Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (novel)
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|Publisher||Boni & Liveright|
|Media type||Hardcover, paperback|
|Followed by||But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes|
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady is a comic novel written by Anita Loos, first published in 1925. It is one of several famous novels published that year to chronicle the so-called Jazz Age, including Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Van Vechten's Firecrackers. Loos was inspired to write the book after watching a sexy blonde turn intellectual H.L. Mencken into a lovestruck schoolboy. Mencken, a close friend, actually enjoyed the work and saw to it that it was published. Originally published as a magazine series in Harper's Bazaar, it was published as a book by Boni & Liveright in 1925 and became a runaway best seller, becoming the second best selling title of 1926 and earning the praise of no less than Edith Wharton who dubbed it "The Great American Novel."
A sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, was published two years later.
Responding to a male friend’s suggestion that she should write down her thoughts because it would make an interesting book, the blonde Lorelei Lee narrates the novel in the form of a diary complete with spelling and grammatical errors.
Lorelei Lee had been working in movies in Hollywood when she met Mr. Gus Eisman, a button manufacturer from Chicago. He installs her in a New York apartment, visiting her whenever he is in town and spending a small fortune ‘educating’ her. This consists mostly of footing the bill for gowns from Madame Frances, jewelry from Cartier, dinners at the Ritz, orchids, parties, etc. She meets an English novelist named Gerry Lamson who disapproves of her relationship with Eisman. He intends to get divorced so that he can marry her to save her from such a man. Lorelei, fearing the scandal of being involved in a divorce and not wishing to give up the opportunity of a trip to Europe paid for by Eisman, decides that she would not like to marry Gerry, who in any case bores her.
Lorelei is dismayed that her friend Dorothy wastes her time with a boy named Mencken, who only writes for a magazine, when she could be spending time with Mr. Goldmark, a wealthy movie producer. (This is an inside joke. Author Anita Loos was good friends with writer, essayist, and literary magazine editor, H.L. Mencken.) Lorelei and Dorothy set sail for Europe on the RMS Majestic; Mr. Eisman promises to meet them in Paris later.
Lorelei is distressed when she realises District Attorney Bartlett is also onboard ship. She relates to a sympathetic Major Falcon the story of how she came to know Bartlett. She reveals that her father packed her off to business college in Little Rock. While training to be a stenographer, a lawyer named Mr. Jennings offered to employ her. She learned that he was a sexual predator, became hysterical, and shot him. During the trial, which Mr. Bartlett prosecuted, Lorelei gave such compelling testimony that the gentlemen of the jury all burst into tears and she was acquitted, prompting Judge Hibbard to buy her a ticket to Hollywood so that she could use her talent to become a professional actress. He also names her ‘Lorelei’ because he believed it expressed her personality.
Major Falcon informs Lorelei that Bartlett is now a senator travelling to Vienna for a secret conference. Major Falcon reveals that his mission is to find out what Bartlett is up to in Vienna. He encourages Lorelei to become friends with Bartlett, discover official secrets, and pass them on to him. Meanwhile, Lorelei deplores Dorothy's wasting time with a man who is a mere tennis champion. Bartlett, who is attempting to seduce Lorelei, agrees to tell her of his mission in Vienna if she will accompany him there. She agrees and he admits that he is negotiating a deal for military hardware. Lorelei decides that she prefers Major Falcon to Bartlett and does not go to Vienna, instead hiding out in her cabin until Bartlett debarks.
They arrive in London, where it seems the aristocrats are selling off all their family jewels to wealthy Americans. Lorelei meets Mrs. Weeks, who is selling a diamond tiara for £7.5 thousand. Lorelei casts her eye around the room for a wealthy man to buy it for her, and settles on Sir Francis Beekman, whom Lorelei calls ‘Piggie’. She is warned that he is a miser, but with flattery and the promise of discretion (as he is married), she manages to get him to buy the tiara for her.
Meanwhile Dorothy takes up with an unemployed ballroom dancer named Gerry. They meet the Prince of Wales and Dorothy thinks it is divine; she is especially impressed with Coty, Cartier, and the ‘Eyeful’ Tower. While spends time with a French viscount, he spends hardly any money on her, leading her to conclude that a kiss on the hand may make one feel very good, but a diamond tiara lasts forever.
