Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gentlemen Still Prefer Blondes!

I really think that American gentlemen are the best after all, because kissing your hand may make you feel very good but a diamond and a sapphire bracelet lasts forever.
Anita Loos

Happy Thursday!
It's August 18th. August 18 is the 230th day of the year (231st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 135 days remaining until the end of the year. On this date in 1981, Anita Loos passed away. The name Anita Loos may not be known today like she once was. But she gave the world Lorelei Lee. And today I want to show that gentlemen are still preferring blondes!

Who knows what direction Carol Channing's life and career would have gone if Lorelei Lee had never come along.

And subsequently, my own career!

Anita Loos (April 26, 1888 – August 18, 1981) was an American screenwriter, playwright and author.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes began as a series of short sketches published in Harper's Bazaar. Known as the "Lorelei" stories, they were satires on the state of sexual relations that only vaguely alluded to sexual intimacy; the magazine's circulation quadrupled overnight.

The heroine of the stories, Lorelei Lee, was a bold, ambitious flapper, who was much more concerned with collecting expensive baubles from her conquests than any marriage licenses, in addition to being a shrewd woman of loose morals and high self-esteem. She was a practical young woman who had internalized the materialism of the United States in the 1920s and therefore equated culture with cold cash and tangible assets.

The success of the short stories had the public clamoring for them in book form. Pushed on by Mencken, she signed with Boni & Liveright. Modestly published in November 1925, the first printing sold out overnight. The initial reviews were rather bland and unimpressive, but through word of mouth it became the surprise best-seller of 1925. Loos garnered fan letters from fellow authors William Faulkner, Aldous Huxley, and Edith Wharton, among others.
"Blondes" would see three more printings sell through by years end, and twenty in its first decade. The little book would see 85 editions in the years to come and eventually be translated into 14 languages including Chinese.

When asked who the models for her characters, Loos would almost always say they were composites of various people, but when pressed, admitted that toothless flirt Sir Francis Beekman was modeled after writer Joseph Hergesheimer and producer Jesse L. Lasky. Dorothy Shaw modeled after herself and Constance Talmadge, and Lorelei herself most closely resembled acquisitive Ziegfeld showgirl, Lillian Lorraine, who was always looking for new places to display the diamonds bestowed by her suitors.
(Lillian Lorraine, pictured)

John Emerson (born Clifton Paden on May 29, 1874, Sandusky, Ohio - March 7, 1956, Pasadena, California) was a stage actor, playwright, producer, and director of silent films (many featuring Douglas Fairbanks). Emerson was married to Anita Loos from June 15, 1919 until his death; prior to that they had functioned as a writing team for motion pictures and would continue to be credited jointly, even as Loos pursued independent projects.
John Emerson,perhaps foreseeing the success of Blondes as a threat to his control over Loos, first attempted to suppress its publication, and then merely settled on a personal dedication. Loos continued to be overworked throughout 1926, sometimes working many projects at once. In the spring of 1926 she completed the stage adaptation, which opened a few weeks later in Chicago, and ran for 201 performances on Broadway. Emerson by this time had developed a serious case of hypochondria, using imaginary laryngitis attacks to garner attention away from her work, he was, in the words of his wife, "a man who enjoyed ill health."
It was the opinion of New York's leading psychiatrist, Alfred Jelliffe, that she was to blame and that in order for Emerson to "get better" she would have to give up her career.
She resolved to retire after her next book, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a sequel to Blondes she had promised Harper's Bazaar.

On the further advice of the psychiatrist, the couple had planned another European vacation. At the last minute Emerson feigned being unwell and insisted Loos continue alone. Arriving in London, she was promptly taken under the wing of socialite Sybil Colefax, whose drawing room had become a salon, filled with "the bright young things" of the day such as John Gielgud, Harold Nicolson, Noël Coward and notables such as Arnold Bennett, Max Beerbohm and Bernard Shaw.
(John Gielgud)

Photos of Loos on the social scene in London appeared in the New York papers and magazines , and Emerson's subsequent whisper-throated "death bed" phone calls managed to inflict guilt on Loos for her absence overseas.

