April 26, 2015
Already a well-established screenwriter who rubbed shoulders with the Hollywood elite, in 1924 — while bored on a train trip — ANITA LOOS (1888–1981) penned a skit poking fun at a romance that a male friend of hers was having with a “stupid little blonde.” Her 1925 novel based on this skit, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, blazed through four printings in its first year of publication alone, and ensconced both Lorelei Lee (its gold-digging protagonist) and Loos in pop culture. Loos’s husband, John Emerson, who often took coauthor credit on work written by Loos alone, was something of a gold-digger himself; he was also a piece of work, who came down with psychosomatic laryngitis at the height of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes‘s popularity. After Loos discovered he was having an affair, Emerson turned down her offer of a divorce, alleging that without him, her millions might “fall into the hands of some crook.” Alas, Emerson was the crook, investing Loos’s fortune in his name only. In her 1974 memoir, which at one point criticizes “kept or semikept men” including “the hypochondriac who alibis his pimpery with trumped-up ailments,” Loos lamented “all the girls like me who automatically hand over their wages to a man.” But it was a complicated relationship: Loos remained married to Mr. E, as she called him, until his death in 1956.
READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884–93).