Lulu in Hollywood

Louis Brooks: Lulu and Modernism College

Actress Louise Brooks and her best-known creation, Lulu, are together one of the most memorable expressions of modern cinema’s “bad girl,” an unabashed symbol of sexuality. Born November 14, 1906, Brooks was known for her idiosyncratic bob-and bangs black helmet, naturalistic style of acting, astonishing personality, and creation of a character whose avant-garde style was rivaled only by Brooks’ own personal life. Both Brooks and Lulu formed an embodiment of the 1920s decadent Jazz Age, and later, carried a mythical and nostalgic quality upon Brooks’ resurrection from Hollywood oblivion as a writer and cult star. Intriguingly, Brooks’ Lulu is not a quintessential articulation of modernism’s whore by any means. Her creation is iconic precisely because of its paradoxical quality—a portrayal of the innocent hedonist. It is an innocence that always seems to hover on the verge of compromise. Brooks combines the trope of a saintly good girl with the glamorous allure of a sinner to achieve a symbol of sexuality that will, and has, lived on for years.

New Yorker editor William Shaun once wrote, “It is difficult to believe that Louise Brooks exists apart from her creation…even...

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