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Dietrich, Marlene

Marlene Dietrich

Actress, singer

For the Record

Dietrich the Hollywood Star

Entertained the Troops

The Chanteuse

Selected films

Selected discography

Selected Writings


Marlene Dietrichs recording career extended over half a century for singing was always part of her acting career. Her first songs, for the German movie Es liegt in der Luft, (Theres Something in the Air), were recorded in 1928 and the soundtrack of her last film Just a Gigolo, which included her last musical offerings, was released in 1978. Although she first became famous as an actress, this fame made it easy for Marlene Dietrich to start a second career as chanteuse while she was in her fifties and film offers were becoming scarce. Capitalizing on her image as femme fatale, she performed in night clubs and theaters around the world for over two decades, and her musical work was documented in numerous recordings.

Dietrichs voice, with a range of a mere one-and-a-half-octaves, was not that of a great singer. However, she made up for her technical limitations through inventive phrasing and by avoiding sustained notes. She dramatized her shows with theatrical elements such as extraordinary costumes, lighting and movement. Her dusky, accented vocals complemented the heavy-lidded character she assumed on stage, wrote Colin Escott in the liner notes to My Greatest Songs. She flirted with the limits of on-stage eroticism, hinting at a strangely androgynous sexuality, wrote Escott. With her mixture of intelligence and eroticism, Dietrich created a modern female prototype with a good deal more independence than the traditional stereotype. And she was versatile. One of her less well known musical skills was her ability to play various songs on a saw with a violin bow.

Born in Berlin in 1901 as Marie Magdalene Dietrich into a well-to-do family, Dietrich received a good education. At the young age of 13, Dietrich merged her two names into Marlene and created her stage name. Her father Louis, an officer in the Royal Prussian Police, died while Dietrich was still in school. Her mother Wilhelmina remarried, but her new husband, Colonel Eduard von Losch, died from wounds received in World War I when Dietrich was 17.

In 1919, Dietrich enrolled at the Weimar Konservatorium and began studying violin. She loved the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and eagerly practiced his solo sonatas. Was it because of a wrist injury, or because she was not accepted for further study at the Weimar Academy, or was it an offer to join the chorus line in a burlesque revue? Whatever the reason, Dietrich moved back to Berlin and dived into the Berlin theater scene where she encountered Claire Waldoff, a lesbian entertainer who performed in mens clothes. When she was 21, Dietrich married Rudolph Sieber, the casting director for a German movie in which she played a bit part. A year later, she gave birth to her daughter Maria.

For the Record

Born Maria Magdalene Dietrich December 27, 1901, in Berlin, Germany; died May 6, 1992, in Paris, France; daughter of Louis Erich Otto (police officer) and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing; second of two daughters; married Rudolf Sieber (casting director), 1923; daughter Maria (born 1924); became American citizen in 1939; Education: attended Auguste Victoria School for Girls, 1906-18; studied violin at the Weimar Konservatorium, 1919; attended Max Reinhard Drama School beginning in 1922; studied violin at the Weimar Konservatorium, 1919; returned to Berlin and studied acting under innovative director Max Reinhard in Berlin.

Joined Reinhards theater company and played minor roles in 17 German movies, 1922-29; cut her first record, 1926; got her first starring role in Ship of Lost Men, directed by Maurice Tourneur, 1927; became an international star as nightclub singer Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel, directed by Josef von Sternberg, 1930; Academy Award nomination for her acting in Morocco, 1930; moved to Hollywood with von Sternberg and worked with him in six more movies 1931-1935; acted in numerous movies under various directors for Paramount, Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and other production firms, 1936-43; performed in war bond tours and worked on radio broadcasts for war effort, 1943; first performed Lili Marlene during North Africa U.S.O. tour, 1943; performed over 500 times before Allied troops, 1943-46; appeared in various movies, 1946-1961, including A Foreign Affair, 1948, Stage Fright, 1950, Witness for the Prosecution, 1957, Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961; performed first show as night club singer at Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas, 1953; toured as a concert and cabaret singer until 1975: toured Germany and Israel, 1960; Russia in 1964; Broadway in 1967; and the World Exposition in Montreal June, 1967; oother activities during the 1960s and 1970s included: narrator in Hitler-documentary The Black Fox, 1962; first TV special I Wish You Love directed by Alexander Cohen, 1972; withdrew from public life after a stage accident in Sydney, Australia, 1975; last appearance in the movie Just a Gigolo, 1978; Dietrichs autobiography published in Germany, 1987; English version Marlene published in the United States, 1989.

Awards: Legion dHonneur, France; Medal of Freedom, American Defense Department; honored on a German postage stamp in 1997.

Dietrich had minor roles in 17 movies before film director Josef von Sternberg choose her to co-star with Emil Jannings in the American/German co-production The Blue Angel. That role as seductive nightclub singer Lola Lola lures a conservative schoolteacher to ruin, panted the seed for her future image as an actressand as a person. One of Lolas songs, Falling in Love Again composed by Frederick Hollander, was Dietrichs first and most legendary song.

