Tribute to Elisabeth Brooks of the Howling

Howling's Elisabeth Brooks


Elisabeth Luyties-Brooks - 1963. Copyright 1998 by Jeremy Luyties. All rights reserved. Elisabeth Luyties-Brooks. Copyright 1998 by Jeremy Luyties. All rights reserved. Elisabeth Luyties-Brooks and her son, Jeremy. Copyright 1998 by Jeremy Luyties. All rights reserved.
Elisabeth Luyties-Brooks. Copyright 1998 by Jeremy Luyties. All rights reserved. Elisabeth Luyties-Brooks - Nov. 1994. Photo by Lita. All rights reserved.

"My mom was a true warrior." Jeremy Luyties (son)

[Long Beach, CA] The smoke from the white sage enveloped me like a warm embrace as I performed the blessing of Elisabeth Brooks' trailer home, and those who remained, after the September 14th memorial service in Palm Springs. Being of Comanche heritage, this is a sacred tradition of my people. One that I had performed many times, at Elisabeth's request, to "smudge" (cleanse or bless) her home, her person, or on special occasions. The last time I smudged for Elisabeth, was at the beginning of her courageous 33-month battle with cancer. It was only fitting that I repeated it at the end of the trail to mark her passing and to honor her spirit. This is her story as she was to her friends.

On Superbowl Sunday, 1995, Elisabeth Brooks suffered a seizure while driving to a physician friend's home. Prior to that time she had been developing symptoms of numbness and stiffness on one side. Elisabeth ("Lisa" to her family and friends.) was always a touchy-feely person. Always ready with a hug. One night in 1994 at a Thanksgiving dinner I helped her with, I accidentally brushed against a lump on the back of her head during an embrace. It was the size of a golf ball! A sudden chill went through me and, after much nagging, she finally promised to have it looked at. She passed away September 7, 1997, in the company of her son and his Godmother.

Elisabeth was best known for her role as "Marsha," and made a huge impact in horror films with The Howling, (Released through Avco Embassy Pictures, produced by Mike Finnell and John Conrad and directed by Joe Dante) when she was introduced in the role of a seductive villainess. With her sparkling hazel eyes and dazzling smile flashing, Elisabeth broke the mold of the `80's "I'm-a-woman-not-a-toy" by portraying a strong female who was also a sexual being. However, one cannot begin to speak of her career without first acknowledging the person and her unique nature.

During a time when Women's Liberation was making headlines, Elisabeth was very vocal in her objections to the full frontal nude scene of Marsha in "The Howling." In an article entitled "Elisabeth Brooks is howling mad," she bitterly told US Magazine, "I was signed to do the movie on my acting ability alone. I was told the sex shots would be smoke-screened by a bonfire and that you wouldn't be able to see anything." Playboy first acquired and published the nude footage, without her knowledge, in its annual 1981 "Sex in the Cinema" feature showing her standing naked before a forest bonfire sans heatwaves or smoke. Elisabeth was quoted as saying, "In the past I've always refused to do nude magazine work because I believe in the Bible and have morals." She later told me that she had also had her reputation as a single mom to consider.

In 1974, Elisabeth gave birth to her only child, Jeremy, (in a home amid friends in San Jose, California) and refused to marry the boy's father. "She lived for Jeremy." Marguerite Cravatt (Jeremy's Godmother) told me, "Even though we had different opinions on parenting methods, our sons grew up together and have always been as close as brothers." Elisabeth continued to pursue an acting career with infant son and all. While waitressing at Los Angeles' Roxy Club, (and the then exclusive club upstairs "On the Rox" - both on the Sunset strip) she met many of the Hollywood rollers like Jack Nicholson (with whom she said she had a wild six month relationship), Warren Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton, and others. She moved on to a Denny's job when she met the late Don "Red" Barry (actor-writer-director - Dr. Dracula, The Swarm, Orca) who discovered Elisabeth during an on-set baby-sitting assignment. It was never clear to me what contribution he played in it, but, it was shortly after that when she made her television debut in `70's series, "Emergency!."

