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.”
“This book investigates the powerful yet previously overlooked connections between the rarely credited women who wrote, cowrote, influenced, and profited from the adaptation industry and popular culture depictions of femininity and whiteness. For historians of the early twentieth century, especially those interested in the intersections among theatre, film, magazine/serial, and book culture, it’s a crucial addition.”—Jane Barnette, author, Adapturgy: The Dramaturg’s Art and Theatrical Adaptation
“Wood skillfully reveals the interplay of gender and adaptation, illustrating the various societal and industrial forces that have contained, controlled, or curtailed the contributions of women. Nearly a century later, many of the thorny issues regarding constructions of femininity persist. Her work offers a potential methodology for exploring the shifting constraints and opportunities for women artists in other periods of history or in contemporary culture.”—Christine Woodworth, coeditor, Working in the Wings: New Perspectives on Theatre History and Labor
“Commendably thorough, meticulously documented, Women Adapting encourages readers to think in new ways about the status of female authors in a literary marketplace dominated by men, about the kinds of authorship represented by solitary writers, variously willing collaborators, and active competitors, and about the propriety of discussing movies and plays no longer available for viewing.”—Thomas Leitch, author, The History of American Literature on Film
Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2019