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Marlene Dietrich

[dee-trik, -trikh]

Marlene Dietrich ; (December 27 –May 6 ) was a German-born American actress, singer and entertainer. She is considered to be the first German actress to flourish in Hollywood.

Dietrich managed to remain popular by continually re-inventing herself throughout her long career. During the 1920s she began her work as a cabaret singer, chorus girl and film actress in Berlin. In the 1930s, she became a Hollywood actress, a World War II frontline entertainer, and then an international stage show performer from the 1950s to the 1970s. By the end of her career she had become an entertainment icon of the 20th century.

Childhood

Dietrich was born Marie Magdalene Dietrich on 27 December 1901 in Schöneberg, a district of Berlin, Germany. She was the younger of two daughters (her sister Elisabeth being a year older) of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Dietrich (née Felsing). Dietrich's mother was from a well-to-do Berlin family who owned a clockmaking firm and her father was a police lieutenant who had served in the Franco-Prussian War. Her father died in 1907. His best friend, Eduard von Losch, a first lieutenant in the Grenadiers courted Wilhelmina and eventually married her in 1916, but he died soon after as a result of injuries sustained during World War I.

Von Losch never officially adopted the Dietrich children, hence Dietrich's surname was never von Losch, as is sometimes claimed. She was nicknamed "Lene" (pronounced Lay-nay) within the family. Around the age of 11, she contracted her two first names to form the then-unusual name, Marlene.

Dietrich attended the Auguste Victoria School for Girls from 1906 to 1918. She studied the violin and became interested in the theatre and poetry as a teenager. Her dreams of becoming a concert violinist were cut short when she injured her wrist.

Early career

In 1921, Dietrich auditioned unsuccessfully for theatrical director and impressario Max Reinhardt's drama academy; however, she soon found herself working in his theatres as a chorus girl and playing small roles in dramas, without attracting any special attention at first.

Dietrich made her film debut playing a bit part in the film, So sind die Männer. She met her future husband, Rudolf Sieber, on the set of another film made that year, Tragödie der Liebe. In the G. W. Pabst film, Die freudlose Gasse the actress playing Elsa is Hertha von Walther (1903-1987), who looks very much like the young Marlene Dietrich, giving rise to the false rumor that Dietrich has a bit part in this film.

Dietrich and Sieber were married on 17 May 1924. Her only child, daughter Maria Elisabeth Sieber, later billed as actress Maria Riva, was born on 13 December 1924.

Dietrich continued to work on stage and in film both in Berlin and Vienna throughout the 1920s. On stage, she had roles of varying importance in Frank Wedekind's Pandora's Box, William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night's Dream as well as George Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah and Misalliance. It was in musicals and revues, such as Broadway, Es Liegt in der Luft and Zwei Krawatten, however, that she attracted the most attention.

By the late 1920s, Dietrich was also playing sizable parts on screen - the most notable films being Café Electric Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame and Das Schiff der verlorenen Menschen ().

In , Dietrich landed the breakthrough role of Lola-Lola, a cabaret singer who causes the downfall of a hitherto respected schoolmaster, in UFA's production, The Blue Angel (). The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg, who thereafter took credit for having "discovered" Dietrich. The film is also noteworthy for having introduced Dietrich's signature song "Falling in Love Again".

Film star

On the strength of The Blue Angel's international success, and with encouragement and promotion from von Sternberg, who was already established in Hollywood, Dietrich then moved to the U.S. on contract to Paramount Pictures. The studio sought to market Dietrich as a German answer to MGM's Swedish sensation, Greta Garbo. Her first American film, Morocco, directed by von Sternberg, earned Dietrich her only Oscar nomination. Dietrich's most lasting contribution to film history was as the star of a series of six films directed by von Sternberg at Paramount between and : Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, and The Devil is a Woman. In Hollywood, von Sternberg worked very effectively with Dietrich to create the image of a glamorous femme fatale. He encouraged her to lose weight and coached her intensively as an actress – she, in turn, was willing to trust him and follow his sometimes imperious direction in a way that a number of other performers resisted. A crucial part of the overall effect was created by von Sternberg's exceptional skill in lighting and photographing Dietrich to optimum effect — the use of light and shadow, including the impact of light passed through a veil or slatted blinds (as for example in Shanghai Express) — which, when combined with scrupulous attention to all aspects of set design and costumes, make this series of films among the most visually stylish in cinema history. Critics still debate vigorously how much of the credit belonged to von Sternberg and how much to Dietrich, but most would agree that neither consistently reached such heights again after Paramount fired von Sternberg and the two ceased to work together.

