18 May 2011

Jim Brochu Remembers Marlene Dietrich

Circle Star Theater, 1973 (Courtesy Jim Brochu)
The extraordinarily talented Jim Brochu has kindly granted me permission to reprint a photograph he took of Marlene Dietrich at San Mateo, California's Circle Star Theater in 1973. Additionally, Brochu has allowed me to reprint this text, in which he shares his charming and amusing memories of joining Dietrich and her entourage for a post-show supper. A friend of Dietrich's then-composer and wock of Gibwaltaw, Stan Freeman, Brochu had an insider's perspective that should be included in any Dietrich biography.

Before I copy-and-paste Brochu's account, I would like you all to know that you can order tickets here for his highly-acclaimed, Drama Desk Award-winning show, Zero Hour, at Pittsfield, Massachusetts' Barrington Stage Company from May 18-June 5, 2011. Brochu's show pays tribute to Zero Mostel, an illustrious actor who played Tevye in the original Broadway production AND first Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. You may read more about Zero Hour here.

And now for Brochu's encounter with Dietrich:

March 22, 1973 -  San Carlos, California
I turned around in my front row seat to watch Marlene Dietrich scurrying down the aisle past me, generating a baby blue vortex of Chanel-scented air as she sprinted toward the unlit stage of the Circle Star Theatre. Glancing over her shoulder to memorize her route she noticed me sitting there alone, an audience of one in a two thousand-seat theatre, then continued down the aisle counting to herself with each step. Rehearsal had begun.

“Twenty-two, twenty-thwee, twenty-four...” she muttered and then, looking straight forward, head tilted up, she used the golden tips of her sequined high heels to feel out the three steps leading to the circular stage. She raised herself up so gracefully it was as though some invisible hand was lifting her and gently placing her back down. She was rehearsing her entrance down the steeply raked aisle and feeling out the steps for that evening’s opening. As long as she was there, she'd sing a couple of songs.

I was startled - though I'm easily startled - because A) I had just smoked a joint with her stage manager in the alley next to the theatre (Yes, it was the seventies) and B) I was assured that Dietrich never attended orchestra rehearsals; certainly never on her opening night; and if she did attend, she never, ever sang.

Dressed in a light blue denim pantsuit with wide bell-bottoms and tightly tailored jacket, her outfit was topped by an enormous denim Dutch boy cap perched upon unkempt tangles of ash blonde hair. With pie-plate sized sunglasses obscuring her eyes, she was heading straight for the microphone. The sparkling golden shoes were anachronistic to her blue jean ensemble but the three-inch heels were the ones she would be wearing for the performance that evening and she needed to be sure of her footing. She was not happy.

Stan Freeman, her musical director and my best friend, was conducting the orchestra and had just begun the introduction to “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” which Dietrich sang as an anti-Viet Nam War protest. Stanley was looking at his music when she glided unseen onto the stage behind him and he jumped a foot when she started to bark out orders. A few of the musicians tapped their instruments as a way of acknowledging her presence but she either didn't notice or didn't care. The music continued.

“Get me a wamp! I need a wamp! I can't climb steps with a spotlight in my eyes. I WANT A WAMP!” It dawned on the stoned-out stage manager that he was responsible for satisfying such a request and began darting around trying to locate a “wamp” as the work lights suddenly popped on. Although the stage would revolve a complete 360 degrees for her performance, it was stationary for now. The great Dietrich faced me as she grabbed the microphone and caught up to the song, joining in on “…long time passing…Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?”

Without makeup, standing under stark work lights that bleached the color from her hat, her clothes and the lines from her face, she was transformed into a black and white image. I felt as though I was watching an early film of Dietrich and not a live person. She was mesmerizing. There was something so compelling about her presence that you appreciated why she had departed the rank of movie star and had arrived at living legend.

I was so taken by the sight of her that I almost forgot how cold it was in the domed cavern - what seemed a few degrees above freezing. Dietrich told us all in the limo on the ride out that she wanted the air to be glacial so that the audience would remain alert. At this temperature, they would congeal. Standing at the mike, she was singing full out,
     “Where have all the graveyards gone long time passing?"
      "Where have all the graveyards gone long time ago?” in a low rumbling monotone that made her sound more like an ancient monk chanting than a chanteuse.

