Wednesday 7 May 2008

The Bob and the Books

The above is an image of the actress Louise Brooks relaxing between takes and surrounded by books. This image, and Brooks herself, first came to my attention via the cover to the NYRB Classics edition of The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares.
This is a fantastic (in both senses) and haunting book, inspired by Casares' obsession with Brooks, about a strange island, a weird invention, cinema, and hopeless love.

Intrigued by the image, I found out rather more about Brooks, including her most famous role as Lulu in Pandora's Box (1929), from the Frank Wedekind play.

Brooks had a unique, fascinating and mildly unsettling look; her haircut and pale features made her famous. A number of books about her all use photos of her from her 1920s heyday on their covers.

More interestingly, Brooks became an author herself. Her film career was cut short after she made rather too many enemies of powerful Hollywood producers. One of her books is aimed at a very specific niche...

..but rather more significant is her well-written and fascinating autobiography, which covers early Hollywood and the film world of Weimar Germany. Again, the cover images for this book's various editions use images from the 1920s.

That face and that hair are very distinctive, so the most recent edition of her memoirs stepped away from the photographic with an elegant bit of simple, evocative illustration.

UPDATE: The infinitely wise John Self noted in the comments that one of these Louise Brooks photos was also used on the cover of the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition of the Scott Fitzgerald story collection, Bernice Bobs Her Hair.

This is not the only time Penguin have used a "difficult" actress of powerful sexuality on the cover of a Fitzgerald book--Tallulah Bankhead is on the current edition of The Beautiful and the Damned.

UPDATE 2: Jessie and Steve noted in the comments that Marj-Jo Bang's narrative poem collection Louise in Love also features Louise Brooks (and seems to have inspired the central character of the poems).


Anonymous said...

The image on the Paris biog was also used in the UK Penguin 20th Century Classic edition (the series that took the place of Modern Classics from 1992-1999) of F Scott Fitzgerald's Bernice Bobs Her Hair. See here - not a very high res image I'm afraid, but the only one I could find.

JRSM said...

Ah, brilliant: I'd never seen that. Thanks, John--I shall add it to the post.

Jessie B said...

Also Mary Jo Bang's amazing Louise in Love.

JRSM said...

Thank you for letting me know about that--I'll update the post accordingly.

Readymade said...

Hi! Just to point out that the comments left behind in Chinese here are spam.

Your blog's cool and I love the cover used on "The Invention of Morel -- the only problem is that the picture is pixelated :/ Keep up the good work tho!

JRSM said...

Thank you! I've been meaning to zap that spam for a while, but forgot about it.

The image is beautiful, isn't it? Gorgeous early movie actress, books, a sense of mystery--what more could you want?