Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (novel)
Cover of the first edition in 1925
|Cover artist||Ralph Barton|
Boni & Liveright
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Followed by||But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes|
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady[a] is a 1925 comic novel written by American author Anita Loos. The story primarily follows the escapades and dalliances of a young blonde flapper in New York and Europe during the Roaring Twenties. It is one of several famous novels published that year—including F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Carl Van Vechten's Firecrackers—which chronicle the hedonistic era known as the Jazz Age.
Loos was inspired to write the novel by an incident aboard a train bound for Hollywood: "I was allowed to lug heavy suitcases from their racks while men sat about and failed to note my efforts," she recalled, and yet, when another young woman "happened to drop the novel she was reading, several men jumped to retrieve it." Loos surmised this difference in men's behavior was because the woman was a blonde while she herself was a brunette. When drafting the novel, Loos drew upon memories of observing "witless" blondes turn intellectual H.L. Mencken into a love-struck schoolboy. Mencken, a close friend to whom Loos was sexually attracted, enjoyed the work and ensured its publication.
Originally published as a series of short sketches in Harper's Bazaar, the work was published in book form by Boni & Liveright in 1925. Although dismissed by critics as "too light in texture to be very enduring," Loos's book was a runaway best seller, becoming the second best selling title of 1926 and printed throughout the world in over thirteen different languages. The book earned the praise of Edith Wharton, who dubbed it "the great American novel."
A sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, was published three years later in 1928. Several decades later, Loos was asked during a television interview in London whether she intended to write a third book in the popular series. She facetiously replied that the title and theme of a third book would be Gentlemen Prefer Gentlemen. This remark led to the interview's abrupt termination.
|“||A kiss on the hand may make you feel very nice, but a diamond and sapphire bracelet lasts forever.||”|
|— Lorelei Lee, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes|
Responding to a male friend's suggestion that she should write down her thoughts because it would make an interesting book, a blonde flapper named Lorelei[b] narrates the novel in the form of a diary complete with spelling and grammatical errors. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas,[c] Lorelei has been working in Hollywood movies where she meets Gus Eisman, a Chicago businessman whom she calls "Daddy." 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, and tickets to the Ziegfeld Follies. During this time, she continues seeing other men and meets a married English novelist named Gerry Lamson who frowns upon her liaisons with Eisman. Lamson wishes to "save" her from Eisman and begs her to marry him. Not wishing to forgo an upcoming trip to Europe paid for by Eisman, Lorelei spurns Lamson and insists his highbrow discourses bore her. Meanwhile, Lorelei is dismayed that her friend Dorothy Shaw wastes her time with an impecunious boy named Mencken,[d] who writes for a dull magazine[e] when she could be spending time with the wealthy Edward Goldmark, a movie producer.
— Diary Entry, March 16th
Lorelei and Dorothy set sail for Europe on the RMS Majestic. Lorelei is distressed when she learns that Bartlett, a former district attorney who is now a U.S. Senator, is also aboard the ship. She relates to a sympathizing Englishman the story of how she met Bartlett. She recounts a dubious backstory in which a libidinous lawyer once employed her as a stenographer and she shot him in a fit of hysteria. During the trial, which Bartlett aggressively prosecuted, Lorelei gave such "compelling" testimony that the all-male jury acquitted her, prompting the skeptical judge to buy her a ticket to Hollywood so that she could use her acting talents to become a film star. The judge also named her "Lorelei"[b] because he believed it expressed her true personality. Upon hearing this tale, the Englishmen informs Lorelei that he is an intelligence operative assigned to shadow Bartlett who is traveling to Vienna for an international conference. He bribes Lorelei to entice Bartlett and to betray her country by disclosing Bartlett's plans to him. Lorelei befriends Bartlett who—infatuated with her—begs her to come with him to Vienna. He then reveals sensitive information which she relays to the Englishman. Her revenge complete, Lorelei hides in her cabin until Bartlett disembarks the ship.
Dorothy and Lorelei arrive in England where they are unimpressed with the Tower of London as it is even smaller than "the Hickox building in Little Rock." They are invited to a soirée where English aristocrats are selling possibly counterfeit "family jewels" to undiscerning American tourists. Lorelei encounters an elderly matron who is selling a diamond tiara. Lorelei casts her eye around the room for a wealthy man to buy it for her and settles on Sir Francis Beekman, whom she calls "Piggie." With flattery and the promise of discretion due to his matrimonial status, she inveigles him to buy the tiara for her. Before departing the country, the two flappers meet the Prince of Wales who is mystified by their American slang.