Suddenly she stopped. “Whewe are de bullets? Wemember de bullets!” she admonished Stanley.
     “I’ll make sure they’re louder, Marlene,” bellowed Stan as he abruptly waved the orchestra to a stop. “At numbers 78 and 79, those violins are fortissimo and multi-pizzicato. They should sound like gunshots.”
     “And bullets!” added Dietrich.

The orchestra began again and the violins pierced the air with their staccato shrapnel stings as Dietrich sang on to the end of Pete Seeger‘s masterpiece.

She stepped back from the mike as Stan told the orchestra that the next song was, unlike Dietrich’s current mood, bouncy and whimsical. It was Charles Marrowood‘s Australian novelty number, “Boomerang Baby.” Stan started the slinky vamp and Dietrich purred into the mike,
     “Boom boom boom boom boom-a-wang, baby.
     Fly, fly away, fly away from me, you boom-a-wang baby.”

When she got to the spoken bridge of the song, she took off those enormous sunglasses and looked me right in the eye, “Hey there. Back so soon? Have a nice twip?” She finished the song and asked again, to no one in particular, “Whewe is my wamp?”

The stage manager, still too stoned to move quickly, sauntered down the aisle and assured Marlene that a ramp was being taken out of storage and would be in place within fifteen minutes.
     “I will not be lied to,” she said with sharp finality.

Muttering something to the effect of “Everybody lies to you,” the worker set off again to look for a “wamp.” I recalled a story Stan told me about conducting for Dietrich during her Tokyo engagement at the Imperial Hotel when a concertmaster's lie very nearly led to an International incident.

The Japanese rehearsal was to begin at one p.m. By one-thirty, only half of the local Tokyo musicians had arrived and Dietrich asked where the other half were and why they were so late? It was “un-pwofessional! “

The concertmaster, bowing excessively low, indicated to Miss Dietrich that the string section was stuck in a massive traffic jam near the Ginza and would arrive at the venue shortly. Dietrich thought it a was strange explanation and asked a very logical question, “Do they all dwive here together in one car?”  The concertmaster responded with another plastic smile, more excessive bow and backed away from her without further comment.

Ten minutes more went by when Dietrich encountered the first violinist and asked him where the other musicians were?
    “They called in sick,” he told her, “and the producers were finding substitutes.” Another bow.

Stan reported that Dietrich went ballistic. She drove her foot through the floorboard of political correctness and shattered it by saying, “Stop! I have now been told two diffewent stowies. First, the musicians are delayed by twaffic and now you tell me they are all sick. This is not acceptable. You have pwoven to me once and for all that the Japanese are sneaking, thieving, lying little people and I have not forgotten Pearl Harbor!” Marlene was not going to get the Ambassadorship to Tokyo that year.

Stan said there was a party for her after the opening show given by the Mayor of Tokyo where extravagant golden-silk kimonos had been made especially to present to her as gifts. She was so upset by the lies she had been told that refused to attend and sent word to the Mayor “to take back his bathwobes!”

I was snapped out of my daydream by a change of lighting. Some techies noticed Dietrich on the stage, turned out the house lights, brought the stage lights up and a phenomenon occurred. She seemed to get taller in the light, like a flower responding to the sun as she let them warm and comfort her. She stepped back and listened for the introduction to the next song. It was "I Wish You Love.”

I wondered why I had smoked that joint with the stage manager outside in the alley before rehearsals began. Was I appreciating the full impact of this event? Well, it was 1973 and everyone smoked pot for breakfast with their coffee and I thought the music would sound enhanced. The fact that Dietrich herself was singing to me alone in the middle of this icy cavern was by far the most surrealistic experience of my life to date. Or was it?

Was it my father dating Joan Crawford? Or being invited to Fenwick by Kate Hepburn? Or the New York City blackout of 1965? Or working with Ethel Merman? Or riding to New York's City Hall with Mayor John Lindsay? Or campaigning with Harvey Milk in San Francisco? Or hiring a 16 year-old John Travolta to be in a New Jersey dinner theatre production of “Bye Bye Birdie?” Or meeting President Kennedy? Or Mrs. Roosevelt?

No, this moment with Dietrich was it. Especially as she stopped singing in the middle of the song when she saw that a ramp had just been exchanged for the three steps and Dietrich seemed eager to try it out. She hit the aisle and just as she passed me said, “The Fisherman” and kept on going.  It sounded like code - something one spy would say to another before exposing all their secrets.