Dietrich the Hollywood Star

Sternberg could see Dietrichs potential as a new type of sex symbol and, after Paramount offered her a two-movie deal based only on a screen test, he persuaded her to go to Hollywood with him. From von Sternberg Dietrich learned about moviemaking and the importance of her image. She was an instant hit in America. She continued to wear mens clothing occasionally as she had done in Berlin. At first it was considered scandalous, but before long it became fashionable among American women. Dietrich was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Morocco, another von Sternberg production, but did not win the coveted Oscar. Dietrich acted in six more von Sternberg movies until 1935. The last few flopped. In 1937, Paramount canceled Dietrichs contract and, before a year was out, she had been labeled box-office poison. Marlene Dietrichs Hollywood career seemed to be over.

With the rowdy western Destry Rides Again from 1939, produced by Universals Joe Pasternak, Dietrichs image took a radical turn. Once the stylish super-mannequin image Sternberg had created for her was no longer in demand, Dietrich made her comeback as a comedienne. In her role as a bartender, she earned less than twenty percent of what she had earned just two years earlier and sang several of her later most successful songs, such as See What the Boys in the Back Room will Have. After her revival as a comedienne, Dietrich played various film roles until 1942.

Entertained the Troops

The same year Hitler started World War II, Dietrich became an American citizen. After Allied troops began fighting the Nazis in World War II, Dietrich, starting in 1943, went on tours organized by the United Service Organizations (U.S.O.), dedicated to providing entertainment and recreation for American servicemen in the field. On her North African tour in 1943, she introduced one of her most famous songs. Lili Marlene was originally a German marching song which the British Eighth Army had adopted as their own, for which Dietrich later wrote new lyrics. Dietrich found creative ways to boost the morale of the troops she was entertaining. For example, she would judge who had the best legs of the soldiers she was performing for, or she would play the musical saw. Dietrich also helped in base hospitals and soldiers mess halls. She also participated in radio broadcasts aimed against Germany.

In February of 1945, at battle lines, with the Ninth Army, she ignored every discomfort, insisted on the common soldiers diet and clothes, and was a source of endless comfort and pride to the troops, wrote Donald Spoto in Falling in Love Again. Dietrich entered Germany with the Allied troops and eventually met her mother again in Berlin. Despite Dietrichs packages of food and medicine, her mother died of heart failure in November of 1945. For her unprecedented work during the war, Dietrich was honored with the French medal Légion dHonneur and with the Medal of Freedom, the highest award a civilian could receive from the American Defense Department.

The Chanteuse

After World War II, Dietrich acted again, more or less successfully, in various movies. She made A Foreign Affair with Billy Wilder in 1948, a film which included some unvarnished scenes of the post-war black market. The film also produced some of Dietrichs most famous songs such as Black Market, and Illusions. Like many of her songs since the 1930s, they were composed and accompanied by Frederick Hollander. In 1950, Dietrich worked with Alfred Hitchcock in his comic thriller Stage Fright. As a singing actress with an international reputation, she interpreted the Cole Porter song The Laziest Gal in Town and Edit Piafs La Vie an Rose. Finally, after playing a nightclub singer many times, Dietrich became one herself. Her work entertaining the soldiers had proven her ability to perform live on stage. In 1953, after Dietrich served as Master of Ceremonies in one of her daughters charity galas at Madison Square Garden, she received an offer to perform at the Las Vegas Hotel Sahara. In 1954, she played the Café de Paris in London, where doctor Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin, watched her show. In 1957, she made her second movie with Billy Wilder, Witness for the Prosecution, which was a great success. After that, she returned to stage for a tour of South America.

Dietrich soon expanded her night-club act into a complete one-woman revue. In the first half of her shows Dietrich often performed in a sexy outfit that would appeal to the men, while in the second half she wore a tuxedo, bow tie, top hat and either slacks or tights. She caressed the microphone as if she were making love to it, and she did a sexy high-kicking dance with a chorus line, described Bill Davidson in McCalls.

In August of 1959, Dietrich in Rio was recorded on Columbia Records at a Rio de Janeiro performance. Thousands welcomed Dietrich at the Paris airport when she arrived in November of 1959. As she was coming off the airplane, Dietrich carried a box as small as a jewel case which she later explained held the costume for her show, a remark covered by every Paris newspaper, according Bill Davidson in McCalls. A male observer called Dietrichs dress a flesh-colored nothing studded with gold specks and diamonds, reported Newsweek. After three weeks of performing a show every night in Paris, Dietrich returned to the United States to perform once again in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Her $30,000 a week salary made Dietrich the highest paid nightclub entertainer in the world, according to Davidson.

In the following years, Dietrich performed on stages all over the world, in Scandinavia, France, Netherlands, Spain, North Africa, Australia, and Japan. In May of 1960, Dietrich went to Berlin for three shows at Berlins Titania Palast, her first public appearance in Germany since 1930. Surprised by the unfriendly reception given her by some Berliners and some Berlin newspapers, Dietrich told Newsweek They knew I was there in uniform with the American Army during the push through Germany. If that means Im a traitor, then let them call me a traitor. I became an American citizen because of Hitler But Im going there as a singer and entertainernot as a politician. Nonetheless, Dietrich signed Berlins Golden Book for Mayor Willy Brandt. Four years later, Time reported that Dietrich was celebrated by the Russian press as a fighter against Fascism when she performed in a sold-out variety theater in Moscow. The reason I love you is because you have no lukewarm emotionsyou are either very sad or very happy, told Dietrich the 1,350 Russians in the audience according to Time, adding I am proud to say I think that l have a Russian soul myself.