In Paris, the duo are more excited by jewelry shops than by the "Eyeful Tower." Meanwhile, Beekman's wife has learned that her husband bought the tiara for Lorelei and arrives in Paris to confront her. She threatens to ruin her reputation if she does not return the tiara. Dorothy intercedes on Lorelei's behalf and points out that Lady Beekman's threats are hollow since Lorelei has no reputation to destroy. The next morning, the flappers are confronted in their hotel suite by a Frenchman and his son. They learn that he is Lady Beekman's lawyer, and he implores them to return the tiara to his client. Impressed by the women's beauty, the French father and son invite the flappers to dine with them. Through a waiter, Lorelei learns that the lawyer plans to charge all expenses to Lady Beekman while secretly awaiting the opportunity to steal the tiara. Lorelei has a replica made of the tiara and—by playing the father and son against each other—she ultimately manages to keep the real tiara and send them away with the fake one.
Eisman arrives in Paris and, after shopping trips with Lorelei, he departs for Vienna to examine a factory he wishes to buy. He puts Lorelei and Dorothy on the Orient Express where she encounters Henry Spoffard, a staunch Presbyterian, prohibitionist, and moral reformer who delights in censoring movies. To gain his trust, Lorelei pretends that she is a reformer too and claims that she is trying to reform Dorothy from her sinful ways. Lorelei begins to dread arriving in Vienna and wonders how she can possibly spend time with both Eisman and Spoffard.
In Vienna, Spoffard is concerned about Lorelei's mental health and insists she meet a "Dr. Froyd" (Sigmund Freud). Freud fails to psycho-analyze her because she has never repressed any desires and has no inhibitions. Later, Lorelei and Dorothy dine at the Demel Restaurant where they overhear Spoffard's mother being warned by a friend regarding Lorelei's bad reputation. Fearing her past will be revealed to Spoffard, Lorelei intercepts him and retells her past in a sympathetic light. Spoffard weeps at the moral outrages which Lorelei has supposedly endured and likens her to Mary Magdalene. He then arranges for Lorelei to meet his mother. When the meeting occurs, Lorelei claims to be a Christian Scientist and that drinking champagne is encouraged by her religion. The two women become inebriated together. Spoffard's mother—who enjoys the champagne—decides that Christian Science is a more preferable religion than Presbyterianism. Lorelei gives her a modern hat to wear but, since Spoffard's mother has an Edwardian hairstyle, it does not fit, whereupon Lorelei uses a pair of scissors and bobs the woman's hair. The meeting is a success. Soon after, Lorelei receives a letter from Spoffard proposing marriage. Unwilling to marry him, Lorelei plots to use this letter as future evidence of breach of promise and thus obtain a large financial pay-off from Spoffard's family.
When she returns to New York City, Spoffard greets her and, as an engagement ring, he gives her his college signet which has great sentimental value to him. Vexed by this inexpensive gift, Lorelei nonetheless assures him that the ring pleases her and that she is happy he is "so full of nothing but sentiment." Bored in New York, Lorelei plans a debutante ball to mark her "debut" into polite society. She invites members of high society but also invites a gaggle of Follies chorus girls and a number of bootleggers with ties to organized crime. The riotous ball lasts three days until the police raid the party and arrest the guests. Disaster is forestalled when Dorothy wins over a sympathetic judge.
Tiring of Spoffard, Lorelei plots to end her engagement by embarking upon a shopping spree and charging it all to Spoffard. While doing so, she meets Gilbertson Montrose, a movie scenario writer to whom she is attracted. She then enlists Dorothy's help to further nudge Spoffard towards breach of promise. To this end, Dorothy shows Spoffard a list of every item which Lorelei has bought and informs him that she is pathologically extravagant. Meanwhile, Lorelei lunches with Montrose and tells him that she is ending her engagement to Spoffard. Montrose advises her that it would be wiser to marry Spoffard so that he could finance Montrose's new movie and so that she could star in the lead role. Lorelei now decides she will marry Spoffard and become a Hollywood star while pursuing a clandestine liaison with Montrose. She rushes to Penn Station and finds Spoffard. She falsely claims that all her extravagance was faked: Every jewel she bought was paste and it was a test of Spoffard's love. She tells him that he should be ashamed of himself. Remorseful, Spoffard vows to marry her and to finance Montrose's film. Lorelei gets everything she wants and declares that 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. A second edition of sixty thousand copies was likewise exhausted. Afterward, the novel sold on average 1,000 copies per day. Its popularity eventually crossed national borders into countries such as the Republic of China and the Soviet Union, prompting the book to be translated into over a dozen different languages and published in 45 more editions.
