Lorelei Lee, heroine of Anita Loos’ 1925 novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was as adept at wooing intellectuals as Marilyn, who played her in the musical of the same name – despite being the most famous ‘dumb blonde’ in literature.
Writing for the Daily Beast, Nathaniel Rich reveals that authors William Faulkner, James Joyce and many others were all captivated by Lorelei’s gold-digging ways.
“It is an extremely funny book, and has remained funny for more than ninety years—almost definitely a world record. The humor sticks because the satire is not actually directed at Lorelei but at man’s lowest instincts, instincts that during the madly prosperous Twenties were allowed unprecedented indulgence. ‘I wanted Lorelei to be a symbol of the lowest possible mentality of our nation,’ wrote Loos in a forward to the novel’s 1963 edition. The men chasing Lorelei—statesmen, intellectuals, and titans of industry—are no less representative of this mentality. She does not even spare the writer who most forcefully exposed the era’s ludicrous excesses and inanities. Early in the novel Dorothy, the only girl in New York City less ‘refined’ than Lorelei, is pursued by H.L. Mencken, ‘who really only prints a green magazine which has not even got any pictures in it.’ In fact it was Mencken, a mentor to Loos, who inspired the novel in the first place. Loos, bewildered by the sight of so many of her intellectual male friends falling for ditzes, particularly blonde ones, was amazed to see that Mencken was bewitched by ‘the dumbest blonde of all.'”
While the 1953 movie’s plot bears no resemblance to the novel, the character of Lorelei remains the same. Carol Channing played the role on Broadway, but perhaps Marilyn – with her blonde allure and guileless wit – was the only actress who could do justice to Lorelei on the big screen.
Marilyn owned a first-edition copy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and a copy signed by MM, with a dedication to child actress Linda Bennett, was auctioned by Nate D. Sanders in 2014. (Surprisingly, it went unsold.)