I’ve wanted to read Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and it’s sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, by Anita Loos, for roughly forever. I’m not too proud to admit, these books made their way to my reading list via the movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (it’s a classic, people). From there, I worked my way to reviews which touted it as Witty! An American Classic! A charming gem!
And then there’s the back story . . .
As a scriptwriter, Anita Loos had worked in Hollywood and New York. She saw firsthand how ditsy, blonde starlets could turn otherwise intelligent fellows to servile dimwits with little more than a smile. Case in point: while traveling cross country with her husband, John Emerson (a director), Douglas Fairbanks, and several other well-to-do gentlemen, she found herself lugging her own luggage, while the rest of her party bumbled about in an overzealous bid to aid a blonde starlet. She told a friend of the spectacle, he mentioned it would make a good story. And so it was, in 1925, Anita Loos published the diaries of a gold-digging blonde name Lorelei Lee.
Lorelei writes of adventures with her best friend, Dorothy, as they traipse from Hollywood to Manhattan to “the Central of Europe.” Fashion, diamonds, and dinners at the Ritz fill the 243 pages; Lorelei tells it all–complete with spelling and grammatical errors.
I’ll tell you now, that last bit is not for the faint of heart. By the time I made it midway, I could not help wonder if the ones who wrote those gracious reviews might also be the ones who preferred blondes.
But then something changed.
I’m not exactly sure when or how, but somewhere amid the poor grammar and even worse spelling, I began to understand.
Sure, Anita Loos pokes fun at the sexes; and Miss Lorelei Lee may well be the basis for each and every blonde joke known to man. Yes, it is well written, full of witty dialogue, and shenanigans that make your eyes roll. But as with most comedy, there’s a serious truth hovering right beneath the surface. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes . . . is a unique look at the Jazz Age–a time when women were beginning to come into their own. It’s a snapshot of a life. It makes us question why we love whom and what we do, the pains we take to get what we want–and the grandeur and foolishness of it all.
Perhaps Lorelei says it best after all . . .
“So when I got through telling Dorothy what I thought up, Dorothy looked at me and she really said she thought my brains were a miracle. I mean she said my brains reminded her of a radio because you listen to it for days and days and you get discouradged and just when you are getting ready to smash it, something comes out that is a masterpiece.”