01 February 2011

Louella Parsons interviews Marlene Dietrich

Hollywood gossip columnist interviewed Marlene on an episode of her CBS radio show, Sunkist Musical Cocktails on 20 May 1931. The transcript of the interview (which was very likely scripted), below, provides a fascinating glimpse into both Marlene's life at that time and the way in which publicity was utilised to shape and present her relatively new star persona.


by Louella O. Parsons

Parsons: Good evening. I know from the many letters I have received since we announced that Marlene Dietrich was to be our guest star that the listeners-in are as thrilled as I am at having her here. I am happy to introduce -- say, by the way -- won’t you please tell me how you pronounce your name?
Dietrich: Mar-leen-a Deet-rich-and I am glad that you asked me that question because it is invariably pronounced Mar-leen Deet-rick.
Parsons: Well, one day, Marlene Dietrich -- how do you like my German accent? -- I hope to be able to speak German as well as you speak English. Where did yo learn your English?
Dietrich: Your German sounds all right. I was taught to speak English and French in the German schools as most German children are. That is a part of our education
Parsons: And very sensible. I think our American children should have better training in languages. By the way, were you ever outside of Germany and Austria before?
Dietrich: No - I was never in any other countries but Germany and Austria until I came to the
United States. It was in Vienna, of course, that I made my stage debut.
Parsons: Well, that’s very interesting news to me just as I am sure it must be to all those
listening today. I am surprised to find that you speak French and English without a German accent since your environment was so essentially German.
Dietrich: I try very hard to speak English as well as possible and if I succeed at times, it is because of my musical education, which undoubtedly developed my ear.
Parsons: I have heard you sing on the screen and, of course, I’ve listened to your phonograph records, but tell me -- do you play any musical instruments ?
Dietrich: Yes - I play the violin, piano and sometimes -- when I am provoked to do so -- the musical saw.
Parsons: I know everyone will want to know why you happened to become an actress.
Dietrich: I sprained my wrist because I practiced on the violin six hours a day and while waiting for my hand to become better I entered Max Reinhard’s School of Acting, and then I became an actress in his theatres.
Parsons: I wonder if you know how anxious we were to see you when we heard that Josef von Sternberg was bringing you to America? At that time most foreign actresses were on the wane. Among all the stars whose pictures you’ve seen since you've come to America, which is
your favorite?
Dietrich: Greta Garbo.
Parsons: It must be a case of mutual admiration because Miss Garbo has told her friends that your records are her favorites. You two girls dress in a similar manner. The mannish clothes
that you wear are the same type I’ve often seen Miss Garbo wearing at luncheon.
Dietrich: In Europe every well-dressed woman wears mannish clothes for morning attire. You must have noticed that other European women who come to Hollywood wear tailored clothes. Lilly Damita, for instance.

Parsons: Returning to the subject of your success in America at the time when other European players were on the wane -- your success must be a source of great gratification to you?
Dietrich: Yes -- I am quite happy about it. I love America -- but I love Germany, too; and you can understand that it makes me very sad sometimes to be deprived of the pleasure of making a film in the German language.
Parsons: I don’t blame you. The charm of the screen has always been its international appeal. And it’s a pity that the people who have made such successes in America cannot have their pictures shown abroad as they did in the silent days.
Dietrich: Sometimes it is possible - I just came from Europe a few weeks ago where Morocco is playing in all countries in the English language. There is so little dialogue and so much visual movement that this is one picture easy for foreigners to understand.
Parsons: There's one question I want to ask you. I have heard it said many times that you don’t like Hollywood and that you are very homesick.
Dietrich: It is true that I was very homesick the first time I came here. I had no friends and I was a complete stranger but I like Hollywood much better this time. I have grown accustomed to the sun and my little daughter, Maria, whom I brought with me this time, loves Hollywood,
hot sun and all.

Parsons: You must have seen Charlie Chaplin recently when he made his tour through Germany and England. I am curious to know how the German people received him. Did they like him?
Dietrich: Germany is mad about Mr. Chaplin and all other American stars. Everyone who visits
Germany gets a royal welcome.
Parsons: I don't know whether you know it or not, but I talked to Mr. von Sternberg because I
wanted to get something about your personality before we talked on the radio. He told me that, for one thing, he is lucky if you say three words in a whole conversation.
Dietrich: I do not believe in talking unless you have something to say.
Parsons: Among other things, Mr. von Sternberg told me that it was you who found the book Morocco for him. He also said you are intensely interested in the camera and the technical side of motion pictures.
Dietrich: I don’t think that’s so strange -- do you? -- that I should be interested in the inside
workings of picture making. I believe that everyone should understand the mechanics of his trade.
Parsons: I’m going to ask you a question that’s a little prosaic when applied to a glamorous being like yourself. If you don’t want to answer out loud just whisper in my ear. Is it true you
like to cook ?
Dietrich: I don’t mind telling out loud that I really and truly do like to cook. I have many German friends in Hollywood who are fond of goulash and since it's difficult to get anyone to cook it in the proper way, I cook it myself for my guests.
Parsons: Won’t you tell us something about your little daughter? Is she learning to speak English?

Dietrich: She is learning - but slowly. Her English now consists of "bye-bye," "Thank you very much," "swimming pool," and "Thank you, I am fine." She swims like a fish. She is in the pool all day long. Just the other day she said, "I love Hollywood and I will never leave it unless I can take my swimming pool along..
Parsons: How old is your little daughter and does she look like you? I realize, Miss Dietrich, these are very personal questions, but I know the people listening in who admire you are interested in her.
Dietrich: I am very glad to tell all about her. She is very blonde and I think she resembles my husband, but since everyone says he and I look alike, I suppose the baby resembles both of us.
Parsons: Do you find it easy to combine the duties of motherhood with those of being a successful actress?
Dietrich: Yes, I do, because my daughter is the greatest incentive I could possibly have. I have never been so happy in my life as since I’ve had her.
Parsons: Do you think little Maria will be an actress or a musician?
Dietrich: I hope that she will have enough talent to become an actress because I think it is the most beautiful and interesting career a woman can have. And now, Miss Parsons, I would like to say goodnight. You see, I promised to tell my little daughter a story before she goes to bed and it’s getting late.
Parsons: Goodnight, Miss Dietrich. Thank you very much for coming.

[This interview was originally republished by the MDCB in their newsletter.]


  1. Her favorite actress was Greta Garbo? As in her archrival Greta Garbo?!
    Unbelievable! I can't believe she said this in an interview!!!!

  2. I'm tickled that Dietrich ignored the question about Maria's age, that Louella said Dietrich spoke English without a German accent, and that Dietrich cited Garbo as her favorite actress. Was Dietrich that unimpressed by her studio Paramount's roster that she couldn't make a shameless plug?

  3. I laughed out loud at some of the plainspokenness in this interview.. When Parsons called Dietrich's and Garbo's clothing "mannish". Also, when Dietrich told Parsons that her German accent sounded "all right". Haha I love it!

  4. She supposedly did idolize Garbo and angle to meet her. Something that Orson Welles and Clifton Webb arranged. After meeting Garbo at a dinner party Dietrich remarked to Welles "It's not true she doesn't wear makeup. She had her eyelashes beaded. Do you know how long it takes to have your eyeleashes beaded?"