She was born Corinne Anita Loos in Sisson, California, though the family lived in Etna, the second child of Richard Beers Loos (October 4, 1860-March 6, 1944) and Minnie Ellen Smith (September 16, 1859-October 9, 1938). Her brother and sister were H. Clifford Loos (October 23, 1882-August 29, 1960) and Gladys A. Loos (February 22, 1891-April 13, 1901). Her brother, Clifford, became a physician and was cofounder of Ross-Loos Medical Group in Los Angeles.
Her father was a journalist, humorist, editor and later screenwriter. The family moved to San Francisco in 1892, where R. Beers Loos, as he was known, ran a tabloid paper. Anita and her sister started acting on stage at an early age. In 1897, they performed in the San Francisco stock company production of Quo Vadis. In 1900, the family was enumerated on the Federal census in San Francisco. They later moved to San Diego, where they were enumerated in the census of 1910.
Read 1920s magazine articles about Anita Loos, presented free from Arizona State University. In 1912, Loos began writing scenarios and screenplays for pioneer movie director D.W. Griffith. Her first screenplay, The New York Hat, was produced for Biograph starring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore. The Douglas Fairbanks movie His Picture in the Paper (1916) was noted for its wry style of discursive and witty subtitles. Its success persuaded Griffith to have Loos write subtitles for his epic Intolerance (1916). She also went to New York City for the first time to attend the premiere.
Loos had two husbands, Frank Pallma, Jr. (married in 1915-divorced in May 1919) and writer and director, John Emerson (married from June 15, 1919 until his death on March 7, 1956).
Pallma was the son of the band conductor of outdoor concerts at the Hotel del Coronado. Loos and he were together for only a short time. She filed for divorce in May 1918 in Los Angeles, but it took a full year to be finalized.
Besides being her husband, Emerson was a frequent collaborator. They moved to New York and began writing and producing their own movies, notably A Virtuous Vamp (1919), The Perfect Woman (1920), Dangerous Business (1920), Polly of the Follies (1922) and Learning to Love (1925).
They also collaborated on two books, Breaking Into the Movies (1919) and How to Write Photoplays (1921), and on Broadway plays, the first being The Whole Town's Talking (1923) at the Bijou Theatre.
With the advent of the talkies, she went from writing screenplays and subtitles for silent movies to screenplays with dialogue for such classics as Red-Headed Woman (1932) starring Jean Harlow; San Francisco (1936) starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy; The Women (1939), adapted from the play by Clare Booth Luce, starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell; Susan and God (1940) starring Crawford, Fredric March and Ruth Hussey; and I Married an Angel (1942) starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
On her own, Loos wrote Happy Birthday, which opened at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1946 starring Helen Hayes. She also dramatized two of the French writer Colette's novels, Gigi (1951), which opened at the Fulton Theatre starring Audrey Hepburn, and Chéri (1959), which opened at the Morosco Theatre starring Kim Stanley.
Loos is perhaps best known for her short novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925), a satirical view of a "dumb blonde" showgirl from Arkansas out to get a rich husband. It was an overnight bestseller and was translated into fourteen languages, even serialized into Chinese. Her stage adaptation opened on Broadway in 1926 and later toured successfully. In 1949, a hit musical opened on Broadway, which she and Joseph Fields wrote the book for. A silent movie was made in 1928 starring Ruth Taylor and Alice White, which Loos also wrote the subtitles for, and a sound version was made in 1953 starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, which was adapted by Charles Lederer and directed by Howard Hawks.
She wrote a sequel entitled But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1928), which was also successful. Both of these Jazz Age classics are amusing period pieces, written as the diaries of a flapper who travels to Europe, meets everyone and returns to the United States to marry a millionaire. The movie version, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, was made in 1957 starring Jane Russell and Jeanne Crain.
Loos also wrote for Harper's Bazaar and Vanity Fair, among other periodicals, and was a regular contributor to The New Yorker.
She wrote several books of reminiscences about Hollywood and the movie colony, including her successful memoirs A Girl Like I (1966) and Kiss Hollywood Goodbye (1974), which contain anecdotes about actress Louise Brooks and other personalities of the "roaring" '20s. Her 1972 book Twice Over Lightly: New York Then and Now was written in collaboration with friend and actress Helen Hayes. And her book The Talmadge Girls (1978) is about the actress sisters Constance Talmadge and Norma Talmadge.
In 1921, Loos was among the first to join the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought for women to preserve their maiden names after marriage.
Asked how to say her name, she told The Literary Digest "The family has always used the correct French pronunciation which is lohse. However, I myself pronounce my name as if it were spelled luce, since most people pronounce it that way and it was too much trouble to correct them." (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)
She once commented. "I've had my best times when trailing a Mainbocher evening gown across a sawdust floor. I've always loved high style in low company." Anita Loos died in New York City at the age of 92 from natural causes. She is interred in Etna Cemetery, Etna, California, with her second husband, John Emerson, her parents, her brother and sister, and maternal relatives.