Dietrich s in concert shows were directed until 1964 by young composer Burt Bacharach, who helped her assemble her repertoire, arranged her songs, conducted her shows and was at the same time her friend and advisor. Ive never been very self-confident, either in films or on the stage, wrote Dietrich in her memoirs. On the stage, Burt Bacharachs praise gave me a much needed feeling of security. In 1967, she debuted her one-woman show on Broadway in the Nine OClock Theater at the Lunt-Fontanne, for which she wore a new dress worth about $30,000. She continued to perform throughout the world, although less frequently, in part because the frequent deaths of many of her loved ones made her unhappy, in part because of several stage accidents she suffered. On September 29, 1975, Dietrich broke her leg on stage in Sydney, Australia. After a long period of medical treatment the seventy-four year old recovered, but she never returned to stage nor to public life. In June of 1976, Dietrichs husband died at age 79.

In 1986, a documentary about Dietrichs life by renowned film director Maximilian Schellone of her admirerswas released. Although Dietrich refused to talk to journalists after her complete withdrawal from public life at the end of the 1970s, Schell managed to interview Dietrich several times in her Paris apartment, but the staralready in her mid-80srefused to appear on camera. The interviews were used as voice-over in the documentary which consisted of clippings from Dietrichs movies, shows, and other public appearances. Dietrichs autobiography written in German and titled Ich bin, Gott sei Dank, Berlinerin I am, Thank God, a Berlinerwas first published in Germany in 1987. Two years later, the English translation came out in the United States as Marlene. Dietrich lived alone in Paris until her death in 1992. She is buried in Berlin.

Selected films

The Blue Angel, 1930.

Morocco, 1930.

Blonde Venus, 1932.

Shanghai Express, 1932.

The Devil is a Woman, 1935.

Desire, 1936.

Destiny Rides Again, 1939.

A Foreign Affair, 1948.

The Monte Carlo Story, 1956.

Witness for the Prosecution, 1957.

Touch of Evil, 1958.

Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961.

Just a Gigolo, 1978.

Marlene, (documentary about Dietrichs life and career by Maximilian Schell), 1986.

Selected discography

Marlene Dietrich, Decca, 1949.

Marlene Dietrich at the Café de Paris, (accompanied by George Smith), PHILIPS, Great Britain, 1954.

Marlene Dietrich in Rio, CBS, Brazil, 1959.

Wiedersehen mit MARLENE, Capitol, 1960.

My Greatest Songs, MCA, 1991.

1928-1933 Marlene Dietrich, Asv Living Era, 1992.

The Cosmopolitan Marlene Dietrich, Sony Music, 1993.

Falling In Love Again, MCA, 1998.

Marlene Dietrich, Lili Marlene, MCA.

Wiedersehen Mit Marlene, (Marlene Dietrich in Germany), EMI/Electrola, Germany.

The Legendary Marlene Dietrich, (songs from classic films), MFP/EMI, Great Britain.

Marlene Dietrich in London, (recorded at the Queens Theatre), Columbia.

Marlene Dietrich singt Alt-Berliner Lieder, AMIGA, Germany.

Selected Writings

Ich bin, Gott sei Dank, Berlinerin (autobiography in German), Ullstein Verlag, 1987.

Marlene (translation of autobiography), Grove Press, 1989.



Dietrich, Marlene, Marlene (translated from German by Salvator Attanasio), Grove Press, 1989.

Higham, Charles, Marlene: The Life of Marlene Dietrich, W.W. Norton & Company, 1977.

Spoto, Donald, Blue Angel: The Life of Marlene Dietrich, Doubleday & Co., 1992.

Spoto, Donald, Falling in Love Again, Marlene Dietrich, Little, Brown and Company, 1985.

Walker, Alexander, Dietrich, Harper & Row, 1984.


Biography, June 1998.

Look, October 24, 1961.

McCalls, March 1960.

Newsweek, May 2, 1960.

Time, May 29, 1964.


Additional information obtained from the liner notes of My Greatest Songs, 1991.

