“We purposely made the picture as loud and bright as we could, and completely vulgar in costumes and everything. No attempt at reality. We were doing a musical comedy, pure and simple.” - Howard Hawks on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - 1953 (Original Poster)
By the time Howard Hawks took on the challenge of directing “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” the story had been around the block a few times.
Anita Loos’s tale of flapper Lorelei Lee and her unlucky-in-love wisecracking brunette friend Dorothy Shaw originally made its debut in Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 1925 and was soon published as a book, quickly becoming a best-seller. It was adapted for the Broadway stage in 1926 and it was turned into a silent movie in 1928.
Joseph Fields and Anita Loos combined forces to bring the tale back to Broadway in 1949. The musical not only became a smash hit, but it also made Carol Channing a star. With such a run of success, it was inevitable that Hollywood would attempt to remake it into a Technicolor movie spectacular.
After Twentieth Century Fox obtained the film rights, producer Sol C. Siegel hired Howard Hawks to direct.
Hawks quickly went to work adapting the Broadway hit into something that would work on the silver screen. Yvonne Adair, who had played Dorothy Shaw in the Broadway musical, was replaced by Jane Russell. Then, in an even more controversial move, Hawks replaced the star of the show, Carol Channing, with a contract actress named Marilyn Monroe, whom Hawks had already featured in his previous film, “Monkey Business.”
He hired one of his favorite writers, Charles Lederer, to write the screenplay and picked the songwriting team of Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson to create new songs to be added to the Broadway tunes written by Jule Styne and Leo Robin.
Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe became good friends and their chemistry shows through in their performances. Unfortunately, Marilyn did not get along so well with the rest of the cast and crew. She demanded retakes long after Hawks was satisfied. To add to the aggravation, he often had to send Jane Russell over to Monroe’s trailer to get the reluctant actress on the set.
When the movie began to fall behind schedule, executives at Fox sent Hawks a note asking what could be done to speed things up. His reply was terse.
“Three wonderful ideas,” he reported, “replace Marilyn, rewrite the script, and get a new director.”
Wisely, Twentieth Century Fox officials chose to follow none of those suggestions. Marilyn Monroe’s take on “Diamond’s Are a Girl’s Best Friend” became an iconic musical moment in film history, and is widely copied into the 21st century. The convoluted tale that bothered Hawks won over movie goers, as the film became the year’s ninth highest grossing movie. In the end, Howard Hawks achieved his most stunning musical triumph, despite not working on the big production numbers that involved choreography.
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” might never have become the glitzy romp that continues to entertain us today if Fox executives had paid serious attention to Howard Hawks’ “three wonderful ideas.”
Director: Howard Hawks Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay: Charles Lederer Joseph Fields (based on the musical comedy) Anita Loos (based on the musical comedy)
Music: Hoagy Carmichael Eliot Daniel Lionel Newman
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Editor: Hugh S. Fowler
Art Directors: Lyle R. Wheeler and Joseph C. Wright
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.