“The Fishermam.” She didn't really stop. She didn't really look directly at me. Yet I knew she was speaking to me and wanted a response. But I was still too stoned to comprehend her meaning or form a response.
 “The Fisherman.” What did it all mean? Was there a clandestine operation going on?

I thought about Myron Cohen’s joke about the Jewish spy on his first day at the job. He's given the most dangerous and critical assignment in the history of the CIA. He is to go to an address, ring the doorbell marked “GOLDBERG” and when a man comes to the door say the code: “The Sun Is Shining.” He will then be given confidential documents that will save the world. If anything goes wrong he is to bite down on a cyanide capsule placed under his tongue. At all costs, this mission must be kept top secret.

Our new spy gets to the address and sees two names and two buzzers: A. GOLDBERG (1-A) and R. GOLDBERG (2-A). He rings the first bell and an elderly man comes to the door. The new spy says, “The sun is shining.“ The old man says “You want Goldberg, the Spy - Upstairs. So Dietrich is the spy and “The Fisherman” is the code. Jeez, that pot was good.

After the rehearsal, Stan told me that she had invited everyone in her party out to a restaurant in San Francisco called The Fisherman for dinner after that evening’s show. Since I was with him, I was part of the group. The show would start in four hours and since we were an hour drive from San Francisco, we brought a change of clothes and would shower in the dressing room. Stanley thought that Dietrich was in a particularly good mood since she had deigned to come to the rehearsal.

“She wanted to try out her wamp,” I explained, “and she decided to stay. She saw me sitting there and wanted to do it just for me.” Stanley laughed - God what an easy and wonderful laugher he was. His voice was like stone workers sifting through a gravel pit but when he laughed, his eyes completely shut and a rumble of contagious guffaws burst forth.

When I went to San Francisco with him for this engagement, we had been friends for four years, having met through my roommate at the time, Bob Nigro, who directed the long-gone NBC soap opera, “Search For Tomorrow.” Bobby was another great laugher with a hairline trigger for high tone giggles that lasted forever. One of the greatest laughs the three of us ever had was at Bobby’s expense.

We were at Stan's house on Fire Island when Bobby walked directly into a closed floor-to-ceiling plate-glass door and knocked himself unconscious. Stanley and I were still hysterical when he came around. We weren't being mean. Bobby had commented not an hour before that only a idiot couldn't tell the difference between that door being opened and being closed.

The forty-five minute trip from San Francisco to San Carlos was taken in a stretch limo with the passengers being Miss Dietrich, Stanley, myself, Jeanette (Marlene’s aide de camp), Gene (her drummer) and Gene’s wife, who was also one of Marlene’s helpers. It was a stretch limo that featured jump seats and could hold five comfortably. Marlene opted to sit up front with the driver and leave the six of us fighting over the five seats.

Jeanette met us at the top of the aisle and told us that Marlene was taking a nap but she would see us all at seven-thirty for cocktails. Stan said La Dietrich always had a few people in her dressing room an hour before the show and served champagne, which she never took herself. It was all part of the ritual.

We stayed in Stan’s dressing room with Chinese take-out until it was time to change and go to Marlene’s. The drummer and his wife were there already along with Joe Davies (her British lighting designer), Jeff (the stoned stage manager), the owner of the theatre and his wife and a silent, dazed-looking girl who just stood there without any seeming affiliation.

We thought Marlene was in the other room of her dressing room suite, but then Jeanette came in from the hallway, followed by Marlene who had changed into a bright red tailored pantsuit, white blouse and red fedora.

“Well, it looks like a pawty,“ she said, “But what is a pawty without champagne.“ The theatre owner signaled the silent girl who went to the hallway and returned with a liquor trolley. Jeanette had already opened the door to the inner room and from where I sat, I could see Marlene’s famous nude dress in the mirror. It looked like it was standing up by itself. Marlene, looking older than her 70+ years,  hung on the door of the inner room for a moment with a knowing smile on her face.  She looked like a magician about to enter the enchanted box, and only she held the secret of the trick. The dressing room door closed and the old woman disappeared.

Remember Houdini’s great illusion, The Metamorphosis? He would lock his assistant in a trunk upon which he would then stand. A curtain flew up, then down and in an instant they changed places and Houdini emerged from the trunk in a totally different costume. Forty-five minutes later, when Dietrich‘s dressing room door opened and she stepped back into the room, she had been completely transformed into the icon-legend-megastar of the Silver Screen. She was breathtaking. None of us could speak as we all took her in. Then she broke the ice. “Anybody have a banana?”