Without von Sternberg, Dietrich -- along with Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn and others -- was labeled "box office poison" after her film, Knight Without Armour, proved an expensive flop. In , however, her stardom revived when she played the cowboy saloon girl Frenchie in the light-hearted western Destry Rides Again opposite James Stewart. The movie also introduced another favorite song, "The Boys in the Back Room". She played a similar role in with John Wayne in The Spoilers.

While Dietrich arguably never fully regained her former screen glory, she continued performing in the movies, including appearances for such distinguished directors as Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, in successful films that included A Foreign Affair, Witness for the Prosecution, Touch of Evil, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Stage Fright.

World War II

In interviews, Dietrich stated that she had been approached by representatives of the Nazi Party to return to Germany, but had turned them down flat. Dietrich became an American citizen in 1939.

In December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to raise war bonds. She entertained troops on the front lines in a USO revue that included future TV pioneer Danny Thomas as her opening act. Dietrich was known to have strong political convictions and the mind to speak them. Like many Weimar-era German entertainers, she was a staunch anti-Nazi who despised antisemitism.

Dietrich recorded a number of anti-Nazi records in German for the OSS, including Lili Marleen. She also played the musical saw to entertain troops. She sang for the Allied troops on the front lines in Algeria and France, and went into Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton. When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometers of German lines, she replied, "aus Anstand" — "it was the decent thing to do."

The U.S. Government awarded Marlene Dietrich the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her war work. Dietrich has been quoted as saying this was the honor of which she was most proud in her life. She was also made a chevalier (later commandeur) of the Légion d'honneur by the French government.

Recordings

Dietrich had a smoky and world-weary singing voice which she used to great effect in many of her films, on records and later during her world-wide concert tours. Kenneth Tynan called her voice her "third dimension." Ernest Hemingway thought that "if she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it.

Dietrich's recording career spanned over half a century. Prior to international stardom, she recorded a duet, "Wenn die Beste Freundin", with Margo Lion. This song, with its lesbian overtones, was a hit in Berlin in 1928.

In , Dietrich recorded English and German-language selections from her film, Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), for Electrola in Berlin. It was at this time that she recorded Frederick Hollander's "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)" for the first time — it would become her theme song, to be sung in thousands of concerts and forever identified with her – although she personally hated it.

A Parisian recording session for Polydor produced several classic tracks, including Franz Waxman's "Allein in Einer Grossen Stadt." Dietrich recorded "The Boys in the Back Room" from Destry Rides Again for Decca Records in . In , she recorded her version of "Lili Marleen".

Dietrich signed with Columbia Records in the 1950s, with Mitch Miller as her producer. The LP Marlene Dietrich Overseas, with Dietrich singing German translations of American songs of the World War II era, was a hit. She also recorded several duets with Rosemary Clooney; these tapped into a younger market and charted.

During the 1960s, Dietrich recorded several albums and many singles, mostly with Burt Bacharach at the helm of the orchestra. Dietrich in London, recorded live at the Queen's Theatre in 1964, is an enduring document of Dietrich in concert. In , Dietrich taped a television special, An Evening With Marlene Dietrich – also known as I Wish You Love – at the New London Theatre in London: the concert was re-released, with bonus material, as a 75-minute DVD in 2003.

In , Dietrich's performance of the title track from her last film, Just a Gigolo, was issued as a single. She made her last recordings from her Paris apartment in 1987: spoken introductions to songs for a nostalgia album by Udo Lindenberg.

Asked by Maximillian Schell in his documentary, Marlene (1984), which of her own recordings were her favorites, Dietrich replied that she thought Marlene Singt Berlin-Berlin - an album featuring her singing old Berlin schlager (popular songs) - was her best-recorded work.

Stage and cabaret

From the early 1950s until the mid-1970s, Dietrich worked almost exclusively as a highly-paid cabaret artist, performing live in large theaters in major cities worldwide.

In 1953, Dietrich was offered a then-substantial $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. The show was short, consisting only of a few songs associated with her. Her daringly sheer costumes, designed by Jean Louis, attracted a lot of publicity and attention. This engagement was so successful that she was signed to appear at the Cafė de Paris in London the following year, and her Las Vegas contracts were also renewed. It was the start of a new phase in Dietrich's career.

When Dietrich signed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger in the mid-1950s, her show started to evolve from a mere nightclub act to a more ambitious one-woman show featuring an array of new material. Her repertoire included songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. Bacharach's arrangements helped to disguise Dietrich's limited vocal range – she was a contralto – and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect.

