First published in America by Viking Press in July 1974.
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Guest review by Hollie Moat
Hollie Moat contacted me after seeing my New Boy review as she has also written a Shakespeare-based novel, Other People's Business, which uses Much Ado About Nothing as its source. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing that soon, but in the meantime here is Hollie's review of Hollywood screenwriter Anita Loos' autobiography.
Hollie's rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Loos recalls the heady heydays of the movies and the exciting part she played in them. Her career had begun in the silent film era, providing D.W. Griffith with subtitles for such classics as 'Intolerance'. In 1931 she was back in Hollywood, helping consolidate the future of the talkies, and she spent most of the next eighteen years as prize screenwriter and protogee of the Great Little Master, Irving Thalberg, MGM's star producer. Here is the story of those years when she wrote such classics as 'The Red-Headed Woman', 'Saratoga' and 'San Francisco'. This book supplies more insights into the history of film than many earnest, scholarly studies on the same subject.
Her irreverence is the key to her readability. Miss Loos never swallowed Hollywood whole, she lived in the great world outside, with people like Wilson Mizener, Aldous Huxley, Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst. For the gossip addict, she serves up scandalous asides on Clark Gable's virility, Jean Harlow's marriages and the larcenous instincts of her own husband, actor-director John Emerson. Bobbed before most women had even contemplated it, Loos has led fashion ideas by the nose. Her best-selling novel, 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', made her and her light-headed, light-hearted heroine, Lorelei Lee, part of modern folklore. Now she writes with the same infectious and relentless wit of her own life. This is a book to be relished and re-read for its theme, its leading actress, and for its brilliant 'scenario and script'. Illustrated with black-and-white photographs.
Hollie says: Anita Loos was one of Hollywood's first screenwriters and she also wrote a couple of best-selling novels (such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) so she is basically my idol. She has several autobiographies and each one sort of plays out like a film in itself, with its own key characters and narrative arc. I love this because it gives a sense of story which you don't always get in biographical books, and it also means you don't have to slog through essentially unimportant details like what her favourite subject was at school.
Instead you get classic anecdote after classic anecdote about Hollywood in its Golden Era - Anita knew absolutely everyone and talks casually and affectionately about industry icons like Irving Thalberg, George Cukor and Clarke Gable. Later on she dashes over to Paris and hangs out with Gertrude Stein and that famous Parisian artistic set of the Twenties. There are many glittering parties, socialites behaving badly and film industry gossip to drink in, but what I felt really grounded this book and elevated it above a beautifully written succession of name drops is the love story at its centre. Anita Loos married a man called John Emerson (she calls him Mr E) who was a vain, insecure hypochondriac with whom Anita was besotted with in the beginning. Eventually the bloom of infatuation wears off and she realises exactly what he is, which provides much humorous commentary. I found him rather infuriating at times and clearly so did Anita, but she felt duty-bound to him and could never really let go. But theirs is not the love story I refer to. Anita had a close friendship with the notorious raconteur Wilson Mizner. The book implies that one or both of them wanted it to be more but it was never the right time or situation, and his lifestyle was not suited to a stable, long-term relationship. Wilson dips in and out of the story, culminating in a climax that I found pretty heartbreaking.
It's always hard to know how much of an autobiography is real, sometimes it's the things the author leaves out and doesn't want us to know that are the most interesting. Whether that's true or not with this one I don't really care - Anita Loos was a literary and screenwriting titan in an even more sexist world than the one we live in now, and she had the vast success she did for a reason: the woman really knew how to tell a story.
Thank you Hollie!
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