Loos, Anita: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
(researched by Carolyn Chen)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Anita Loos. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes": The illuminating diary of a professional lady. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1925. Copyright: 1925 by Anita Loos 1925 by The International Magazine Co., Inc. (Harper's Bazaar).
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
First American Edition published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
112 leaves, [2] pp. [1-10] 11-35 [36-38] 39-60 [61-62] 63-89 [90-92] 93-128 [129-130] 131-171 [172-174] 175-217 [5]
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
First edition is neither edited nor introduced. However, the book is dedicated on page 3: TO JOHN EMERSON
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
"Intimately Illustrated" by Ralph Barton. Black and white drawings inserted among text or full-page on pp. 13, 21, 22, 32, 33, 34, 42, 44, 46, 49, 53, 57, 65, 70, 73, 79, 81, 87, 95, 96, 101, 104, 119, 125, 131, 147, 157, 164, 178, 190, 195, 199. Drawings include legends quoted from text.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Overall appearance of book is remarkably good, with consideration of age. Pages only slighty yellowed, but still in very good condition. Excellent readability with large, clear type, ample spacing between lines, and wide margins. Illustrations are inserted among text or full-page, with smaller print legends in italics. Additional leaf before each chapter with number and title on right face side, blank left face side. Page measurements: 7.5" x 4.75" Text measurements: 5.5" x 3.25" (100R) Top margin: 0.75" Bottom and side margins: 1"
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
All pages throughout book are of a thick, even, smooth texture. Pages show only slight discoloration due to yellowing over time, but have been preserved in excellent condition, without any staining or tearing.
11 Description of binding(s)
Red trade cloth binding, rib grain. Cover stamped in gilt gold with title enclosed in rectangular pattern. Dust jacket preserved on this particular first edition. Badly stained and yellowed with one tear; features small illustration by Ralph Barton, words in green print. Transcription of dust jacket: "GENTLEMEN | PREFER | BLONDES" | [illustration] | The Illuminating Diary of A | Professional Lady | by ANITA LOOS | Intimately Illustrated by | RALPH BARTON Transcription of front cover: "GENTLEMEN | PREFER | BLONDES" Transcription of spine: "Gentlemen | Prefer | Blondes" | [by] | Anita Loos | BONI AND | LIVERIGHT
12 Transcription of title page
Recto: "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" | The Illuminating Diary of a | Professional Lady | By | ANITA LOOS | Intimately Illustrated by | RALPH BARTON | NEW YORK | BONI & LIVERIGHT | 1925 Verso: Copyright, 1925, by | THE INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE CO., INC. | (HARPER'S BAZAAR) | Copyright, 1925, by | ANITA LOOS | Printed in the United States of America
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Many of Anita Loos's writings and letters are held at the Houghton Museum at Harvard, however the exact location of the manuscripts for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is unknown.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
The original publisher of Boni & Liveright issued several printings of the book, but none with significant differences to be considered a separate edition. However, Boni & Liveright eventually became Liveright Publishing Corporation, which issued more editions. 1963. 217 p; illus; 21 cm. 1998. xxiv, 165 p; 21 cm. 1998. 216 p. National Union Catalog pre-1956 imprints Publisher's Weekly Jan-June 1926, microform S-13 Tebbel, A History of American Publishing WorldCat RLIN Books in Print online database
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
After the success of the story in serial form in Harper's Bazaar, Loos took it to Boni & Liveright to be published in book form. Tommy Smith, the editor in chief, allowed for only a small number of books to printed in the first printing, 1500, since it had already been widely read in the magazine. However, when the book was released in book stores in early November 1925, it sold overnight and was issued in a second printing of 20,000 copies two weeks later. Loos refered to the original edition as a "vanity edition," because Smith had intended it to be a deluxe gift item for Christmas, expensively bound and printed on quality paper. The small quantity and high quality of the first edition has made it a rare book collectors item. Carey, Anita Loos: a biography Anita Loos, Kiss Hollywood Good-by Anita Loos, "The Biography of a Book," intro to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Publishers Weekly New York Times Hackett, 80 Years of Bestsellers Tebbel, A History of American Publishing
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
