Louise Brooks from A to Z: S for Sutherland, Schopenhauer, Saks Fifth Avenue, George White's Scandals, Smoking and "shit-Shit-SHIT!"

 Louise Brooks and Eddie Sutherland on the set of  It's the Old Army Game  (1926)

Louise Brooks and Eddie Sutherland on the set of It's the Old Army Game (1926)

 Louise Brooks and Eddie Sutherland in the Paramount New York Office in 1926

Louise Brooks and Eddie Sutherland in the Paramount New York Office in 1926

Edward Sutherland was Louise's first husband who she married in 1926 at the age of nineteen.  He had directed her in It's the Old Army Game (1926) and the two had been friends prior to the union.  He had been pushing for them to get married for some time beforehand, but Louise wouldn't have it, valuing her freedom foremost over stability.  Louise would move to Hollywood to be with him, and the two would live in Laurel Canyon with their 4 dogs, attending to work and family matters such as taking care of June Brooks and directing studio films, until a divorce was sought in 1928.  Sutherland accused Brooks of being unfaithful, violent and of having too outlandish of a sexual appetite, while Brooks accused him of leaving her bored and alone.  To read more about this, consult both Louise Brooks by Barry Paris and Lulu in Hollywood, specifically Marion Davies' Niece.

"One morning, I went to watch GW Pabst making Diary of a Lost Girl in a studio on the outskirts of Berlin. I arrived at a moment when they were adjusting the lights, and, with evident pride, Pabst introduced me to the actress playing the heroine of his film, a young American woman of fascinating beauty who was sitting there reading. Incredibly, what this beautiful young woman was reading was a translation of Schopenhauer's Essays.  Of course, I assumed that this was a publicity stunt of Pabst's; he knew perfectly well that I was a university graduate.  However, I grew increasingly aware of an almost magical power emanating from this strange young woman, who spoke very little even though I addressed myself to her in English.  It was Louise Brooks." That was an excerpt from Lotte Eisner's A Witness Speaks, in which she describes her relationship with Louise after having met her in 1929.  The two didn't become friends until the 1950s and, when they did, Eisner asked Brooks if she had actually been reading that book all those years ago.  Of course, the answer was yes, causing Eisner to edit a note previously published in her book, The Haunted Screen. It had originally read of Brooks: "Is she a great artist or only a dazzling creature whose beauty traps the viewer into attributing complexities to her of which she is unaware?" It was later edited to read: "Today we know that Louise Brooks is not just a ravishing creature but an amazing actress gifted with an unprecedented intelligence." A Witness Speaks can be read in the most recently published version of Lulu in Hollywood

Saks Fifth Avenue is where Louise worked in the 1940s in an attempt to be like everyone else- it didn't work out. "That was when I began to flirt with fancies related to little bottles filled with yellow sleeping pills. However, I changed my mind and in July 1946 the proud, snooty Louise Brooks started working as a sales girl at Saks Fifth Avenue.  They paid me $40 a week. I had this silly idea of proving myself 'an honest woman,' but the only effect it had was to disgust all my New York friends, who cut me off forever.  From then on, I was regarded as a questionable East Side dame...I'd do funny things...After they put on the dress, I'd stand and they were waiting for me to zip them up or something, and I didn't do anything.  I was going to prove a point, that I could go out and get a job and work like everybody else.  But it didn't really work out at all. I quit. I wasn't fired." (Paris, 423-426)  She resigned in April of 1948.

 Louise Brooks photographed for  George White's Scandals   in 1924

Louise Brooks photographed for George White's Scandals in 1924

George White's Scandals was the first chorus girl job that Louise obtained through Barbara Bennett in 1924.  Brooks wrote an unpublished piece on this called Who is the Exotic Black Orchid? for her autobiography Naked on my Goat (the incinerated one-) but excerpts of it can be found in Barry Paris' biography of Louise.  In it, she describes her not-so pleasurable experiences working on the show, and how everyone, director included, loathed her.  When evidence of George White's feelings are taken into account, along with the fact that he would later single her out cruelly in disgust before the whole troupe (making that somewhat of a trend for her in life), Louise's retelling seems painfully accurate. Upon leaving for London after terminating her employment with White, she wired the show's manager a cable saying, "Can't wait to find out when White will have to close the show due to my loss."  He would wire her back saying, "White says if he knew you'd quit, would have gladly paid passage." (Paris, 75) 

Louise smoked unfiltered cigarettes constantly and this would be a large part of the reason that she would have god-awful emphysema until her dying day.  She was made absolutely miserable by her illness and claimed that she couldn't believe in a God who would let human's suffer so physically as she did.

I've found somewhat of a trend in Louise's writing: she likes to write, very vividly, as though she were shouting it at the page itself, the words "shit- Shit - SHIT!" when particularly frustrated or furious. They build up from small to large in portrayal of her mounting anger. It's very funny.

 

 

Charlotte Siller