Evelyn Hauser

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Dietrich, Marlene


Nationality: American. Born: Marie Magdalene Dietrich in Berlin, Germany, 27 December 1901 (some sources list 1904); became citizen of United States, 1939. Education: Attended the Augusta Victoria School, Berlin, and boarding schools in Weimar; Hochschule für Musik. Family: Married Rudolf Sieber, 1924 (separated 1939), daughter: Maria. Career: Early 1920s—chorus girl in revue circuit in Germany; 1922—accepted into Max Reinhardt's Deutsche Theaterschule; began appearing in films for Ufa, debut in So sind die Männer; 1928—first starring film role in Prinzessin Olala; 1930—in the first German talking film, Der blaue Engel, beginning long personal and professional relationship with director Josef von Sternberg; contract with Paramount and moved to Hollywood; 1935—in last film for von Sternberg, The Devil Is a Woman; 1936—walked out on Paramount contract and began freelancing for other studios; 1937—approached by Nazi agents with offer to return to German films but refused, resulting in the banning of her films in Germany; 1943–46—entertained American troops, participating in war bond drives, and made anti-Nazi broadcasts in German; 1950s—recording and cabaret performer; in radio series Cafe Istanbul and Time for Love; 1967—Broadway debut in one-woman cabaret act. Awards: Medal of Freedom, for entertaining American troops and working against Nazi Germany, 1947; Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, 1951. Died: In Paris, 6 May 1992.

Films as Actress:


So sind die Männer (Napoleons kleiner Brüder; Der kleine Napoleon; Men Are Like This; Napoleon's Little Brother; The Little Napoleon) (Jacoby) (as Kathrin)


Tragödie der Liebe (Tragedy of Love) (Joe May) (as Lucie); Der Mensch am Wege (Man by the Roadside) (Dieterle)


Der Sprung ins Leben (They Leap into Life) (Guter)


Die freudlose Gasse (Joyless Street; The Street of Sorrow) (Pabst) (as extra)


Manon Lescaut (Robison) (as Micheline); Eine DuBarry von Heute (A Modern DuBarry) (Korda); Kopf hoch, Charly! (Heads Up, Charly) (Wolff) (as Edmée Marchand); Madame wünscht keine Kinder (Madame Wants No Children) (Wolff) (bit part)


Seine grösster Bluff (Er oder Dich; His Greatest Bluff) (Piel) (as Yvette); Café Electric (Wenn ein Weib den Weg verliert; When a Woman Loses Her Way) (Ucicky) (as Erni); Der Juxbaron (The Imaginary Baron) (Wolff) (as Sophie)


Prinzessin Olala (Princess Olala; Art of Love) (Land) (as Chicotte de Gastoné); Die glückliche Mutter (Sieber—short)


Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame (I Kiss Your Hand, Madame) (Land) (as Laurene Gerard); Die Frau, nach der Man sich sehnt (The Woman One Longs For; Three Loves) (Bernhardt) (as Stascha); Das Schiff der verlorenen Menschen (Le Navire des hommes perdus; The Ship of Lost Souls) (Maurice Tourneur) (as Miss Ethel); Liebesnächte (Gefahren der Brautzeit; Aus dem Tagebuch eines Verführers; Eine Nacht der Liebe; Liebesbriefe; Nights of Love; Love Letters) (Sauer) (as Evelyn)


Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) (von Sternberg) (as Lola Frohlich); Morocco (von Sternberg) (as Amy Jolly)


Dishonored (von Sternberg) (as X-27)


Shanghai Express (von Sternberg) (as Shanghai Lilly); Blonde Venus (von Sternberg) (as Helen Faraday)


Song of Songs (Mamoulian) (as Lily Czepanek)


The Scarlet Empress (von Sternberg) (as Catherine II)


The Devil Is a Woman (von Sternberg) (as Concha Perez)


Desire (Borzage) (as Madeleine de Beaupré); I Loved a Soldier (Hathaway); The Garden of Allah (Boleslawski) (as Domini Enfilden)


Knight without Armor (Feyder) (as Alexandra Vladinoff); Angel (Lubitsch) (as Maria Barker)


Destry Rides Again (George Marshall) (as Frenchy)


Seven Sinners (Garnett) (as Bijou)


The Flame of New Orleans (Clair) (as Claire Ledeux); Manpower (Walsh) (as Fay Duval)


The Lady Is Willing (Leisen) (as Elizabeth Madden); The Spoilers (Enright) (as Cherry Mallotte); Pittsburgh (Seiler) (as Josie Winters)


Screen Snapshots No. 103 (short)


Follow the Boys (A. Edward Sutherland); Kismet (Dieterle) (as Jamilla)


Martin Roumagnac (The Room Upstairs) (Lacombe) (as Blanche Ferrand)


Golden Earrings (Leisen) (as Lydia)


A Foreign Affair (Wilder) (as Erika von Schluetow)


Jigsaw (Markle) (as nightclub patron)


Stage Fright (Hitchcock) (as Charlotte Inwood)


No Highway in the Sky (No Highway) (Koster) (as Monica Teasdale)


Rancho Notorious (Fritz Lang) (as Altar Keane)


Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson) (as hostess)


The Monte Carlo Story (Taylor) (as Marquise Maria de Crevecoeur); Witness for the Prosecution (Wilder) (as Christine Vole)


Touch of Evil (Welles) (as Tanya)


Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer) (as Mme. Bertholt)


The Black Fox (Stoumen) (as narrator)


Paris When It Sizzles (Quine)


Schöner Gigolo—armer Gigolo (Just a Gigolo) (Hemmings) (as Baroness von Semering)


By DIETRICH: books—

Marlene's ABC, 1961.

My Life Story, New York, 1979.