Sir Francis Beekman’s wife, Lady Beekman, has learned that her husband bought the diamond tiara for Lorelei and arrives in Paris to confront her. She is furious because in 35 years of marriage, her husband has never given her a gift. She accuses Lorelei of seducing her husband. Dorothy defends Lorelei’s reputation to great comic effect. The next morning, Mr. Robert Broussard bursts into their room and rants at them in French. As they do not speak French, Broussard telephones his son, Louis, to act as interpretor. They learn that Robert is Lady Beekman’s lawyer. Through a French waiter named Leon (who speaks English), Lorelei learns that Robert and Louis plan to show the ladies the Paris sights while charging everything to Lady Beekman, while waiting for an opportunity to steal the tiara from Lorelei to give to Lady Beekman. They go to Fontainebleau, the Folies Bergère, and the Palace of Versailles. Lorelei has made a paste copy of the tiara and, by playing one against the other, manages to keep the real tiara and send them away with the fake one.
Mr. Eisman arrives in Paris, and after many shopping trips with Lorelei, he moves on to Vienna to look at a button factory he may want to buy. He puts Lorelei and Dorothy on the Orient Express, telling them to meet him in Vienna. Lorelei meets Henry Spoffard, who comes from one of the most famous and affluent families in Philadelphia. He is a staunch Presbyterian, prohibitionist, and moralist. He censors movies. Lorelei too is a reformist; she is trying to reform Dorothy. They arrive in Munich, but are not impressed by the art museums, theatre, or eating habits of the Germans. Lorelei begins to fear arriving in Vienna, wondering how she can spend time with both Mr. Eisman and Mr. Spoffard.
In Vienna, Lorelei meets ‘Dr. Froyd’ (Sigmund Freud) at the request of Spoffard, who is concerned about her health. Lorelei tells Freud that she has always done as she likes. Freud decides he cannot analyse Lorelei because she has never repressed a desire. He advises her to cultivate some inhibitions. Lorelei and Dorothy visit The Demel Restaurant, where Mr. Spoffard’s mother is being cautioned by her companion, Miss Chapman, about Lorelei’s character. Miss Chapman suggests to Spoffard’s mother that Lorelei is the reason her son has been neglectful of her of late. Fearing that Miss Chapman will cause Spoffard to renounce her company, Lorelei takes Spoffard out for a moonlit drive and tells him all about herself and her beginnings in Little Rock. She puts a slant on the story that makes it sound like a Puritan spiritual biography. Spoffard begins to cry because of the ordeals Lorelei has suffered, and even compares her to Mary Magdalene. He arranges for Lorelei to meet his mother. Explaining that she is a Christian Scientist, Lorelei tells Spoffard’s mother that if there is no disease, then there is no harm in anything, so why not drink champagne? Spoffard’s mother, who enjoys the champagne, decides that Christian Science is a better religion than Presbyterianism. Lorelei gives her a beautiful hat to wear, but since Spoffard’s mother has an Edwardian hairstyle, it does not fit, whereupon Lorelei whips out some scissors and bobs Spoffard’s mother’s hair. The meeting is a success.
Lorelei and Dorothy go on to Budapest with Mr. Eisman, who has decided not to do business in Europe. Mr. Spoffard writes, proposing marriage to Lorelei and putting her in a quandary. Spoffard has money, but she is not attracted to him. Henry Spoffard is waiting for Lorelei when she arrives in New York. He tells her he has looked everywhere for an engagement ring but none were good enough for her, so he gives her his college ring. Using all her self-control, she tells him she happy he is so full of nothing but sentiment. Lorelei decides that she should come out into polite society and plans a debutante ball for herself.
The debut ball lasts three days and is reported on the front page of the newspapers. Society sports club members mix with bootleggers. The police are called but Dorothy wins over Judge Schultzmeyer. Unsure about marrying Spoffard, Lorelei decides to discourage his love by going on a mammoth shopping spree and charging it all to him. Whilst on the train to New York, she meets Gilbertson Montrose, a movie scenario writer. She realises how much more fascinating Montrose is compared to Spoffard. She enlists Dorothy’s help to get rid of Spoffard. Dorothy shows Spoffard everything Lorelei has bought and tells him she has gone to look at the Russian crown jewels with a view to buying them. She tells him that there is mental illness in Lorelei’s family and that she is pathologically extravagant.
