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Anita Loos's popular novella depicting the adventures of "Lorelei Lee" and "Dorothy Shaw" first appeared as a serial in Harper's Bazaar (Mar-August 1925) under the title The Diary of a Hasty Traveler. After being published in book form as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady, the material was turned into a dramatic play by Loos and her husband, John Emerson (New York, 27 September 1926). Loos again wrote about her heroines in the novellas Why Not Brunette and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.
An August 1951 Daily Variety news item reported that the musical comedy's producers, Herman Levin and Oliver Smith, would "have to scare up a deal for sale of film rights by 17 November or face the prospect" of the rights reverting to Paramount, which had produced a 1928 film based on the Loos novella. Paramount had released the rights in exchange for a percentage of the profits from the sale to another film company, conditional upon the sale taking place within two years of the show's opening. Daily Variety further reported that Columbia had tried to purchase the rights for Judy Holliday, but that she refused the role of Lorelei Lee. After Levin and Smith bought out Paramount's interest in the rights in late August 1951, according to Daily Variety news items, they sold the property to Twentieth Century-Fox in November 1951 for $150,000.
According to a November 23, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, the picture was originally to be produced by George Jessel and directed by Richard Sale, who was to collaborate on the screenplay with his wife, Mary Loos, Anita Loos's niece. Although the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, note that Sale and Mary Loos wrote a screenplay for the film, their work was not included in the finished picture.
September 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items speculated that David Wayne would appear in the picture as Marilyn Monroe's "Little Rock swain," and that songwriter Hoagy Carmichael was being considered "for a piano routine," but neither appear in the released picture. A November 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item included Donna Lee Hickey in the cast, but her appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Studio publicity announced that dancer Gwen Verdon would appear in the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" production number "performing a 'wash-woman dance,' scrubbing 'Lorelei's' diamonds and hanging them out on a line to dry." The "wash-woman dance" does not appear in the number, however, and Verdon was not seen in the viewed print. Modern sources add that Verdon did serve as an assistant to choreographer Jack Cole, however. A January 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Verdon was working with Monroe and Jane Russell on a "can-can number with a 'Three Musketeers' dueling motif," but that number also does not appear in the picture.
Russell was borrowed from Howard Hughes's company, and modern sources note that as part of the loan-out deal, Twentieth Century-Fox was required to borrow cinematographer Harry J. Wild and Russell's makeup, hair and wardrobe personnel. A December 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item and a April 25, 1953 New York Times article indicate that the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number was shot in CinemaScope for a special trade and press preview showcasing the new wide-screen process. [For more information about CinemaScope, see the entry below for The Robe]. To publicize the film, Monroe and Russell put their handprints and footprints in the forecourt of the famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre on June 26, 1953. In addition to their signatures, the actresses wrote "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" across their adjoining cement squares.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the picture received a "B" rating from the Legion of Decency (objectionable in part) and was banned in Yugoslavia, although no reason for the ban was reported in the files. The PCA rejected the original version of the song "A Little Girl from Little Rock," which was sung on Broadway, calling it "a glorification of immorality." The song, with revised lyrics by Ken Darby and Eliot Daniel, was renamed "Two Little Girls from Little Rock" for the film. As noted by several reviews, only three of the many songs written by Jule Styne and Leo Robin for the musical comedy are featured in the screen version.
Modern sources add the following information about the production: When Twentieth Century-Fox purchased the play, studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck intended it as a vehicle for Betty Grable. Zanuck changed his mind in favor of Marilyn Monroe, partially in consideration of Monroe's salary, which was considerably less than Grable's. Monroe earned only $18,000 for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, one of the films with which she is now most closely identified. Monroe sang all of her own songs in the film, with the exception of the brief "No, no, no" introduction to "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," which was sung by Gloria Wood. Modern sources also state that Hawks did not direct the large production numbers, leaving that chore to choreographer Cole. Modern sources also include Jimmy Saung among the dancers in the film. The costume jewelry for the picture was created by J. C. Joseff, the wife and partner of the late Eugene Joseff. Joseff founded the well-known and popular Joseff of Hollywood, considered by jewelry historians as the premier manufacturer of costume jewelry for motion pictures and television. Among the most famous of Joseff's works is a topaz necklace featured in several films, including That Night in Rio and Forever Amber (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).
Loos's novella had previously been filmed in 1928 by Paramount, in a version directed by Malcolm St. Clair and starring Ruth Taylor and Alice White. In 1954, Twentieth Century-Fox considered protesting the production of Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, which was directed by Richard Sale and starred Jane Russell and Jeanne Crain, as the studio felt that the second film infringed upon their sequel rights to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Sale, who co-wrote the United Artists' 1955 release of "Brunettes" with Mary Loos, changed Anita Loos's source material so that the film did not feature the characters of Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, and Twentieth Century-Fox did not press its suit.
In 1984, singer Madonna presented an homage to Monroe in her music video for the song "Material Girl," during which she recreated part of the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" production number and wore a replica of Monroe's famed pink dress.