JUST A PRAIRIE FLOWER
By Malcolm H. Oettinger
If you have been regular in your attendance upon things cinematic, and faithful in keeping up your home work, you have been seeing and reading more than a little about Louise Brooks. First, as a pictorial flash in the film, The American Venus, this little girl got a great big hand. Almost immediately, she was promoted to leading roles on the screen in support of such fellows as W. C. Fields and the smooth Mr. Menjou.
Indeed, as the ingenue in A Social Celebrity, Louise was smartly beguiling. Nor should the Charleston she contributed be ignored. She was, in fact, a newcomer who demanded attention.
Off the screen, she is less animated, and hardly pretty enough to stop traffic. She might well be a subdeb, trim, well-shod, elaborately at ease.
Although Louise is from the heart of Kansas, there is nothing cyclonic about her. As reserved as a ringside table at the Mirador, she professes a pretty cynicism concerning the world, manifesting at the same time a blase attitude toward the swirling currents of life, as currents go in New York.
Her figure is diminutive and, specifically, all that a figure should be. Her nose is straight and freckled, her eyebrows the briefest possible - abbreviated at both ends. Her eyes are large and sultry. Louise, you would guess, has been petted and pampered, and perhaps spoiled a bit. She has a contract and a Park Avenue apartment, and what critics like to call a "promising future," but discontent lurks in her fresh young face. The world is her oyster, but she doesn't care for sea food.
If you meet Louise at the Ritz for luncheon, and you mark upon her tardiness with the observation that you thought she was coming, she tells you that you're lucky: she is only twenty minutes late. Then she readjusts her ruddy lips, pats a bang into place, and murmurs something about arising in the middle of the night.
Knowing, unruffled, diffident, Louise admits that this is breakfast, not luncheon. And although she seems worldly wise, she is still trusting enough to ask the waiter if the honeydew melon is good. Ah, yezz, he asures her blandly. "Then I'll have some," Louise decides, "with a slice of lemon - very thin."
Thus, breakfast progresses, slowly but, as you may already suspect, surely. The Ritz is alive with chatter; the sun pours through the great windows; throngs eat and drink and come and go. But Louise is loath to indulge in conversation.
She was born in Wichita, Kansas, wasn't she ? "Gee everybody knows that," replies Louise. Was she ashamed of having originated in Wichita, Kansas?
"No-o. But it's such an old story now." Her gaze wanders idly. "They've all told about my being from Wichita." She thinks for a moment. "Why not make me a mystery woman. Write something interesting about me. Everybody knows I'm from Wichita."
But to imagine her anything other than what she is, would be difficult. Having shaken off the gingham days of Middle Western simplicity, she is coldly trying to erase them from her memory. Three years ago a high-school belle, to-day she is sleekly bobbed, well tailored New Yorker, indistinguishable from the genuine article. Little amuses her. Nothing amazes her. She is in pictures, succesfully. What of it ? She is advancing rapidly, and she is very young. What of it ? Her manner drops its inertia only when she defends her reticence. People, she argues mildly, aren't interested in her.
Original or not, the fact remains that Louise is a Wichitan. From the rolling prairies, she came to the city, her fate paralleling that of many prairie flowers: the Follies got her. And so successful was she in brightening that gay symphony of the fleshpots, that the grateful Mr. Ziegfeld deployed her to grace his production of Louie - historically enough - the Fourteenth.
After watching Leon Errol's collapsible ankles throughout two hundred performances of that comedy, Louise spent an afternoon discovering Long Island's Astoria. She had heard about the fortunes to be earned, or at least obtained, in pictures. Mr. Cohill, of Paramount's casting office, found Louise worth filing for future reference. And before she knew it, she was being hired to lend a bit of sex appeal to The American Venus - the picture that featured Atlantic City, Venus, and five hundred other girls.
Although her part in the proceedings was limited to what is technically known as a bit, Louise made it stand up and speak, surrounded though it was by distracting one-piece bathing suits. New York critics acclaimed her, singled her out for special praise, showered paragraphic commendation upon her. She was signed, then, on what studios always call a "long-term contract."
Louise vouchsafed to me none of this information. Louise is a quiet child, letting well enough alone. She is not likely to say the wrong thing: she rarely says anything. If silence is golden, Louise is a wealthy girl.
It was pointed out to her, gently but bitterly, that being nineteen, from Wichita, Kansas, and fond of honeydew melon with a thin slice of lemon, was not enough. There must be something of a newsy nature to be drawn from her table talk.
"Oh," said Louise.
What, for example, did she think of men ?
"Men are lovely." A frown flitted across her smooth white brow. "Some of them," she amended.
"Let's say," she suggested, "that I got ahead by hard work and Christian science." Opening a chased-leather bag, she fished out a leather cigarette case, found a cigarette, and carefully inserted it between her lips. A match flickered, Louise inhaled. "We had a good time making It's the Old Army Game in Florida. Mr. Fields is a funny bird."
That had not, it developed, been her first visit to the Ponce de Leon country. One learned that the Brooks career had been given over generously to globe trotting. There had been a season in London at the Kit-Kat, and in Paris at the Casino, as a member of the Ruth St. Denis troupe.
And now, the prairie flower has joined the horticultural aristocracy. Here is inspiration for young America, for high-school belles, misses' sizes. And here, perhaps, was a chance to get a message from Louise.
"What, Miss Brooks, are the chances for a young girl, fairly pretty, fairly intelligent, to come to the city, and make good ?"
A breathless silence preceded her reply.
"The chances," said Louise, "are what she takes."