Anita Loos Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
0111206367-Loos_A.jpg (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: A pioneering scriptwriter who developed the use of intertitles during the silent film era, Anita Loos also wrote the famous jazz-age novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Early Life

Corinne Anita Loos was born on April 26, 1893?, in Sissons (later Mount Shasta), California, to Minerva and R. Beers Loos. “Minnie” Loos was a proper, patient wife who socially abided the flamboyant, philandering ways of her husband, an itinerant journalist whose wanderlust led him to one small-town California newspaper after another. The wayward father also loved everything theatrical. A self-proclaimed “Edwin Booth of amateur theatre,” he opened (and closed) as many drama societies as he did newspapers.

When a San Francisco weekly, Music and Drama, went on the market, Anita’s father bought it and moved the family once again. San Francisco’s frontier spirit and Barbary Coast pleasures fascinated him as he prowled the city’s bustling waterfront, often with the diminutive Anita. He introduced Anita and her younger sister Gladys to theater when the youngsters made their dramatic debut in the Alcazar Stock Company’s production of Quo Vadis? (1894).

The close bond between Anita and her father survived a family tragedy when eight-year-old Gladys Loos died after an emergency appendectomy performed on the family’s kitchen table while R. Beers Loos was out on the town. The family’s fortunes dipped again when Anita’s father’s paper failed because of lax supervision. R. Beers Loos next managed the Cineograph in San Francisco’s Mexican district, where short one-reel films alternated with vaudeville acts. When that venture failed, the family moved to San Diego, where R. Beers managed the Lyceum, a theater featuring pirated Broadway plays that often starred Anita, who by now was a versatile teenage actress and an increasingly important source of the family’s income.

In spite of the promise of a successful theatrical career, Anita Loos concluded that acting was a profession for numbskulls and narcissists and turned her attention to writing. In 1912, after penning gossip items for the local paper, Loos tried the “galloping tintypes.” Her target was New York’s Biograph Company, the nation’s top studio thanks to innovative director D. W. Griffith. Biograph responded to Loos’s unsolicited script for The Road to Plaindale with a check for twenty-five dollars and a release form. Within months, at age twenty-four, Anita Loos had sold three scripts to Biograph and a fourth to the Lubin Company. One of these, The New York Hat (1912), was directed by Griffith as a swan song for Mary Pickford, who was making her final appearance for Biograph. The film was a barometer prefiguring Loos’s penchant for satirizing provincialism and busybody moralists.

Life’s Work

During the first phase of Anita Loos’s career with D. W. Griffith at Biograph and then at Triangle, the attractive four-foot, eleven-inch comedic dynamo churned out more than one hundred scenarios. In the process, she revolutionized the “art” of writing intertitles, the printed snippets of dialogue and expositional narrative that helped audiences follow the melodramatic unfolding of a film’s plot and the development of its characters. Typical of her approach was an early film for Lubin in which she identified the antagonist, Proteus Prindle, as “a self-made man who adored his maker.” The wittily turned intertitle soon would become her stock-in-trade.

Although Loos had met Griffith briefly in 1914 on one of the director’s winter sojourns to shoot under Southern California’s sunny skies, their professional relationship did not move from correspondence to direct collaboration until 1915. Griffith, who along with Mack Sennett and Thomas Ince headed one of Triangle’s three production units, hired Loos to help the ambitious tripartite studio keep pace with an urgent need for fresh material. At the time, with Europe consumed by World War I, the American film industry was growing at a rapid rate in order to meet growing domestic and international demands for new films. Loos could not have been at a better place (Hollywood) at a better time (1915).

Griffith, keenly aware of his need for smart writing talent, tendered Loos a contract for seventy-five dollars a week plus a bonus whenever one of her scripts was produced. Fresh from his triumph with The Birth of a Nation (1915) and preoccupied with his independent production of Intolerance, Griffith turned Loos over to Frank Woods, head of Triangle’s script department. The paternal Woods, affectionately known on the Triangle lot as “Daddy,” at first kept Loos busy with wise-cracking...

(The entire section is 1953 words.)

Anita Loos Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

To all appearances, Corinne Anita Loos (lohs) was a typical Roaring Twenties “Flapper.” Pretty and petite, she bobbed her dark brown hair, danced the Charleston in short skirts, and associated with “hustling” men and “fast” women in Hollywood, New York, and Europe. Show business people called her “Miss Loose,” a mispronunciation she never corrected. Actually, Loos was a highly intelligent, self-disciplined woman, the author of witty novels, plays, film scripts, nonfiction works, silent film scenarios and subtitles, and short stories.

Born in Sissons, California, Anita contributed to the family income as a child by performing on stage with her sister, Gladys. Their father, R. Beers Loos, a flamboyant and unsuccessful publisher of tabloids, directed them. Their mother, Minerva, had a small inheritance that kept the family together. After moving several times to escape creditors, the Loos family eventually settled in San Diego, where Anita graduated from high school. Unfortunately, her sister Gladys died during childhood. Her older brother, Clifford Loos, became a successful medical doctor in Los Angeles. Throughout their lives, Clifford and “Neetsie,” his pet name for her, maintained a close relationship.

Beginning in 1911, Loos wrote scenarios and subtitles for silent films produced by several film companies. Many were filmed in New York City. Biograph director D. W. Griffith, famous for the Civil War epic Birth of a Nation (1915), was amazed to discover that Loos was a young woman. One of her first successes was a twelve-minute one-reeler, The New York Hat, starring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore. Loos persuaded Griffith to add more dialogue and explanation to subtitles instead of relying so much on camera action. At first, he was skeptical, but filmgoers liked it.

In 1916 Loos began collaborating with John Emerson, a director and actor from Broadway. Their scenarios made Douglas Fairbanks a star by showcasing his boyish charm and athletic ability. Emerson’s His Picture in the Papers (1916) is about a snobbish family who will not allow their daughter to marry a farmer until he somehow becomes famous. In 1919 Anita wrote Getting Mary Married for publisher William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies. This silent film...

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Anita Loos Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Acker, Ally. Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present. New York: Continuum, 1991. Acker’s invaluable set of profiles places Anita Loos under the category “From the Silents to the Sound Era” in the chapter “Reel Women Writers.”

Bartoni, Doreen. “Anita Loos.” In International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, edited by Nicolas Thomas, et al. 2d ed. Vol. 4, Writers and Production Artists. Detroit: St. James Press, 1993. A concise biographical profile supplemented with a useful filmography and bibliography.

Carey, Gary. Anita Loos: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. Examines Loos’s life from childhood through her early career, her unhappy marriage, successes and failures in plays and film, her memoirs, and her final years.

Loos, Anita. A Girl Like I. New York: Viking Press, 1966. Autobiography in which Loos discusses her childhood and early career, including her acquaintance with stage and screen personalities who inspired Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Loos, Anita. Kiss Hollywood Good-by. Vol. 2. New York: Ballantine, 1974. Her autobiography covers famous people and the history of American films, income from which she said was “easy money, like striking oil.”

Rosen, Marjorie. Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the American Dream. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973. Rosen’s groundbreaking survey of women’s contributions to the classical Hollywood film includes a concise, penetrating account of Loos’s unique talents.