Emerson finally joined Loos in London, and to keep his spirits up she took him to the theatre every night.
It worked: at times he forgot to continue his act and spoke in normal tones.
The couple continued on to Paris, where Loos renewed all friendships and made new ones; Emerson's recovery was remarkable.

In September, their vacation was cut short; Loos was needed back in New York to do revisions on Blondes for its Broadway debut. Despite this, Blondes closed in April 1927.
The first film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, now lost, was released in 1928, starring Ruth Taylor (as Lorelei Lee), who took her role so seriously that as soon as the film was finished she married a millionaire named Paul Zuckerman and never worked again.
And while diamonds may or may not be a "girl's best friend," they certainly bring a sparkle to any woman's eye (note Monroe's gaga look above!)

Between 1927 and 1929, Anita Loos and John Emerson traveled extensively, which was hard on Loos' health. All their winters were spent in Palm Beach, where Emerson would indulge in social climbing. There Loos met Wilson Mizner, a witty and charming real estate speculator and in some quarters – confidence man.
Though they saw each other every day, the relationship, what there was of one, didn't last beyond Florida. Loos, starved of intellectual male companionship, was rumored to have stopped just short of having a full blown affair. Emerson also suffered a return of his imaginary throat ailment, though he recovered quickly after his second round of Viennese 'pretend surgery'.
In the mid 1940s, two Broadway producers had their eye on a musical version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and brought in Joseph Fields as co-author. After initial stops and starts, Loos threatened to quit the production unless they assured her she would never have to speak to Fields again.

The show opened in Philadelphia with a then unknown Carol Channing, by the time it arrived in New York it was another success.

Carol Channing was soon elevated to an A-list star, the show played for 90 weeks and went on tour for another year. The producers closed the show when Channing became pregnant. Herman Levin commented: "I was convinced the show wouldn't work without Carol, and in my opinion it never has."

A musical film version was produced in 1953, directed by Howard Hawks and adapted by Charles Lederer.
It starred Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe.

Loos had nothing to do with the production, but thought Monroe was inspired casting.

The musical opened on Broadway in 1949 (running for 740 performances), a London production was mounted in 1962, and there was a Broadway revival in 1995 starring KT Sullivan. An adaptation called Lorelei played on Broadway in 1974. It was made into a film of the same name in 1953, starring Marilyn Monroe. The popular songs "Bye, Bye Baby" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" were introduced in this musical.

It was produced by Herman Levin and Oliver Smith, directed by John C. Wilson, and choreographed by Agnes de Mille, with vocal direction by Hugh Martin. Financial backers included Harold M. Esty, Jr.

The success of Blondes the second time around, meant Loos had a greater profile than ever before. She moved to a more spacious apartment at the Langdon Hotel, and bought a car; she and her companion Gladys Tipton would travel to visit friends whenever the mood struck. In 1950 Loos began writing A Mouse is Born, another novel, and when it was safely in the hands of the publisher she left for the continent, her first trip to Europe in twenty years. A Mouse is Born had a lukewarm reception, but by then Loos was already working on a dramatic adaptation of Colette's Gigi.

The production was underway before Colette wired that she had found their "Gigi", she had seen Audrey Hepburn in a hotel lobby in Monte Carlo.Gigi opened in the fall of 1951 and would run until the spring of 1952; by then Hepburn had been elevated to an A-list star, contracted to Paramount Pictures.

