When most of us hear the title Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, we think of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s iconic film performance. Few, however, are aware that the movie was based on Anita Loos’s 1925 comic novel by the same name. What does it mean, Women Adapting asks, to translate a Jazz Age blockbuster from book to film or stage? What adjustments are necessary and what, if anything, is lost?
Bethany Wood examines three well-known stories that debuted as women’s magazine serials—Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, and Edna Ferber’s Show Boat—and traces how each of these beloved narratives traveled across publishing, theatre, and film through adaptation. She documents the formation of adaptation systems and how they involved women’s voices and labor in modern entertainment in ways that have been previously underappreciated. What emerges is a picture of a unique window of time in the early decades of the twentieth century, when women in entertainment held influential positions in production and management. These days, when filmic adaptations seem endless and perhaps even unoriginal, Women Adapting challenges us to rethink the popular platitude, “The book is always better than the movie.”