Louise Brooks from A to Z: T for Theo, Tynan, Tot, Ted Shawn and St. Therese

 Theo and Louise in California, 1928

Theo and Louise in California, 1928

Theodore Brooks was the loving and attentive younger brother of Louise.  The two shared a special bond, and Theo could almost be seen as the more docile version of his older sister.  Louise's tendency for rage and temper tantrums was something that Theodore lacked.  This intense patience of his, coupled with his good humor, allowed him to take his sister for who she was and balance her out.  He was a sought after journalist in Kansas, as well as tennis champion and a jovial, free spirit.  He was deaf in one ear and therefore mostly deaf in his later years (claiming that he became "so deaf I couldn't hear myself break wind" Paris, 486), causing the two to be restricted to written correspondence.  James Card said Louise "talked about him a lot," due to her being, "exceedingly, extremely fond of him." (Paris, 479) Barry Paris has written a beautiful chapter in his book about their relationship, which came to a screeching halt after Theo accused Louise of having cancelled hip surgery due to falling off the wagon; he may not have been wrong, but Louise took this as a chance to cut herself off from her beloved brother, who was then ill with emphysema.  Many see this as her inability to cope with losing him; I suppose we'll never know.  Either way, read up on Theo, because he appears to have been a warm, empathetic, breath-of-fresh-air, free creature, as autonomous as his older sister and certainly just as easy to fall in love with.

 Kenneth Tynan

Kenneth Tynan

Kenneth Tynan wrote The Girl with the Black Helmet, the famous New Yorker profile about Louise.  The two had a very complicated relationship which has been the subject of much speculation.  Several people in film have expressed desires to bring their passionate love affair onto the screen, including Shirley MacLaine. There's even a play written about it called Smoking with Lulu by Janet Munsil, published in 2002. The man, himself, was a brilliant and renowned writer; romantic and eloquent with his wording, his articles read like softly running water in a rambling brook.  My advice is to delve into The Girl with the Black Helmet, read up on Tynan and then draw your own conclusions.

Tot Strickler was a dear friend of Myra Brooks, Louise's mother, in Cherryvale and played a large role in the early years of Louise's life.  It would seem that Tot practically helped raise her, compensating for the warmth that Myra lacked, and Louise would later say of Tot: "You are the loveliest, strangest fairytale witch who waves the magic wand of beauty over men...who gave me standards of excellence, of decency, of individuality, of courage- even of food, those cakes!" (Paris, 13)  Tot, her real name being Marcella, was a very cultured woman, and was able to play the piano as Myra could, while also having a vivacious sense of humor.  Louise would turn to Tot when she first began to write her memoirs for details and insights into her past and those that she couldn't understand, e.g. Myra.  Tot came through, and Louise's admiration of her and gratitude toward her was unfailing. 

Ted Shawn was the creator, along with Ruth St. Denis (his wife, although this pairing was thought to be at least partially lavender), of the Denishawn Dance Company.  He was also known as Papa Shawn to the pupils. 

 A young, sweet Saint Thérèse

A young, sweet Saint Thérèse

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, otherwise known as the Little Flower, was a huge presence in Louise's later life.  The "Little Way" of Saint Thérèse was that of doing little things for God, meaning this in the sense that her own realization of her insignificance and smallness in the world led her to the comforting feeling of not having to accomplish major heroic acts to do her part.  Saint Thérèse did all of the things that she felt she, one "too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection," could do to make a difference.  As for Louise, she had what her priest described as being "an intense devotion to St. Thérèse...she had a deep inclination toward mysticism." (Paris, 463) In October of 1954, Louise would paint a breath taking portrait of Saint Thérèse at the age of eight.  She was using charcoal and, to fix part of it, brushed on glue, which she felt ruined the eyes; however, upon leaving it alone, she found that it made the painting look more like Saint Thérèse.  The portrait is, indeed, illuminating and vaguely wistful, and simply touching.

 Portrait of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux by Louise Brooks (image obtained from this  link )

Portrait of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux by Louise Brooks (image obtained from this link)

 

 

 

Charlotte Siller