Dietrich's return to Germany in 1960 for a concert tour elicited a mixed response. Many Germans felt she had betrayed her homeland by her actions during World War II. During her performances at Berlin's Titania Palast theatre, protesters chanted, "Marlene Go Home!" On the other hand, Dietrich was warmly welcomed by other Germans, including Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt. The tour was an artistic triumph, but a financial failure. She also undertook a tour of Israel around the same time, which was well-received; she sang some songs in German during her concerts, including a German version of Pete Seeger's anti-war anthem "Where Have All the Flowers Gone", thus breaking the unofficial taboo against the use of German in Israel.

Dietrich appeared at the Edinburgh Festival, with Bacharach as conductor, in 1964 and 1965 and made appearances on Broadway twice (1967 and 1968), winning a special Tony Award for her performance. Her costumes (body-hugging dresses covered with thousands of crystals as well as a swansdown coat), body-sculpting undergarments, careful stage lighting helped to preserve Dietrich's glamorous image well into old age.

In November 1972, a version of the show Dietrich had performed on Broadway was filmed in London. She was paid $250,000 for her cooperation, but Dietrich was unhappy with the result. The show, originally titled I Wish You Love, was broadcast in the UK on the BBC on 1 January 1973 and in the US on CBS on 13 January 1973. The show was retitled An Evening With Marlene Dietrich for the later VHS and DVD releases.

Final years

Dietrich's show business career largely ended on 29 September 1975, when she broke her leg during a stage performance in Sydney, Australia. She appeared briefly in the film, Just a Gigolo, in , and wrote and contributed to several books during the 1980s.

Dietrich spent her last decade mostly bedridden, in her apartment at no. 12 avenue Montaigne in Paris, during which time she was rarely seen in public but was a prolific letter-writer and phone-caller. It was widely assumed that Marlene had lost the ability to walk, but at this juncture of her life, she just preferred not to. Maximilian Schell persuaded Dietrich to be interviewed for his documentary Marlene, but she did not appear on screen. She began a close friendship with the biographer David Bret, one of the few people allowed inside her Paris apartment. Bret is thought to have been the last person outside her family that Dietrich spoke to, two days before her death: "I have called to say that I love you, and now I may die." She was in constant contact with her daughter, who came to Paris regularly to check on her. Her husband, Rudolf Sieber, had died of cancer on 24 June 1976.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2005, Dietrich's daughter and grandson claim that Dietrich was politically active during these years. She would keep contact with world leaders by telephone, including Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, running up a monthly bill of over US$3,000.

Dietrich died peacefully of renal failure on 6 May 1992 at the age of 90 in Paris. A service was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris before 3,500 mourners and a crowd of well-wishers outside. Her body, covered with an American flag, was then returned to Berlin, where she was interred at the Städtischer Friedhof III, Berlin-Schöneberg, Stubenrauchstraße 43-45, in Friedenau Cemetery, near her mother's grave and not far away from the house where she was born.

Private life

Unlike her professional celebrity, which was carefully crafted and maintained, Dietrich's personal life was kept out of public view. She married once, to assistant director Rudolf Sieber, a Roman Catholic who later became an assistant director at Paramount Pictures in France, responsible for foreign language dubbing.

Dietrich's only child, Maria Elisabeth Sieber, was born in Berlin on 13 December 1924. She would later become an actress, primarily working in television, known as Maria Riva. When Maria gave birth to a son in 1948, Dietrich was dubbed "the world's most glamorous grandmother". After Dietrich's death, Riva published a frank biography of her mother.

In 1938, Dietrich met and began a relationship with the writer Erich Maria Remarque, and in 1941, the French actor and military hero Jean Gabin. Their relationship ended in the mid 1940s. She was also known to have had an affair with the Cuban-American writer Mercedes de Acosta, who also had affairs with Greta Garbo, according to de Acosta's autobiography Here Lies the Heart (). Dietrich's husband and his mistress, both of whom she stayed in touch with, lived on a small ranch in the San Fernando Valley, California.

Marlene considered the Mexican actress Dolores del Rio as "The most beautiful woman in Hollywood", and was a big fan of the legendary Mexican star, according to Dietrich's daughter.

Actor Klaus Kinski depicted Dietrich as a lesbian in his autobiography Kinski: All I Need Is Love. For this reason, the book was withdrawn from circulation until her death. According to Werner Herzog's documentary My Best Fiend on his relationship with Kinski, the latter's autobiography was largely fabricated to generate sales.

