Downton Abbey, the popular British television drama, has at least a few connections to Louise Brooks and the silent era.
Fans of the period drama, which is set in the early years of the 20th century, may have noticed a scene where one of the downstairs help can clearly be seen reading a vintage issue of Photoplay, the leading movie magazine of the time. Mabel Normand, one of the silent era’s leading female stars, is seen on the cover.
The show’s connection with the silent film era doesn’t end there. The series also has some rather interesting ties to Louise Brooks.
Back in November, a handful of English writers were asked by the Guardian newspaper which books had most impressed them during the course of the year. The piece, which ran on November 25th, was titled “Books of the Year 2012.” The answer given by actor, novelist, screenwriter, director, Oscar winner and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes caused a bit of a stir, as the book he mentioned was first published in 1989. Fellowes’ answer reads.
“I suspect the book that has haunted me the most this year was the life of that queen of the silent screen, Louise Brooks: A Biography (University of Minnesota £17), by Barry Paris. I have seldom read so lyrical a tale of self-destruction. When she was a girl, my mother used to be mistaken for Louise Brooks and so I have always felt a sort of investment in her, but I was unprepared for this heartbreaking tale of what-might-have-been.”
Fellowes’ eloquent appreciation of Paris’ acclaimed biography echoes the many superb reviews the book received when it was first published. Novelist Angela Carter praised it, as did the Times Literary Supplement. The latter noted, “Louise Brooks seems to have had such a rare intelligence and humor that this is not a tale of tragedy but a study in fierce originality.”
One wonders if Fellowes is aware that Shirley MacLaine, one of the stars of Downton Abbey, is also a big fan of Louise Brooks. Over the years, MacLaine has said as much in interviews, all the while expressing her interest in someday playing Brooks on screen. Additionally, one of the other stars of Downton Abbey, Elizabeth McGovern, has a similar interest in Brooks. After serving as the reader for the audio version of Laura Moriarty’s 2012 novel, The Chaperone, McGovern snapped up the movie rights to the bestselling book, which tells a story centered around Brooks’ time as an aspiring Denishawn dancer.
If, one day, Fellows directs a film version of The Chaperone with McGovern as the title character and MacLaine as Louise Brooks’ mother, fans of the silent film star will know how it all got started.
Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts and entertainment writer and early film buff, as well as the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks’ films around the world. In 2010, he edited and wrote the introduction to the “Louise Brooks Edition” of Margarete Bohme’s The Diary of a Lost Girl.