Louise Brooks is a film legend, at the time when silent movies ruled the world her natural acting style was very different from the overly dramatic styling of many of her peers. A hack at the time wrote, ''Louise Brooks cannot act ... she does not suffer ... she does nothing.''
This is unfair as watching any of her higher tier films shows that she had range, nuance and emotion. However, her true skill lay in writing as Lulu in Hollywood shows. Brooks comes across as an intelligent, witty and strong woman yet also quite self-destructive woman at a time when women's rights were not quite as established as they could be.
Over the course of 6 essays Brooks covers everything from her childhood and early years to her final years in Hollywood when the system chewed her out. The essays are:
- Kansas to New York
- On Location With Billy Wellman
- Marion Davies' Neice
- Humphrey and Bogey
- The Other Face of W. C. Fields
- Gish and Garbo
- Pabst and Lulu
- Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs
This book is only 115 pages long but is a fascinating insight into the world of the 20's silent movie era and the beginning of the talkies. The stories of the prominent players of the period are intriguing; William Randolph Hurst, Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish and Humphrey Bogart as well as studios MGM and Paramount are all prominently placed and discussed. For an actress who starred in such few movies in a short period of time, Brooks has produced an excellent commentary on the times, the industry and critically, herself.
The chapters are all fascinating, it is interesting to learn about Brooks' early life and her role in Pabst's Pandora's Box but for me the most interesting was chapter 6, Gish and Garbo, in which Brooks discusses the influence of the bankers and money men on film production and the wages of the female stars. In her usual incisive manner Brooks selects quotes from articles written at the time which helped to undermine the star power of its leading ladies in order to reduce their wages. Lillian Gish, one of the most successful stars of the time, was on 7500 dollars a week, and for the money men this was too much. They used their connections in the media to play this up as an absurd amount and underplay the true draw of the stars. Greta Garbo was brought from Europe at a relatively cheap price and starred in a heavily promoted yet unremarkable film, The Torrent. Gish's film, the wonderful yet barely promoted La Boheme, did fine but financially did not make anywhere near as much as the Garbo vehicle. This marked, says Brooks, the exodus of many leading ladies who were cast out by an uncaring Hollywood system who were all about the bottom line. However Hollywood suffered as the lack of stars and the financial crisis in 1929 led to mass closures of cinemas across America. So maybe the Hollywood money men did regret their actions.
The epilogue, Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs, is also a fascinating insight into why Brooks never wrote a tell all autobiography. She states that people miss out key points that may portray themselves or certain people in a bad light. She says that what's the point of 'telling all' but missing out names and events because it's not convenient to do so? She may have a point but instead what we get is a wonderful smorgasbord of experiences and recollections of this intriguing time.
Lulu in Hollywood is an excellent read that is essential for anyone with even the slightest interest in the period.