Louise Brooks. You’re probably not familiar with the name, but the haircut is her trademark, along with her fiery persona. She was known as ‘the girl with the black helmet hair’. Louise was a dancer and actress in the 1920s and 30s. Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich were probably more famous at that time, and they were more of the classic style of beauty, but Louise was more cutting-edge, punk, and avant-garde.
While growing up, her mother neglected her, and when she was sexually abused at age 9 by a neighbor, her mother basically told her it was her own fault, suggesting that Louise was ‘leading him on’. Such an upbringing seemed to have affected Louise sexually, as she tended to be a bit S/M. Her involvement with the molester had Louise admitting “It must have had a great deal to do with forming my attitude toward sexual pleasure....For me, nice, soft, easy men were never enough – there had to be an element of domination”. She was married twice. She posed nude, and sometimes experimented with lesbian affairs.
She also kept no secrets about her feelings for someone. If she didn’t like you or didn’t like something you were doing, she’d tell you right to your face, and she had done so with various co-stars, directors, and even movie moguls. On the other hand, she was very loyal to her friends, and never belittled anyone beneath her, such as a maid, or makeup artist. She was a notorious spendthrift for most of her life, and was kind and generous to her friends, almost to a fault.
Most of the films Louise did were in the 1920s, the ‘silent’ era, and the one she was most famous for was a German film, Pandora’s Box, which featured a character named Lulu, who’s life was very similar to Louise’s. Lulu was a fun, sexually seductive stage presence, but she also ended up being inadvertently destructive to herself and those around her. Louise won the role over Marlene Dietrich.
Louise worked on German films for a couple of years because she was angered over the film moguls in America trying to cheat her contract-wise, and her having enough fiery personality to tell them off made her difficult to work with. She refused to play by Hollywood’s rules. By the time she returned to America in the early 30s, she made a few ‘talkies’, but her career was on the wane, as she was sort of ‘blacklisted’, and she left the film business in the late 30s.
When Liza Minnelli was preparing for the role of “Sally Bowles” in Cabaret, she asked her father [film director Vincente Minnelli], “What can you tell me about thirties glamour? Should I be emulating Marlene Dietrich or something? And he said no, I should study everything I can about Louise Brooks."