Elisabeth went on to appear on other shows like "The Rockford Files," "Hart to Hart," "Starsky and Hutch," "The Six Million Dollar Man," and others as well as recurring roles on "Doctor's Hospital," and as "Harper" on "Days of Our Lives" in 1979. Beginning her acting career at the age of 5 years, Elisabeth enjoyed a long career as a stage and film guest star, making her motion picture debut (uncredited) in Alfred Hitchcock's 1976 horror comedy, "Family Plot," starring Karen Black and Bruce Dern. In 1987, she appeared as Mrs. Ridley in the Fred Olen Ray sci-fi flick, "Deep Space," about a slimy monster that terrorizes civilization as a result of a biological weapon boo-boo and featured Julie Newmar, James Booth, (and Fred himself) among others. In "The Howling," Brooks worked with Roger Corman, Patrick McNee, Belinda Balaski, and which featured a cameo by Forrest J. Ackerman.

After "The Howling" was released in 1981, she required a hysterectomy due to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) as a result of the Dalkon (I.U.D.) shield. Dalkon shield use was discontinued shortly thereafter. It was a major contributing factor in Brooks not returning in the sequel, "The Howling II," but not the only one.

"(The Howling) was her first major hit movie." director Joe Dante told me in a phone call, "Elisabeth brought to the (Marsha) role exactly what was needed. She was a beautiful and exotic woman and we will miss her."

When "The Howling" was released by Avco Embassy Pictures in 1981 on a $1.5 million micro-budget ($200,000 of which was for special effects, and $10,000 for purchased footage of Lon Chaney, Jr. in "The Wolfman"), Elisabeth initially agreed to the sequel and later backed out. She told me that, at the time, that Kristy McNichol's influence on her (in an on-again/off-again relationship) had a bearing on failed "Howling II" salary negotiations. Since Kristy's childhood, she remained a prominent figure in Elisabeth's life.

Elisabeth said she had met Kris (now 35) while baby-sitting on the sets of movie and TV productions and actually work together on "The Forgotten One" (released in 1990, directed by Phillip Badger). It was reported in the Star tabloid (Dec. 1994) that "McNichol ran to Brooks' side" upon learning of the diagnosed cancer. No doubt. Their relationship, while sometimes tumultuous, was very close and long enduring. Kristy (who resides in Sherman Oaks, California) was in attendance of Elisabeth's service, but was unavailable for comment. Elisabeth's death came only days before Kris' 35th birthday and the family reported that she took it very hard.

Elisabeth had been virtually oblivious to her strong fan following until I began booking her on public appearance circuits with other clients that I handled of the horror/sci-fi genré. She really loved her fans and they truly adored her. Her last appearance was at a November 1994 convention where, despite her pain and numbness, Elisabeth insisted on signing each and every autograph for nearly 8 hours. That's how she was and what Elisabeth wanted, Elisabeth got. I worked with producer/director Don Glut to cast her in his film, Dinosaur Valley Girls. She never got to play the role.

In a letter, Don tells me, "I first met Elisabeth Brooks around Halloween of 1981 at a function of the Count Dracula Society, shortly after the release of the "Howling.

"Our friendship really began in the 1990s. I ran into Elisabeth again at a screening of "Dinosaur Island" at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and shortly thereafter at a party where I met, for the first time, Gigi Porter.

"In spring of 1995, as DVG began to move into its preproduction phase, I visited the acting class (ACT NOW) that Elisabeth taught in Van Nuys, California. Elisabeth had agreed to play Ro-Kell, the queen of the Dinosaur Valley Girls.

"The day Elisabeth was scheduled to come into my office to sign her contract for the role, she didn't show up for her appointment and didn't call to cancel or postpone. We were getting dangerously close to our first day's shoot. Elisabeth had always been reliable before and so I began to worry that something serious ma

"Almost a week later, someone dropped by my office and told me about Elisabeth's sudden and unexpected problem with cancer. Elisabeth had hoped to beat this problem on her own and still intended to do the (movie), not wanting to disappoint me. Obviously, strong as she was, she wasn't strong enough.

"Elizabeth was a fighter and she fought the cancer. The last time I saw her was at a Thanksgiving dinner in 1995. She told me then that she was seeking various possible alternative cures, including an Indian Shaman in Arizona, and that she was determined not to die. Her determination, and probably other factors, are what kept her alive for two more years. Most of her friends, myself included, heard little news from or about her during that time.

"All of us have been profoundly affected by the news. We loved Elisabeth Brooks and we will all miss her." --Don Glut, Frontline Entertainment, Inc.

Elisabeth was one of a kind. She loved her Jack Daniel's "neat." She smoked - a lot. She loved, both to hear and to create, gossip. When she was ticked-off, her language could make a sailor blush. Elisabeth greatly loved, and was loved by, all those who knew her and indelibly touched many lives. Yet, she maintained an sense of naïveté that often made her quite vulnerable. She needed her independence - yet also needed to be reassured often and taken care of. She was drawn to strong people (which is how she envisioned me to be) and, at the same time, could be a rock for others to count upon.

Elisabeth was Canadian born and adopted by William and Joan Luyties. William also died of cancer (of a different form) just six months prior to Elisabeth's passing. Even though her family moved around, Elisabeth basically grew up in the San Fernando Valley with her brother (Judson) and sister (Jonica). "She was a different person unto herself." her aunt, Sybil Brooks Duncan, told me. "When she was a kid, she always said she wanted to grow up to be an Indian boy." Elisabeth was much endeared to Native American ways and traditions, often satiating her quest for knowledge with magazines, books and spoken stories. She sought to surround herself in life with all things spiritual and meaningful. One could often find the King James Bible right next to a copy of the Rolling Stone, National Enquirer, Hollywood Reporter, or Native American Indian Journal.

Our meeting was a unique experience. One night, I was being a couch potato when I received a call from a mutual friend. She had told Elisabeth about my character, Vampi the Vegetarian Vampire, that I had been a "horror hostess" since 1976 on the East Coast and in Texas, and that did marketing and PR work for celebrities. They insisted I come out for drinks to a little Mexican restaurant at the LA Equestrian Center in Burbank. There was total energy between us when Elisabeth and I met. She told me how thrilled she was to meet "a real horror hostess" and encouraged me to do more with my character. Oh, and by the way, she had a friend named Kristy McNichol who needed a tenant to rent a magificent split-level home. Would I "be interested?"

Elisabeth was always pushing you to do more - be more. But, she had a hard time believing in herself and her own celebrity status. Like me, she felt her calling was to help other people expand and succeed in their careers and, if she got ahead, that was bonus. She liked my marketing project for a select group of horror genré folks (called the Wolf Pak) which included Michael Berryman (Evil Spirits), Vernon Wells (Road Warrior), Carel Struycken (Addams Family), David Naughton (American Werewolf in London), and Reggie Bannister (Phantasm and Wishmaster). She thought it was classy, profitable, and she wanted to be a part of it. She fell right into the groove of making personal autograph appearances with us. Not the least of which was a children's' charity event for AboutFace International (Michael Berryman's favorite charity) on Halloween night (1994) at the Universal Citywalk Hollywood Athletic Club. There, she was reunited with many of her buddies from the horror movie and television industry.

Shortly after that, Elisabeth was with me when I (and another partner) asked Reggie (Bannister) to become a business partner in my company (Production Magic, Inc.). She made some amazingly clairvoyant predictions about me and my ex-partner, me and Reggie, and the destined success of our company. That was Elisabeth, though, deep. Really deep one moment, and trying to fix you up on a date or playing a practical joke on you the next... which she did frequently. She was especially fond of site gags and puns.