In 1981, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had already been printed in 85 editions (New York Times, Aug 18, 1981). The following are the editions which could be found listed in catalogs and online databases: 1925. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. 216 p; 20 cm. 1925. New York: Popular Library. 125 p; 17 cm. 1926. London: Brentano. 216 [1] p; front illus. 1926. Leipzig: B. Tauchnitz. Copyright edition. 255 p; 17 cm. 1933. London: Cape. 256 p; 18cm. (Florin Books) 1962. London: World Distributers. 158 p. (Consul Books) 1963. New York: Curtis Books. 158 p; illus; 18 cm. 1966. London: H. Hamilton. 136 p; 19 cm. 1974. London: Pan Books. 156p; 20 cm. 1982. London: Picador. 156, 96 p; ports; 20 cm. [includes sequel] 1983. New York: Vintage Books. 251 p; 19 cm. 1st Vintage Books ed. [includes sequel] 1985. London: Folio Society. xi, 134 p; illus; 23 cm. 1986. Telegraph Books. 1989. New York: Penguin Books. 418 p; illus; 20 cm. [includes sequel] 1992. New York, London: Penguin Books. 156 p; 20 cm. 1994. New York: Viking Penguin. 160 p. 1994. Buccaneer Books, Incorporated. 1998. New York: Penguin. xlii, 243 p; illus; 20 cm. [note: includes sequel] WorldCat Books in Print online database RLIN National Union Catalog pre-1956 imprints The British Library General Catalog of Printed Books New York Times
6 Last date in print?
As of 1999, the book is still in print. Editions from Liveright Publishing Corporation, Buccaneer Books, and most recently, Penguin, still available. Books in Print online database
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Exact information could not be found. However, Hackett's 80 Years of Bestsellers lists the books from 1895 - 1975 which sold over 2 million copies. Since Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is not included in that list, it obviously had sold less than 2 million copies by 1975. According to Carey's biography, after the book was released in early November 1925, it sold out of the first printing of 1500 overnight, and three more printings totaling 65,000 by the end of the year. This would put the total number of copies sold by 1926, less than two months after it was released in stores, as 66,500 copies. An ad run by the publishers indicates that by May 1926, the book had sold over 115,000 copies. Publisher's Weekly New York Times, Sunday, May 16, 1926 Hackett, 80 Years of Bestsellers Tebbel, A History of American Publishing Justice, Bestseller Index: All Books, Publisher's Weekly and the New York Times Through 1990. Gary Carey, Anita Loos: a biography Anita Loos, "The Biography of a Book," intro to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
As stated in the previous question, the sales total by May 1926 had reached 115,000. Unfortunately, no additional information could be found in more recent sources.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
"So 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 for- | ever." (page 101) | For 217 pages of real humor read - | "GENTLEMEN | PREFER | BLONDES" | by ANITA LOOS | Drawings by Ralph Barton | 115th thousand | Everywhere $1.75 *** Boni & Liveright, N.Y. *** GOOD BOOKS New York Times, Sunday, May 16, 1926
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
Boni & Liveright ran ads of their "GOOD BOOKS." The sample ad was found in the New York Times, and is likely to have been printed in other periodicals such as Publishers Weekly. An actual ad for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was not found in Publishers Weekly, although other Boni & Liveright "GOOD BOOKS" ads were found. Also, the novel inspired a dramatic play, a musical starring Carol Channing, and a motion picture featuring Marilyn Monroe. This existence in other media, as well as the celebrity casts, were doubtless excellent publicity. Publisher's Weekly New York Times, Sunday, May 16, 1926 WorldCat James M. Salem, A Guide to Critical Reviews. Parts I and II.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
[Film] Gentlemen prefer blondes. Beverly Hills, CA: Fox video, 1953. Cast including Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Charles Coburn, Tommy Noonan, George Winslow, Elliott Reid. [Dramatic play] Gentlemen prefer blondes; a play in three acts. Chicago: The Dramatic Publishing Co. 1958. 94 p; 18cm. Anita Loos with John Emerson. Opened September 28, 1926 for 199 performances. [Musical] GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. based on a collection of stories by Anita Loos. Music by Julie Styne. Lyrics by Leo Robbin. Staging by John C. Wilson. Sets by Oliver Smith. Costumes by Miles White. Choreography by Agnes De Mille. December 8, 1949 for 740 performances. Starring Carol Channing as Lorelei. Directed and produced by Herman Levin and Oliver Smith. WorldCat RLIN James M. Salem's A Guide to Critical Reviews. Part I : American Drama. Part II : The Musical.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