According to Loos, socialist journalists in foreign countries mistakenly interpreted the work to be an anti-capitalist polemic. "When the book reached Russia," Loos recalled, "it was embraced by Soviet authorities as evidence of the exploitation of helpless female blondes by predatory magnates of the capitalistic system. The Russians, with their native love of grief, stripped Gentlemen Prefer Blondes of all its fun and the plot which they uncovered was dire." Their reviews focused upon "the early rape of its heroine, an attempt by her to commit murder, the heroine being cast adrift in the gangster-infested New York of Prohibition days, her relentless pursuit by predatory males, her renunciation of the only man who ever stirred her inner soul as a woman, her nauseous connection with a male who is repulsive to her physically, mentally and emotionally and her final engulfment in the grim monotony of suburban Philadelphia." Loos denied any such political intentions in the work and was amused by such morose interpretations.
Though the general public's love of the story made Loos' satirical novel a success, it was the number of credible reviews and endorsements by renowned authors that secured the novel's reputation. Author William Faulkner wrote a personal letter to Anita Loos after reading her novel. Filled with congratulatory remarks, Faulkner affirmed the brilliance of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and complimented Loos regarding the originality of certain characters such as Dorothy Shaw. Aldous Huxley, author of the dystopian novel Brave New World, also addressed a letter to Loos in a similar fashion as Faulkner. He expressed his desire to 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 great American novel" as the character of Lorelei Lee embodied the avarice, frivolity, and immoderation that characterized 1920s America. 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, the Spanish-American philosopher and author, facetiously averred that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was "the best book on philosophy written by an American." Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz gave Loos' book a rave review in The New York Times and summarized 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 many copies of the book and gifted them to his companions.
Immediately following the widespread success of the book, Loos was contacted by famous Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld who suggested to Loos that he adapt the story in the form of a glamorous and sophisticated musical. Ziegfeld asserted that actress Marilyn Miller—one of the most popular Broadway musical stars of the 1920s—should play the siren role of Lorelei Lee. To her regret, Loos had already signed a contract with rival Broadway producer Edgar Selwyn to adapt the story into a straight comedy and she could not break the contract.
In pursuance of her contract with Selwyn, Loos and her playwright husband John Emerson adapted the novel into a Broadway stage play. Brunette June Walker was cast as Lorelei and performed the role in a blonde wig. Comedienne Edna Hibbard played Dorothy and Frank Morgan portrayed reformer Henry Spoffard. The play debuted in Detroit and was successfully performed 201 times from 1926-1927. As the first actress to portray Lorelei Lee, June Walker's interpretation of the part was purportedly instrumental in defining the character and she "played a role that was as much her creation as that of Anita Loos." "Tossing her golden curls, blinking her eyes and twirling her waist-length string of pearls," Walker's version of Lorelei stylistically embodied the flapper of the Roaring Twenties. The success of the play launched Walker's career and she went on to further Broadway successes.
After the play's triumphant success, Loos licensed her novel for use in a daily newspaper comic strip series that ran from April 1926 to September 1926. The comic strip was not an adaptation of the novel and instead utilized the novel's characters in new comedic situations. Although the writing was credited to Loos, it was presumably ghost-written by its artists, Virginia Huget and Phil Cook. (This original 1926 series was reprinted in newspapers from 1929 to the early 1930s.)
A year later, the story was adapted into a silent 1928 Paramount motion picture. Paramount Pictures insisted that Loos and her husband John Emerson not only adapt the book for the screen but had "to prepare the final scenario, select the cast, and have a hand in supervising the production" as well as write the inter-titles. The film was directed by Malcom St. Clair, and Lorelei Lee was played by Ruth Taylor whom Loos hand-picked for the role as she bore "a remarkable resemblance to Ralph Barton's illustrations in the book." Loos later described Taylor's performance as "so ideal for the role that she even played it off-screen and married a wealthy broker." (Following the film's success, Taylor married a prominent New York City businessman and became a Park Avenue socialite.) For the 1928 film, Loos altered the story to include a prologue featuring Lorelei's grandfather as a gold-obsessed prospector and an epilogue where Lorelei's impoverished Arkansas[c] family learn via radio of her lavish wedding.
At this point, by 1929, Loos' gold-digger epic had been adapted for a variety of different mediums: "It had been done in book form and serialized in magazines and syndicated in newspapers and designed into dress material and printed into wall paper and made into a comic strip and had even had a song by Irving Berlin."
Over a decade later in 1941, theater director John C. Wilson suggested that Loos permit a musical adaptation of the story. However, Wilson's desired version never came to fruition, and instead the musical adaptation was produced by Herman Levin and Oliver Smith whom Loos met while sailing on a steamship to America from Europe. The 1949 musical edition consisted of 740 performances on Broadway starring Carol Channing as Lorelei Lee and Yvonne Adair as Dorothy Shaw. The musical's success prompted a brief sartorial revival of 1920s fashions by dress factories. This musical would also give rise to the second and more popular film adaptation of the novel released in 1953. This second motion picture adaptation was filmed in technicolor and featured Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei and Jane Russell as Dorothy. In contrast to the Broadway musical, the 1953 film had to conform to moralistic standards set by the Motion Picture Production Code and consequently eschewed 1920s mores in order to appease film censors who deemed any authentic cinematic interpretation of the Jazz Age to be impermissible.
