Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (novel)

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
GentlemenPreferBlondes.jpg
Cover of the first edition in 1925
AuthorAnita Loos
Original titleGentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady
IllustratorRalph Barton
Cover artistRalph Barton
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesLorelei Lee
GenreComedic novel
PublisherHarper's Bazaar
Boni & Liveright
Publication date
1925
Media typePrint (hardcover & paperback)
Pages217
ISBN0-14-118069-2
Followed byBut Gentlemen Marry Brunettes 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady (1925)[a] is a comic novel written by American author Anita Loos. The story primarily follows the escapades and dalliances of a young blonde flapper in New York City and Europe during the Roaring Twenties. It is one of several novels exploring the hedonistic Jazz Age published that year that have become famous—including F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Carl Van Vechten's Firecrackers.[1]

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."[2][3] Loos surmised this difference in men's behavior was because she was a brunette and the other woman was a blonde.[2][3] When drafting the novel, Loos drew upon memories[b] of jealously observing "witless" blondes such as Ziegfeld Follies showgirls turn intellectual H.L. Mencken into a love-struck simpleton.[5][2][3] Mencken, a close friend to whom Loos was sexually attracted,[5] nonetheless enjoyed the satirical work and ensured its publication.[6][7]

Originally published as a series of short sketches known as "the Lorelei[c] stories" in Harper's Bazaar magazine, 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,"[9] Loos' book was a runaway best seller, becoming the second-best selling title of 1926, and printed throughout the world in over thirteen different languages, including Chinese.[10][11] By the time of Loos' death in 1981, the work had been printed in over 85 editions and had been adapted into a popular comic strip, a 1926 silent comedy, a 1949 Broadway musical, and a 1953 film adaptation of the latter musical.[11] The book earned the praise of many writers including Edith Wharton who dubbed it "the great American novel."[2]

Loos wrote a well-received sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, in 1927.[2] Several decades later, Loos was asked during a television interview in London whether she intended to write a third book. She facetiously replied that the title and theme of a third book would be Gentlemen Prefer Gentlemen.[12] This remark resulted in the interview's abrupt termination.[12]

Plot[edit]

A kiss on the hand may make you feel very nice, but a diamond and sapphire bracelet lasts forever.

— Lorelei Lee, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes[2]

A blonde flapper named Lorelei[c] narrates the novel in the form of a diary, complete with spelling and grammatical errors.[13] Born in Little Rock, Arkansas,[d] 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 City apartment, visiting her whenever he is in town and spending a small fortune "educating" her. He pays 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. She meets a married English novelist named Gerry Lamson, who frowns upon her liaison 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.[14] Meanwhile, Lorelei is dismayed that her friend Dorothy Shaw wastes her time with a struggling littérateur named Mencken,[e] who writes for a dull magazine[f] when she could be spending time with the wealthy Edward Goldmark, a film producer.[15]

[Eisman] is a gentleman who is interested in educating me, so of course he is always coming down to New York to see how my brains have improved since last time. But when Mr. Eisman is in New York we always seem to do the same thing; and, if I wrote one day in my diary, all I would have to do would be to put quotation marks for all the other days.

Diary Entry, March 16th[16]

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 tells a sympathetic Englishman about how she met Bartlett. She recounts a dubious backstory in which a libidinous lawyer once employed her as a stenographer, and she shot him to defend her virtue. During the trial, which Bartlett prosecuted, Lorelei gave such "compelling" testimony that the all-male jury acquitted her. The skeptical judge bought her a ticket to Hollywood so that she could use her acting talents to become a star. The judge also nicknamed her "Lorelei"[c] due to her siren-like personality.[15] Conspiring with the Englishman, Lorelei exacts her revenge upon Bartlett by seducing him and revealing confidential information about his senatorial activities.[15]

Dorothy and Lorelei arrive in England where they are unimpressed with the Tower of London as it is smaller than "the Hickox building in Little Rock." They are invited to a soirée where English aristocrats are selling possibly counterfeit "family jewels" to naive 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 persuades him to buy the tiara.[17]

Interior illustration by Ralph Barton.

In Paris, the duo are more excited by jewelry shops than by the "Eyeful Tower."[18] Meanwhile, Beekman's wife has learned that her husband bought the tiara for Lorelei. She confronts her in Paris and threatens to ruin her reputation if she does not return the tiara. Dorothy intercedes on Lorelei's behalf and notes that Lady Beekman's threats are hollow since Lorelei has no reputation to destroy.[18] The next morning, the flappers are confronted in their hotel suite by a French lawyer and his son. He implores them to return the tiara to his client Lady Beekman. Impressed by the women's beauty, the French father and son dine with the flappers and charge all expenses to Lady Beekman. Lorelei has a replica made of the tiara and—by playing the father and son against each other—she keeps the real tiara and sends them away with the fake one.[18]

Eisman arrives in Paris and, after shopping trips with Lorelei, he departs for Vienna.[19] 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 save Dorothy from her sinful lifestyle. At this point, Lorelei is two-timing both Eisman and Spoffard.[19]

