Louise Brooks: The Hottie in the Helmet

Luletah, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lu-lee-ta. The tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palette to tap, at three, on the teeth.

— Apologies to Vladimir  Nabokov

I’ve been in love with the same woman since 1982. I’ve stuck with her through everything. Jobs. Earthquakes. Even my marriage.

Oh sure, my wife knows about her. You can’t keep something like that from a smart, intuitive woman like her. And strangely, she’s okay with it. I’m fixated, but my wife waves it off.

“Boys,” her attitude declares, shrugging, “will be boys.”

Endless Love Redux

It’s like that stupid Brooke Shields movie about teenage infatuation. Except, of course, that if I wanted to, I could join AARP. That’s a depressing confession for another post.

This post is limited to my nearly 30-year obsession with Louise Brooks.

Louise Brooks, public domain image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If you’re not familiar, Louise (1906-1985) was an icon of the silent era. She and Colleen Moore were famous for their jet black, helmet-style hairdo called a Dutch bob. Unlike Colleen, however, Louise had worn hers since childhood.

Loose Louise Got Around

Iconic, yes, but Louise Brooks never made it to genuine stardom. Because while she was a gifted dancer-turned-actress, Louise was way too busy partying nightly. She bedded everyone in sight — Chaplin, Garbo, William Paley Pretty much anything in a suit or a skirt.

Everyone except me. Sigh.

I first heard about Louise in the early 1980s. I learned the Brooks basics from her original obsessive, Mr. Kenneth Tynan, in his legendary New Yorker profile of Louise originally published in 1979.

A Shrine to Louise Brooks

I was hooked instantly. Before I knew it, I’d rounded up Deco-style picture frames, filled them with pictures of Louise and displayed them prominently throughout my Santa Monica apartment. I’ll admit it was a little creepy. Well, maybe not a little.

Years later, I was married and my wife pregnant when we couldn’t agree on a name for our coming daughter. I got nowhere by suggesting Ginger. And I couldn’t bear any of her proposed names, which all sounded like Bertha to me.

Finally, I trumpeted the name Louise. The world, I figured, would assume it honored my mother-in-law, Louise. My wife and I knew better.

Yet our daughter didn’t really know her given name was Louise until she was about four; we’ve always called her Lulu, Brooks’ greatest movie character, from the 1929 German masterpiece Pandora’s Box.

Louise Brooks: Schopenhauer Girl

Louise Brooks only made two dozen films in a 13-year career that ended with a whimper in 1938. Most of the rest of her life was spent in alcoholic obscurity, until Kenneth Tynan (and Eastman House curator James Card) yanked Louise out of poverty and put a spotlight on her near the end.

And Louise spent those final years composing thoughtful, sharply-drawn essays about her life in film and about the monied circles in which she’d once traveled. Her best works were published in the compilation volume Lulu in Hollywood. I recommend it.

And for a party animal, you’d be surprised to know Louise was actually pretty smart. Hey, this was a woman who read Schopenhauer. For fun.

Lulu in L.A.

Louise, of course, spent several years (on and off) in Los Angeles. In fact, for a time she lived in an awesomely beautiful Spanish Revival apartment complex on Havenhurst Drive in what’s now West Hollywood. The  Ronda apartments, now called Mi Casa, were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Now called Mi Casa, the former Ronda apartments on Havenhurst Drive once were home to Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks made most of her films within a few miles of my house. Most were for Paramount, but she also shot at Warners, Fox, Columbia and sadly, at the end, Republic.

Louise Brooks’ Final Role Opposite John Wayne

In that final indignity, the 32-year-old Louise, her helmet cut replaced by carelessly, strangely longer hair, played girlie stooge to John Wayne a year before his breakthrough in Stagecoach. Louise’s swan song was the deservedly forgotten Overland Stage Raiders, part of a low-budget, modern-day western series that had all the charm of a dry lake bed.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When Louise died in the summer of 1985, I was writing news at KTLA-TV in L.A. I couldn’t get the show producer — who was a classic movie freak like me — to run an obit on her. Guess she wasn’t famous enough for him.

This was like knifing me, just as Lulu was knifed by Jack the Ripper at the end of Pandora’s Box.

So I’m left with just my memories of Louise. I’d written her in 1984, after reading Lulu in Hollywood. I must’ve sounded like a lovesick swain; she never wrote back.

Coy to the end, my Lulu kept me guessing.

Someday, Louise. Someday.

My Lu-lee-ta.


About Barry Grey

I am primarily a writer, living in Los Angeles. I've worked in television, radio, print, a teeny bit in advertising and marketing and I write about movies and pop culture for Suite101.com.
This entry was posted in Classic Movie Actresses, Classic Movie Locations, Classic Movie Stars. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Louise Brooks: The Hottie in the Helmet

  1. I’ve always been a fan. I actually picture her without the hat (the severe, short, black haircut is my memory of Louise Brooks. Here’s a nifty gallery:

    Louise Brooks Pix

    🙂 John

  2. Sliloh says:

    Great writing. Of course I don’t share your obsession but it was great looking at all those pictures in John’s link 😉


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