- The first edition of the book has the title Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady on the front jacket. However, the book cover, spine, and interior title pages state the title as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady. Reprints feature the latter title.
- The name "Lorelei" is a reference to the 1801 poem by German author Clemens Brentano which recounts the story of an enchanting woman who bewitches men and causes their death. For further details, see folklore regarding Lorelei.
- Loos chose Little Rock as Lorelei's birthplace specifically due to H.L. Mencken's 1917 essay on American culture where he castigated the state of Arkansas for its ignorant inhabitants and contemptuously branded it as "the Sahara of the Bozart" (a pun on the Southern pronunciation of "beaux-arts").
- This is a humorous reference to writer, essayist, and literary magazine editor H.L. Mencken. Author Anita Loos was an intimate friend of Mencken and regarded him as "an idol to adore for a lifetime."
- This is a reference to H.L. Mencken's literary magazine The Smart Set which was one of the era-defining publications of the Roaring Twenties.
- Clemons 1974.
- Loos 1998, pp. xxxvii, xxxviii, Preface.
- Rodgers 2005, p. 245.
- Loos 1998, p. xli, Preface.
- Loos Play Amuses London 1928.
- Loos 1949.
- Loos 1998, p. xlii, Preface.
- Loos 1998, p. 3.
- Loos 1998, pp. 3–18, Chapter 1.
- Loos 1998, pp. 19–32, Chapter 2.
- Mankiewicz 1925.
- Loos 1998, p. 26, Chapter 2.
- Loos 1998, pp. 33–50, Chapter 3.
- Loos 1998, pp. 51–73, Chapter 4.
- Loos 1998, pp. 74–98, Chapter 5.
- Loos 1998, pp. 99–123, Chapter 6.
- Loos 1998, pp. xli, xlii, Preface.
- Loos 1998, p. xxxix, Preface.
- Lester 2015.
- Rich 2015.
- Atkinson 1949.
- June Walker Obituary 1966.
- Holtz 2011.
- Encyclopedia of World Biography.
- Lorelei Lee On Film 1927.
- Crowther 1953.
- Brady 1946.
- Doherty 1999, p. 6.
- "Anita Loos". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
- Atkinson, Brooks (December 9, 1949). "First Night at the Theatre: 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' with Carol Channing at the Ziegfeld" (PDF). The New York Times. p. 35. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- Brady, Thomas F. (October 13, 1946). "Alarum in Hollywood". The New York Times. pp. 65, 67. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
'The Johnston Office,' according to Richard Maibaum, forbade any motion picture which might kick-start 'a new jazz cycle' in American society.
- Clemons, Walter (February 10, 1974). "Paperbacks: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes". The New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
- Crowther, Bosley (July 16, 1953). "The Screen In Review: 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' at Roxy, With Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell". p. 17. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
- Doherty, Thomas (1999). Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-231-11095-2.
The moral guardians tried their damnedest to break up the parade of wastrels marching in the vanguard of the Jazz Age assault on Victorian values. [...] The most significant pact between the censors and the censorable was the Production Code itself, adopted in 1930 to roll back the profligacy of the 1920s.
- Holtz, Allan (October 10, 2011). "Obscurity of the Day: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". Stripper's Guide. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
- "June Walker, 65, First Lorelei Lee, Dies". The New York Times. February 5, 1966. p. 26. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- Lester, Vickie (July 12, 2015). "Anita Loos Receives Notes From William Faulkner, Aldous Huxley, and F. Scott Fitzgerald". Beguiling Hollywood. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
- "Loos Play Amuses London: Distinguished Audience Witnesses 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'". The New York Times. April 3, 1928. p. 32. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- Loos, Anita (1998) . Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Ralph Barton (illustrations). Liveright Publishing Corporation (W. W. Norton & Company). Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- Loos, Anita (December 4, 1949). "Blondes' Biography". The New York Times. pp. 323, 325. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- "Lorelei Lee On Film: Anita Loos Has Made Slight Changes in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'". The New York Times. December 18, 1927. p. 170. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- Mankiewicz, Herman J. (December 27, 1925). "Here Are Humorists, Half a Dozen". The New York Times. p. 53. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
- Rich, Nathaniel (March 29, 2015). "American Dreams: How Joyce and Faulkner Fell For a Blonde". The Daily Beast. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
- Rodgers, Marion Elizabeth (2005). Mencken: The American Iconoclast. New York: Oxford University Press.