Speaking of magic tricks, Jeanette seemed to pull a banana out of thin air and handed it to Marlene who carefully pulled the skin back and admired it before taking a bite off the end.

I asked, “Do you always have a banana before a show, Marlene?”
     “Always!” she told me. “Potassium!“ And I’ll have another at intermission. It’s good for when you have to stand so long.”
     “Fifteen minutes, Miss Dietrich!” announced Jeff, the Stage Manager. Joe Davies raised his champagne, “To our Marlene!”

I wondered if I should join in the toast. After all, I had only met her the day before at the airport and wasn’t sure if I knew her well enough to enjoin with the others to drink to “Our Marlene.” But I lifted my glass. “To Our Marlene!” After all, she was everyone’s Marlene.

As soon as the toast was done, Jeanette opened the door to escort us out. Marlene turned to the mirror and began to study every inch of herself as the door closed like a wipe fading out on a scene from one of her old movies. We stepped through the curtain into the back of the arena, which was packed and buzzing with anticipation.

I walked down the same aisle I saw Dietrich stroll down that afternoon and I started counting my steps. I stopped at twenty-four. It was twenty-eight steps to the ramp. I sat in the second row with Joe Davies, the designer who created the magical lighting that kept her looking like a Rembrandt for two hours.

Stanley came down the aisle in his tuxedo, unannounced and unlit. He was wearing a new toupee. It was a little too big for his head. I had noticed at the orchestra rehearsal that his hair had seemed to have edema. It was at least twice as big as it had been when he woke up that morning. His appointment to get a “haircut” had been actually to get a new hairpiece that was styled with bangs and wings that reminded me of Imogene Coca. This one was so over-sized you could, as they say, “Get to Baghdad on that rug!” The day after Dietrich opened at the Circle Star, the review in the San Francisco Chronicle was a rave except they reported that “Miss Dietrich’s conductor looked like Peter Lorre with a bad toupee.”

When Stan was in place on the stage, the house lights went out, the audience fluttered and a spotlight cut through the dark from one side of the arena to the other.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only, Marlene Dietrich.” Stan raised his hand and the orchestra came to life with the horns trumpeting the first notes of “Falling In Love Again” much like heralders announcing the arrival of a queen.

Wearing that incredible white ermine coat which followed behind her, she stepped into her beam and floated down the aisle, looking straight forward, neither waiving to the cheering crowd nor acknowledging the standing ovation they were giving her. Head high, moving forward, I applauded her and chuckled to myself that I was the only one there who knew what was going on in her head - she was counting the steps.

On the twenty-eighth step she started to ascend the “wamp” and the crowd exploded. She walked the perimeter of the circular stage so that everyone, as Ethel Mertz might say, could get a load of her. She acknowledged Stanley and stepped to the mike and purred into it as if it were the ear of her great paramour.
    “I can't give you anything but love, baby.
     That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby…”

After two more songs, the coat came off, the stage turned, she sang two dozen more songs including “Lili Marlene” and “Falling In Love Again” and left them wanting more. The audience stood and screamed.

I had seen this same show twice before Stan and I ever met. Once was in Montreal during Expo ‘67 and also when she played the Lunt-Fontanne on Broadway. I took my cousin Eileen Quain to see it and she begged me to wait with her so we could get Dietrich’s autograph after the show. We stood outside the stage door in three degree weather, right next to the door, and when Dietrich came out my cousin thrust her program at her,
     “Miss Dietrich, may I please have your autograph?” implored Eileen.

Without even looking at her Dietrich said “No“ and pushed her way through the crowd to her waiting limo. Oh, well. Five years later, I wanted to call Eileen and tell her I was sitting with Dietrich in her dressing room after her show drinking champagne with her but she wouldn’t believe me. I hardly believed it myself.

    “I’m vewy hungwy,” said Marlene, who had now switched to vodka. “We’re going to the Fisherman. I have a cwaving for soft-shelled cwabs.”

Stanley bellowed, “How about you, Jim? Some soft shelled crabs and then scallops and maybe shrimp cocktail, lobster and shad roe? How does that sound?”

I raised my glass and returned his toast by sticking out my tongue at him, which Marlene caught.
     “What’s this?”

