Authors: Anita Loos

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady, 1925

But They Marry Brunettes, 1928

A Mouse Is Born, 1951

No Mother to Guide Her, 1961

Drama:

The Whole Town’s Talking, pr. 1923 (with John Emerson)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, pr. 1926 (with Emerson; adaptation of her novel)

Happy Birthday, pr. 1946

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, pr. 1949 (libretto with Joseph Fields; adaptation of her play)

Gigi, pr. 1951 (adaptation of Colette’s novel)

Chéri, pr. 1959 (adaptation of Colette’s novels Chéri and The End of Chéri)

Screenplays:

The New York Hat, 1912

His Picture in the Papers, 1916

Intolerance, 1916

Wild and Woolly, 1917

A Virtuous Vamp, 1919 (with John Emerson)

Getting Mary Married, 1919

The Perfect Woman, 1920 (with Emerson)

Dangerous Business, 1920 (with Emerson)

Polly of the Follies, 1922 (with Emerson)

Learning to Love, 1925 (with Emerson)

Red-Headed Woman, 1932 (adaptation of Katharine Brush’s novel)

Hold Your Man, 1933 (with Howard Emmett Rogers)

The Girl from Missouri, 1934 (with Emerson)

Riffraff, 1935 (with H. W. Haneman)

San Francisco, 1936

Saratoga, 1937 (with Robert Hopkins)

Mama Steps Out, 1937 (adaptation of John Kirkpatrick’s play Ada Beats the Drum)

The Women, 1939 (with Jane Murfin; adaptation of Clare Boothe Luce’s play)

Susan and God, 1940 (adaptation of Rachel Crothers’s play)

Blossoms in the Dust, 1941

They Met in Bombay, 1941 (with Edwin Justin Mayer and Leon Gordon)

I Married an Angel, 1942 (with Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers; adaptation of Vaszary Jano’s play)

Nonfiction:

How to Write Photoplays, 1920 (with John Emerson)

Breaking into the Movies, 1921 (with Emerson)

A Girl Like I, 1966

Twice over Lightly, 1972 (with Helen Hayes)

Kiss Hollywood Good-by, 1974

Cast of Thousands, 1977

The Talmadge Girls, 1978

Short Fiction:

“Corner in Cotton,” 1916

“American Aristocracy,” 1916

“Under the Top,” 1919

“Oh, You Women!,” 1919

“Woman’s Place,” 1921

“Red Hot Romance,” 1922

“Midnight Mary,” 1933

“The Social Register,” 1934

Biography

To all appearances, Corinne Anita Loos (lohs) was a typical Roaring Twenties “Flapper.” Pretty and petite, she bobbed her dark brown hair, danced the Charleston in short skirts, and associated with “hustling” men and “fast” women in Hollywood, New York, and Europe. Show business people called her “Miss Loose,” a mispronunciation she never corrected. Actually, Loos was a highly intelligent, self-disciplined woman, the author of witty novels, plays, film scripts, nonfiction works, silent film scenarios and subtitles, and short stories.{$I[A]Loos, Anita}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Loos, Anita}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Loos, Anita}{$I[tim]1888;Loos, Anita}

Born in Sissons, California, Anita contributed to the family income as a child by performing on stage with her sister, Gladys. Their father, R. Beers Loos, a flamboyant and unsuccessful publisher of tabloids, directed them. Their mother, Minerva, had a small inheritance that kept the family together. After moving several times to escape creditors, the Loos family eventually settled in San Diego, where Anita graduated from high school. Unfortunately, her sister Gladys died during childhood. Her older brother, Clifford Loos, became a successful medical doctor in Los Angeles. Throughout their lives, Clifford and “Neetsie,” his pet name for her, maintained a close relationship.

Beginning in 1911, Loos wrote scenarios and subtitles for silent films produced by several film companies. Many were filmed in New York City. Biograph director D. W. Griffith, famous for the Civil War epic Birth of a Nation (1915), was amazed to discover that Loos was a young woman. One of her first successes was a twelve-minute one-reeler, The New York Hat, starring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore. Loos persuaded Griffith to add more dialogue and explanation to subtitles instead of relying so much on camera action. At first, he was skeptical, but filmgoers liked it.

In 1916 Loos began collaborating with John Emerson, a director and actor from Broadway. Their scenarios made Douglas Fairbanks a star by showcasing his boyish charm and athletic ability. Emerson’s His Picture in the Papers (1916) is about a snobbish family who will not allow their daughter to marry a farmer until he somehow becomes famous. In 1919 Anita wrote Getting Mary Married for publisher William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies. This silent film obscured the fact that Davies stuttered badly. Silent star Constance “Dutch” Talmadge, the “virtuous vamp” in several of Loos’s scenarios, spoke with a New Jersey accent. When films acquired sound in 1925, actors with high voices, regional dialects, or other idiosyncracies were eliminated from “talkies.”

