Anita Loos settled on "Cast of Thousands" as the title for her first coffee table book - though she was tempted briefly by "Fast and Loos."
Probably no one now writing for a living has had so many famous, infamous and nonfamous friends as this author of 350 movies and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," which Edith Wharton called "the great American novel."
"Cast of Thousands" gives us vivid comments and photographs about the galaxy she began to meet 65 years ago, when David Warke Griffith bought from an unknown "Mr. A. Loos" a movie outline titled "The New York Hat." For its star Griffith chose another unknown girl and changed her name from Gladys Smith to Mary Pickford.
Even a cast of thousands hs to have a villain and Loos nails him at intervals throughout her book:
"During the more than 80 years of my life I've witnessed a steady erosion in the dignity of Man. I was alerted to the process soon after World War I, when I first went to Vienna. At that time Sigmund Freud was just rising to prominence in the U.S.A., so it came as a surprise that Viennese intellectuals looked on him as a bugaboo.
"Why do you Americans listen to that wretched creature?' I was asked. 'Don't you realize he's out to dirty the minds of the world?'"
"The human being of high principle," loos goes on, "the Biblical man, the Shakespearean man, has disappeared without leaving any spiritual progeny, although I grant that Ralph Nader may be as spiritual as anyone can be in ambiance of stale motor fumes and wholesale warehouses. The trouble is that Ralph doesn't exactly elevate the human soul."
Thus, while it's been recognized that few understand women as well as the creator of Lorelei Lee and the public persona of such as Jean Harlow and the Talmadge sisters, Loos on men is one the several refreshments in "Cast of Thousands." Unimpressed by some, she has salutes for "ardent characters whom Professor Freud could never have sullied."
High scores go to baseball's Moe Berg, astronomer-scientist Edwin Huggle, philosopher Aldous Huxley, novelist Erich Maria Remarque and essayist H.L. Mencken, whose attentions to "an insipid" blonde during one of those five-day train trips to California prompted her to write a poisonous portrait of revenge. It turned out to be the start of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
In Rome a Lady Jones introduced her privately to Mussolini, who was surprised to find that the talked-about American novelist ws a "bambina." The next day "Lady Jones phoned to demand $100 for having introduced me to Mussolini. Suddenly remembering Wilson Mizner's response in a like situation, I told her I was in the market to sell the introduction back to her at half the price, at which she slammed down the receiver and gave up."
Wilson Mizner, who had made his third fortune, Loos says, "selling Florida homesites that lay several inches beneath the blue Atlantic" was the inspiration for the Clark Gable character of "San Francisco," one of the lasting Loos screen plays.
For a husband Loos chose actor-writer-director John Emerson, twice her age and "who tried to take credit for my work." But: "My husband liberated me, granted me full freedom to choose my own companions. Had he so desired, my husband could have imprisoned me; and, because I am a schnook by nature, I wouldn't have complained. I might have accused John of ingratitude but I've always thought gratitude a rather swarmy virtue. Anyway, my husband's shenanigans made him a figure of fun; and so, torn between laughter and resentment, I opted for laughter."
This attitude made her one with Jean Harlow, for whom she'd write several movies, among them the blockbuster "Red-Headed Woman," which made fun of sex. After a Glendale preview Irving Thalberg suggested that Anita "contrive" a prologue suggesting that the stroy was intended to be laughed at and, thus reassured, audiences did laugh around the globe.
Of Jean she remarked: "Her raffish sense of humor was a resignation unusual for one so young. Nothing would ever surprise Jean. She knew exactly how people were going to react to her; if men were stupid, they'd fall for her; if they had good sense, they'd laugh her off."
Jean, Thalberg and Anita gossip: "How did you make out with Howard Hughes?' 'Well, one day when he was eating a cookie he offered me a bite.' When we laughed, Jan interrupted: 'Don't underestimate that,' she said. 'The poor guy's so frightened of germs it could darn near have been a proposal!'"
Now considered its Golden Age, the Hollywood '30s found Anita under contract to MGM for $2,500 a week. "Once, when I had no assignment, I knitted a scarf, which I estimated eventually cost MGM $20,000." Though her husband put it all in his own bank account, Loos laughs: "Movie money is like Hollywood spangles; it has a tendency to fall off and get lost."
It was a time when 12-year-old Judy Garland was a compulsive weeper. There are some characters who simply cannot endure success. Judy was one of them. "'Nobody loves me,' she would lament and she was such a good actress that all listeners were frequently impressed. But the more sardonic among us called Judy's tears a Hollywood bath . . . If my memories of her are few, it comes from lack of interest in a character who allowed her destiny to be ruled by petulance."
The blonde with the golden smile on some pages in Marion Davies, whose spirit Anita prefers to Judy's. Marion called her longtime lover William Randolph Hearst "Droopy Drawers," but pledged everything she owned to rescue his faltering newspaper empire.
Throughout you don't find Anita boasting or measuring intimate romantic liaisons. That vogue is not her style, which instead is timeless, detached and witty. Her comment is from another hero: "Americans have become decadent before they achieved culture."
When "an earnest TV moderator asked me for a hint on how to grow old gracefully, I thought what a cliche that is; the one thing on which I am an authority is how to grow old disgracefully."
She vitalizes her galleries of the glamorous as pithily in her 80s as she did for D.W. Griffith's "Macbeth," one credit for which read: "Subtitles by William Shakespeare and Anita Loos."
The 250-plus outsized pages of rare photographs and sharp text are published by Grosset and Dunlap for $19.95.