A Social Celebrity is a romantic comedy about a small town barber who follows his heart and heads to the big city where he hopes to join high society. Louise Brooks plays the barber’s love interest, a small town manicurist who also heads to the big city to become a dancer. The film is the third in which Brooks appeared, the second for which she received a screen credit, and the first in which she had a starring role.
The film was originally set to star Greta Nissen, a Norwegian-born dancer. When she quit the film early in its production, Brooks’ part was rewritten and she took on the role of the female lead. It was a huge break for the 19 year old Brooks and a turning point in her career, as the barber, played by Adolphe Menjou, was one of the biggest stars of the time. In reviewing the film, many critics took special note of Brooks, and thereafter she was regarded as a rising star and someone to watch.
The critic for Exhibitor’s Herald noticed the actress. “Louise Brooks is the third person in the cast. This odd young person who worked with Ford Sterling in that screaming interlude of The American Venus is a positive quantity. She may become a sensational success or a sensational flop, but she is not the kind of player who simply goes along. She’s a manicure girl in this one, later a night club dancer, and she’s unfailingly colorful. I have a personal wager with another member of the staff that she goes up instead of down, both of us agreeing that she’s a moving personality but differing as to direction.” Mae Tinee of the Chicago Tribune also noticed the actress, “Louise Brooks, who plays the small town sweetheart who want to make a peacock out of her razor-bill, is a delightful young person with a lovely, direct gaze, an engaging seriousness, and a sudden, flashing smile that is disarming and winsome. A slim and lissome child, with personality and talent.”
The critic for the Boston Evening Transcript echoed those comments. “In this instance the manicure is no less provocative a morsel than Miss Louise Brooks, remembered for her bit in that specious puff-pastry, The American Venus. Miss Brooks has anything but a rewarding task in A Social Celebrity. Yet it would be ungracious not to comment on the fetching qualities of her screen presence. She affects a straight-line bang across the forehead with distressingly piquant cow-licks over either ear. Her eyes are quick, dark, lustrous. Her nose and mouth share a suspicion of gaminerie. Her gestures are deft and alert — perhaps still a shade self-conscious. In body she is more supple than facial play and her genuflectory exertions in the Charleston might well repay the careful study of amateurs in that delicate exercise.”
A Social Celebrity received many positive reviews, though a few critics thought it too similar to Menjou’s earlier efforts. At it’s New York City premiere, the film proved popular at the 2000 seat Rivoli theater, where it brought it nearly $30,000 during its one week run. (This was at a time when most tickets would have been priced at less than a dollar.) The film critic for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the line for tickets “began at the ticket office and extended to a spot somewhere in the middle of 7th Ave. and 49th St.”
“Max Haber, a small town barber, is the pride of his father, Johann, who owns an antiquated barbershop. Max adores Kitty Laverne, the manicurist, who loves him but aspires to be a dancer and leaves for New York, hoping that he will follow in pursuit of better things. Mrs. Jackson-Greer, a New York society matron, has occasion to note Max fashioning the hair of a town girl and induces him to come to New York and pose as a French count. There he meets April, Mrs. King’s niece, and loses his heart to her, as well as to Kitty, now a showgirl. At the theater where Kitty is appearing Max is the best-dressed man in April’s party, but later at a nightclub Kitty exposes him, and he is deserted by his society friends. Disillusioned, Max returns home at the request of his father. Kitty follows, realizing that he needs her.”
Filming began on December 21, 1925 and continued through the third week of January, 1926. The film was shot at Paramount’s Astoria Studios on Long Island (located at 3412 36th Street in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens). Location shooting was done elsewhere on Long Island (in the village of Huntington) as well as in Manhattan, including in Central Park, at the Plaza Hotel on 5th Avenue, and at the Park Lane Hotel on Park Avenue.
Under its American title, A Social Celebrity, documented screenings of the film took place in Australia, British Malaysia (Singapore), Canada, China, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, and the British Isles (England, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, and Scotland). The film was also promoted under the title The Social Celebrity (China); and A Sociál Celebrity (Czechoslovakia). Elsewhere, this motion picture was known to have been shown under other-language titles including Figaro en sociedad (Argentina); Der Bubikopfkünstler (Austria); Au suivant de ces Messieurs (Belgium); Desfrutando a alta sociedade (Brazil); Figaro en sociedad (Chile); Sociální osobnost (Czechoslovakia); I laante fjer (Denmark); Storfyrstinden og hendes kammertjener (Denmark); Au suivant de ces messieurs (France); Die Strasse des Grauens (Germany); Un barbiere di qualità (Italy); 三日伯爵 (Japan); Der Liebling der Gesellschaft (Latvia); Der Schaum-Cavalier (Luxembourg); Figaro en sociedad (Mexico); De Dameskapper (Netherlands); Shingle-eksperten (Norway); Disfrutando a Alta Societade (Portugal); Figaro en sociedad (Spain); and En Sparv i tranedans (Sweden).
The film is lost. According to the Barry Paris biography, Brooks reported seeing the film at the Eastman House in 1957. Lotte Eisner also stated she saw the film, in Paris in 1958, at the Cinémathèque Française. The latter copy was destroyed in a disastrous vault fire in 1959. The Eastman House copy has since deteriorated. [An individual named F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, whose claims could not be verified and were often thought suspect by film historians, stated he had seen a deteriorated nitrate print of A Social Celebrity (owned by a private European collector) in the 1990s. MacIntyre died in 2010, and so have claims that the film has survived.]
REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES:
“The Handsome Barber“, by Mordaunt Hall (New York Times, April 19, 1926)