In Vienna, Spoffard is concerned about Lorelei's mental health and insists she meet a "Dr. Froyd." Freud fails to psycho-analyze her because she has never repressed her inhibitions. Later, Lorelei and Dorothy dine at the Demel Restaurant where they overhear Spoffard's mother being warned about Lorelei's 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.[19] Meeting his mother, Lorelei claims to be a Christian Scientist and that drinking champagne is encouraged by her religion. They become inebriated together, and Spoffard's mother decides that Christian Science is a more preferable religion than Presbyterianism. Lorelei gives her a cloche hat but, since Spoffard's mother has an Edwardian hairstyle, Lorelei bobs the woman's hair for the hat to fit. Their meeting is a success.[19] Soon after, Spoffard proposes marriage to Lorelei by letter. Unlikely to marry him, Lorelei plots to use this letter as future evidence of breach of promise and thus obtain a financial settlement from Spoffard's family.[19]

When she returns to New York City, Spoffard greets her and, as an engagement ring, he gives her his college signet.[20] Vexed by this inexpensive gift, Lorelei nonetheless lies that the ring pleases her.[20] 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.[20]

Tiring of Spoffard, Lorelei plots to end her engagement by embarking upon a shopping spree and charging it all to Spoffard. Helping to nudge Spoffard towards breach of promise, Dorothy shows Spoffard a list of every item which Lorelei has bought and informs him that she is pathologically extravagant.[20] Meanwhile, Lorelei meets Gilbertson Montrose, a movie scenario writer to whom she is attracted. 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 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 claims her extravagance was faked to test Spoffard's love. Remorseful, Spoffard vows to marry her and to finance Montrose's film.[20]

Major characters[edit]

Showgirl Lillian Lorraine inspired the character of Lorelei Lee.
Showgirl Lillian Lorraine inspired the character of Lorelei Lee.

Reception and reviews[edit]

Anita Loos, author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

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.[7] A second edition of sixty thousand copies was likewise soon sold.[7] Afterward, the novel sold on average 1,000 copies per day. Its popularity crossed national borders into countries such as the Republic of China and the Soviet Union, and the book was translated into more than a dozen different languages and published in 85 editions.[11][10][28]

According to Loos, socialist journalists in foreign countries mistakenly interpreted the work to be an anti-capitalist polemic.[29] "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."[29] 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."[29] Loos denied any such political intentions in the work and was amused by such morose interpretations.[29]

Though the general public's appreciation of the story made Loos' satirical novel a success, it received numerous 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.[30] 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.[30] Aldous Huxley, author of the dystopian novel Brave New World, also wrote a letter of praise to Loos. He expressed his desire to meet her because he was so "enraptured by the book" and "sincerely admired" her work.[30]

Please accept my envious congratulations on [the character of] Dorothy. [...] I am still rather Victorian in my prejudices regarding the intelligence of women, despite Elinor Wylie and Willa Cather and all the balance of them. But I wish I had thought of Dorothy first.

William Faulkner, letter to Loos, 1926[30]

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,[16] Arnold Bennett,[9] and H.G. Wells[9] also praised Loos for her work.[2][31] Wharton declared Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as "the great American novel," because the character of Lorelei Lee embodied the avarice, frivolity, and immoderation that characterized 1920s America.[2] Writer 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.[2][7]

George Santayana, the Spanish-American philosopher and author, facetiously averred that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was "the best book on philosophy written by an American."[2][11] 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."[16] Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells took Loos out to dinner when she visited London as a reward for her excellent work.[9] Even the Prince of Wales was reported to have been so amused by the novel that he purchased many copies of the book and gave them to his companions.[2][30][31]

Adaptations[edit]

June Walker (left) portrayed Lorelei and Edna Hibbard (right) portrayed Dorothy in the 1926 play.

Immediately following the widespread success of the book, Loos was contacted by Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld who suggested to Loos that he adapt the story as a glamorous and sophisticated musical.[10] Ziegfeld said that actress Marilyn Miller—one of the most popular Broadway musical stars of the 1920s—should play the siren role of Lorelei Lee.[10] To her regret, Loos had already signed a contract with rival Broadway producer Edgar Selwyn to adapt the story as a straight comedy, and she could not break the contract.[10]

Under the contract with Selwyn, Loos and her playwright husband John Emerson adapted the novel as a Broadway stage play.[32] Brunette June Walker[33] was cast as Lorelei and performed the role in a blonde wig. Comedienne Edna Hibbard played Dorothy and Frank Morgan portrayed reformer Henry Spoffard.[32] The play debuted in Detroit[10] and was successfully performed 201 times from 1926–1927. As the first actress to portray Lorelei Lee, June Walker was instrumental in an interpretation that helped define the character. She was said to have "played a role that was as much her creation as that of Anita Loos."[33] "Tossing her golden curls, blinking her eyes and twirling her waist-length string of pearls," Walker's version of Lorelei embodied the flapper of the Roaring Twenties.[33] The success of the play launched Walker's career, and she had further Broadway successes.[33]

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.[34][35] The comic strip was not an adaptation of the novel but placed its characters in new comedic situations. Although the writing was credited to Loos, it was presumably ghost-written by the artists, Virginia Huget and Phil Cook.[34] (This original 1926 series was reprinted in newspapers from 1929 to the early 1930s.[34][35])

Lobby card from the American comedy film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928) starring Ruth Taylor.

