Up The Chops:
Pictures of LuLu
By Big Rude Jake
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
here’s to Louise Brooks, who should be both admired and
desired, and whose presence stretches beyond her years.
God rest her swirling soul.