Childhood & Early Life
She was born to Richard Beers Loos and Minnie Ellen Smith on April 26, 1889, at Mount Shasta, a city located in California. Her parents then christened her as Corinne Anita Loos.
During their stay in Mount Shasta, California, the family’s main source of income was a tabloid which Anita’s father had bought. Anita was introduced to writing since her childhood days, as her mother used to handle the publishing works of the newspaper.
When the family shifted base to San Francisco, in 1892, Minnie Ellen borrowed money from her father, using which they bought another newspaper ‘The Dramatic Event’. By the age of six, Anita had discovered her passion for writing, and was already submitting her writings and sketches to various newspapers.
Anita, along with her sister performed in the play ‘Quo Vadis’ in the year 1897, after their father insisted.
Richard Beers Loos was an alcoholic and spendthrift, so Anita and her sister Gladys had to be associated with theatre to support the family. During one of their father’s drunken episodes, Gladys lost her life and Anita had to bear the brunt of being the family’s only source of income.
She later continued juggling between performances at various theatre companies throughout her high school.
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Pursuing her love for writing, this writer began penning screenplays, in a bid to free herself from the grip of mediocre life, after watching the one act plays in one of the theatre she was performing, in 1911.
Her first screenplay ‘He Was A College Boy’, which she sent to the motion picture production firm ‘Biograph Company’, earned her $25. However, it was her third screenplay, titled ‘The New York Hat’ which became her first work to be produced and go on floor.
The then acclaimed director D.W. Griffith directed the lead actors Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore in this 1912 silent short film.
Drawing inspiration from her everyday experiences, she weaved stories around them, which formed the base of many of Anita’s screenplays. The screenwriter wrote more than a hundred scripts between 1912-1915, for various studios including the ‘Lubin Manufacturing Company’ and the ‘Biograph Company’.
Going against her mother’s wishes, this screenwriter went ahead to make a career as an actress in Hollywood. However, after six months of a fruitless marriage, she returned home disenchanted.
She then took a job as a staff writer at the American motion picture studio ‘Triangle Film Corporation’ for 75 dollars a week, under director D.W. Griffith.
In her position, she wrote the scripts for a screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s acclaimed work ‘Macbeth’. During the premiere of the 1916 silent movie ‘Intolerance’, which was subtitled by Anita and considered as one of Griffith’s finest works, she made her maiden visit to New York City.
Loos made her acquaintance with the Frank Crowninshield, the editor of the American magazine ‘Vanity Fair’ in New York, which marked the beginning of a long lasting professional relationship.
Upon her return to California, this screenwriter paired with director John Emerson and handled the screenplays of various movies. The duo’s most successful works include the silent movies with actor Douglas Fairbanks.
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When Fairbanks was offered a movie deal with motion picture company ‘Famous Players-Lasky’, he roped in the Loos-Emerson duo for writing the screenplay and direction.
After the success of their maiden venture with ‘Famous Players-Lasky’, the company handed the duo a four-movie deal in 1918. Both of them moved to New York along with Frances Marion, a fellow writer, as their companion.
Despite their previous successes, the duo couldn’t weave the same magic in their films with ‘Famous Players-Lasky’, probably because the movies casted ‘Broadway’ actors with little or no experience screen acting.
When the contract was terminated Loos-Emerson took on William Randolph Hearst’s offer on making a film with actress Marion Davies. The 1919 movie, ‘Getting Mary Married’, was among the few successful financial ventures starring Marion Davies.
In 1919, the duo published a book titled ‘Breaking Into the Movies’, and later worked with Joseph Schenck of ‘Schenck Studios’ and old buddy Constance Talmadge. The association resulted in two successful movies, ‘A Temperamental Wife’ and ‘A Virtuous Vamp’.
After make quite a few successful movies with Schenck and Constance, Loos and Emerson denied renewing the contract in 1920 and the duo made a move into the world of theatre.
As a playwright, her first work was ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’, which premiered on 29th August, 1923 at ‘Bijou Theatre’. The play was a moderate success financially and received appreciation from the critics.
With passing time, this writer’s marriage to Emerson lost its charm, and the latter started philandering. A lonely and devastated Loos took refuge in the company of friends and these outings would later become inspiration for her famous novel ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.
The popularity of the satirical short sketches published as the ‘Lorelei’ stories created the perfect for a book. ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of A Professional Lady’, was published by ‘Boni and Liverlight’, in 1925. The first publication was an instant sellout and despite getting moderate reviews it went on to top the best seller list.
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Throughout 1926, Anita continued to juggle her way between multiple projects at a time, in order to support both herself and Emerson; who was suffering from Hypochondriasis. He used to feign ill health in order to capture her attention and Loos, a dedicated wife, decided to quit her career after publishing her next book, to take care of the man.
After ‘But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes’, a sequel to ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ was released in 1927, Loos embarked on a European vacation with Emerson. She even devised a plan to cure her husband Emerson’s affliction with ill-health during this time. Along with her ENT specialist, the screenwriter staged an operation wherein the doctors allegedly removed a polyp from Emerson’s larynx to cure him.
From 1927-1929, the couple went on travel only to drift farther. Also when Emerson’s investment in stock market crashed, Anita went back to work to fend for both of them, producing a stage adaptation of her second novel, as well as another comedy.
By 1931, their marriage was on the brink of divorce, but Emerson’s refused to part ways. Since then they both started living separately, with Emerson paying a monthly allowance to Anita.
Free to work as per her convenience, the screenwriter took up the offer extended by Irwin Thalberg for ‘MGM Studio’s. The success of her very first venture ‘Red-Headed Woman’, with the studio, bolstered her image as a screenwriter and she bagged plenty of other offers from ‘MGM’.
Her famous work with ‘MGM’ was ‘San Francisco’ for which she wrote the screenplay along with screenwriter Robert Hopkins. The movie won her an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for the ‘Best Original Screenplay’.
In 1946, she made a return to New York to work on the script of a play titled ‘Happy Birthday’. Though the Boston premiere of the play received cold reception, this writer continued improvising the script, and by the time it released New York theatres, it became a big hit.
She continued writing scripts, including the ones for some major musicals such as ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’. In the later part of her life, she took to writing books and regularly contributed to magazines like ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, ‘The New Yorker’ and ‘Vanity Fair’.
In 1978, she wrote a book based on her experiences with actors Constance and Norma Talmadge. The book titled ‘The Talmadge Girls’ was then published by the Viking Press.
Personal Life & Legacy
Anita married Frank Palma Jr., son of a conductor, in 1915. However, when she realised her husband was a misfit and had no fortune, she abandoned him and returned to her mother.
After a long professional collaboration with director John Emerson, she married the man on 15th June, 1919. The couple had an on-off relationship and towards the end they stayed in different homes.
Emerson, always a paranoid, was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Though thr writer demanded a divorce, Emerson always found a way to stall her decision and she continued to take care of his expenses till his death.
This screenwriter died of lung infection in New York City on August 18, 1981, after leading a fun-filled and enriching life. Her memorial service was attended by her close friends and comrades, Helen Hayes, Ruth Gordon and Lillian Gish.