According to the New York Times, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had been translated into 14 different languages by 1981. Those found are listed below: [Norwegian] Herrer liker blonde piker. Translated by Sigurd Hoel. Oslo: Glydendal, 1926. 190 p; 20.5 cm. [French] Les hommes preferent les blondes. [Translated by Lucie Saint-Elme and Harry Morgan. Preface by Pierre Benoit.] Paris: Gallinard, 1926. 96 p; 23.5 cm. [Polish] Mezczyzni wola blondynki; djarjusz dystyngowanej damy. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo, 1943. 176 p; 16.5 cm. [Czech] Muzi maji blondynky (Gentlemen prefer blondes); pucny denik profesionalky. Praha: V. Petr, 1927. 107 p; 20 cm. [Italian] "I signori preferisconon le bionde". Diario illustrato di una ragazza, di Anita Loos. [Illustrated by Ralph Barton. Translated by A. M. P. Firenze: R. Bemporad & Figlio, 1928.] 166p; plates; 19 cm. [German] Blondinen bevorzugt; das lehrrieche Tagebuch einer jungen Dame, von Anita Loos. [With 24 illustrations by Ralph Barton.] Munich: Drei Masken Veriag, 1927. 194 p; front illus; 19 cm. [Spanish] Los caballeros prefieren rubias; Pero se casan con las morenas. Barcelona: Tusquets, 1998. 236 p; 20 cm. Los caballeros las prefieren rubias: diario revelador de una senorita profesional. Madrid: Atenea, 1927. 235 p; 17 cm. Los caballeros las prefieren rubias: revelador diario de una senora profesional. Barcelona: Noguer, 1975. 181 p; 20 cm. [Swedish] Herrar tycker bast om blondiner. Stockholm: A. Bonnier, 1926. 212 p; illus; 20 cm. [Romanian] Barbatii prefera blondele. Romania: Editura Geneze, 1991. 107 p; 20 cm. [Hungarian] Szokek elonyben. Budapest: Az Athenaeum uuuu uuuu. 140 p. WorldCat RLIN National Union Catalog British Library General Catalog of Printed Books Alden Whitman. "Anita Loos Dead at 93; Screenwriter, Novelist," New York Times, Aug 19, 1981. Section D, p 19, Column 1.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
The entire novel of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was first published in several installments by Harper's Bazaar in 1925. copyright information bibliographic description under book entry in WorldCat transcribed sentence on cover which revealed source of first publication. Periodicals Contents Index
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Sequel: Anita Loos. "But gentlemen marry brunettes," : the illuminated diary of a professional lady. Publications: New York: Boni & Liveright, 1928. 248 p; illus; 20 cm. New York: Curtis Books. 1955. 158 p; illus; 18 cm. New York: Popular Library, 1958. 158 p; illus; 18 cm. Leipzig: B. Tauchnitz, 1929. 239 p. London: Brentano's ltd., 1928. 210 [1] p; front, illus, plates; 19cm. New York: Viking Penguin, 1994. 96 p. New York: Penguin Books, 1992, 1927. 96 p; 20 cm. Toronto: McLean and Smithers, 1928. 248 p; illus; 19 cm.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
In her writings and memoirs, Anita Loos presented herself much like the heroines of her screenplays, stage plays, and movies: witty, independent, spirited, and always ready for a good time and a good laugh. A member of high society and the literary circles of New York during the Roaring Twenties, she mingled with such big names as F Scott Fitzgerald and H L Mencken. Loos was a petite woman (4 feet 11 inches) with a large personality and a comic view of life, which permeated her early works, through which she earned a reputation as a skilled and witty screenwriter. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her first and best novel, was written after her initial rise to fame. It became an immediate success and gave rise to two movie versions and a stage musical. Corinne Anita Loos was born on April 26, 1888, the daughter of R. Beers and Minerva "Minnie" Loos, in Sissons (now Mount Shasta), California. Loos had an older brother, Clifford, who became a doctor, and a younger sister, Gladys, who died unexpectedly of peritonitis at the age of eight. The sisters, who were two years apart, were often mistaken for twins although Gladys was blonde and Anita was brunette. The girls, encouraged by their father, appeared together in several stage plays, until Gladys died. Afterward, Anita continued her theatrical career alone, doing well enough to support the family at difficult times, as her father grew increasingly irresponsible and loose with money. Although her formal education became secondary to her acting career, Anita was a precocious reader and writer. She began writing humorous anecdotes under the name of a male friend at the age of 13, which were published in the entertainment section of a theatrical newspaper, The New York Morning Telegraph. When Anita graduated from high school in 1907, she was nineteen, two years older than her fellow classmates. From this time on, Anita often tried to give the impression that she was younger than she was in reality, which was not a hard task considering her small size. This may have led to the confusion about her age at first publication and her date of birth. It is interesting to note that many sources list her birthdate as 1894, when it was in reality, 1888. While acting in a stock company in San Diego, Anita stumbled upon a production for a short film, and realized that she could earn some extra money by writing plots for movies. Her first film scenario, The New York Hat, was signed "A. Loos" so as not to reveal a female author. The story was bought for $25.00 by the top film production company of D.W. Griffith when Anita was just 24. After this success, Anita quit acting to continue writing film plots, until she became famous enough to sign them with her full first name. Her first major accomplishment in film was a screen credit for an adaptation of "Macbeth," which read: "Subtitles by William Shakespeare and Anita Loos." While working in the film industry, Anita met and married a director, John Emerson, with whom she collaborated on many of her later plays. