Literary Daybook, April 26

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
April 26, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)
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Today in fiction

On April 26, 1142, the body of Norbert is discovered.
-- "Strong as Death" (1966)
by Sharan Newman

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1893, Anita Loos was born. Loos started writing scenarios for D.W. Griffith while she was in her teens, and eventually worked on over 60 films, but her most enduring creation is her 1925 novel "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." The play, musical or film versions (or the music video version, by Madonna in her Marilyn Monroe, "Material Girl" phase) may be better known, but when the book came out the Times Literary Supplement thought it "a masterpiece of comic literature," Edith Wharton thought it "the great American novel" and it was soon popular in over a dozen languages. Loos' last screenwriting was as co-writer for the 1953, Monroe-Jane Russell movie version, a reworking of the 1928 film, also scripted by her.

Lorelei Lee's charms and calculations are purportedly based on Peggy Hopkins Joyce ("Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce," Constance Rosenblum, 2000), and the book was apparently inspired by Loos' relationship to H.L. Mencken. The editor of the Smart Set struck Loos as a gentleman who enjoyed her intellectual company but preferred blondes, etc., for his other needs. And because Mencken had portrayed Arkansas as the "Sahara of the Bozarts" (i.e. beaux arts), Loos had her not so dumb-blonde heroine set off to conquer the man-world from Little Rock.

Lorelei's trail from Little Rock to the Ritz in New York, to London ("London is really nothing"), to Paris ("the Eyefull Tower is devine"), to Vienna ("Dr. Froyd said that all I needed was to cultivate a few inhibitions and get some sleep"), to Buda Pest ("in the Central of Europe") is littered with not a few gentlemen scratching their heads at their wallets. She bags not only the diamonds that are a girl's best friend but Henry H. Spoffard, the husband who will steadily provide them and ask no questions. For travel has broadened Lorelei so far that she has become intellectually attached to Mr. Gilbertson Montrose, a professional scenario writer:


"After all, there is nothing that gives a girl more of a thrill than brains in a gentleman, especially after a girl has been spending the week end with Henry. So Mr. Montrose talked and talked all of the way to New York and I sat there and did nothing else but listen. So according to Mr. Montrose's opinion Shakespear is a very great playwrite, and he thinks Hamlet is quite a famous tragedy and as far as novels are concerned he believes that nearly everybody had ought to read Dickens. And when we got on the subject of poetry he recited 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew' until you could almost hear the gun go off."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

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