In Michael Freedland's biography of Maurice Chevalier, Janie Michels quoted Chevalier telling Dietrich, "Marlinou, you are the queen of the quick story." "Yes, you were in love with me," Marlene replied, "but as soon as you could, you left me." "No, Marlinou, I'll never forgive you for preferring Jean Gabin to me." "Ah," she returned. "Jean is so French. But it was not Jean or you. I had but one love in my life and this love was never realized. It was for Orson Welles. He is the love of my life, but he never realized our love. Every time I know Orson is free, I ring him and say, "Orson, this is for us." He would always reply, "Marlene, too late. I have a new one."

Estate

On October 24, 1993, the largest portion of Dietrich's estate was sold to the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek — after U.S. institutions showed no interest — where it became the core of the exhibition at the Filmmuseum Berlin. The collection includes: over 3,000 textile items from the 1920s through the 1990s, including film and stage costumes as well as over a thousand items from Dietrich's personal wardrobe; 15,000 photographs, by Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, George Hurrell, Lord Snowdon, Eugene Robert Richee, and Edward Steichen; 300,000 pages of documents, including correspondence with Burt Bacharach, Yul Brynner, Maurice Chevalier, Noel Coward, Jean Gabin, Ernest Hemingway, Karl Lagerfeld, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Erich Maria Remarque, Josef von Sternberg, Orson Welles, and Billy Wilder; as well as other items like film posters and sound recordings.

The contents of Dietrich's Manhattan apartment, along with other personal effects such as jewelry and items of clothing, were sold by public auction by Sotheby's (Los Angeles) on November 1, 1997. The apartment itself (located at 993 Park Avenue) was sold for $615,000 in 1998.

Image and legacy

Dietrich was a fashion icon to the top designers as well as a screen icon that later stars would follow. She once said, "I dress for myself. Not for the image, not for the public, not for the fashion, not for men." Her public image and some of her movies included strong sexual undertones, including bisexuality.

A significant volume of academic literature, especially since 1975, analyzes Dietrich's image, as created by the movie industry, within various theoretical frameworks, including that of psycho-analysis. Emphasis is placed, inter alia, on the "fetishistic" manipulation of the female image.

In 1992, a plaque was unveiled at Leberstraße 65 in Berlin-Schöneberg, the site of Dietrich's birth.

A postage stamp bearing Dietrich's portrait was issued in Germany on 14 August 1997.

Luxury pen manufacturer MontBlanc produced a limited edition 'Marlene Dietrich' pen to commemorate Dietrich's life. It is platinum-plated and has an encrusted deep blue sapphire.

After some controversy, it was decided not to name a street after Dietrich in Berlin-Schöneberg, her birthplace. Rather, on 8 November 1997, the Marlene-Dietrich-Platz was unveiled in Berlin to honor Dietrich.

Dietrich was made an honorary citizen of Berlin on 16 May 2002.

Filmography

Discography (selected)

Albums

  • : Marlene Dietrich Overseas
  • : Live at the Café de Paris
  • : Dietrich in Rio
  • : Wiedersehen mit Marlene
  • : Marlene singt Berlin
  • 1964: Die neue Marlene
  • 1964: Dietrich in LondonCompilations (selected)
  • : Souvenir Album
  • : M.D. Live 1932-1952
  • : Lil Marlene
  • : Marlene Dietrich
  • : The Best of Marlene Dietrich
  • : Das war mein Milljöh
  • : Her Complete Decca Recordings
  • : The Marlene Dietrich Album
  • 1992: Art Deco Marlene Dietrich
  • : Marlene Dietrich with the Burt Bacharach Orchestra

Singles (selected)

  • : Wenn die beste Freundin
  • 1928: Es liegt in der Luft
  • : Nimm Dich in acht vor blonden Frauen
  • 1930: Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt
  • 1930: Falling in Love Again
  • 1930: Ich bin die fesche Lola
  • 1930: Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte
  • 1930: Kinder, heut' abend, da such' ich mir was aus
  • : Leben ohne Liebe kannst du nicht
  • 1931: Give Me the Man
  • 1931: Peter
  • 1931: Quand L´Amour meuret
  • 1931: Johnny, wenn du Geburtstag hast
  • : Mein blondes Baby
  • 1933: Ja so bin ich
  • 1933: Allein in einer großen Stadt
  • 1933: Wo ist der Mann?
  • : The Boys in the Backroom
  • : Lili Marleen (English version)
  • : Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin
  • : Lili Marleen (German version)
  • : Sag mir wo die Blumen sind
  • : Für alles kommt die Zeit
  • : Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind
  • 1964: Der Trommelmann
  • : Such Trying Times
  • : Still war die Nacht
  • : Just a Gigolo

Radio

Notable appearances include:

