Confessions of a Marilyn Monroe Snob: How Anita Loos convinced me that “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

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In my recent foray into this year’s crop of public domain books, I ran across Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  You might have already seen it featured on our post about movies made from some of the books that have gone into public domain this year.

If you missed it, click here: The Novels Behind 8 Great Movies Are in the Public Domain in 2021 

Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, & Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

I have found that I really enjoy a certain type of female humorous writer that I have come across recently, and I wondered if Anita Loos might be more of the same. To be honest, I was surprised to see the context of the book because like most people, I know of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes through the Marilyn Monroe & Jane Russell film. 

20th Century Fox, 1953/Public Domain

I realized, however, that I have never seen Gentlemen Prefer Blondes…I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any Marilyn Monroe movie, with the exception of one of my favorite movies, All About Eve

If you know All About Eve, you know that it is definitely not about Marilyn Monroe, who has a minor role.  I guess I made the mistake of thinking that the character Monroe played in that film, a coy blonde using her looks and charm to break into the acting business, as who Marilyn Monroe really was. 

The other thing that I have found off putting is the iconography of Marilyn Monroe.  You know how you can see an image or hear about something so often that eventually what you’ve seen and heard becomes the thing rather than the thing itself? 

When I think of Marilyn Monroe, I think of that classic image of her in the white dress with her skirt blowing up, an image that I now see doesn’t do the woman justice. 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was near the beginning of her career as a star, in fact, her costar, Jane Russell received top billing over Monroe in this film. 

You can’t help but be aghast at Marilyn Monroe’s incredible sex appeal.  Seriously, it doesn’t even seem real.  I can see why the poor woman had so much difficulty, between her rough early life and her appearance.  It must have been hard for people to break through all of that to the real woman underneath. 

I know what I’m saying isn’t a big revelation in the scheme of things: far from it; this is my reaction to my first viewing of this film. 

Now perhaps I was quicker to arrive at this next conclusion because I read Loos’ novella before I saw the film, but any characterization of Monroe’s character, Lorelei, as being a dumb blonde in this film is completely idiotic. A dumb blonde would not be able finagle as many situations as she does.  That’s all there is to it.  If people think it was all coincidence, which just proves the genius of her performance. 

Let’s see: she cons one man out of a diamond tiara while managing to keep her wealthy and conservative fiancé and marry him in the end. Huh.

Sounds like a dummy to me.


The thing I really love about this movie, however, is that it is such a great buddy film.  A FEMALE buddy film.  In the ‘50’s.  The Jane Russell character, Dorothy, doesn’t like what her friend has done, and she risks losing her guy over it, but a friend is a friend…we don’t have to like everything our friends do all the time…and she lets the guy know that if he wants to get her, he has to cover for her friend.


And Jane Russell’s impression of Marilyn Monroe in the courtroom scene is absolutely priceless, especially with her raunchier version of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”.

I was also pleasantly surprised by this sexy Jane Russell featuring some eye candy for the ladies. Yeah, I get ALL the subtexts, but men objectified costumed to look near nude with a demurely clad Jane Russell is pretty hot. Why have I never discussed this in a women’s studies class?



Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Anita Loos, center, flanked by actors from the 1926 silent version of Gentlemen, now believed lost. Photoplay Magazine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, April 1928.


Anita Loos was a writer in the 1920’s, and when she wrote Gentlemen, she was a “scenario” writer for early films, which is what script writers were called during the silent film era.  It was a huge bestseller when it came out, but it wasn’t taken “seriously” because of its subject matter.

1 November 1925SourceScan from the first edition of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) by Boni & Liveright. Ralph Barton


The book is written in the form of Lorelei’s diary, in which she tells her readers all about her exploits as an adventuress in New York City.  As she reveals more and more about herself, you can see how others see her, and why others might denigrate her.  Love her or hate her, you judge for yourself.  But why you are trying to figure it out, you will have one heck of a good time.

If you like the film, and I do heartily recommend the film, you will like the book even more because there is more to Lorelei than a pretty gold digger. Personal happiness is also important to her, so in the end, you find yourself wanting to be on her team even if you don’t quite agree with her methods. In other words, as the reader, you become Dorothy.


Loos’ style is easy to under appreciate because it seems as though she is just writing the book off the top of her head, but it actually takes a lot to achieve such a light hearted tone while conveying Lorelei’s character through her “own” words.  One example of the lengths Loos goes to with this style, and one of the things I most appreciate, is the way that she misspells certain words: Lorelei is intelligent enough to have picked up some words in life that she never learned to spell.  Or perhaps her formal education was sketchy all the way around.


It amazes me how many people, including literary scholars, are fooled by comedy.  Comedy isn’t easy.  It’s much harder than tragedy, and it doesn’t age as well either because it relies so heavily on context.  So writing a seemingly light hearted story in the voice of a character that will make you laugh out loud 95 years after publication is a feat that shouldn’t be ignored.

The “Ziegfeld Girl” Lillian Lorraine was the real-life basis for Lorelei Lee. She sold all of her fancy trinkets for more than $200,000 during the height of The Depression.

James Abbe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons The Tatler, June, 1922.


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a quick read that you will be glad you took the time to pick up. 

To get an idea of what awaits you here, when Anita Loos was asked if there would be a third novel after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, she said yes, and it will be called Gentlemen Prefer Gentlemen.



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