Anita Loos Rediscovered – by Carl Beauchamp and Mary Anita Loos (2003)

  • Anita Loos Rediscovered
  • Film Treatments and Fiction
  • Anita Loos
  • Edited and Annotated by Carl Beauchamp and Mary Anita Loos
  • UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
  • Berkeley Los Angeles London 2003

ANITA LOOS (1888-1981) was one of Hollywood’s most respected and prolific screenwriters, as well as an acclaimed novelist and playwright. This unique collection of previously unpublished film treatments, short stories, and one -act plays spans fifty years of her creative writing and showcases the breadth and depth of her talent. Beginning in 1912 with the stories she sent from her San Diego home to D.W. Griffith, through her collaboration years later with Colette on the play Gigi, Anita Loos wrote almost every day for the screen or stage, or for book or magazine publication. The list of stars for whom she created unforgettable roles includes Mary Pickford, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn, and Carol Channing.

Anita Loos, six years old

Stories from San Diego 1888 – 1915

The New York Hat gave a struggling painter named Lionel Barrymore his first starring role in pictures. It also featured Lillian Gish and her sister, Dorothy, as extras and was the last film Mary Pickford made for D. W. Griffith before she was lured away for twice the salary by another studio. And for Anita Loos it was the first of over fifty stories she would sell over the next two years from her home in San Diego. As Anita retold the story in later years, she got younger with each version, and some printed reports have her starting her professional writing career at the age of twelve. In reality Anita Loos was twenty-four years old when she sold her first story in 1912.

Anita Loos and Lillian Gish – Griffith Stamp ceremony

Return to Hollywood, 1931 – 1944

I only heard the sound of the waves, and I felt like I was in the midst of a bad dream.

Gently she started walking again.

“It goes back to the day I met him. Mr. Griffith, yes that’s what all of us from Lillian Gish to his cameraman, Billy Bitzer, called him, decided to give a little class to his studio by hiring a director from the theater. He was John Emerson, and Mr. Griffith himself brought him to my tacky little story editor’s office and explained that Mr. Emerson was a Broadway actor and director who was considering joining the group. ‘”He looked through the files and laughed at my purchases of your stories,'” Mr. Griffith said. “‘And laughed again when I told him that

they were too witty for words, but he enjoyed reading them.’ “John looked at me with surprise,” Anita went on. “Again, my damned tiny figure was against me. . . .”

She paused a moment. She walked on, and so did I.

“He took my hand and held it. And you know what happened? This handsome man took me under his wing. John asked me, a nobody, to work with him. And we worked successfully. I can tell you, a director can misuse your story and spoil it. John never let me down with what I wrote.”

Helen Hayes, Lillian Gish, Anita Loos and Lionel Barrymore – “Duel in the Sun” behind the scenes

New York at last, 1944 – 1981

Another Hollywood veteran who kept up a busy pace in New York was Lillian Gish, and she and Anita often went to films together. They particularly enjoyed the retrospective screenings at the Museum of Modern Art, and Mary Lea Bandy, current director of the MOMA film department, says, “They were such fixtures going in and out that everyone just took them for granted. Can you imagine?” Jim Frasher, Lillian Gish’s manager for the last thirty years of her life, looks back fondly on how Anita and Lillian enjoyed each other’s company. “I remember one day we had a long drive and Anita regaled us with raucous tales of who was doing what to whom. As soon as we de livered Anita to her apartment, Lillian turned to me and said, in no uncertain terms, ‘Now you must never repeat those stories to anyone.’ I was crushed of course so I asked her, ‘Are [the] stories not true?’ ‘Oh the stories are accurate enough,’ Lillian replied. ‘It’s the people she gets wrong.'” Jim still harbors the suspicion that the stories were deadly accurate on all counts, but what Lillian said still goes. “And whether or not they were true,” he adds, “Anita was a wonderful story teller.””

1980 Lillian Gish and Anita Loos – Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Eulogies

LILLIAN GISH

Thank you. Yes I was an extra in The New York Hat, and my sister was too. And she should be here now because she got all the wit and comedy in our family, and they always said that I was about as funny as a baby’s open brain . . . [end of sentence obscured by laughter]. I never had the privilege of working with you. You wrote The New York Hat but didn’t come into the company until a year or two later. We had never had anyone writing stories, and then in tame this httle thing with a brain hke a man. I was frightened of her. I kept my mouth shut every time she was around, but I hstened and at the time, having never gone to school, I was reading Spinoza, a great philosopher, and Shakespeare, if you remember, and her mind was so sharp that I called her Mrs. Spinoza, not to her but to other people. That became a kind of comic word for this little, dark-eyed pretty thing that had this very brilliant, comedic brain. Anyway, pretty soon John Emerson came into the company, and he was directing my sister in Old Heidelberg. I think she was about fourteen, and she played it with her hair braided on each side and no makeup. In the love scene John Emerson told her she should kiss the prince. And she said, “We don’t do that in this company,” and he said, “Well, this is a love story and you’re going to do it in this picture.” Well, she got very cross and went in to see Daddy Woods. He was a white-haired man that we took all our troubles to when any arguments came up, and she said, “Mr. Emerson has asked me to kiss an actor and you know we’re not allowed to kiss actors in this company. We don’t kiss them because we might get a disease.” So the whole company took sides for or against Mr. Emerson, and we had quite a battle. Finally Mr. Emerson had the principal’s wife call my mother and say, “Your daughter is perfectly safe kissing my husband.” So she lost the battle. That’s one of the things that brought me here because, of course, Anita later married John Emerson. And when she wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, oh, I wanted to get up the courage to ask, “Who were the gentlemen and who were the blondes?” Because I heard she had people in her mind, and I would have loved to know, but I never got up the courage to ask her. And Anita, I’d still like to know. Thank you.

Anita Loos rediscovered : film treatments and fiction – cover

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