The Legendary, Lovely Marlene

Dietrich Mini-Biography

Marlene Dietrich Reading

Marie Magdalene Dietrich was born on the 27th of December 1901 in Schöneberg, Berlin and was the second daughter of parents Louie Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing.

 

Marlene initially trained as a violinist and turned to acting after a hand injury prevented her from furthering a career in music. In 1920 she began a career as an actress and by 1921 was attending the Max Reinhardt drama school and landed some small roles in the theatres in Berlin and parts in some silent films, but was relatively unknown at this point.

 

In May 1923, Marlene met (and later married) Rudolph Sieber, a German casting director, they had a daughter Maria Elisabeth.

 

In 1929 while appearing in cabaret in Berlin Marlene was spotted by director Josef Von Sternberg and he screen tested her for the role in The Blue Angel (Der Blaue Engel), with Emil Jannings in the lead role.


Following the success of The Blue Angel there followed an amazing collaboration between Dietrich and Von Sternberg and they made a further six memorable films together for Paramount in Hollywood; ‘Morocco’, ‘Dishonoured’, ‘Blonde Venus’, ‘Shanghai Express’, ‘The Scarlet Empress’ and ‘The Devil is a Woman’. A combination of Dietrich’s screen presence, Von Sternberg’s photography and supreme lighting and fine costumes by Travis Banton, all became a recipe to create films that have never been equalled and have stood the test of time.

‘Morocco’ was a particularly notable film as this was Marlene’s first appearance wearing a suit/trousers which would become her trademark and the woman to woman kiss that appeared in the film also caused a stir at the time.


For other directors she appeared in ‘The Song of Songs', 'Desire', ‘Knight without Armour', 'Destry Rides Again' etc.

Amongst her greatest films also featured a collaboration between Dietrich and composer Friedrich Hollaender who would write her best and most well known songs such as 'Falling in Love Again', 'Boys in the Backroom', 'Black Market', 'Illusions', 'You've Got that Look' to name a few, these songs are still being recorded and played by artists all over the world.

 

By 1937 the pressure for Marlene to return to Germany was increasing, the Third Reich was running newspaper reports telling her to return to Germany and stop allowing herself to be the tool of Hollywood's Jews. Marlene made the decision to become an American citizen and cut all ties with Germany, thus allowing her to continue her career.

She was reportedly offered money to return to her homeland of Germany but refused saying she would return only when one of her Jewish friends could accompany her.

 

During World War II Marlene joined the Allied forces and performed in hundreds of shows overseas in North Africa and Europe, entertaining Allied troops at the front. During these shows Marlene sang the favourites, ‘Lili Marleen’, ‘Boys in the Backroom’, and ‘Falling in Love Again’ and also played the musical saw.


Marlene was crucial to the troops’ morale and kept them entertained during these difficult times. Her contribution to the war effort cannot be underestimated; she also worked with the Red Cross.

 

Dietrich was awarded the 'Medal of Freedom' by the US Government for her work during the war and the French Government awarded her 'Knight of the Legion of Honour' and 'Officer of the Legion of Honour'.

 

In 1943 when Marlene's daughter Maria gave birth to her first son, Marlene was dubbed ''the world's most glamorous grandmother’’.

 

Her post-war films include Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Stage Fright’, Fritz Lang’s ‘Rancho Notorious’, Billy Wilder’s ‘Witness for the Prosecution’, Stanley Kramer’s ‘Judgement at Nuremburg’ and Orson Welles' ‘Touch of Evil’.

 


In December 1953 Dietrich then swung her career around and took her ‘one woman show’ out on the road and toured for over twenty years, starting at the Congo Room in the Sahara Hotel, Las Vegas and then taking her show around the world. The tours included countries such as England, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, America and Denmark. These shows were a huge success.

Some of her shows were made into recordings and her albums are still being re-issued and re-released today.

Her last performance came in 1975 in Australia where she had an accident on the stage and this spelt the end of her shows and public appearances for a few years.

 


Marlene was coaxed out of 'retirement' in 1978 to appear in a cameo role in a film called ‘Just a Gigolo’.

In 1984 Marlene agreed to be part of an audio-documentary made by Maximillian Schell called 'Marlene', but refused to be filmed. A very convincing mock-up of her Paris apartment was used in the film and made the viewer believe that Marlene was really there.

The rest of her life was spent in her Paris apartment, sometimes travelling in disguise and only keeping in touch with friends and colleagues by telephone while all the time answering letters and requests for autographs.

Marlene’s ‘reclusive’ life-style in her last years in Paris was deliberate, as she had simply had enough of being Marlene Dietrich.

Marlene died in Paris on 6th May 1992 and was buried in Berlin next to her mother.

 


Recommended reading;

Dietrich, Marlene (1961)(1984 Revised Edition) Marlene Dietrich's ABC

Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8044-6117-1

 

Dickens, Homer (1968) The Films of Marlene Dietrich.

Citadel Press, Inc. ISBN 0 8065 0007 7

 

Dietrich, Marlene (1989) My Life

Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0 330 31301 0

  

O'Connor, Patrick (1992) The Amazing Blonde Woman, Dietrich's Own Style.

Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd ISBN-0-7475-1264-7

  

Riva, Maria (1992) Marlene Dietrich by her Daughter.

Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-340-59427-6

 

Riva, Maria Naudet, Jean Jacques and Sudendorf, Werner (2001).

Marlene Dietrich Photographs and Memories
Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-50051717
 

 

Riva, David J. (2006) A Woman at War: Marlene Dietrich Remembered.

Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3249-8

 

Nick Hall. April 2007.

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