In the 1920s, Lorelei Lee, a blonde from Little Rock, Arkansas, and her friend Dorothy Shaw board the ocean liner Ile de France, to embark for France ("It's High Time"). Lorelei and her boyfriend (who is her "sugar daddy"), Gus Esmond, are parting for a while ("Bye, Bye Baby")
Gus is going to Little Rock, and Dorothy is Lorelei's chaperone. On the ship, Lorelei has many admirers, including the rich Philadelphian Henry Spofford III, and an Englishman, Sir Francis (Piggy) Beekman. Lorelei is worried that Gus will find out about an old secret of hers and break off their engagement ("I’m Just A Little Girl From Little Rock") and she is afraid to open a wire that she receives from him. Meanwhile, Dorothy flirts with a group of Olympic sportsmen ("I Love What I’m Doing (When I’m Doing It For Love)"). Lorelei disapproves of this as the Olympians are poor; she is sure that Gus has broken up with her and tells Dorothy that they need to find some rich men. Lorelei chooses the zipper king, Josephus Gage. For Dorothy she chooses Henry Spofford. Lady Beekman is trying to sell her tiara to an American. Lorelei wishes to buy it, but does not have the money, so she decides to persuade Sir Francis to lend her the money ("Its Delightful Down In Chile").

On arrival in Paris, Dorothy and Henry are becoming attracted to each other ("Sunshine"). Two French detectives, Robert and Louie Lemanteur, are looking for Lorelei, trying to recover Lady Beekman’s tiara. They don't speak much English, but they fall for the charms of the girls and offer to take them out.
Josephus Gage arrives with Lorelei, wearing the first French dress to use a zipper. It is suggested that everyone have cocktails, to Mrs Spofford’s delight, but Josephus does not drink, instead eating raw carrots ("I’m a Tingle I’m Aglow").
Henry, left alone with Dorothy, proposes marriage ("You Say You Care"), but she says that she is not good enough for him.

When Broadway star Carol Channing sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in the 1974 musical Lorelei, all that glittered was not what it seemed. Designer Bob Mackie created the show's eye-catching costumes, including a bejeweled dress for the character Lorelei Lee's big number. (Channing had gotten her big break in the Anita Loos play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949 and starred in its revival, Lorelei, 25 years later.) One of Mackie's nicknames is the Rajah of Rhinestones: what sparkled so plentifully on the gown were no more diamonds than a stage set for Hamlet could be said to be Elsinore Castle.

The showstopper of a dress, which Channing wore for all of the production's 320 Broadway performances, now resides within the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH).
Mackie's extravaganza, with its hailstorm of stones from Czechoslovakia, weighs about 40 pounds. "The first time I took a bow in that dress," Channing told me recently, "I fell over forward and almost broke my teeth." During the production, Channing had to make a quick change between scenes. "I told Bob that getting out of that dress in one minute was almost impossible.
So he said, ‘Take off the sleeves.'" (Channing would wear the costume in both configurations.)

(I own this yellow sailor dress)
Read more:

"A kiss on the hand may be quite continental

But diamonds are a girl's best friend

A kiss may be grand but it won't pay the rental

On your humble flat, or help you at the automat"

And so the lyrics go to this clever classic. "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", a song introduced by Carol Channing in the original production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949). It was written by Jule Styne (who wrote scores for musicals such as Funny Girl and Gypsy.)

And of course, who could forget the show-stopping Marilyn Monroe performing this number in the film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? Monroe's version inspired other performers for generations to come, including Madonna and Kylie Minogue.

Several well-known blonde actresses, including Betty Hutton, ,Jayne Mansfield (Carousel Theater, 1964)

Mamie Van Doren

Barbara Eden (Florida, January 1999)and Morgan Fairchild, have starred in regional and summer stock productions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes over the years.

The musical ran in the West End, London at the Princes Theatre, opening on August 20, 1962 for 223 performances, and featured Dora Bryan as Lorelei Lee, Anne Hart as Dorothy, and Bessie Love as Mrs. Ella Spofford.


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1 comment:

  1. A fascinating look into the life of Anita Loos. That's a good story right there. I feel fortunate to at least have seen Carol Channing once on stage in 'Lorelei'. She was everything I hoped she would be....Funny, charming and utterly delightful.