Anita Loos

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Anita Loos is best known as the author of the tongue-in-cheek 1920’s novel, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, which brought its writer worldwide fame and went on to enjoy popular stage and screen adaptations. Loos, however, was already a successful screenwriter at the time of the book’s publication, and she continued to write until shortly before her death at the age of ninety-three. Gary Carey’s biography draws on the diaries Loos kept throughout most of her life, giving his book a unique insight into its subject’s thoughts and feelings on the events of her celebrated career and sometimes unhappy private life.

Loos was born in Sissons, California, in 1888, the daughter of a charming, irresponsible father and a long-suffering mother. After a career as a child actress in local stock companies, she turned to writing in her early twenties and was soon hired by the legendary D.W. Griffith. One of her collaborators was director John Emerson, whom she married in 1920. Emerson was both unfaithful to his wife and jealous of her success, and his increasing mental instability eventually led to permanent hospitalization in a sanatorium. Loos’s professional career was an ongoing series of successes and disappointments, encompassing a long stint as a studio contract writer in the 1930’s and 1940’s, numerous theatrical projects, and a period of renewed fame in her seventies and eighties as the author of two books of memoirs.

Carey’s book is at its most effective during the first half of Loos’s life, with the Hollywood segments proving of particular interest. The biography flags, however, in Loos’s later years, offering accounts of luncheon engagements and meetings with friends that can be of interest only to Loos’s most avid fans. In this regard, Carey’s reliance on Loos’s diaries is both a boon and a drawback, providing insight into her thoughts as events in her life unfold but too often serving as a substitute for analysis and real substance on Carey’s part. Carey’s research is thorough and exhaustive, but the wit and sparkle that marked Loos’s work as a writer come through only intermittently in her biographer’s hands.