"She's an enduring icon of fashion and style and film," replies Firehouse co-founder and board president Harry Kollatz, when asked about the reason for a Brooks festival. "Richmond is an odd place to have it because Louise Brooks never even visited here," Kollatz says. The closest she ever came, as far as he can tell, is Lynchburg, with the Denishawn Dancers. "More people know her through her style," Kollatz continues, "through her pictures. They are silent films, and not many people watch them."
Yellow House president Stephanie Kelley, who will play Brooks in a reading during the festival, had a typical reaction when Kollatz approached her. "I knew the image of Louise Brooks," she recalls, "that vision of a woman. Harry brought the images and information in. I had no idea that was Louise Brooks."
Brooks is the emblematic '20s flapper girl, who toured with Martha Graham in the Denishawn Dancers, ran with Britain's fashionable set of Bright Young Things (wet blankets, she thought), returned to the states to make it on Broadway and began her movie career in Hollywood. In her heyday she also toured with Will Rogers and W.C. Fields in the Ziegfeld Follies, ghost-wrote a theater review for the Times critic Herman Mankiewicz (himself too drunk) and had affairs with scores of rich and famous men, including Charlie Chaplin.
Though her screen career died with the advent of sound, right when she was reaching the heights of artistic success, Brooks lived on long after, doing off-Broadway, working as a salesgirl at Saks in New York, living with rich men and writing articles for obscure film magazines until she died in 1985 at age 79. During this period she was approached by the theater critic Kenneth Tynan for a legendary profile eventually published in The New Yorker titled "The Girl in the Black Helmet," a reference to her signature bob. This relationship was later dramatized in the play "Smoking With Lulu," by Janet Munsil, to be read during the festival, with Kelley as the young Brooks and Elizabeth Cusack as Brooks in her later years. Mark Adams will play Tynan.
"Smoking With Lulu," is not done very often. It can be an irritating play, with smoking on stage. "Consistent smoking," Kollatz notes, "which turns people off." The festival, thrown together over two days in the heat of July, is risky like its subject, Kollatz acknowledges. But it befits her character, he says. And as the festival will show, even when the surrounding material is imperfect, Brooks' presence alone is worth doing the Charleston over. S
Lulupalooza takes place Saturday and Sunday, July 23-24. Tickets are available for the entire weekend ($37.50) and for individual events. "Pandora's Box" will be shown Saturday, 1:30 p.m., at the Byrd Theatre in Carytown ($12.50). Individual films, at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St., are $5. For the full schedule, visit www.lulupalooza.org.
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