  • Lux Radio Theater: The Legionnaire and the Lady opposite Clark Gable (1 August 1936)
  • Lux Radio Theater: Desire opposite Herbert Marshall (22 July 1937)
  • Lux Radio Theater: song of Songs opposite Douglas Fairbanks, Jr (20 December 1937)
  • The Chase and Sanborn Program with Edgar Bergen and Don Ameche (2 June 1938)
  • Lux Radio Theater: Manpower opposite Edward G Robinson and George Raft (15 March 1942)
  • The Gulf Screen Guild Theater: Pittsburgh opposite John Wayne (12 April 1943)
  • Theatre Guild on the Air: Grand Hotel opposite Ray Milland (24 March 1948)
  • Studio One: Arabesque (29 June 1948)
  • Theatre Guild on the Air: The Letter opposite Walter Pidgeon (3 October 1948)
  • Ford Radio Theater: Madame Bovary opposite Claude Rains (8 October 1948)
  • Screen Director's Playhouse: A Foreign Affair opposite Rosalind Russell and John Lund (5 March 1949)
  • MGM Theatre of the Air: Anna Karenina (9 December 1949)
  • MGM Theatre of the Air: Camille (6 June 1950)
  • Lux Radio Theater: No Highway in the Sky opposite James stewart (21 April 1952)
  • Screen Director's Playhouse: A Foreign Affair opposite Lucille Ball and John Lund (1 March 1951)
  • The Big Show starring Tallullah Bankhead (2 October 1951)
  • The Child, with Godfrey Kenton, radio play produced by Richard Imison for BBC on 18 August 1965
  • Dietrich's appeal to save the Babelsburg studios was broadcast on BBC radio

Dietrich made several appearances on Armed Forces Radio Services shows like The Army Hour and Command Performance during the war years. In 1952, she had her own series on ABC entitled, Cafe Istanbul. During 1953 - 1954, she starred in 38 episodes of Time for Love on CBS. She recorded 94 short inserts, "Dietrich Talks on Love and Life", for NBC's Monitor in 1958.

Dietrich gave many radio interviews worldwide on her concert tours. In 1960, her show at the Tuschinski in Amsterdam was broadcast live on Dutch radio. Her 1962 appearance at the Olympia in Paris was also broadcast.

Television

Complete list of television appearances (excluding news footage):

  • Unicef Gala (Düsseldorf, 1962): Guest Appearance
  • Cirque d' Hiver (Paris, 9 March 1963): Cameo as "Garcon de Piste"
  • Deutsche-Schlager-Festspiele (Baden-Baden, 1963): Guest Appearance
  • Grand Gala du Disque (Edison Awards) (The Hague, 1963): Guest Appearance
  • Galakväll pa Berns (Stockholm, 1963): Concert, with introduction by Karl Gerhardt and orchestra conducted by Burt Bacharach
  • Royal Variety Performance (London, 4 November 1963): Guest Appearance
  • The Stars Shine for Jack Hylton (London, 1965): Guest Appearance
  • The Magic of Marlene (Melbourne, October 1965): Concert, with orchestra conducted by William Blezard.
  • The 22nd Annual Tony Awards (New York, 21 April 1968): Acceptance Speech
  • Guest Star Marlene Dietrich (Copenhagen - for Swedish Television, 1970): Interview
  • I Wish You Love (An Evening with Marlene Dietrich) (London, 23 & 24 November 1972): Concert TV Special, with orchestra conducted by Stan Freeman.

In pop culture

Films

References

Notes

Bibliography

Books by Dietrich

  • Dietrich, Marlene and Attanasio, Salvator (translator) (1989). "Marlene". Grove Press. ISBN 0-802-11117-3
  • Dietrich, Marlene (1962). "Marlene Dietrich's ABC". Doubleday.
  • Dietrich, Marlene and Helnwein, Gottfried [Conception and photographs] (1990). "Some Facts About Myself". Edition Cantz Some Facts About Myself, Marlene Dietrich, Gottfried Helnwein, Edition Cantz, 1990. ISBN 3-89322-226-X

Biographies

  • Bach, Steven (1992). Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-42553-8
  • Bret, David (1993). Marlene, My Friend. Robson, London
  • McLellan, Diana (2001). The Girls : Sappho Goes to Hollywood. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-28320-2.
  • Riva, Maria (1994). Marlene Dietrich. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38645-0.
  • Riva, David J. (2006). A Woman at War: Marlene Dietrich Remembered. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3249-8.
  • Spoto, Donald (1992). Blue Angel: The Life of Marlene Dietrich. William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0-688-07119-8

External links

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