- Louise Brooks
Every year for Christmas my list includes at least one good, trashy biography that I can sink my teeth into during the post-holiday haze. Last year that book was Lulu In Hollywood, the memoir written by silent star Louise Brooks. While thoroughly entertaining – and occasionally gossipy – the book isn’t really trashy; it’s actually a very clever portrait of Hollywood in its infancy and of a woman who well and truly marched to the beat of her own drummer and refused to conform to anyone else’s standards of decorum.
Categorized as a memoir, the book is actually made up of a series of essays written by Brooks about her life in and out of Hollywood, all of them written with biting wit and incisive observations. Brooks is merciless in her depiction of the way the business worked and, in particular, the way that it treated women. One story describes a brief on location affair she had with a crew member, which was then used as a means of taking her down a peg by everyone else on set – including the girlfriend of the crew member she’d slept with, who apparently bore him no ill will. Especially interesting is her description of the transition from silent to sound films and her rejection of the idea that some actors couldn’t make the transition because they didn’t sound “right.” Brooks argues, quite convincingly, that actors who couldn’t transition owed it to sabotage by the studios, who saw it as an opportunity to rid themselves of some stars who, while profitable, had become too big and expensive to maintain.
While the book will probably be of greater appeal to people who are generally curious the silent era and its stars, it’s so well-written that I think even someone with only a passing interest in the backstage aspect of making movies would enjoy it. I would especially recommend it to fans of Humphrey Bogart, as one of the essays is all about Brooks’ relationship with him in the days before he was Bogie, when he was just another struggling actor coming out of the theatre. It’s a fascinating book from beginning to end, one that I couldn’t put down and have re-read a couple of times since.