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Picture of Anita Loos, author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes; twentieth century American Literature

April 26, 1893
Anita Loos   (1893 - 1981)
Loos, Lorelei, Literature
by Steve King

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On this day in 1893 Anita Loos was born. Loos started writing scenarios for D. W. Griffith while she was in her teens, and eventually worked on over sixty films, but her most enduring creation is her 1925 novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The play, musical or film versions may be better-known, but the book was an immediate hit and soon translated into over a dozen languages. The Times Literary Supplement thought it "a masterpiece of comic literature," James Joyce chuckled over it, and Edith Wharton thought it "the great American novel" -- over another, nearly ignored 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby. Loos and Fitzgerald were about the same age, and came to represent the light and dark sides of flapper culture. She was finishing up her long Hollywood career when Fitzgerald died there in 1940 -- only forty-four years old, only $13.13 in royalties from his books in his last year -- but she returned to co-write the 1953 Monroe-Russell movie version of her book, a reworking of the 1928 film, also scripted by her. Her autobiographies (A Girl Like I and Kiss Hollywood Goodbye) cover the same sort of world that Fitzgerald was attempting to capture in The Last Tycoon.

The charms and calculations of her famous heroine, Lorelei Lee, are purportedly based on Peggy Hopkins Joyce (Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Constance Rosenblum, 2000), and the book was partly inspired by Loos's relationship to H. L. Mencken. The editor of The Smart Set struck Loos as a gentleman who enjoyed her intellectual company but preferred blondes, etc., for his other needs. Her book enlarged Mencken into a type, and because he had scorched Arkansas as the "Sahara of the Bozarts" (i.e. beaux arts), Loos had her not so dumb-blonde heroine set off to conquer the man-world from Little Rock.

Lorelei's trail from Little Rock to the Ritz in New York, to London ("London is really nothing"), to Paris ("the Eyefull Tower is devine"), to Vienna ("Dr. Froyd said that all I needed was to cultivate a few inhibitions and get some sleep"), to Buda Pest ("in the Central of Europe") is littered with gentlemen whose jaws have dropped as their wallets have emptied. She bags not only the diamonds that are a girl's best friend but Henry H. Spoffard, the husband who will steadily provide them and ask no questions. For travel has broadened Lorelei so far that she has become intellectually attached to Mr. Gilbertson Montrose, a professional scenario writer:
    After all, there is nothing that gives a girl more of a thrill than brains in a gentleman, especially after a girl has been spending the week end with Henry. So Mr. Montrose talked and talked all of the way to New York and I sat there and did nothing else but listen. So according to Mr. Montrose's opinion Shakespear is a very great playwrite, and he thinks Hamlet is quite a famous tragedy and as far as novels are concerned he believes that nearly everybody had ought to read Dickens. And when we got on the subject of poetry he recited "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" until you could almost hear the gun go off.

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Related authors:  F. Scott Fitzgerald, H. L. Mencken
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