Day 93 of Colourisation Project – August 8
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
American silent film actress Louise Brooks died on this day, August 8, 1985. Louise Brooks was the original ‘It’ girl, a symbol and style icon of the 1920’s flapper. A true brunette, her trademark bobbed haircut dubbed the ‘black helmet’ framed an almost luminously beautiful face with an alluring quality that the camera loved.
She started her career as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, before Hollywood came calling. Signed to a five year contract with Paramount Pictures, she played the female lead in a number of silent light comedy films opposite the likes of Adolphe Menjou and W. C. Fields. Today’s portrait is a 1928 publicity still from Beggars of Life. It is considered Brooks’ best American silent film.
Brooks did not however fit the Hollywood screen star mould. Her sleek black hair and pale features were not the only thing that set her apart. She epitomised the rebellious young woman of the 1920s who came to be known as a ‘flapper’. Always pushing the boundaries of gender identity, her liberal views and disdain for conservative gender roles and traditional Victorian values were better suited to the more emancipated Europe.
Brooks never really cared for the Hollywood scene and in 1929 traveled to Europe, where she made her most memorable films. She was the lead in three feature European films, including two G. W. Pabst films; Pandora’s Box (1929), notable for its frank treatment of modern sexual mores, including one of the first screen portrayals of a lesbian, and Diary of a Lost Girl, a social drama, based on the book by Margarete Böhme. Prix de Beauté (Miss Europe) followed in 1930. They were heavily censored due to their portrayals of sexuality, as well as their social satire.
Brooks returned to the United States in 1930, but her non-conformity and outspokenness repeatedly drew her into controversy with studio heads. She appeared in small roles in several more Hollywood films during the 1930s, but dissatisfied with Hollywood in general, she quit films altogether in 1938. She was 32 years old and at the peak of her career.
In her later years she spent most of her time reading, painting and writing. She wrote articles for film journals and in 1982 a collection of autobiographical essays formed her memoir, Lulu in Hollywood.
The woman who popularised a haircut was first to admit she was a sexually liberated woman, not afraid to experiment, even posing nude for art photography. Her liaisons with many film people were legendary. She cultivated friendships with lesbian and bisexual women and enjoyed fostering speculation about her sexuality. Brooks considered herself neither lesbian nor bisexual, though she did admit to some lesbian dalliances, including a one-night stand with Greta Garbo whom she later described as masculine but a ‘charming and tender lover.’
On August 8, 1985, she died of a heart attack in Rochester, New York. She was 78 years old.
“When I am dead, I believe that film writers will fasten on the story that I am a lesbian… I have done lots to make it believable […] All my women friends have been lesbians. But that is one point upon which I agree positively with [Christopher] Isherwood: There is no such thing as bisexuality. Ordinary people, although they may accommodate themselves, for reasons of whoring or marriage, are one-sexed. Out of curiosity, I had two affairs with girls – they did nothing for me.” – Louise Brooks