I enjoyed Laura Moriarty’s book, The Chaperone, a fictionalized story about the silent film star Louise Brooks (see the September 8 post for more about that.) But I was curious, as I am whenever I read historical fiction–how much of it was true?
So I got a copy of the memoirs of Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood, published in 1974. Mary Louise Brooks was born in 1906 and died in 1985. Her memoirs cover her early years only superficially and that’s the part that The Chaperone covers. She mentions going to New York in 1922 to study at a famous dance studio, Denishawn, and that she was accompanied by a chaperone.
[Mother] finally overcame his [Father] strong objection to sending a little fifteen-year-old girl away from her home alone by finding me a chaperon, Alice Mills, a stocky, bespectacled housewife of thirty-six who, having fallen idiotically in love with the beautiful Ted Shawn [owner of the dance studio] at first sight, decided to study dance with him. She agreed to accompany me on the train and live with me in New York. . . . Most of the students [in New York] were females from the Middle West, to which, like my chaperon, Alice Mills, they would return to establish Denishawn schools. . . . I tolerated Mrs. Mills’ provincialism because she shared my love of the theatre. Together, we saw all the Broadway shows . . .”
And that’s about all Louise Brooks says of her chaperone. Using that little bit, Moriarty crafted a person with a different name. Moriarty’s character was thirty-six but not stocky, and she was not the least interested in Ted Shawn, the dance instructor, or in dance. She did enjoy theater. She found love in New York and returned home to Kansas at the end of the summer, but never established a dance school.
Having satisfied myself that The Chaperone was almost entirely fiction, I finished Louise Brooks’ memoir which continued into the sixties. In it she gives some insight into several actors and actresses she knew well, including Humphrey Bogart, Marion Davies (mistress of publisher William Randolph Hearst), Lilian Gish, Greta Garbo, W.C.Fields, and others. I learned little that I didn’t already know about Hollywood in the Twenties, but I enjoyed Lulu in Hollywood.
And check out this blog for more than a dozen gorgeous photos of Miss Brooks in all her glory.