Today is the birthday of Anita Loos (1889-1981), best known today as the author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. We write about her today (and in our recent book Chain of Fools) because she was one of the cinema’s earliest and most important screenwriters — let alone one of the first women screenwriters.
She started out as a child actress in stock companies in her native San Francisco. In 1911, she mailed off her first attempt at a silent film scenario The New York Hat to D.W. Griffith at Biograph, and was shocked when it was accepted (The film, made a few months later, starred Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore). Griffith put her on staff; she wrote some of his most important early pictures, including the hard-biting urban realist film The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912). In 1915, she joined Griffith at Triangle, where she and director John Emerson (who became her husband) were put in charge of devising films for Douglas Fairbanks (this was his early, comedic phase, prior to his swashbucklers). After cooking up several hit films for him, they went to Famous Players-Lasky, where they did several pictures with Constance Talmadge.
In the 20s, there came the prose, Broadway and Hollywood versions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She wrote sketches for vaudeville, numerous more plays for Broadway, and screenplays for Hollywood through the 1950s.
But we’re mostly concerned with the early days, and so here’s the very first film that started it all, The New York Hat
For more on early film please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube