Female Badasses in History: Anita Loos (1888-1981)
Anita Loos was the first female screenwriter with a contract in Hollywood. Not only did through her work help revolutionize the way to tell a narrative in silent movies, she also was a revered author, writing for example the classic “Gentlemen prefer Blondes” (the book and the movie) and wrote several Broadway plays.
Anita Loos was born in Sisson, California in 1888 to couple that owned a tabloid there. The family moved to San Francisco in 1892. From an early age on, Anita started performing as a Theater actress. According to her own writing, she always wanted to become a writer and first started to write screenplays in 1911. She sent her first screenplay “The New York Hat” to a movie company in New York and it immediately became a success being turned into a movie directed by D. W. Griffith. Between 1911 and 1915 Anita went on to write 105 screenplays, only four of which went unproduced. Her mother however, objected to her working for the movie industry, so to escape the influence of her family she married a penniless son of a conductor who she eventually left six months later.
In 1915 she started working in the movie industry again, this time as a staff writer for D. W. Griffith. For him she wrote scenarios and one of her most influential pieces of work certainly were the intertitles (the cards in-between scenes in silent movies used to show dialogue or tell the story) for Griffith’s masterpiece “Intolerance”. With her intertitles Loos started a trend. Her cards were often written in a witty and entertaining way, thus contributing to the overall tone and narrative of the movie. Together with Griffith who through his film techniques introduced methods commonly used until this day, Anita Loos helped revolutionize the way movies told a story. She basically introduced the comedic trope of breaking the fourth wall to cinema.
This new trend was an immediate success with audiences and critics alike and made Loos one of the most successful and sought after screenwriters of her day.
Anita Loos’ next big success came in 1925 when she published her novel “Gentlemen prefer Blondes”. Originally a collection of shorts that were published in magazines, the book featuring the main character Lorelei, a modern girl who had internalized the values of American materialism dominant in the 1920s became an instant hit. Loos collected praises from fellow authors like Joyce, Faulkner, Wharton, and Huxley and the Times Literary Supplement called it “a masterpiece of comic literature”.
The following years were hard for Loos despite the success of “Gentlemen prefer Blondes” (which was turned into a musical and saw its first and now lost movie adaptation in 1928). Plagued by poor health, she traveled Europe with her second husband and fellow screenwriter John Emerson returning to the United States in 1932 to write movies again, mainly for production company MGM.
After the Second World War, she started working on another movie adaption of “Gentlemen prefer Blondes”, which was published in 1953 under the direction of Howard Hawks starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russel.
Antia Loos continued to write movies and her later life also articles and Hollywood memoirs. She died in 1981 at age 93 in new York City.
Anita Loos should be remembered not only as one of the most successful female authors in golden-age Hollywood but also as a writer that contributed to her industry in a tremendous way. She stands out for her humor, wit, talent, and determination and was essentially a pioneer of modern cinema.