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Customer Review

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars just a funny book, January 31, 2001
This review is from: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes -and- But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady (Paperback)
I really think that American gentlemen are the best after all, because kissing your hand may make you feel very, very good but a diamond-and-safire bracelet lasts forever. -Lorelei Lee, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Up until now, I'd figured that the most ignominious fate that a significant 20th century writer had suffered was that T. S. Eliot will be best remembered for the fact that a book of his poems inspired the musical Cats. Here's a worse one : Anita Loos, author of one of the funniest novels ever written, may be remembered as the author whose book inspired the musical which inspired the music video of Madonna's Material Girl. This after all is a book which while it was being serialized made Harper's Bazaar into a best-selling magazine, went through 45 editions in 13 languages (including Chinese and Russian) upon publication, which Edith Wharton referred to as "the great American novel," which a nearly blind James Joyce chose as his preferred reading during the brief period he was allotted each day, and which won praise from readers as varied as Winston Churchill, William Faulkner, George Santayana, and Benito Mussolini.
Even before she wrote this story, Anita Loos had already established herself as a topflight Hollywood screenwriter, working with the likes of D. W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks, and she numbered H. L. Mencken among her many literary friends. In fact, the book is at least in part intended to poke fun at Mencken. Loos had previously noticed, with some amusement, the intellectually snobbish writer's contradictory weakness for ditzy blonde babes. So when she found herself traveling cross country on the Santa Fe Chief with her husband (the director John Emerson), Fairbanks, several other gentlemen and one blonde starlet, she was struck by the fact that the men stumbled over themselves trying to help the other woman, while Ms Loos was left to lug her own baggage:
Obviously there was some radical difference between that girl and me. But what was it? We were both in the pristine years of early youth; we were about the same degree of comeliness; as to our mental acumen, there was nothing to discuss : I was the smarter. Then why did that girl so far outdistance me in feminine allure? She was a natural blonde and I was a brunette.
Loos promptly began writing the first notes for what would become the hilarious adventures of Lorelei Lee, the flighty but conniving blonde to whom "Fate keeps on happening," and, when finished, sent them to Mencken, who was then editing The American Mercury.
He told her, "Little girl, you're making fun of sex, and that's never been clone before in the U.S.A.," but also suggested that she submit the story to Harper's Bazaar. The editor, Henry Sell, liked the initial story so much that he got her to write several more installments and serialized them in the magazine. The rest, as they say, is history...
The resulting novel reminds me a great deal of Ring Lardner's You Know Me, Al (see Orrin's review). It is presented in the form of Lorelei's diary, so is entirely in her unique voice, with tortured syntax, creative spelling and unintentionally revealing insight. Lorelei, like Lardner's antihero, is surpassing ignorant of culture and most of the world beyond her particular haunts, but, unlike Jack Keefe who is genuinely unenlightened about himself, she betrays a profound understanding that her looks and her general availability enable her to extract just about anything she wishes from gentlemen. And the most important similarity is that this is just a funny book, certainly one of the funniest ever written by an American author.
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Initial post: Apr 12, 2010 2:30:27 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 12, 2010 2:32:46 AM PDT
Nancy Irving says:
In fact, my memory (which may not be totally reliable) tells me that James Joyce actually called it "the ONLY funny book ever written by an American."

Of course there have been one or two since then--but not many!

(I'd also point out that the Ralph Barton illustrations, done I think for the original serialization, are hilarious as well.)
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