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Louise Brooks to shine in Orinda

On Saturday, March 1st, author Robert Murillo will read from his new Louise Brooks inspired novel, The Vanity, at Orinda Books in Orinda, California.

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks Society
The Vanity, by Robert Murillo
Robert Murillo

The Vanity is a breezy, cleverly-written, Jack Finney-esque work of fiction involving time travel which centers on Brooks, the silent film star, and a set of compromising pictures taken when she was still an aspiring actress. Also figuring in the story are her former husband, the noted director Eddie Sutherland, as well as a contemporary admirer named Mike.

Based on many factual elements, the book is a what-if fantasy set in the years 1927 and 2011. Mike lives in what had been Sutherland's house, where an old piece of furniture still resides containing risque images of Brooks.

The Vanity pivots on a vengeful Sutherland, who in 1927 has plans to turn the pictures over to the Los Angeles Times—unaware that an exposé will not only lead to his and Brooks’ banishment from the movie industry, but to her suicide and his murder. Knowing their futures, Mike must decide if he should somehow try to stop Sutherland from publishing the photos in the past. If he does, he realizes he would be altering the past, and in doing so, changing history.

In a statement, Murillo explained his attraction to the story: "I fell in love with Louise Brooks the moment I spotted her in one of those clunky coffee table books. There was just one picture of her—taken in 1927—not much bigger than a postage stamp. We starred at each other for a few seconds before I realized she was seducing me and—like so many others—I fell. Hard."

Robert S. Murillo taught English for more than ten years before a career as a financial adviser. Today, he spends most of his time writing fiction; The Vanity is his first novel. He considers J.D. Salinger, Ray Bradbury, and Jack Finney to be the writers who have influenced him the most, though he also appreciates the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck. Murillo lives near Berkeley.

Orinda has an unusual connection with Brooks' career. The Bay Area community was the one-time home of Fay Lanphier, one of the stars of The American Venus (1926), Brooks' break-out film. (Lawrence Gray, who also starred in The American Venus, was raised in San Francisco.)

Lanphier was Miss America in 1925, the first Californian to win the honor. As a renowned beauty, she was offered a film contract, starring in a major Paramount release, The American Venus, the storyline of which centers on a beauty contest. Despite her charms, Lanphier's film career never really took off. She appeared in only one other film, a Laurel and Hardy short called Flying Elephants (1928). She died at the age of 53 in 1959.

According to an Oakland Tribune obituary, Lanphier "won the Miss California crown twice before being judged the most beautiful girl in the nation in Atlantic City, N.J. She was a 19-year-old secretary here when she was judged Miss America. The blond, hazel-eyed girl started her career as Miss Alameda, although she made her home in Oakland. She first won the Miss California title in 1924 and placed third in the national contest at Atlantic City that year. The next year she was chosen Miss California again and won the national contest in a walk-away."

Lanphier became an overnight celebrity, traveling to New York in President Coolidge's special railway car. Motorcycle officers escorted her through Manhattan. She was also toasted at a round of parties by such celebrities as Rudolph Valentino, Mae Murray, and Will Rogers. Lanphier estimated she earned $50,000 on a 16-week personal appearance tour during the year she wore the crown of Miss America.

Lanphier was married to Sidney M. Spiegel, son of a wealthy Chicago store owner. That marriage ended in divorce after six months. In 1930, she married her former high school sweetheart Winfield J. Daniels, a Berkeley and San Jose book store operator, and settled down to life as a housewife in Orinda.

Orinda Books is located at 276 Village Square in Orinda. Murillo's talk and book signing is set for 1 pm.

Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and early film buff, and 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 the “Louise Brooks edition” of The Diary of a Lost Girl - the novel which served as the basis for the 1929 Brooks' film.