Louise Brooks — Manhattan Technique (1926) 🇺🇸
Certainly it’s true that a chorus girl learns a lot about acting.
by Ruth Waterbury
“I live only for my art,” Louise said. “I read nothing but instructive books.”
She looked up from beneath her long lashes to see how it was going.
“Be yourself,” I counseled.
Her smile is as lazy as her speech. “Then I won’t have anything to say,” she warned.
“Nothing like that ever stopped a movie interview,” I encouraged her.
Her glance came forth directly that time from a pair of eyes as wise as Solomon’s beloved.
“They slaay me,” she drawled, “these movie people. I never met any of them until I went to play my first picture. In the beginning I couldn’t believe them. They go around saying. ‘This is a wow of an idea.’ or ‘Listen to this gag, baby.’ She paused and searched for expression. She sighed. “They slaay me,” she confessed finally.
Describing Louise presents its difficulties. She is so very Manhattan. Very young. Exquisitely hard-boiled. Her black eyes and sleek black hair are as brilliant as Chinese lacquer. Her skin is white as a camelia. Her legs are lyric. She has been one of the decorative daughters of the night life of New York for three seasons. Georgie White first displayed her in the “Scandals.” Ziegfeld got her next season for the “Follies.” He hung on to her until the movies nabbed her.
She started in pictures with “The American Venus.” It was only a small part. After all the picture had the specially signed Fay Lanphier, the chosen Miss America, Esther Ralston and the entire Atlantic City beauty pageant for eye fillers with Ford Sterling, Edna Mae Oliver and Lawrence Gray to do a little acting. Nobody intended Louise to be particularly important and Louise didn’t bother to mention to anyone that she was.
Then Paramount saw her rushes. They signed her for five years. That’s how good she is. A good chorus girl learns lots of things, and Louise was an excellent chorus girl. When she started work on her second picture, Menjou’s “A Social Celebrity,” she found they had given her the role of a manicurist. It was a very little role. No one remembers Louise having kicked about it. She said she’d play it. Mal St. Clair was the director.
But somehow Greta Nissen left the cast and the leading feminine role. Somehow the part got rewritten, and almost before anyone knew it Louise was playing it. It was still the part of a manicurist, but it was also the lead. Menjou says she is one of the finest actresses he has ever seen. So does Mal St. Clair. So does the Paramount publicity staff. Yes, Louise is very good indeed.
She was in bed when I called, most of her completely obscured by a bathrobe of Turkish toweling. It was noon, but she had been up earlier horseback riding. After that, Louise explained, she had to receive in bed.
She started her career at Denishawn, that school of dancing of Ruth St. Denis’ and Ted Shawn’s. She studied two months and then they signed her to dance on tour with them as one of their leading soloists.
“You must have been very talented to be starred by them so immediately,” 1 said.
Another wise glance winged its way upward. “They needed somebody in a hurry, somebody young and inexpensive,” Louise explained. The possibilities of kidding Louise seem very remote.
“Miss St. Denis is very strict.” she added. “She wouldn’t let us smoke or eat candy or stay up late or anything. We did nothing but work and dance. Some of the girls get very artistic. I traveled all over the country and in Europe with them. I stayed two years.”
“And after that the ‘Scandals.’”
The corners of Louise’s mouth curled slowly upward. “Yes,” she said, in her quiet, lazy voice. “Immediately after. Fancy that.” Faint lights of amusement revealed themselves in the depths of her eyes.
She is just nineteen.
“For my third picture.’’ she explained, shifting herself languidly. “I’m supposed to play opposite W. C. Fields in ‘The Old Army Game.’ I’ve played with him before in the ‘Follies.’ Now they want me to play opposite him over there. But I’m not going to.”
“But they’ve announced you in the cast,” I protested weakly.
“Yes,” said Louise, oh, so quietly. “I know they have. They think I’m going to play it. But I’m not. I don’t want to play a part where I race around a funny man all the time. And I won’t.”
She hadn’t disarranged so much as a lock of hair while making this declaration of war. She has magnificent simplicity. Louise will probably prevent the home-life of the Paramount studio from becoming monotonous before her contract is finished.
“I want to do things like Gloria Swanson,” she confessed. “Most of these movie people” — she paused. She sought for a phrase. “They slaay me,” she continued finally. “But I admire Gloria. I admire her career. She’s gone ahead and got just what she wanted. I like that.”
Louise and Gloria may very well be sisters under the skin, only I doubt that the young Swanson had Louise’s poise or Louise’s exact knowledge of the things she was after. But the drive of ambition, the scuffing off of all unnecessary, cluttering things from the path of success, the magnificent, compelling charm of the complete, young realist, these are their common property.
Gloria, the magnetic, with her success as her bulwark, is definitely maternal.
Louise’s bedroom is cluttered with dolls and a toy dog as big as Nana, the canine nursemaid of Peter Pan.
She explained that she was originally from Wichita, Kansas.
“Isn’t the family thrilled by your sudden success?” I asked.
She looked at me carefully. She stirred the bedclothes faintly. “They don’t know about it,” she drawled. She waited and then smiled.
“My mother and father separated when I was a kid.” she explained. “My father thinks I’m terrible.”
Her black eyes were languid.
“In our family.” she said, “it was everybody shift for himself.” She smiled once more and waved her little white hand to indicate her apartment. It is a Park Avenue apartment, and in Manhattan there is nothing more utterly utter than a Park Avenue apartment.
“Well.” said Louise. “I have.”
A studio portrait of Louise Brooks revealing several of the reasons that have figured in her success.
A startling daughter of the girl revues of Broadway, Louise Brooks wandered into Famous Players’ studio to do a bit. She did her bit so well the whole studio realized they had discovered a potential star. On the opposite page you’ll find her story.
Source: Photoplay, April 1926