A year later, the book was adapted as a silent 1928 Paramount motion picture.[10] Under that contract, Loos and her husband Emerson wrote the screenplay and also had "to prepare the final scenario, select the cast, and have a hand in supervising the production," as well as write the inter-titles.[36] The film was directed by Malcolm St. Clair, and Lorelei Lee was played by Ruth Taylor. Loos hand-picked her for the role because she bore "a remarkable resemblance to Ralph Barton's illustrations in the book."[36] Loos later described Taylor's performance as "so ideal for the role that she even played it off-screen and married a wealthy broker."[10] (Following the film's success, Taylor married a prominent New York City businessman and became a Park Avenue socialite.[10]) For the 1928 film, Loos altered the story to include a prologue featuring Lorelei's grandfather as a gold-obsessed prospector and an epilogue in which Lorelei's impoverished Arkansas family learn via radio of her lavish wedding.[36]

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."[10]

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. The musical adaptation was produced by Herman Levin and Oliver Smith, whom Loos met while sailing on a steamship to the United States from Europe.[10] The 1949 musical edition starred Carol Channing as Lorelei Lee and Yvonne Adair as Dorothy Shaw, and ran for 740 performances on Broadway.[32] The musical's success prompted a brief sartorial revival of 1920s fashions by dress factories.[10]

The second and more popular film adaptation of the novel was adapted from the musical and released in 1953.[37][35] This second motion picture adaptation was filmed in technicolor and featured Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei and Jane Russell as Dorothy.[37] In contrast to the Broadway musical, the 1953 film had to conform to the standards of the Motion Picture Production Code. It eschewed 1920s mores that had been represented before, in order to appease film censors who deemed any authentic cinematic interpretation of the Jazz Age to be impermissible.[38][39]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Loos explained the origin of the story: "Prompted by a flirtation that Henry Mencken was having with a stupid little blonde, I wrote a skit poking fun at his romance. I had no thought of it ever being printed; my only purpose was to make Henry laugh at himself."[4]
  3. ^ a b c The name "Lorelei" is a reference to the 1801 poem by German author Clemens Brentano which recounts the story of a siren who bewitches men and causes their deaths.[8] For further details, see folklore regarding Lorelei.
  4. ^ a b 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").[5]
  5. ^ This is a 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."[5]
  6. ^ This is a reference to H.L. Mencken's literary magazine The Smart Set which was one of the era's most vogue publications.[7]
  7. ^ According to Loos, during the Jazz Age, "a girl's chief asset was the allure with which she disguised her normal acquisitiveness. That type reached its perfection in the gold diggers of the Twenties."[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fitzgerald 2003, p. 15: "[The Jazz Age represented] a whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure."
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Clemons 1974.
  3. ^ a b c Loos 1998, pp. xxxvii, xxxviii, Preface.
  4. ^ Loos 1974, p. 12.
  5. ^ a b c d Rodgers 2005, p. 245.
  6. ^ Loos 1974, p. 191.
  7. ^ a b c d e Loos 1998, p. xli, Preface.
  8. ^ Loos 1998, p. 26, Chapter 2.
  9. ^ a b c d Loos Play Amuses London 1928.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Loos 1949.
  11. ^ a b c d Whitman 1981.
  12. ^ a b Loos 1998, p. xlii, Preface.
  13. ^ Loos 1998, p. 3.
  14. ^ Loos 1998, pp. 3–18, Chapter 1.
  15. ^ a b c Loos 1998, pp. 19–32, Chapter 2.
  16. ^ a b c Mankiewicz 1925.
  17. ^ Loos 1998, pp. 33–50, Chapter 3.
  18. ^ a b c Loos 1998, pp. 51–73, Chapter 4.
  19. ^ a b c d e Loos 1998, pp. 74–98, Chapter 5.
  20. ^ a b c d e Loos 1998, pp. 99–123, Chapter 6.
  21. ^ Loos 1974, pp. 18-19, 190.
  22. ^ Fitzgerald 2003, p. 15.
  23. ^ Cantu 2015, p. 60.
  24. ^ a b c d Carey 1988, p. 100.
  25. ^ Loos 1974, pp. 31-32.
  26. ^ Cantu 2015, p. 58.
  27. ^ Carey 1988, p. 93.
  28. ^ Loos 1998, pp. xli, xlii, Preface.
  29. ^ a b c d Loos 1998, p. xxxix, Preface.
  30. ^ a b c d e Lester 2015.
  31. ^ a b Rich 2015.
  32. ^ a b c Atkinson 1949.
  33. ^ a b c d June Walker Obituary 1966.
  34. ^ a b c Holtz 2011.
  35. ^ a b c Encyclopedia of World Biography.
  36. ^ a b c Lorelei Lee On Film 1927.
  37. ^ a b Crowther 1953.
  38. ^ Brady 1946.
  39. ^ Doherty 1999, p. 6.

Bibliography[edit]