Wednesday, 24 August 2011

"If I ever bore you, it'll be with a knife" . . .Louise Brooks.

I read a biography many years ago of a (criminally) forgotten 1920's film star called Louise Brooks. She was the quintessential flapper and a true benchmark of all the beauty, hedonism and glamour of that age.She was also willful, impetuous, self destructive and an alcoholic. She was adored and courted by the famous and the rich but she threw it all away and found herself destitute, homeless and reliant on the kindness of strangers.
I still have the book (it's now out of print) with it's missing pages and torn jacket but the picture on the front still amazes me - it's just her with her blunt cut hair and sexy but murderous eyes. It looks as current as any photograph you would see today, except there isn't any one actress or singer that matches up to that face.

The reason I'm writing about her and the book is that I can relate to her story - not the exquisite beauty (I wish) but the personality, the defiant spirit and the constant need to destroy and move on - that's what keeps me coming back to her. She once said "I never gave anything away without wishing I'd kept it nor kept anything without wishing I'd given it away" which is a mantra for a sad life if ever there was one.

Her life as a movie star lasted a few short years but burned brightly. She acknowledged that she had a "gift for enraging people but if I ever bore you it will be with a knife". Most other actresses hated her and everyone else wanted to sleep with her. She was never late on a film set even if she had to be pushed on in a wheel barrow because she was still drunk from the night before. She married a millionaire and left him soon after but she left with nothing. She was never the gold digging or subservient type, preferring to up and leave when she fancied and far too uninterested in cash, trinkets or jewellery to take anything with her. In life it was her who bored easily. When she grew tired of Hollywood and of her husband she turned her back on both and didn't bother saying goodbye or giving a reason as to why. Gay icon? Much?

As for the mercurial personality? She never tried to reign that in even after she had lost her looks, her wealth and her fame. When she was largely forgotten she took a job in a department store called Saks (it's a good store but not one for a movie star to be stacking shelves) but had a habit of intimidating every woman who came in because "I'd do funny things . . .After they put on the dress, I'd just stand and stare at them while they waited for me to zip them up or something" and she actually lasted in this job for two years?
After leaving (she quit, she wasn't fired) Saks in 1948 she was offered a chance of an income by writing her biography. She had kept a journal for her whole life so it would have been an amazing, enthralling read but after finishing it she threw the whole thing down the incinerator. The reason? She didn't want to name any of her so called friends, enemies or lovers who were still alive.

I don't want to fill up this post with facts and quotes about Louise Brooks, that would be lazy. I just love the story of her. I love the dichotomy of her life.She never wanted to be an actress, never wanted to be rich and never thought she was beautiful but she had all of these things thrust upon her and instead of just accepting them - she fought against them. Most sane people would of course embrace all of this but much like the time a suitor presented her with a bouquet of roses in a packed restaurant, she picked up the gift that was given to her and hit the giver about the face with it.

I'm not applauding this behaviour but I can relate to it. It was said that she had a personal vendetta against herself but in her later years she did finally find some happiness and redemption (and this is why I love her even more) as a writer. All the talent, torture and the beauty that she'd had all her life finally came to some good and she ended her days doing the two things that she loved most, writing . . . . and drinking gin.

If you haven't heard of her then google her image. You can see the influence she has even today but if you really want to know about her, read about her.

 Louise Brooks - "No one ever burned more bridges or left prettier little fires".

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