Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Aldous Huxley and Anita Loos in Hollywood

Aldous Huxley, c. 1938
Though best known as a British author, Aldous Huxley spent the last twenty-six years of his life living in the United States. When he and his wife, Maria, left England for the United States in 1937, they did not plan to stay, but with the war in Europe heating up and their son's acceptance to an American school, they decided to settle in Los Angeles. It was there that Huxley renewed his acquaintance with Anita Loos, the author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Anita Loos (1888-1981) grew up in show business, starting out in stage productions in San Francisco when she was eleven and publishing plays when she was just out of high school. Her first screenplay to be produced was New York Hat in 1912, starring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore and directed by D. W. Griffith. She eventually joined Griffith at the Triangle Film Corporation and became one of the first staff writers in the industry.

Loos did not remain in this position for long and moved to New York City where she socialized with such figures as William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies, Marilyn Miller, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and H. L. Mencken. It was from Mencken and his many lady friends that she drew inspiration for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was an instant success upon its publication in book form in 1925, selling out immediately and requiring multiple printings. Loos produced the Broadway play of the book, which was also a success, and a film version appeared in 1928.

Anita Loos
Despite her professional success, Loos's personal life was not happy, and by the 1930s, she and her husband, the director John Emerson, were living apart in New York. The stock market crash had depleted the couple's finances, and Loos was providing for both households, working on a stage production of But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. When MGM offered her $1,000 a week to write screenplays, Loos left New York and her husband to move back to California.

Huxley was a fan of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when it was published in 1925, and he wrote in a letter to Loos, "...I was enraptured by the book, have just hugely enjoyed the play, and am to be in America so short a time that I have no leisure to do things in the polite and torturous way" (Bedford 175). They met in New York when he and Maria visited the United States for the first time in 1926. When the Huxleys moved to Los Angeles in 1937, Loos introduced them to her contacts in the movie industry. Through this long friendship, Huxley would go on to write six screenplays (four of which were produced) in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s.

As a mark of their friendship, Huxley inscribed a copy of his Texts and Pretexts for Loos, writing:
For Anita
To dip into when
the Women are
too much for her,
with love from
Aldous H.
April 26th '39
At the time, Loos was working on a film adaptation of the all-female Broadway hit The Women. The movie was released in September of 1939 and was a box-office smash, starring Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. The book also contains Loos's bookplate, which was created by African-American illustrator Frank Walts, whom she might have met in New York when she lived there in the 1920s and whose work appeared in The Crisis, The Masses, and The Liberator, as well as The New Yorker, Harper's Weekly, and Colliers. The smiling face on the bookplate is Loos's own, revealing the positive side of a woman whose life was consumed by work and too much personal strife.

Loos continued to write screenplays and articles for magazines until her death in 1981 at the age of 93. She and Huxley remained friends until his death in 1963.

For more information about Huxley and Loos, see Aldous Huxley: A Biography, by Sybille Bedford (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974) and Huxley in Hollywood, by David King Dunaway (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), or visit our website. Thank you for reading.