One moment, she was calculating tips on a dinner ticket to the cent, and the next she was giving you the shirt off her back. One incident I recall was a young couple from the Mid-West. They were students of hers trying to break into "the business." They did good for awhile, but, as any one will tell you this business is tough and can eat you alive. They were about to be evicted from their North Hollywood apartment, they had planned to live in their car (which had broken down), they had just found out that the girl was pregnant, and they had been eating candy bars to stay alive. It was a story we had both seen played out too many times before and rarely with a happy ending. She called me over to fix them dinner and then she gave them $500 to help them out. They returned back East the next day - completely unaware that she had borrowed the money because her own rent was due. The very next night, we were riding in a limo... go figure.

I was devastated when I received the call in January of 1995, about Elisabeth's stroke and that she had been diagnosed with four or five brain tumors. Reggie arrived early for a business meeting that afternoon at my apartment. I had just hung up from the call and he had to, basically, reel me back in (emotionally) so that I could conduct the project meeting. I later found some comfort in the counsel of another good friend of mine, Walter Koenig (Star Trek), whose own brother had died from a similar condition. It helped me tremendously in understanding what was going on with Elisabeth. At first, I was crushed that she kept everyone at arms-length from her. But, when Don Glut informed me of Elisabeth's passing... I was filled with with a sudden sense of relief. Her battle was done.

Next to her son, Elisabeth's first love was working with children, which she continued to do at her Van Nuys studio until her illness in the winter of 1994. Her talents didn't all lie just in her beauty. She was also a writer, a musician and an accomplished poet. She was writing a book during her stay in Palm Springs and she said she used to love playing music with Kris. Just before her illness, we had discussed recording some of her music and the possibility of using some of my own love poems as lyrics. She loved poetry and would sometimes read for hours. She had a habit of writing you little affirmations. One of her favorites was, "Don't Quit!!" (author unknown) and it was that poem which her family displayed at her services. The last verse goes, "...Success is failure turned inside out - The silver tint of the clouds of doubt. And you never can tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems afar; So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit - It's when things seem worst (sic) that you mustn't quit."

Like Elisabeth, her memorial services were elegant, yet earthy, in the simplistic setting of her home. The some 50 attendees were afforded a magnificent view of the mountains she loved so dearly through a floor-to-ceiling picture window. Surrounded by friends and family, her sone, Jeremy (23) spoke of the moment of her passing. "My mom was a true warrior." he began smiling, "She had survived four brain surgeries and chemo-therapy. When the doctors told her she only had four months to live, she told them `No way.' and she defied them by fighting for almost three years." Jeremy's eyes began to mist as he went on to state, "My mom was the most courageous person I've ever known. Although some folks might not think it appropriate, I want to share her last moments with you.

"Mom was a real tiger. She lay in her bed at the Haven Hospice in Palm Springs with me and my Godmother (Marguerite Cravatt). Her lungs had begun to fill with fluid but she was still trying to hang on. Finally, I held her head in my hands, looked into her eyes and said, `Mom, if you can see a light, let go. If you can see grandpa, go to him. I'm fine - we're fine - now, relax and just let go.' A single tear rolled down her cheek. I didn't know what else to do, so I licked it. She let out one last sigh and she was gone." With a look around the room, Jeremy added, "I ran outside and yelled out `M-O-O-O-O-O-M!' as long and as loud as I could. I guess a lot like a Klingon warrior from Star Trek." One almost expected to hear her famous chuckle in that sensuous whiskey voice.

Her family graciously allowed me to speak at her service. As I stood there, all I could think of was that this was not saying good-bye, but welcoming her into a new life - free and without pain. I related to everyone how Elisabeth and I were in a sauna one day when she insisted I perform the Indian prayers for Sweatlodge. "This isn't a sweatlodge, Elisabeth." I told her. "Hey," she said. "a sweat's a sweat." That got a chuckle from everyone. As I recited a poem about women in sweatlodge being reborn in spirit, I looked upon the faces of her friends and family. It was then that I realized that she hadn't tried to "shut us out" as she went through her battle. She had just wanted the last image of her in our minds to be that of the lively, sexy, classy, gutsy lady she had been in life. And so it is.

Let it be said, Elisabeth Brooks was no quitter.
She was a fighter... a true warrior to the end.
We'll miss you, Lissa.  Ah HO!
--- Gigi Porter, September 1997
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