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which brought Anita international fame, began as a spoof on the relationship between H L Mencken, whom Anita had had a secret crush on, and a "witless blonde," as she described her. What began as a single diary entry, written as a joke to make Mencken laugh, eventually turned into a "Diary of a Professional Lady," which was serialized in Harper's Bazaar and later printed in book form in 1925. Anita Loos lived to the age of 93, and died of a lung infection on August 18, 1981. She last resided at West 57th Street, across from Carnegie Hall in New York. Along with many film scripts, stage plays, and two musicals, Loos wrote three other novels; But They Marry Brunettes, A Mouse is Born, and No Mother to Guide Her; as well as three memoirs, A Girl Like I, Cast of Thousands, and Kiss Hollywood Good-by. The manuscripts to some of her works, and letters she wrote and received, are now kept by the Houghton Museum at Harvard.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
When Anita Loos first began writing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she never intended it for publication, and cared only about the response it drew from H.L. Mencken, her friend and crush around whom she based her satire of a man and his arbitrary attraction to a stupid blonde. Loos's only hope was for Mencken to get quite a laugh out of her little scenario. In this, Loos was successful beyond what she had anticipated; not only did Mencken laugh, he encouraged Loos to publish her short piece. Loos submitted her piece to Harper's Bazaar, whose editor, Henry Sell, urged her to continue the herione's adventures. By the time the final episode was published in Harper's Bazaar in August 1925, the story had become a huge success. The magazine's circulation multiplied, and its readership was expanded to include men, who began reading their wives' and girlfriends' magazines. In November 1925, Loos had the Lorelei stories published in book form, and it sold overnight and went through three more printings by the end of the year. The ninth edition was released by March 1926, and ten more over the next three years. The book was an immediate success. The first edition sold through word of mouth, rather than critical praise, to become the surprise bestseller of 1925. When the reviews came out around the time of the second edition, however, they did not match the enthusiasm the book had already won through its readers. Critics generally gave favorable impressions, but focused mainly on its humor and wit. One critic for the Boston Transcript wrote: "Of course for many this is the season's funniest book. It is rarely and side-splittingly delightful; it is the kind of sly, sophisticated spontaneity that will make any man and most women roar with laughter not once but fifty times." Ruth Goodman of the New York Times was less enthusiastic and described Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as "a droll book and a merry one, and it is just because of her facility in fun-making that one resents all the more Miss Loos's straining for misspelled words for comedy." In another review in the New York Times, H.J. Mankiewicz revealed his reserved approval for the novel: "Miss Loos's book is civilized, human, ironic, and never crude in its effects." Perhaps the most favorable review of the novel came after its sequel in 1928, when a critic for The New Republican wrote: "Here, again, as in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' is that wonderful mixture of canned, naive sentiment and equally naive, but extremely business-like gold-digging. The sudden turns from one of these aspects of Lorelei to the other, and the ability of both of them to live side by side in her unique little head, are matchless, and nobody but Miss Loos knows the trick." Despite the luke-warm praised of critics, however, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a hit. Most of the book's praise came Loos's fellow members of the literary elite. Edith Wharton declared in a letter to a friend, "[I am] now reading the great American novel (at last!) and I want to know if there are - or will be - others and if you know the young woman, who must be a genius." Apart from Mencken and Wharton, the book was also praised by such literary giants as William Faulkner, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
When Anita Loos first began writing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she never intended it for publication, and cared only about the response it drew from H.L. Mencken, her friend and crush around whom she based her satire of a man and his arbitrary attraction to a stupid blonde. Loos's only hope was for Mencken to get quite a laugh out of her little scenario. In this, Loos was successful beyond what she had anticipated; not only did Mencken laugh, he encouraged Loos to publish her short piece. Loos submitted her piece to Harper's Bazaar, whose editor, Henry Sell, urged her to continue the herione's adventures. By the time the final episode was published in Harper's Bazaar in August 1925, the story had become a huge success. The magazine's circulation multiplied, and its readership was expanded to include men, who began reading their wives' and girlfriends' magazines. In November 1925, Loos had the Lorelei stories published in book form, and it sold overnight and went through three