Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Today’s readers prefer film

When she was 25, Anita Loos made a list of clichés about blondes and turned them into the 1926 bestseller, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Loos presents the story as a diary kept by Lorelei Lee. The technique allows Loos to reveal how ignorant, self-centered, and morally bankrupt Lorelei is.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Ralph Barton, Illus. 217 p. 1926 bestseller #2. My grade: C-.

dush facket shows blonde woman with bouffant hairdo holding huge diamond.Lorelei has a steady gentleman friend, Mr. Eisman, a Chicago button wholesaler, whose interest in Lorelei is, she says, “because I always want to improve my mind.”

Lorelei considers dumping Eisman when he fails to give her diamonds for her birthday. However, when Eisman dangles the opportunity of a trip to Paris, Lorelei can’t resist the chance to improve her mind and do some shopping.

Lorelei takes along her friend Dorothy who has been abroad before. Dorothy is a rocket scientist compared to Lorelei, who regards Dorothy as ill-mannered and uneducated.

Lorelei’s diary needs to be envisioned to be appreciated. No surprise there: Loos spent most of her 60-year writing career working primarily in the film industry.

Loos laced the novel with contemporary references that are meaningless today, and her jokes feel tired and sophomoric.

The film version bears little resemblance to the novel. It stars Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, all good reasons to watch the film rather than read the book.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Private Life of Helen of Troy, trophy wife

Menelaos was understandably upset after Paris violated the sacred laws of hospitality by running off with his wife, Helen.

The Private Life of Helen of Troy

by John Erskine

Bobbs-Merrill, 1925. 304 p. 1926 bestseller #1. My Grade: B.

Menelaos and his pals followed Paris to Troy, hell-bent on revenge. After a 20-year siege, they sacked the city.

Helen was still so beautiful Menelaos couldn’t bear to kill her.

All that happens before John Erskine’s story begins.

In The Private Life of Helen of Troy, Erskine explores what happens when this beautiful and maddeningly frank woman is back under her husband’s roof again.

Daughter Hermione, age 1 when Helen ran off with her lover, wants to marry her double-cousin Orestes.

The parents quarrel over what’s best for their child, forgetting that Hermione is no longer a child.

Meanwhile Orestes mother, who is Helen’s sister, murders his father, who is Menelaos’ brother.

Orestes and his sister murder their mother and her lover to avenge their father.

Hermione marries Orestes, leaving her parents to figure out what their attitude to the newlyweds will be.

All the sex and violence is off stage.

Erskine’s interest is not in what happens but in how people react.

Erskine makes Helen and Menelaos come alive—a remarkable feat since these people don’t do anything but talk about what they did years before.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Bestsellers of 1926 slated for review here

In the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing the bestselling novels of 1926.

The list includes some some still recognized novelists—Erskine, Galsworthy, Ferber—but most of the authors’ fame didn’t survive the Second World War.

Here’s the list and the date when you can expect to see my review:

  1. The Private Life of Helen Of Troy by John Erskine [June 7, 2016]
  2. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos [June 11, 2016]
  3. Sorrell and Son by Warwick Deeping [June 14, 2016]
  4. The Hounds of Spring by Sylvia Thompson [June 18, 2016]
  5. Beau Sabreur by P.C. Wren [June 21, 2016]
  6. The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy [June 25, 2016]
  7. Beau Geste by P.C. Wren [June 28, 2016]
  8. Show Boat by Edna Ferber [July 2, 2016]
  9. After Noon by Susan Ertz [July 5, 2016]
  10. The Blue Window by Temple Bailey [July 9, 2016]

History notes on the novels

You’ll notice the list includes two novels by P. C. Wren. If Wren is remembered today, it is mainly because Beau Geste, his novel about the French Foreign Legion, was adapted several times for film.

Another author whose 1926 bestseller remembered mainly from its film version is Anita Loos.  Her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was made into a 1953 movie starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe.

Loos had earlier adapted her novel for stage. The musical comedy, which included the song “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,”  ran for 740 performances on Broadway beginning in 1949. A second adaptation called Lorelei played on Broadway in 1974.

Edna Ferber is also probably better remembered for the stage and screen adaptations of her 1926 novel than for the novel itself. There were multiple stage versions of Show Boat, three film versions, and, most recently, an operatic version.

~ Linda Gorton Aragoni