Ich bin, Gott sei dank, Berlinerin, Frankfurt, 1987; as My Life, London, 1989.

On DIETRICH: books—

Talky, Jean, Marlène Dietrich, femme énigme, Paris, 1932.

Griffith, Richard, Marlene Dietrich—Image and Legend, New York, 1959.

von Sternberg, Josef, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, New York, 1965.

Frewin, Leslie, Dietrich: The Story of a Star, New York, 1967.

Dickens, Homer, The Films of Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1968; as The Complete Films of Marlene Dietrich, revised and updated by Jerry Vermilye, New York, 1992.

Kobal, John, Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1968.

Baxter, John, The Cinema of Josef von Sternberg, New York, 1971.

Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus, New York, 1973.

Silver, Charles, Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1974.

Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, Princeton, New Jersey, 1974.

Morley, Sheridan, Marlene Dietrich, London, 1976.

Higham, Charles, Marlene: The Life of Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1977.

Hampton, Joe, Marlène Dietrich, Paris, 1981.

De Navacelle, Thierry, Sublime Marlene, London, 1984.

Seydel, Renate, Marlene Dietrich: Eine Chronik ihres Lebens in Bilden und Dokumenten, Berlin, 1984.

Walker, Alexander, Dietrich, London, 1984.

Spoto, Donald, Falling in Love Again: Marlene Dietrich, Boston, 1985.

Studlar, Gaylene, In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic, Chicago, 1988.

Zucker, Carole, The Idea of the Image: Josef von Sternberg's Dietrich Films, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1988.

O'Connor, Patrick, Dietrich: Style and Substance, New York, 1991.

Bach, Steven, Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend, New York, 1992.

Bosquet, Alain, Marlene Dietrich: un amour par telephone, Paris, 1992.

Bozon, Louis, Marlene: la femme de ma vie, Paris, 1992.

Lieberman, Alexander, Marlene: An Intimate Photographic Memoir, New York, 1992.

Spoto, Donald, Blue Angel: The Life of Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1992.

Baxt, George, The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case (fiction), New York, 1993.

Hofmann, Barbara, Marlene Dietrich, die Privatsammlung, Frankfurt, 1993.

Riva, Maria, Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1993.

Mentele, Richard, Auf Liebe eingestellt: Marlene Dietrich's schone Kunst, Bensheim, 1993.

Martin, W. K., Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1995.

Hanut, Eryk, I Wish You Love: Conversations with Marlene Dietrich, Berkeley, California, 1996.

On DIETRICH: articles—

George, Manfred, "Marlene Dietrich's Beginning," in Films in Review (New York), February 1952.

Sargeant, W., "Dietrich and Her Magic Myth," and "Tribute to Mamma from Papa Hemingway," by Ernest Hemingway, in Life (New York), 18 August 1952.

Knight, Arthur, "Marlene Dietrich," in Films in Review (New York), December 1954.

Lane, J. F., "Give Her Dirt—and Hard Work," in Films and Filming (London), December 1956.

Kyrou, Ado, "Sternberg et Marlène," in Le Surrealism au Cinéma (Paris), 1963.

Higham, Charles, "Dietrich in Sydney," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1965–66.

Current Biography 1968, New York, 1968.

Calendo, J., "Dietrich and the Devil," in Inter/View (New York), October and November 1972.

Rheuban, Joyce, "Josef von Sternberg: The Scientist and the Vamp," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1972–73.

Gow, Gordon, "Alchemy: Dietrich + Sternberg," in Films and Filming (London), June 1974.

Flinn, T., "Joe Where Are You?," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Winter 1977.

von Sternberg, J., and A. Kerr, "Marlene wird geschaffen," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), October 1977.

Baxter, P., "On the Naked Thighs of Miss Dietrich," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no. 2, 1978.

Lewis, W. W., "Marlene Dietrich: From Devil to Angel . . . and Back" and "Sam Jaffe on Dietrich and Sternberg," in Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book, edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.

Zucker, C., "Some Observations on Sternberg and Dietrich," in Cinema Journal (Evanston), Spring 1980.

"Marlene Dietrich—Stationen eines Lebens," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), December 1980.

Rheinsberg, A., "Hommage," in Frauen und Film (Frankfurt), February 1984.

Marlene Dietrich Section of Positif (Paris), September 1984.

Sorel, Nancy Caldwell, "Alexander Fleming and Marlene Dietrich," in Atlantic (New York), March 1991.

Obituary in New York Times, 7 May 1992.

McBride, Joseph, obituary in Variety (New York), 11 May 1992.

Taborska, Agnieszka, "Marlena—wieczny wamp" in Kino (Warsaw), May 1995.

Radio Times (London), 28 September 1996.

On DIETRICH: film—

Marlene, documentary directed by Maximilian Schell, Germany, 1984.

* * *

For decades, filmgoers have clustered to her like moths around a flame, to paraphrase her signature tune "Falling in Love Again." That eternal flame burned brightest from the thirties onward, but Dietrich had toiled in the silent cinema for nearly ten years before her discovery as Teuton siren, Garbo-threat, and sphinxlike beauty of the international cinema.

