Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reading the Movies: "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

I'm that annoying person that likes to read the book before going to see the movie if possible. That's the exact reason I haven't seen "The Help"--I just haven't found the time to read the book. I read "Anna Karenina", but not before it was out of theaters, so I haven't seen that either. But there are plenty of books I have read, which is why I'm starting this new series.

First up is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I read it about a month ago. It's a perfect hilarious short read.

Originally published a serial in Harper's Bazaar, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was turned into a novel in 1925. It's the diary of Lorelei Lee, professional gold digger, shopper and nightclub attendee. Her hobbies include champagne and Cartier. As stated in the opening number of the Jane Russell-Marilyn Monroe movie, Lorelei is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas but she makes a name for herself in the movies. Button manufacturing millionaire Gus Eisman takes her from Hollywood, puts her up in a Park Avenue apartment and "educates" her, buying her some books, yes, but also the aforementioned champagne and Cartier. Sometimes Lorelei hosts literary salons with important men who do the most unrefined things in her presence. Eisman also sponsors Lorelei and her friend Dorothy on a European vacation to London, Paris and "the central of Europe". All a part of Lorelei's education, you understand. That she talks a married English nobleman into buying her a diamond tiara is just gravy.
Original illustration of Lorelei and Dorothy
It's worth noting that Lorelei's hair color is never explicitly mentioned in the book, but the drawings that accompanied the original Harper's series and were later published in the novel make it clear that she's blonde and Dorothy is a brunette. Loos got the idea of writing about the airheaded blondes and their incredible power over the male sex after witnessing a bunch of smart men, including intellectual H.L. Mencken, lose their minds in the presence of a beautiful blonde.

Lorelei's adventures in the novel are plenty but the film, for the sake of wrapping things up in a neat 90-minute package, is a little more straightforward. Lorelei and Dorothy make just one stop in the movie, in Paris, and our flaxen-haired heroine also has just one serious suitor (though she still manages to get a tiara from a married Englishman). The screenwriters were smart, though. They kept some of the best parts of the novel, especially Lorelei's butchering of the English language in her attempt. And the gag about Lorelei trying to set up her less money-minded friend up with Henry Spoffard III is a wink at a major plot point in the book. Loos' original Henry Spoffard is a big reformer and moralist from a rich Pennsylvania family who spends all his time looking at smut so eh hem, he knows how to censor it. He's the man who ultimately gets conned into marrying Lorelei--and putting her into films, the main form of media he's opposed to. That he's just a little boy in the movie reminds us how easily Lorelei played him and the other men around her, in the book.

When looking about both versions of Gentlemen, there's no way I can pick which is better because they're both so different. The novel is brilliant satire of marriage, money and the movies, themes Loos was intimately familiar with as a prominent screenwriter for silents and talkies. The movie, on the other hand, is a warm and fuzzy musical that's perfect for when you have a bad day. I know it's one of my go-tos when I'm having a bad day. I'm filing both of these away as favorites (and waiting impatiently for someone to revive the Broadway musical the film is based on).


  1. One of my all time favourite films, will have to try and get the book. Like you i prefer to read the book before seeing the film but will make a exception in this case.

  2. must read the book - the film was such fun! jane russell is everything.


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