‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ on the Page, Stage and Screen

Classic film fan Angela compares Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to Anita Loos’ 1926 novel on her Hollywood Revue blog, as part of a summer reading challenge.

“The 1953 film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a very loose adaptation of the original story. The movie is closer to the stage musical adaptation, which debuted in 1949, but there are still plenty of differences between the stage musical and the film version. (It’s worth noting that neither the 1953 film or the 1949 stage musical were the first times the story had been adapted for either medium. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had previously been adapted into a movie released in 1928, which is now considered a lost film. It had also been previously been adapted for the stage as a straight comedy, which premiered in 1926.) But this is the kind of book that makes it easy to take liberties with the material.

First of all, the book is not structured like a traditional narrative novel. Instead, it’s a series of fictional diary entries by Lorelei Lee. Several side characters and events in the book are completely cut for the movie to make it a more focused story. One of the cut events includes Lorelei and Dorothy stopping in England on their way to France and meeting the Prince of Wales, only for Lorelei to be horrified by Dorothy using slang around the Prince. There’s also one story about Lorelei meeting Sigmund Freud, who is unable to analyze her because of her lack of inhibitions, and another story about Lorelei throwing her own belated debutante debut party.

In all versions of the story, Lorelei’s desire to own a diamond tiara is a significant source of drama. In both the movie and the stage musical, it’s because the tiara belonged to Lady Beekman. But in the book, that tiara never belonged to Lady Beekman. It originally belonged to an unrelated person who was looking to sell it. Since Lorelei couldn’t afford it herself or get Gus to pay for it, she gets Francis Beekman to buy it for her instead …

Lorelei’s background is a bit different in the movie than we see in the book. The movie version of Lorelei Lee is a working showgirl, but in the book, she had worked in films before being ‘educated’ by Gus Eisman, who had asked her to give up her film career. The movie also makes absolutely no mention of an incident described in the book where Lorelei attempted to shoot her boss after he tried to assault her, but since it was an act of self-defense, she was free to go.

One change for the movie that I’d really love to hear the reasoning for is the decision to make Mr. Spofford into a child. In both the book and the stage musical version, Mr. Spoffard is, indeed, an actual adult. The book version of Mr. Spofford is part of a wealthy, conservative family and is a member of a censorship board that goes through movies and cuts out anything they deem morally objectionable.”

Marilyn with Norma Varden as Lady Beekman (top); and George Winslow as Henry Spofford Jnr (bottom) in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

In another post, Angela explores the story’s first screen adaptation, a now-lost silent movie from 1928 (see here.)

“Given how massively successful Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was in print and on the stage, a film adaptation was destined to get a lot of buzz, especially around who would play Lorelei. Since the role would go on to be played by major icons like Carol Channing [on Broadway in 1949] and Marilyn Monroe, you might expect that the 1928 version would have starred a major icon of the silent screen. Perhaps Clara Bow gone blonde. Instead, the role went to someone who would have little name recognition just a few years later.

The casting process for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was not unlike what would infamously happen a decade later while casting the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Much of the press surrounding the movie referenced Paramount’s extensive search for the perfect Lorelei Lee. Many big names were considered for the part … In the end, Lorelei Lee was first played on screen by an actress named Ruth Taylor. As was the case for Gone With the Wind, the highly sought-after leading role ended up going to an actress who was fairly unknown to the American public.

One review in the December 10, 1927 issue of The Film Spectator said, ‘The picture followed the book faithfully, but it didn’t follow it far enough. It stopped just where the book was getting interesting.’ In a 1930 publication titled Censored: The Private Life of the Movie, one passage says of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, ‘Fortunately for the movie public, the censors cut any suggestions of immorality from it, as you have seen’ … Screenland’s review for the 1928 film mentioned Francis Beekman crowning Lorelei with his wife’s tiara, so that’s a change from the source material which pre-dates both the Marilyn Monroe and Carol Channing versions.

Looking back on the original media coverage for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, you’ll find some respectable reviews, but the movie seems to have missed the mark on some level. Screenland magazine’s review said of it, it ‘isn’t the satire some hoped it might be, but it is good entertainment.'”

And finally, you can read more about Anita Loos here.