The standard critical line is that without cine-magician von Sternberg, there would be no Dietrich; the less supportable exaggeration of this contention is that only the seven Dietrich-von Sternberg collaborations merit serious discussion. If von Sternberg deserves credit for sculpting her image and breathing life into this goddess, then let us applaud implacable Marlene with variations on a theme of mysterious enticement after The Devil Is a Woman and until Just a Gigolo. Even as a contentious old woman (who refused to appear on camera) in Maximilian Schell's riveting documentary, Marlene (1984), her mystique was untouched by time, and as someone once said, "her voice alone could break your heart." Forty years of image maintenance suggests that the provenance of Dietrich's legend was not the vision of her Svengali but could be found in her own steel will.

Certainly, the von Sternberg/Dietrich combination represents a singular symbiosis of visually oriented auteur and perfect camera subject. If Garbo drew the camera to her like a magnet, Dietrich not only fascinated viewers with her sultry glare but transfixed every other aspect of the mise-en-scène, a smoky world of sequined nets, exotic feathers, and glistening surfaces masked by shadows. It is a cinema in which style is the substance. Whether a plump temptress in The Blue Angel, foreign-legion groupie in Morocco, a fallen angel in Shanghai Express, or Czarina of Russia in The Scarlet Empress, Dietrich the great illusionist helped von Sternberg fabricate a fabulistic ambience where people lived and died for love. Whether impulsively stealing a kiss from a young woman in Morocco or defiantly reapplying her lipstick before the firing squad guns her down in Dishonored, the one constant in Dietrich's persona was her supreme control, a guarded willfulness she only relinquished for the one lover of her dreams. And if some of her less than dynamic co-stars (Clive Brook, Herbert Marshall) seemed hidden in her shadow, they were only props anyway. Dietrich's sacrificial gestures, however, were in no way lessened by the unworthiness of their recipients. No man could measure up to a divinity (although Morocco's Gary Cooper is a step in the right direction).

After the peak of the von Sternberg/Dietrich teamwork, the ravishingly decadent The Devil Is a Woman (Dietrich's favorite movie), the movie's ultimate apotheosis of the femme fatale, Dietrich floundered a bit, but did not, as some suggest, survive as a mere impersonator of her former exalted self. Are cinephiles supposed to credit von Sternberg with the streak of wit Lubitsch helped unearth in the delicious romantic comedy, Desire? And if the raucous comeback of Destry Rides Again represents a coarsening of her unapproachable allure, Dietrich's decision to prevail as a more democratic love goddess is completely defensible. What Dietrich cleverly did, while delightfully exploiting a freewheeling side to her nature, was to Americanize herself for the mass audience no matter what nationality she was supposed to be playing in Seven Sinners or The Flame of New Orleans. Converted to American attitudes, she became a one-woman emigrant experience on display. Rather than her beauty, her largesse made her a citizen of the world.

Repudiating Nazi Germany and touring for Yankee troops further endeared her to Americans and helped sustain her eminence through the difficult middle portion of her career. In a petulant biography, however, Dietrich's spiteful daughter Maria Riva implies that the khaki pinup girl simply used World War II for her own convenience and played the patriot as another acting assignment. In shortchanging her mother's sacrifices, Riva only conclusively establishes her own jealousy; obviously Dietrich's nurturing of her image was murder on child-rearing.

Rigidly taking care of her beauty, the way champions train their muscles for prize fights, Dietrich cheated time in her postwar film work and in the wildly successful cabaret act that kept her legend alive in an environment of husky-voiced song styling and perfectly positioned stage lighting that burned years off the fabulous face. On-screen, she was still surpassingly lovely as double-crossing dames in Witness for the Prosecution, Stage Fright, and A Foreign Affair. Somehow, the good-time gal of the forties was the aloof temptress of the thirties once more. In our contemporary cinema in which glamour seems to dissolve as soon as it is revealed on-screen, Dietrich remains the movies' most durable symbol of the power of artifice. Like Swanson and Crawford, her enemy was time but she did not go down without a long fight. When we stare at her perfection even in the gauze-lensed Just a Gigolo, we look into the face of our dreams—nostalgic dreams of a time when stars offered an escape from the commonplace not just a reaffirmation of it.

—Robert Pardi

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Dietrich, Marlene

Marlene Dietrich

Film star Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992) was one of the twentieth century's most enduring style icons. The German–born actress made several notable movies with director Josef von Sternberg in the 1930s, beginning with what was perhaps her most memorable work, The Blue Angel, and her films remain cinema classics thanks in part to a cool, ethereal beauty that the era's black–and–white film stock only maximized. She was, noted People's Marjorie Rosen, a "woman whose screen image bespoke glamour so dazzling and mystery so provocative that no other compared. Her face, with the arched brows and world–weary blue eyes, could exude spoiled insolence, frosty indifference or smoldering lust."

Dietrich was born on December 27, 1901, in a suburb of Berlin, Germany, called Schöneberg that later became part of Berlin proper. She was named Marie Magdalene Dietrich, and followed an older sister in a household headed by their father, Louis, a former Prussian cavalry officer who was serving as a police lieutenant in Berlin by the time she arrived. She and her sister were raised by their mother, Josephine, after the death of their father when "Lene," as she was known, was nine years old.

