Hollywood: Anita Loos’ hats & Marilyn Monroe’s diamonds

I haven’t talked about my MFA thesis on classic Hollywood hair in a while, but I’m in the process of revising parts of it & thought it might be interesting to blog about it a little. I’m expanding my Marilyn Monroe chapter to spend more time on one of Monroe’s most famous roles, Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Lorelei is the character–a glitzy blonde showgirl–that Monroe is playing in this musical number:

This musical number is a classic–yes, Madonna borrowed it for her “Material Girl” video–but she’s not alone in looking to Monroe’s Lorelei for inspiration. That pink dress is the drag costume James Franco wore awkwardly on a recent Academy Awards telecast and “Diamonds Are Girl’s Best Friend” is the song Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! used to introduce Nicole Kidman’s tragic protagonist {although her glittery corset is drawn from another classic: Marlene Dietrich’s The Blue Angel, not Gentlemen Prefer Blondes}. By virtue of Monroe’s performance, I think, the onscreen Lorelei is a sympathetic, funny character, not a one-note gold digger.

What many people don’t know is that Lorelei Lee was the creation of author Anita Loos, a screenwriter and playwright with a long Hollywood and Broadway career. Beginning in the silent film era, Loos wrote silent “scenarios” for DW Griffith, talkie parts for Jean Harlow, and her own plays and novellas. Of all her work, the satirical 1925 novella Gentlemen Prefer Blondes–about two gold diggers traveling abroad–made her famous. But Loos herself wasn’t a blonde or a flashy showgirl. She had an interesting, flapper-ish image that she created and stuck with all her life–shiny bobbed hair and wild hats–and was a petite 4’11. There’s a fantastic website, The Anita Loos Museum, with photographs of her hat collection that you should go look at if you’re interested in clothes. Even if you don’t love crazy period hats, Loos is a noteworthy figure: she had a fabulous career, but one of the strangest marriages in the world, to a director named John Emerson. Emerson was eventually institutionalized & diagnosed with schizophrenia after attempting to kill his wife, according to Gary Carey’s biography of the author. Loos’ hobnobbed with Hearst and Marion Davis, knew Joan Crawford, and yet, couldn’t escape the shadow of her marriage, something I find fascinating.

Fun fact: Edith Wharton called Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “the Great American Novel.”

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