more printings by the end of the year. The ninth edition was released by March 1926, and ten more over the next three years. The book was an immediate success. The first edition sold through word of mouth, rather than critical praise, to become the surprise bestseller of 1925. When the reviews came out around the time of the second edition, however, they did not match the enthusiasm the book had already won through its readers. Critics generally gave favorable impressions, but focused mainly on its humor and wit. One critic for the Boston Transcript wrote: "Of course for many this is the season's funniest book. It is rarely and side-splittingly delightful; it is the kind of sly, sophisticated spontaneity that will make any man and most women roar with laughter not once but fifty times." Ruth Goodman of the New York Times was less enthusiastic and described Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as "a droll book and a merry one, and it is just because of her facility in fun-making that one resents all the more Miss Loos's straining for misspelled words for comedy." In another review in the New York Times, H.J. Mankiewicz revealed his reserved approval for the novel: "Miss Loos's book is civilized, human, ironic, and never crude in its effects." Perhaps the most favorable review of the novel came after its sequel in 1928, when a critic for The New Republican wrote: "Here, again, as in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' is that wonderful mixture of canned, naive sentiment and equally naive, but extremely business-like gold-digging. The sudden turns from one of these aspects of Lorelei to the other, and the ability of both of them to live side by side in her unique little head, are matchless, and nobody but Miss Loos knows the trick." Despite the luke-warm praised of critics, however, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a hit. Most of the book's praise came Loos's fellow members of the literary elite. Edith Wharton declared in a letter to a friend, "[I am] now reading the great American novel (at last!) and I want to know if there are - or will be - others and if you know the young woman, who must be a genius." Apart from Mencken and Wharton, the book was also praised by such literary giants as William Faulkner, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Anita Loos wrote a funny book. This much, at least, has become evident as critics, both contemporary and subsequent, have praised Miss Loos for her clever and witty portrayal of a dumb blonde and the various the men she manages to inveigle through charm and sexual allure. However, much else about the novel is hard to come by. Perhaps the fact that the story was originally serialized in a women's magazine suggests that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was nothing more than a light piece for reading enjoyment, something to be valued for its comic effect rather than its literary merit. However, to describe Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as "a merry book" hardly explains its huge success and popularity; the novel became the surprise bestseller of 1925 after less than two months in the bookstores, and continued with record sales into 1926. In fact, the book was published in 85 editions and 14 languages, including Chinese. It was later made into two movie versions as well as a musical and other stage versions, featuring such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe and Carol Channing. Why was this novel such a hit? Clearly Miss Loos had tickled the funnybones of her readers, but she must have also hit some other part of the collective international consciousness to arouse such a response. This essay will attempt to identify and explore specific aspects which contributed to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 's immense popularity and life as a bestseller during the Golden Era of The Roaring Twenties. In addition to the novel's comic portrayal of its heroine, this essay will take into account the significance of story's impact on the sales and readership of Harper's Bazaar, and its implications about sex and women in the 1920s. In order to explain the phenomenon of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a bestseller, it is first necessary to understand the historical and social context in which the novel was written. The 1920s was a decade of the flapper; of celebrities such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitgerald, Tallulah Bankhead, and Clark Gable; and of expanding views on women, in both the political and sexual realms. These views were evident both in the movement for women's suffrage and in the media. Miss Loos, in her memoir Kiss Hollywood Good-by, describes the portrayal of women and sex in Hollywood during the earlier part of the decade: "In its heyday Hollywood reflected, if it did not actually produce, the sexual climate of our land. A screen love affair used to unfold chastely and without guile until it reached its climax in a kiss which, by a ruling of the board of Censors, had quickly to fade out after seven seconds. The lovers in those movies were products of the old American custom of men supporting women; so 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. Their technique might have been based on a theory that the most charming