Berlin Chorus Girl

As a youngster, Dietrich emerged as a talented violinist. She attended the Augusta Victoria School in Berlin, and during World War I the family moved to Dessau when the Dietrich girls' future stepfather, an army officer, was mobilized into military service. After the end of the war in 1918, Berlin became a politically unstable place to live, and Dietrich finished her education at a boarding school in Weimar. It is known she was back in Berlin by late 1921, where she found work playing the violin at a movie theater. Her dreams of a concert career ended with a wrist injury, and she became a chorus girl in Berlin's heady nightclub scene. Deciding to try her luck at acting, she began studying at Berlin's Deutsche Theaterschule in 1922, which was affiliated with one of German theater's greatest names of the era, Max Reinhardt, a director and producer.

After debuting in a September 1922 stage production of Pandora's Box, Dietrich went on to appear in a number of other plays while also landing small roles in the nascent German film industry. Her screen debut came in a 1922 movie, So sind die Männer (Men Are Like This), and her first lead came six years later in Prinzessin Olala (Princess Olala). Stardom eluded her, however, and she remained a relative unknown until von Sternberg cast her in Der blaue Engel, also known by its English–version title, The Blue Angel. It was the first full–length German "talking" film, utilizing the new medium of synchronized sound, and Dietrich caused a sensation with her portrayal of the voluptuous, heartless cabaret singer Lola Frohlich. She appeared opposite Emil Jannings, a Swiss–born actor who was a silent–screen star at the time in both Europe and Hollywood; he had even won the first Academy Award for best actor in 1927. Jannings played the rotund, prudish schoolteacher determined to keep his pupils from frequenting Lola's stage show, but when he pays a call on her to voice his objections, he is instantly smitten. Lola proves his undoing, and he loses his job and becomes a comic prop in her act as his final humiliation.

Dietrich delivered a pitch–perfect performance of a femme fatale in The Blue Angel that was said to have been not far off the mark; rumors swirled that her own teachers had been smitten with her, and she seemed to have been suddenly removed from the Weimar school by her mother at one point. Dietrich sang in the film, in her smoky, innuendo–laden voice, while Sternberg's camera lingered often on her famously long legs. The director himself was said to have been enchanted by her, and she soon followed him to Hollywood after extricating herself from her contract with UFA (Universum Film AG), the leading German movie studio.

"Glowed Like a Full Moon"

By the time of The Blue Angel 's Berlin premier in April of 1930, Dietrich had began to heed Sternberg's makeover advice, and had noticeably slimmed down from her "Lola" portrayal. The noted director also provided tips on makeup and how she might best highlight the unusual symmetry of her face, and his camera would depict her in the most flattering and ethereal light over the course of their collaboration. These films are considered the high point of Dietrich's career, and include Morocco in 1930, followed by Dishonored, 1932's Shanghai Express and Blonde Venus, a turn as Russia's Catherine II in The Scarlet Empress in 1934, and The Devil Is a Woman, a 1935 work that was allegedly her personal career favorite. Cinema historians consider them classics, though they were mostly box–office flops. Michael Atkinson, writing for London's Guardian newspaper, called the seven films "masterpieces of vapour, shadow and lust, and in them Dietrich glows like a full moon."

Headstrong and opinionated, Dietrich ran into problems with her Paramount bosses as early as the making of Blonde Venus, and her career in Hollywood failed to fulfill its early promise. Her stardom and blonde beauty did attract attention back in Germany, and she was reportedly contacted by agents for the government of the country's Nazi Party leader and new chancellor, Adolf Hitler, who offered her a posh berth back home in exchange for her return. She loathed the fascist Nazis, however, and spurned their offer. She even went so far as to become a naturalized American citizen in the fall of 1937, which launched a torrent of hateful editorials in the government–controlled Nazi press and caused her films to be banned for a time.

Entertained Allied Troops at the Front

Dietrich threw herself wholeheartedly into her new mission—to discredit the Nazi regime that attempted to discredit her. She traveled overseas to entertain American troops near the frontlines during World War II—reportedly amidst terrible conditions—took part in Hollywood–publicized war–bond drives, and even delivered anti–Nazi broadcasts in German that aired overseas. True to form, she was said to have become romantically involved with the famous American general, George Patton. Her film career, meanwhile, had stalled. She made a Western with Jimmy Stewart, Destry Rides Again, and worked with noted director Billy Wilder in A Foreign Affair, set in Berlin during the war. Her later films of merit include Stage Fright, a 1950 Alfred Hitchcock work, Orson Welles's 1958 noir classic Touch of Evil, and Judgment at Nuremberg in 1961, an account of the Nazi war–crimes tribunals.

