Silent film star, dancer, author. Born: November 14, 1906, Cherryvale, Kansas. Died: August 8, 1985, Rochester, N.Y.
Louise Brooks was born November 14, 1906. Her father was an attorney, who, according to Brooks, had been told by his wife that any children that resulted from their marriage would have to take care of themselves while she enjoyed pursuing the arts. Brooks and her three siblings had little discipline but were exposed to books and music at an early age. Among her childhood friends were Venus Jones and her little sister, Vivian, who became known as actress Vivian Vance.
Due to his work, Brooks’ father moved the family in 1919, first to Independence for a few months, then to Wichita. Brooks studied dance in Wichita until she left in 1922 to join the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, a modern dance company in New York. After a clash with company founder Ruth St. Denis, Brooks found work in the Broadway musical revues George White’s Scandals and Ziegfeld Follies. Brooks captured the attention of a Paramount Pictures producer and was signed to a five-year contract in 1925. She debuted in The Street of Forgotten Men, with an uncredited role, but was soon playing leading roles in silent comedies and flapper films.
Brooks found herself at odds with Paramount and moved to Germany, where G.W. Pabst directed her in Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl in 1929. Pandora’s Box was groundbreaking for its frank treatment of taboo subjects. Her conflict with the studios continued upon her return to Hollywood. When she refused to record voice tracks for her earlier silent pictures, the studio blacklisted her. Brooks made a few more films over the next seven years, but never reached the heights of fame of her contemporaries Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
After Hollywood, Brooks operated a dance studio in Wichita in the early 1940s and later worked as a radio actor and gossip columnist. She died in 1985. Today Brooks is lauded as one of the first naturalistic actors in film, playing more to the subtle than the melodramatic.
Image courtesy Independence Historical Museum
Entry: Brooks, Louise
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: February 2011
Date Modified: March 2016
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