Born Mary Louise Brooks in Cherryvale, Kansas, she was a daughter of a lawyer.
Brooks began her entertainment career as a dancer, appearing in her teens with the revolutionary Denishawn modern dance company whose members included Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. She turned to her influential friends and quickly found work as a featured dancer in the 1925 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, where her beauty was noticed by the then New York-
Signing with Paramount Pictures, where she stayed for most of the remainder of her American film career, her screen debut was in the silent The Street of Forgotten Men, in an uncredited role in 1925. Soon, however, she was playing the female lead in a number of silent light comedies and flapper films over the next few years, starring with Adolphe Menjou and W. C. Fields, among others. She was noticed in Europe for her pivotal vamp role in the Howard Hawks directed silent "buddy film", A Girl In Every Port in 1928.
It has been said that her best American role was in one of the last silent film dramas, Beggars Of Life (1928), as an abused country girl on the run with Richard Arlen and Wallace Beery playing hoboes she meets while riding the rails.