Meanwhile, Lorelei is having lunch with the fascinating Mr. Montrose. She tells him of her plan to rid herself of Spoffard. When Montrose expresses regret because he hoped Spoffard could be persuaded to finance his new movie and she would star in the lead role, Lorelei decides she would like to marry Spoffard and have a movie career. Fearing she has already lost Spoffard, she telephones Dorothy, but Spoffard has already left for Penn Station. Lorelei rushes to him and informs him that her extravagance was faked: Every jewel she bought was paste and it was a test of his love. She says he fell into the trap and should be ashamed of himself. Remorseful, Spoffard vows to marry her and finance Montrose’s movie. Lorelei gets everything she wants, but says she is simply happy to make everyone else happy.
Reception and Reviews
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady was an instant success the moment it hit bookstores, selling out of all copies the day it was released. Afterward, the novel sold on average 1,000 copies per day. Its popularity eventually crossed national borders into countries like China and the Soviet Union, prompting the book to be translated into over a dozen different languages and published in 45 more editions.
Though the general public’s love of the story made Loos’ satirical novel a success, it is the number of credible reviews and endorsements made by other renowned authors that makes Gentlemen Prefer Blondes a timeless classic. Contemporary author, William Faulkner, wrote a personal letter to Anita Loos after reading her novel. Filled with complimentary remarks on the story and “envious congratulations,” Faulkner affirms the brilliance of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and states that “I wish I had thought of [it] first.” Aldous Huxley, philosopher and author of renowned dystopian novel Brave New World, also addressed a letter to Loos in a similar fashion as Faulkner. He boldly expresses his desire to personally meet her because he was so “enraptured by the book” and “sincerely admired” her work. Among the list of names of other great authors from the time period, F. Scott Fitzgerald, E.B. White, Sherwood Anderson, William Empson, Rose Macauley, Edith Wharton, James Joyce, George Santayana, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Arnold Bennett, and H.G. Wells also praised Loos for her work. Wharton declared Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as the “the great American novel” as the character of Lorelei Lee embodied the greed, frivolity, and inebriation that characterized the 1920s era. James Joyce stated that, even though his eyesight was failing him, he “reclined on a sofa reading ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ for three days” while taking a break from writing Finnegans Wake. George Santayana, famous philosopher and author, claimed without hesitation Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to be “the best book on philosophy written by an American.” Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz gave Loos another raving review in a New York Times book review by describing the novel as “a gorgeously smart and intelligent piece of work.” Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells took Loos out to dinner when she visited London as a reward for her excellent work. Even the Prince of Wales was reported to have been so amused by the novel that he purchased more copies of the book and gifted them to his companions.
Because of its rapid stardom, Loos decided to adapt the novel into a Broadway play which was successfully performed 201 times from 1926-1927. About a year later, the story was made into a Paramount motion picture with Ruth Taylor starring as Lorelei Lee and Malcom St. Clair as the director. After this film's success, Loos decided to use the story once again to create another adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; this time, in musical form. The year 1949 consisted of 740 performances of this musical edition on Broadway starring Carol Channing as Lorelei Lee and Yvonne Adair as Dorothy Shaw. This musical would later give rise to the second and most popular film adaptation of the novel released in 1953. This latest adaptation starred Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei and Jane Russell, as Dorothy. Filmed in technicolor, this motion picture was known to have captured both Loos’ novel and the flashy style of 1950s Hollywood.
The novel's characters were licensed for use in a daily newspaper comic strip series that ran from April to September 1926. The comic strip was not an adaptation of the novel, but used the novel's characters in new gag situations. Although the writing was credited to Loos, it was presumably ghosted by the artists, Virginia Huget and Phil Cook. The original series was also distributed in reprints to newspapers circa 1929 to early 1930s.
- The first edition of the book has the title Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady on the front of the book jacket. However, the book jacket spine, book cover, book spine, and interior title pages all have the title as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady. All reprints feature the latter title.
- Clemons, Walter. "Paperbacks". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
- Lester, Vickie. "anita loos receives notes from william faulkner, aldous huxley, and f. scott fitzgerald". vickielester.com. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
- Rich, Nathaniel. "American Dreams: How Joyce and Faulkner Fell For a Blonde". thedailybeast.com. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
- "Stripper's Guide Obscurity of the Day: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". Retrieved Oct 10, 2011.
- ""Anita Loos"". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Encylopedia.com. Retrieved 11 February 2019.