Theatre Time Machine: Looking Back at Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Though it isn’t produced anywhere near as much as it should be, Jule Styne, Leo Robin, Joseph Fields and Anita Loos’s Gentleman Prefer Blondes was a wonderfully delicious satire in its time and it served up a frothy, delectable score that counted amongst its many standards, the show-stopping “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The musical, about a platinum-crowned, gold-digger named Lorelei Lee and her escapades to find herself a rich husband, made a star out of Carol Channing who would go on to become one of Broadway’s most enduring divas. The musical was based on Anita Loos’s best-selling novel of the same name.
Here are some interesting facts about Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes opened at Broadway’s Ziegfeld Theatre on December 9, 1949 and ran for 740 performances.
- Book writers Joseph Field and Anita Loos could not stand working with each other. During rehearsals, they sat on opposite sides of theatre and director John C. Wilson had to move back and forth between the two writers, listen to what each had to say, then synthesize their feedback into a result that was agreeable to all.
- Though the producers initially wanted a big star for the role of Lorelei Lee, they were so impressed with the wackiness and original interpretation of Carol Channing that, after going in circles for month, and after auditioning countless other “blondes”, they kept coming back to her.
- The 1953 film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes stars Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee. Monroe had trouble with some of the notes in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, so singing voiceover extraordinaire Marni Nixon was brought in to handle what Monroe could not. The final result: the song is split between the two voices.
- The song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” became a big hit, especially with Monroe’s film version and it enjoyed a renaissance in 2001 when Nicole Kidman performed it in the film Moulin Rouge. Other songs in the score that saw many recordings include “Bye, Bye, Baby” and I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock.”
- A quasi-revival of the musical was produced on Broadway in 1974 under the title Lorelei. It was essentially the same story as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but told in flashback by the title character, thus creating an opportunity to once again cast Carol Channing. Kenny Solms and Gail Parent created an updated book and some additional songs were written by Styne, Adolph Green and Betty Comden. The revival ran at Broadway’s Palace Theatre for 321 performances. Channing was nominated for a Tony Award for her reprisal as Lorelei Lee.