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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ()

Feminista 100 Greatest Works of 20th Century Fiction by Women Writers

    I really think that American gentlemen are the best after all, because kissing your hand may make
    you feel very, very good but a diamond-and-safire bracelet lasts forever.
        -Lorelei Lee, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Up until now, I'd figured that the most ignominious fate that a significant 20th century writer had suffered was that T. S. Eliot will be best remembered for the fact that a book of his poems inspired the musical Cats.  Here's a worse one : Anita Loos, author of one of the funniest novels ever written, may be remembered as the author whose book inspired the musical which inspired the music video of Madonna's Material Girl.  This after all is a book which while it was being serialized made Harper's Bazaar into a best-selling magazine, went through 45 editions in 13 languages (including Chinese and Russian) upon publication, which Edith Wharton referred to as "the great American novel," which a nearly blind James Joyce chose as his preferred reading during the brief period he was allotted each day, and which won praise from readers as varied as Winston Churchill, William Faulkner, George Santayana, and Benito Mussolini.

Even before she wrote this story, Anita Loos had already established herself as a topflight Hollywood screenwriter, working with the likes of D. W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks, and she numbered H. L. Mencken among her many literary friends.  In fact, the book is at least in part intended to poke fun at Mencken.  Loos had previously noticed, with some amusement, the intellectually snobbish writer's contradictory weakness for ditzy blonde babes.  So when she found herself traveling cross country on the Santa Fe Chief with her husband (the director John Emerson), Fairbanks, several other gentlemen and one blonde starlet, she was struck by the fact that the men stumbled over themselves trying to help the other woman, while Ms Loos was left to lug her own baggage:

    Obviously there was some radical difference between that girl and me.  But what was it?  We were
    both in the pristine years of early youth; we were about the same degree of comeliness; as to our
    mental acumen, there was nothing to discuss : I was the smarter.  Then why did that girl so far
    outdistance me in feminine allure?  She was a natural blonde and I was a brunette.

Loos promptly began writing the first notes for what would become the hilarious adventures of Lorelei Lee, the flighty but conniving blonde to whom "Fate keeps on happening," and, when finished, sent them to Mencken, who was then editing The American Mercury.

He told her, "Little girl, you're making fun of sex, and that's never been clone before in the U.S.A.," but also suggested that she submit the story to Harper's Bazaar.  The editor, Henry Sell, liked the initial story so much that he got her to write several more installments and serialized them in the magazine.  The rest, as they say, is history...

The resulting novel reminds me a great deal of Ring Lardner's You Know Me, Al (see Orrin's review). It is presented in the form of Lorelei's diary, so is entirely in her unique voice, with tortured syntax, creative spelling and unintentionally revealing insight.  Lorelei, like Lardner's antihero, is surpassing ignorant of culture and most of the world beyond her particular haunts, but, unlike Jack Keefe who is genuinely unenlightened about himself, she betrays a profound understanding that her looks and her general availability enable her to extract just about anything she wishes from gentlemen.  And the most important similarity is that this is just a funny book, certainly one of the funniest ever written by an American author.


Grade: (A)


Book-related and General Links:
    -BIO: Anita Loos (The Silents' Majority)
    -BIO: Loos, Anita  (1893?-1981), screenwriter and novelist (Women in American History, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -BIO: Anita Loos (American Mutoscope)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Ania Loos (Internet Movie Database)
    -CREATIVE QUOTES: from Anita Loos (Be More Creative)
    -The San Antonio College LitWeb Anita Loos Page
    -MISCELLANY: on Anita Loos (T A Y L O R O L O G Y : A Continuing Exploration of the Life and Death of William Desmond Taylor)
    -ESSAY: Loos Talk (Kennedy Fraser, Harper's Bazaar, August 1998)
    -PROFILE: Peggy Hopkins Joyce: The Gentleman Preferred Blonde (Eve Golden, Films of the Golden Age)
    -REVIEW: of FATE KEEPS ON HAPPENING. Adventures of Lorelei Lee and Other Writings. By Anita Loos (John Gross, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Anita Loos A Biography By Gary Carey (JOHN GROSS, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of GOLD DIGGER The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce By Constance Rosenblum (William Wright, NY Times Book Review)

    -BUY IT: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)  (VHS)  (
    -INFO : Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) (IMDB)

    -Women Film Pioneers (Turner Classic Movies)
    -the LOUISE BROOKS SOCIETY : The Jazz Age: Flapper Culture & Style