Attracted by Emerson’s suave manner, Anita married him on June 21, 1920. He nicknamed her “Bugs,” and she called him “Mr. E.” From the beginning, he treated her as his assistant, even though she was the creative member of their partnership. Emerson insisted that his name be included on everything she wrote. They lived in California and New York, traveled frequently to Europe, and associated with show business personalities and celebrated people such as Noël Coward, H. G. Wells, Somerset Maugham, the Prince of Wales, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Benito Mussolini, Adele Astaire, Aldous Huxley, Edwin Hubble, and Bertrand Russell.

In 1924 H. L. Mencken, editor of American Mercury magazine, read the synopsis of a Loos work that “makes fun of sex,” although it contained no profanity or overt sexuality. He encouraged her to serialize it in Harper’s Bazaar. In five installments, Lorelei Lee, a blond “Ziegfeld girl” from Little Rock, becomes the mistress of several rich men. In return for her favors that bolster their egos, men shower her with diamonds. Her brunette sidekick, Dorothy, is modeled after Loos.

In 1925 Boni & Liveright published the series as the highly successful novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, illustrated by Ralph Barton. In 1926 Loos adapted the work for the New York stage. Since then, famous actresses, such as Marie Wilson, Carole Channing, and Marilyn Monroe, have performed as the “golddigger” Lorelei Lee on stage and screen.

In 1931 Loos began working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer under the direction of Irving Thalberg, whom she considered a “Pygmalion to Hollywood’s Galateas.” After F. Scott Fitzerald botched a script for Red-Headed Woman, to star Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, Loos wrote another one that better suited Harlow’s talent as a sexy comedian. Harlow and Gable also costarred in Loos’s Saratoga, a film about horse racing. (Before filming was complete, Harlow died of uremic poisoning. A stand-in took her place.) Loos collaborated with Robert Hopkins on the script for San Francisco, starring Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy. Gable’s tough-guy role was based on the personality of Wilson Mizner, a friend of Loos.

In 1937 Loos adapted Clare Boothe Luce’s play The Women (pr. 1936, pb. 1937) for film because some of Boothe’s dialogue among spiteful Park Avenue matrons was too raunchy for movie theaters. In 1951 Loos adapted French writer Colette’s 1944 novel Gigi for the stage. Colette selected Audrey Hepburn to play the lead. In 1957 Leslie Caron starred in the film version. Emerson became jealous of Loos’s popularity and success. They separated but never divorced. Later she discovered that he had invested her salary and royalty income in annuities payable to himself. After years of erratic behavior, Emerson finally succumbed to manic depression. Loos committed him to an expensive sanatorium, paid for, ironically, by the annuities. He died in 1956.

She never remarried but maintained affectionate friendships with such famous men as Vachel Lindsay, H. L. Mencken, Lord Edgar D’Abernon, Mizner, Howard Sturges, Leopold Stokowski, and F. Ray Goetz. Paulette Goddard and Helen Hayes, the star of Loos’s play Happy Birthday, traveled with her to spas in Europe and social affairs in New York and California. For nearly forty years, Gladys Tilton, Loos’s African American housekeeper and companion, maintained Loos’s New York apartment and took care of her foster daughter. Loos died of a heart attack in 1981.

BibliographyAcker, Ally. Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present. New York: Continuum, 1991. Acker’s invaluable set of profiles places Anita Loos under the category “From the Silents to the Sound Era” in the chapter “Reel Women Writers.”Bartoni, Doreen. “Anita Loos.” In International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, edited by Nicolas Thomas, et al. 2d ed. Vol. 4, Writers and Production Artists. Detroit: St. James Press, 1993. A concise biographical profile supplemented with a useful filmography and bibliography.Carey, Gary. Anita Loos: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. Examines Loos’s life from childhood through her early career, her unhappy marriage, successes and failures in plays and film, her memoirs, and her final years.Loos, Anita. A Girl Like I. New York: Viking Press, 1966. Autobiography in which Loos discusses her childhood and early career, including her acquaintance with stage and screen personalities who inspired Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.Loos, Anita. Kiss Hollywood Good-by. Vol. 2. New York: Ballantine, 1974. Her autobiography covers famous people and the history of American films, income from which she said was “easy money, like striking oil.”Rosen, Marjorie. Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the American Dream. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973. Rosen’s groundbreaking survey of women’s contributions to the classical Hollywood film includes a concise, penetrating account of Loos’s unique talents.
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