of all behavior lies in the canine species. Irving Thalberg used to tell me, 'When you write a love scene, think of your heroine as a little puppy dog, cuddling up to her master, wagging an imaginary tail, and gazing at him as if he were God'" (190-1). The irony in this, and the chief comical aspect of the novel lies in the fact that Lorelei Lee's chief asset is indeed her allure, although she possesses zero acquisitiveness behind it. Gary Carey, author of a biography on Anita Loos, expresses the change from this former mode of sexual expression, which had occurred by the middle of the decade. He wrote, "After the First World War, America started casting off its puritan shackles, and by 1925 the country was disposed to laugh at institutions and moral virtues once held sacrosanct" (98). Carey continues to explain the reception of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in this new light. "?while many of the pieties Anita touches on in her book had been questioned and condemned by earlier writers, she was among the first to make light of them?. In her view sex had nothing to do with romantic love (love is a word rarely, if ever, mentioned in the text) and everything to do with acquisition?. Lorelei's gentlemen want to possess her for much the same reason she wants to possess diamonds: she bolsters their egos just as the jewels enhance her self-esteem" (98). The novel, in dealing with a topic once considered taboo, and in doing so in a humorous manner, allowed the public to read about sex as it was never before treated in American fiction. It is interesting to note that although the novel deals with sex and relationships between men and women, it does so in a manner which only hints at the topic without explicitly mentioning the details surrounding it. Carey writes, "Though Blondes quickly gained a reputation for being suggestive, it is perhaps the cleanest expose of illicit romance ever written" (90). A certain famous Viennese psychologist might argue, people's instinctual and suppressed interest in sex, and their natural inclination to indulge one's repressed desires, supports their reading of a novel which pushes all the buttons: sex that you don't have to take seriously. Certainly, Miss Loos didn't intend for the novel to be taken seriously. In fact, when she started writing of Lorelei's adventures, she had no intention of publishing the piece at all. The story began as a joke on one of her many high society friends, H. L. Mencken, and his arbitrary attraction to a dumb blonde. Miss Loos's only wish was to give her friend, on whom she harbored a secret crush, a good laugh, while at the same time finding a channel in which to creatively express her resentment for the blonde. In an introduction to the novel entitled "The Biography of a Book," Miss Loos expresses her indignation that a "witless blonde" should be favored over her: "Obviously there was some radical difference between that girl and me. But what was it? We were both in pristine years of early youth; we were of 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? Could her strength possibly be rooted (like that of Samson) in her hair? ?. The situation was palpably unjust" (viii - ix). The result was the beginning of an entire series on the adventures of Lorelei Lee, a dumb blonde. Mencken, who vastly enjoyed the piece and received it in good nature, suggested that Miss Loos have the piece published, although he didn't think it appropriate for his own magazine, The American Mercury. "Little girl," he warned Anita, "you're making fun of sex and that's never been done before in the USA. I suggest you send it to Harper's Bazaar where it'll be lost among the ads and won't offend anybody" (xiv). The editors of Harper's Bazaar couldn't have thought of a better suggestion themselves. A study of the impact of the story on Bazaar, before it was released in book form, reveals much about the appeal of the novel. By the end of the Lorelei series in late 1925, the magazine's newsstand sales had quadrupled, but even more significant is the effect the story had on the magazine's readership. Harper's Bazaar was a typical ladies' publication, focusing on such things as fashion and domestic issues. By the third chapter of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, however, men began reading the magazine. Soon, advertisements for cigars, whisky, and sporting goods aimed at the male population, began appearing in the magazine. Obviously, then, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes cannot be dismissed as just a women's novel. It gave men the opportunity to laugh at a silly woman; in fact, it gave women an opportunity to laugh at a silly woman. Had the novel had other than a female authoress, this might have been received differently. Beyond the story itself, the novel was evidence of a woman's success, no doubt an encouragement to women in an era during which women were fighting for increased independence. Blondes offered men a humorous portrait of the opposite sex and a female perspective of their own sex. At the same time, coming from a woman, the novel made a negative statement about frivolous women by indirectly making fun of one. Perhaps this idea had particular resonance during the Twenties, as many women tried to distance themselves from the image of the flapper, in