When refreshing about Anita Loos for my post on the writer, I stumbled across a reference in Pamela Hutchinson‘s excellent silent film column Silent but Deadly! about a casting that almost was–Louise Brooks as Dorothy Shaw.
Louise was the studio’s choice to appear in the first screen adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928). If she had been cast, this would have been her third film working with director Malcolm St. Clair. Louise had acted for him in two prior films, The Show Off (1926) and A Social Celebrity (1926). Instead another film was their third pairing.
Even though Louise’s The Show Off character was a Lorelei, the Dorothy casting wouldn’t have been against type. The character was a chooser of the road less travelled. While Lorelei pursued men with status, money, and jewels, Dorothy romanced who attracted her for himself, whether he was a writer, tennis player, or ballroom dancer, and she ended up having adventures like meeting the Prince of Wales and teaching him American slang. Everything depended on whom was cast as Miss Lee for Louise to appear the more romantic, less scheming, and in her own way, less conventional one.
Louise got as far as the screen test, which she bombed. Anita Loos viewed the test, and she was bitingly honest to the actress saying, “If I ever write a part for a cigar-store Indian, you will get it.” Likely due to lasting bitterness at losing such a high profile part, Louise “was partly responsible for the low regard that St. Clair’s films later fell into.” During her late in life rediscovery by cinephiles, she would tell interviewers what a terrible director he was, but she was critical of most of her directors.
We’ll never know what kind of Dorothy Louise would’ve been once she relaxed into the role, and we have to read period reviews to know how the movie turned out. It’s a presumed lost film. It earned lukewarm reviews in which the cast were more praised than the project. Motion Picture News‘ critic Laurence Reid said it was missing “the sparkle of the book and the play.” We’ve the above picture of Louise to taunt us with the film that could’ve been, one we’d likely be lamenting as lost. Maybe we’d even be claiming that as Flaming Youth is to Colleen Moore, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is to Louise Brooks.