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Big-T & the Bada-Bings

Beatin' Up The Chops:
Pictures of LuLu

By Big Rude Jake

Sing hallelujah, brothers and sisters: The Babe is back. The iron-fisted reign of “political correctness” seems to have passed us over and it is once again socially acceptable to openly admire women for their pure sex appeal. Having personally survived the grim Eighties, this turn of events seems too good to be true. Back then, the notion of a straight man openly expressing any carnal desire was pretty much a taboo in the circles where I traveled.

It was not unusual, from time to time, to hear some well-meaning but misguided leftist asserting that heterosexual coupling was an act of violence and a nude picture of a woman was kin to rape. Today, in the post-P.C. era, admiring Babes is acceptable, providing one thing: the women that we adore physically are also respected socially. This is a good rule, because when sex symbols are respected as well as desired, they can be appreciated by everyone. In fact, Gloria Steinem set the standard for writing about Babes when she penned her glowing tribute to Marilyn Monroe: She was quick to pile on the accolades. ATOMIC did the same thing in the Spring 2000 issue's homage to Bettie Page.

But let there be no mistake; the great model for the free-spirited, free-thinking sex kitten was not Monroe or Page or Rita Hayworth. Now that the Babe is back in our society, it’s time to honor the woman who made it all possible. I’m speaking of one of the sexiest and most overlooked Babes of the 20th century.  It’s time to remember Louise Brooks: film star of the silent era, trendsetter, stylist, intellect, author, dancer, sexual liberator and all-around Super-Babe.

Louise Brooks was an object of pure desire. Like Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page, her personal style endures, still influencing street fashion and glamour magazine spreads alike.  Mostly, Louise is remembered for her “bob,” the definitive flappers’ hairstyle. Her slick, bible-black short hair, severe bangs, and dramatic red lips brought an enigmatic, richly seductive quality to her ivory complexion. Her look was modern and edgy without compromising her youthful freshness. But even more so than her style, her attitude toward life and love became archetypal in the western world. Every young woman who openly expresses her sexuality owes a debt to Louise Brooks.

Born in 1906 in small-town Kansas, Louise grew up fast and became a true child of the Jazz Age. She lived in a whirlwind. At 15, she arrived in New York and joined the Denishawn Dance Company, the leading modern dance troupe in America. She danced in the Ziegfeld Follies at 17 and mingled with the rich and powerful, with the artistic elite of her time and with the most famous and glamorous figures of the ’20s. She was painted by Vargas and photographed by Edward Steichen. She hung out with George Gershwin and F. Scott Fitzgerald. She traveled back and forth across the Atlantic and performed The Charleston at the Café de Paris in London before she was old enough to vote. She had an affair with Charlie Chaplin when she was 18. She worked as a model and appeared in fashion ads and photo spreads.

By all accounts, she was strikingly beautiful. She could have any man she wanted and often did. But she was also intelligent, erudite and extremely well-read, qualities that balanced her rapacious character with sophistication and a poet’s muse. Reflecting on sex, she once wrote, “Love is a publicity stunt, and making love, after the first curious rapture, is only another petulant way to pass the time waiting for the studio to call.”  Now, that’s what I call a vixen!

Decades later, admirers would remark on how her performances, especially in her European movies, were the essence of pure star-power. In front of the camera, she appeared utterly captivating and charged with an uncanny, erotic aura. Her fans love to tell the story of how, in 1955, when the Musée National D’art Moderne in Paris put on a retrospective on cinema, curator Henri Langlios was heard to say, “There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!” If not for the appreciation of the European fans, Louise  might have faded from our memories altogether.

Unlike the many faux rebels in Hollywood, hers was a bona fide voice of opposition and she was forced out of her profession for not conforming. Louise became increasingly reclusive in her last years, and died alone in 1985 in Rochester, New York. She was 78. In the end she became very much like the character “Lulu,” whom she played in her greatest movie, Pandora’s Box, the silent German masterpiece directed by G.W. Pabst. At the end of the film, like at the end of her life, we are left to wonder if this beautiful and tragic woman was the victim of her own bad judgment, or whether such an outrageous character ever really had a chance in a world like ours, despite all her charms.  This final tragic twinge makes her all the more lovely to me.

So, here’s to Louise Brooks, who should be both admired and desired, and whose presence stretches beyond her years. God rest her swirling soul.

Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Dear Dottie
1999 Article List
2000 Article List
2001 Article List
2002 Article List
2003 Article List
2004 Article List
Thrift Store Record Reviews
Up Close Squirrel Nut Zipper's
Frontman Jimbo Mathus
Catchin' Up With Claude Trenier
How to Make Out to a Monster Movie
In Remembrance of Swings Past
Interview with Dean Mora
I Want Candye!: Candye Kane
Silence Is Golden:
Exploring Early Cinema in
Present-Day Hollywood
Jive Aces Swing Through Europe
Beatin' The Chops:
Pictures Of Lulu
Girls, Cars & Tattoo Charms
Lavay Smith:
The Divine Miss Thing
Spats: A Return to Civilized Attire
My Girlfriend Loves Elvis
Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?
Adventures in Vintage Expoland
The Melody Lingers On
Shake Your Wicky Wacky Woo!
High Noon At The Hoot:
Rockabilly Hits Orange County
Pep, Vim 'n' Verve:
Bill Elliott Bounces To Stardom
The Grand Dame Gets Her Due: Louis-Dahl Wolfe
Mermaids In NYC
Recycling Vintage Rings
Kearney's Got The Cure
You're Invited to a
Hawaiian Dinner Party
Can Broadway Swing?
Swing Therapy
Thelonious Monk:
Music Of The Sphere
ATOMIC Bares All!
Pennies From Heaven
Beatin' The Chops:
Just Dance, Dammit!
Bump & Grind Southern Style:
New Orleans' Shim Shamettes
Lady Day Speaks


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