In the late 1940s, Dietrich began a recording career, and began playing the haute–nightclub circuit. She earned top dollar for performing her signature song from The Blue Angel, "Falling in Love Again," and others, and continued well into the 1970s. By then, however, the stage had been considerably darkened to camouflage her age, and she resorted to a number of painful tricks to maintain her glamorous image. These included braiding her hair tightly before donning a wig, and wearing a tight, allover girdle under her elaborate costumes and gowns. The ironclad garment restricted her movement, however, and she once fell into the orchestra pit and broke her hip at a Washington performance. Reportedly debilitated by arthritis, she was said to drink heavily in her later years to quell the pain.

Grew Increasingly Reclusive

Dietrich lived mainly in Paris after 1968. She had married in 1923 or 1924, to Rudolf Sieber, a casting director, with whom she had a daughter in 1924. The marriage was short–lived, but she and Sieber remained friends, and he served as her business manager for many years. In his old age, she often visited him on his California chicken ranch and spent days cooking meals for him. The rest of her real–life romances rivaled any on–screen saga: only in later years were rumors of her bisexuality openly discussed in the media, and she was said to have had a long relationship with writer Mercedes de Acosta, who was also the lover of Dietrich's archrival, Greta Garbo. Other dalliances included men as well as women, and her conquests reportedly included the writers Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway, and even President John F. Kennedy. In 1967, her much–younger lover, a Polish actor, came to see her off at a train station, and tripped and fell onto the track, where he was crushed by a train. The following year, another lover, an Australian journalist, was decapitated in a helicopter on his way to see one of her concert performances. Told of his death, Dietrich went onstage anyway that night.

Dietrich's last film appearance was in 1979's Schöner Gigolo—armer Gigolo (Just a Gigolo), which starred her opposite a new generation's androgyne, David Bowie. The onetime screen siren was "filmed through gauze, croaking her way through a parody of her Blue Angel persona," noted Sunday Times journalist James Dalrymple. "The results were appalling and she wept as she saw how the fragile erotic image she had created had become a monstrous piece of burlesque."

Dietrich emerged as an icon long before her 1992 death. Maximilian Schell pestered her for his 1984 documentary Marlene, and she finally agreed to participate only if she was not filmed; her words appear only in audio interviews overlaid over the rest of the film's footage. She delivers generally caustic comments, and derides her numerous biographers. She was a recluse in her final years, bedridden at her Avenue Montaigne apartment. A paparazzo once paid a tree–cutting crane operator to help him take photographs through her window, and the images sold for a small fortune. "They showed a small, defenceless figure in a crumpled bed in a shabby room," wrote Dalrymple in the Sunday Times. "Nearly 90, there was only one recognisable feature of the classic beauty that had haunted the 20th century[:] the eyes. Once they had been steely, mocking and defiant. Now they were filled only with fear, bewilderment and hopelessness."

Circus–Like Funeral

Dietrich died on May 6, 1992, in Paris, but controversy over her legacy swirled for some time after her death. She allegedly wanted to be buried in France, while others claimed she had hoped to be laid to rest next to her mother in a Berlin cemetery. The German side won, and her funeral there became a circus. The Berlin homecoming was all the more bittersweet for the fact that she had remained a pariah in Germany long after the end of World War II and the Nazi defeat. The conservative press regularly vilified her, and protesters turned up outside one series of concert engagements. Even after her death, a debate whether to name a Berlin street in her honor raged for months.

The final indignity, for a woman who had guarded her private life so valiantly, came a year after Dietrich's death, when her daughter Maria Riva wrote a scathing memoir that excoriated the star's longest role, that of mother. Nevertheless, Dietrich was close to Riva and to her grandchildren, and spoke to them on a near–daily basis in the years before her death. Riva's reasons for writing her tell–all book, in which Dietrich comes across as callous and demanding, might be summarized by one of her mother's many famous pronouncements: "We all regret our youth," she said, according to People, "once we have lost it."


Bach, Steven, Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend, Morrow, 1992.


Guardian (London, England), June 30, 2000.

Independent Sunday (London, England), November 18, 2001; December 23, 2001.

New York Times, September 21, 1986; December 23, 2001.

People, June 1, 1992; March 8, 1993.

Sunday Times (London, England), May 10, 1992.

Times (London, England), October 8, 1937; November 23, 1964; December 21, 1992.

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Dietrich, Marlene

Marlene Dietrich (märlā´nə dē´trĬkh), 1901–92, German-American film actress and singer, b. Berlin. Dietrich began her career as a violinist. She then studied drama, appearing on the stage in Vienna and Berlin before her great film success as the femme fatale Lola in The Blue Angel (1930). In the late 1930s, she modified her image to play more light-hearted characters and proved herself an excellent farceur. Her other films included Shanghai Express (1932), Destry Rides Again (1939), Foreign Affair (1948), and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). After World War II she appeared internationally in concerts, in cabarets, and on television.

See biographies by S. Bach (1992) and D. Spoto (1992).

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"Dietrich, Marlene." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 18 Nov. 2017 <>.

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Dietrich, Marlene

Dietrich, Marlene (1904–92) German film star and cabaret singer. Her glamorous, sultry image evolved in films directed by Josef von Sternberg, such as The Blue Angel (1930) and Blonde Venus (1932). Other films include Destry Rides Again (1939) and Rancho Notorious (1956).

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