Sunday, March 23, 2014

Young Anita Loos

Anita Loos (1889-1981) began her career in 1911 writing screenplays for silent movies.  Within five years she reached the top of that profession: writing for major stars such as Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.  During this time she met Frank Crowninshield, the editor of Vanity Fair, and began her long association with the magazine as a contributor of comic articles and stories.  In the early 1920s, after encouragement from H. L. Mencken, she published a series of sketches in Harper's Bazaar that she compiled into the 1925 best-seller Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Many movies, plays, and novels followed.

Here is one of Anita Loos's early Vanity Fair stories.

Vanity Fair, vol 3, no. 6, p. 42
February 1915

The Force of Heredity, and Nella

A Modern Fable with a Telling Moral for Eugenists

By Anita Loos

Twelve years had elapsed since Nella had hung on the old gate — the old gate of the old farm not far from the old well where they kept the old oaken bucket — and had promised her old mother that, come what might, she would always be eugenic.

Twelve years had now gone by since that day, and on the last — or nearly the last — day of the twelfth year, Nella lay back among the silken cushions of her gilded chaise longue and wept — wept over the rash promise of her youth, and wept at the thought of all it had brought her.

Listen:  When Nella had first come to New York she had secured a position as a manicure in a fine big hotel.  She was quite frank with the fine big proprietor: she told him straight out that she did not know how to cure manis.  He took one look at the fine big eyes and engaged her on the spot.  Proprietors of such hotels are only too apt to engage manicures in that fine, impulsive way.

For many Weeks Nella lived her simple, girlish life, prodding her customers with that pointed stick which manicures always wield so earnestly.  And the thing that ever held the finest, biggest place in her mind was the promise she had made to her old mother on the old gate at the old farm: the promise to be eugenic.

At last He appeared — the Perfect Prince — of whom she had so honorably dreamed.  And he was miraculously vouchsafed to her at dinner in an Italian table d' hote.  He was as handsome as handsome is, and as muscular as the poulet du jour.  She knew that he was a poet from the way he ate his spaghetti.  He had a fine, sensitive mouth.

Evidently he was poor.  But he was healthy.  They would have to bein housekeeping in a shack somewhere up among the snow-bound wastes of the Bronx, but it would be home, HOME.  As for Gus, he was heartily in favor of it.  "Lead me there unto," was the poetic way he put it.  Life seemed just to have begun for him.

It was within a week of the day set for the wedding of Nella and Gus when, one morning, Sigsbee van Cortland, the Copper King, hobbled into the manicure parlor Nella sat waiting to manicure.  He gave her one glance, and hobbled toward her, his hands extended.  Why had he a wooden leg?  He never made any mystery about : if you asked him how he had happened to lose his real leg, he would answer, quite simply and frankly, that it had been bitten off by a shark, and then change the subject.

He loved Nella from the first moment he saw her and asked her to be his wife.

Nella hesitated.  Apart from the fact that she was so soon to be married to Gus and that Gus had already bought a wedding ring with the word "Mizpah" engraved on it, how could she wed a man with a wooden leg?  After all the teachings of her good old mother, how could she?  But a Copper King is not easily balked.  Coming down to hard reality, he can produce the tinkle: and that meant a whole lot to the sweet young girl from the fine old farm.

So Nella made her excuses to Gus, and married the wooden-legged millionaire.

*          *          *          *           *

And now, twelve years afterward, she lay on her silken covered chaise longue and wept.  That morning, weary of it all and filled with a vague remorse, she had been sitting at the front window when a familiar figure passing in the street awakened a strange, sad note in her memory.

It was Gus.

In her anguish she could not stifle the little cry that escaped her lips.  Gus looked up.  He hesitated but a moment, then dashed up the steps and was soon at her feet.  Nella looked at his fine, broad shoulders and burst into a flood of tears.

"Nella, dear," he cried, "are you happy?"

Nella staggered to her feet.  Together they wavered on through one exquisitely furnished room after another and finally stopped before a door on which was a sign reading NURSERY.

"Open it," she said.  "I haven't the courage."

Gus opened the door.  Inside, hobbling pitifully around the room, were eleven children.  Gus looked once again and recoiled.  They had all been born with a wooden leg!

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