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Profile of Marlene Dietrich
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Marie Magdalene "Marlene" Dietrich (December 27, 1901-May 6, 1992) also known as Maria Magdalena Dietrich was a German actress, entertainer and singer.
Born in Berlin-SchÃ¶neberg, Germany to Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing, Marlene Dietrich played the violin before joining an acting school in 1921, making her official film debut the following year. After playing in only German movies at first, she got her first role in the 1st European talking picture, The Blue Angel (1930), directed by Josef von Sternberg.
She then moved to Hollywood to make Morocco, for which she received her only Oscar nomination. Her most lasting contribution to film history was as the star in several films directed by von Sternberg in the pre-Code early 1930s, such as The Scarlet Empress and Shanghai Express, in which she played "femme fatales". She gradually broadened her repertoire in Destry Rides Again, A Foreign Affair, Witness for the Prosecution, Touch of Evil and Judgment at Nuremberg.
Dietrich sang in several of her films (most famously in von Sternberg's The Blue Angel, in which she sings "Falling In Love Again"), having made records in Germany in the 1920s. Following a slowdown in her film career, she made a number of records first for Decca, Elektrola, EMI, and for Columbia. Her distinctive voice was later satirized, by Lotte Lenya, in the song Lieder by cult British trio Fascinating AÃ¯da. Madeline Kahn did the same in the Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles.
1930s and World War II
Dietrich became an American citizen in 1937, raised a record number of war bonds and entertained American troops during the Second World War. Dietrich was known to have a strong set of political convictions and a mind to speak them. She was a staunch anti-Nazi who despised Germany's anti-Semitic policies of the time. Her singing helped on the homefront of the U.S.A too, as she recorded a number of anti-Nazi records in German for the OSS. Including recording Lili Marleen, a curious example of a song transcending the hatreds of war. She also sang for the Allied troops on the front lines in Algiers, France and 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 famously replied "aus Anstand" - "it was the decent thing to do".
Unlike her professional celebrity, which was carefully crafted and maintained, Dietrich's personal life was kept out of public view. She married once, to director's assistant Rudolf Sieber, a Roman Catholic who later became a director at Paramount Pictures in France. Her only child, Maria Sieber (married name Maria Riva), was born on December 13, 1924. When Maria Riva gave birth to a son in 1948, Dietrich was dubbed "the world's most glamorous grandmother." The great love of the actress's life, however, was the French actor and military hero Jean Gabin. As for her husband, he had a tragically unstable longterm mistress who looked a bit like and eventually believed herself to be Dietrich.
Despite all of this, she was reportedly offered a king's ransom to return to Germany, due to her immense popularity as well as Hitler's ardour, which she declined. It is true that she quipped that she would return only when one of her Jewish friends (possibly Max Reinhardt) could accompany her.
Stage and Cabaret
From the 1950s to the mid-1970s Dietrich toured internationally as a successful cabaret performer. Her repertoire included songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. Until the mid-1960s her musical director was famed composer Burt Bacharach. His arrangements helped to disguise Dietrich's limited vocal range and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect. Spectacular costumes (by Jean Louis), body-sculpting rubber undergarments, careful stage lighting, and, reportedly, gruesome mini-facelifts (achieved by weaving her hair into tight braids, pinning them tightly to her scalp with surgical needles, and then topping it all with sexy wigs) helped to preserve Dietrich's glamorous image well into old age.
Her show business career largely ended in 1974, when she broke her leg during a stage performance. She appeared briefly in the video, Just a Gigolo, in 1979, and wrote and contributed several books during the 1980s. She spent her last decade mostly bed-ridden, in her apartment on the avenue Montaigne in Paris, during which time she was not seen in public but was a prolific letter-writer and phone-caller. Maximilian Schell persuaded Dietrich to be interviewed for his 1984 documentary Marlene, but she did not appear on screen. She was somewhat estranged from her daughter, but got on well with her grandson, Peter Riva. Her own husband, Rudolf Sieber, had died of cancer on June 24, 1976.
Dietrich died peacefully on May 6, 1992 at the age of 90 in Paris, France. A service was conducted at La Madeline 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 in her birthplace at the StÃ¤dtischen Friedhof III, Berlin-SchÃ¶neberg, StubenrauchstraÃŸe 43-45, in Friedenau Cemetery.
In 1994 her memorabilia were sold to the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek (after US institutions showed no interest) where it became the core of the (see ) at the Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany.
Her place in Hollywood
Ironically, she never integrated into the Hollywood entertainment industry, being always an outsider for mainstream America. Her heavy German accent gave an extra touch to her performance but made her look "foreign" in the eyes of Americans.
Dietrich was a fashion icon to the top designers as well as a screen icon whom later stars would follow. Her public image and some of her movies included strong sexual undertones, including bisexuality. Accordingly, it is no surprise that she had affairs with women (Mercedes de Acosta, Claudette Colbert, and allegedly Greta Garbo were among her lesbian lovers) as well as many men.
- In Fortune's Shadow (1919)
- The Little Napoleon (1922)
- Love Tragedy (1923)
- Man by the Roadside (1923)
- The Monk from Santarem (1924)
- Leap Into Life (1924)
- Dance Fever (1925)
- Heads Up, Charley! (1926)
- The Imaginary Baron (1926)
- Manon Lescaut (1926)
- His Greatest Bluff (1927)
- A Modern DuBarry (1927)
- Cafe Electic (1927)
- Art of Love (1928)
- The Happy Mother (1928) (short subject)
- Dangers of the Engagement Period (1929)
- The Woman One Longs For (1929)
- I Kiss Your Hand, Madame (1929)
- The Ship of Lost Men (1929)
- The Blue Angel (1930)
- Morocco (1930)
- Dishonored (1931)
- Shanghai Express (1932)
- Blonde Venus (1932)
- The Song of Songs (1933)
- The Scarlet Empress (1934)
- The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935) (short subject)
- The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
- I Loved a Soldier (1936) (unfinished)
- Desire (1936)
- The Garden of Allah (1936)
- Knight Without Armor (1937)
- Angel (1937)
- Destry Rides Again (1939)
- Seven Sinners (1940)
- The Flame of New Orleans (1941)
- Manpower (1941)
- The Lady Is Willing (1942)
- The Spoilers (1942)
- Pittsburgh (1942)
- Show Business at War (1943) (short subject)
- Follow the Boys (1944)
- Kismet (1944)
- Martin Roumagnac (1946)
- Golden Earrings (1947)
- A Foreign Affair (1948)
- Jigsaw (1949) (cameo)
- Stage Fright (1950)
- No Highway in the Sky (1951)
- Rancho Notorious (1952)
- The Monte Carlo Story (1956)
- Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) (Cameo)
- Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
- That Does Not Come Back (1958)
- It Only Happened Once (1958)
- Touch of Evil (1958)
- Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
- Black Fox: The True Story of Adolf Hitler (1962) (documentary) (narrator)
- Paris, When It Sizzles (1964) (Cameo)
- Triumph Over Violence (1965) (documentary) (narrator)
- Just a Gigolo (1979)
- Marlene (1984) (documentary) (Dietrich insisted to director Maximilian Schell that her voice only be heard)
"The Child", with Godfrey Kenton, radio play produced by Richard Imison for BBC on 18 August 1965
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