today -- Lulu, in the film Pandora's
Box (1929). Under Pabst's direction, Brooks'
subtle, erotically charged style of acting
emerged. Although the film failed financially in
Germany and was only barely reviewed in the
United States, Pandora's Box is now
considered a landmark of the silent-film era.
Brooks went on to make two more films in Europe
-- Diary of a Lost
Girl (1929), again with Pabst, and Prix de
Beauté (1930), an early French sound film.
Returning to the United States,
Brooks found herself relegated to supporting
roles in B-grade films. Her last film was Overland
Stage Raiders (1938), a western serial with
After years of obscurity and
near poverty (including a stint as a $40-a-week
salesgirl at Saks Fifth Avenue), Brooks returned
to public view as an author. Throughout the
1950's, 60's and 70's, her thoughtful essays on
film appeared in such magazines as Sight and
Sound, Film Culture, and Focus
on Film. In 1982 a collection of her
writings was published under the title Lulu
Louise Brooks died of a heart
attack in Rochester, New York, on August 8, 1985.
She is interred at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, in
The Louise Brooks Society www.pandorasbox.com
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