favor of a more serious image with which to prove their independence and competence in the social and political arenas next to men. Miss Loos jokingly explained the success of Blondes a few years after its release in book form, claiming "it appeared I had stumbled onto an important scientific fact which had never before been pinpointed" (Intro, viii). The immense success of her first novel (she was already acclaimed for her screenplays and scenarios) caught her by great surprise, eclipsing her expectations, and well surpassing her original goal of making Mencken laugh. Certainly the success of Blondes, before it had even been reviewed, brought greater pleasure than her personal satisfaction of having slighted the stupid blonde who snatched Mencken's attention away from her. The book won wide acclaim for its author, both with the public and with the literary elite. According to Carey: "Blondes didn't need critical praise to become the surprise bestseller of 1925. It was one of those books that sold itself through word of mouth, and the word was good along every avenue of American life. Lorelei's diary made a hit with those who read nothing but light fiction as well as with James Joyce, whose failing eyesight made him highly selective about what he read. Anita was told that her book was one of the few he chose from the list of current fiction" (98). Even Edith Wharton proclaimed Blondes to be "the great American novel (at last!)" and George Santayana jokingly declared it the best book of American philosophy. In a humorous anedcote about the novel's international reception, Miss Loos recounts: "?if one examines the plot of [Blondes], it is almost as gloomy as a novel by Dostoievski. When the book reached Russia, this was recognized, and 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. It concerns early rape of its idiot heroine, an attempt by her to commit murder (only unsuccessful because she is clumsy with a gun), the heroine's being cast adrift in the gangster-infested New York of Prohibition days, her relentless pursuit by predatory males (the foremost of whom constantly tries to pay her off at bargain rates), her renunciation of the only man who ever stirred her inner soul of 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" (xi). In light of the author's ironic description of the plot, one can see how the novel must have treated its heroine comically, or else it would have made its readers "shed bittersweet tears over such sad eventualities" (xi). The novel is written in the form of Lorelei's diary, and the events mentioned above, which have all the potential of seriousness and tragedy, become a joke when narrated through Lorelei's rambling, grammatically shameful, and unintentionally funny voice. John Gross of the New York Times observes, "Lorelei's charm depends on the artfully artless style in which she rattles along, and on the mistakes and malapropisms which make her say so much more than she intends." Lorelei's obliviousness of her own ignorance and naïveté make her all the more laughable. For instance, in the fifth chapter, Lorelei records her visit with "a famous doctor in Vienna called Dr. Froyd who could stop all of my worrying because he does not give a girl medicine but he talks you out of it by psychoanalysis" (155). "Dr. Froyd looked at me and looked at me and he said that he did not really think it was possible. So then he called in his assistance and he pointed at me and talked to his assistance quite a lot in the Viennese landguage? and it really seems as if I was quite a famous case. So then Dr. Froyd said that all I needed was to cultivate a few inhibitions and get some sleep" (157-8). Much of the humor of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes lies in the ironic discrepancy between Lorelei's own view of herself and the reader's impression of her. Though she is a "calculating monster" (Eyman), Lorelei's insistence on propriety keeps her from behaving or writing in a manner other than what she thinks lady-like, and her diary is free from profanity or sexual allusions. Lorelei is at once a murderess and scheming man-eater, and a charming and funny - albeit ignorant - woman. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , with respect to views on sex and women during the decade of the 1920s, and with consideration to its portrayal of a dumb yet irresistible woman/monster, became the surprise bestseller of 1925, but not for surprising reasons. The novel was an enjoyable and fun read for men and women alike. In addition, Anita Loos's humorously witty portrayal of her heroine won praise from the general public as well as the literati. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , a first novel and an immediate success, had all the ingredients to make it a bestseller: public attention from previous publicity and readership; humor, and a new approach to the treatment of sex in literature with significant implications about women and sex in that era. Gary Carey, Anita Loos: A biography. Anita Loos. Kiss Hollywood Good-by. Anita Loos. Cast of Thousands. Anita Loos. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The illuminating diary of a professional lady. Intro: "The Biography of a Book" Scott Eyman. The Palm Beach Post. Nov 1998.
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