Stan explained that he was kidding me because I had an aversion to fish. I couldn’t stand the sight of it. Still can’t. I tried to eat tuna salad once and couldn’t actually come to put it in my mouth before I started gagging. I know it’s totally psychological. I know it’s totally irrational.  know I’m depriving myself of some of the greatest culinary pleasures on earth. But I hate fish and will never eat it.

Stan finished explaining my “problem” to Marlene and why he was laughing to Marlene who looked at me very strangely.
     “No fish?” she asked.
     “No fish,” I echoed.

The deep seated aversion  I had to fish was inexplicable. I had grown up less than a quarter of a mile from New York Harbor, in Bay Ridge which is the section of Brooklyn that anchors the Verrazano Bridge. For the first ten years of my life a squat, green ferry crossed the narrows from the 69th street pier in Bay Ridge to Staten Island. The ferry went out of business when the bridge was finished in 1964, but the pier at 69th street was a favorite fishing spot where all the neighbors would go crabbing on the weekends.

I was terrified by the sight of these mesh cages filled with living breathing, ugly, monstrous crabs. My uncle John would be one of the fisherman from time to time and would take the crabs out their cages and chase after with me aiming the crabs for my throat. I had also just seen “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” which didn’t help my paranoia about biting into things that lived under the water.

In the Joan of Arc nursery school one of the teachers tried to convince me that the tuna salad she was serving me was actually chicken, but after one taste I knew I had been lied to and became hysterical. Fish and I would never come to an easy agreement.

Dietrich picked up the phone in her dressing room and dialed 411. “Get me The Fisherman,” she purred. Obviously the operator didn’t realize it was the great Marlene Dietrich when she asked. “What city please?
     “I don t know what city, just connect me to The Fisherman. It’s a westauwant.”
She held the receiver for a moment while the operator found the number ands then made the connection.
      “Hello, Fisherman?”
I swear I thought she was going to cut the reservation to 7 instead of 8 and let me sit in the car while they all had dinner. Instead she said, “This is Marlene Dietrich speaking. I am coming to your westauwant with a party of 8. One of my guests eats no fish. Does the Fisherman serve meat?” It sounded like an oxymoron. A meat-catching fisherman. She listened for a moment then nodded as though she understood the answer and hung up.
     “There will be no problem. Shall we go?”

It only took her a few minutes to change into her red pants suit and we left by the stage door. There was a crowd of about twenty waiting for an autograph or just a close up look at the great star, but she was like a tight end pushing her way through the people, not stopping, not looking until she was inside the back of the limo. The rest of us followed her in and within a few minutes we were being escorted into The Fisherman. The place smelled of fish.

The maitre’d bowed and led us to a beautifully set round table in the corner overlooking the wharf. Most of the people in her entourage didn’t want to sit next to her, leaving me next to the legend who still looked like the icon rather than the old German lady. As soon as we got settled, Stan Freeman noticed a young girl approaching the table. She was heading straight for Dietrich. There was another great star eating at the restaurant that night and she had sent the girl over to say hello to Marlene on her behalf.

The girl pulled up right next to Dietrich and said, “Excuse me, Miss Dietrich.”
Without turning or looking, Marlene said coldly, “You are not excused.”
The girl went white but continued with her mission. “But I have regards for you from Ann Miller. She’s sitting over there.” Dietrich looked across the room to see Miss Miller waving to her then turned to the girl and said, “Ann who?”

“Ann Miller,” repeated the girl.

“Well, you are vewy wude. Now please leave this table.”

The girl, almost in tears, ran back to the Miller table and whispered into Ann’s ear. Miss Miller shrugged and everything went back to normal. Stars and public figures can be funny about fans interrupting their dinner. There’s a famous story about Rex Harrison having dinner with Moss Hart at Sardi’s between a matinee and evening performance of “My Fair Lady.”

Legend has it that an elderly woman approached the Great Rex with a program in hand. “Oh, Mr. Harrison,” she gushed, “you are my most favorite actor in the world. I’ve seen every film you’ve ever made I waited a year for front row seats to the show and there you were in person and I was breathing the same air you were breathing and you are so handsome and talented and if only you’d sign my program my life would be complete.”

Harrison turned on the lady and barked, “How dare you, you old biddy. Can’t you see I’m trying to enjoy my dinner without you prattling on. I don’t care who you love or what air you breathe or anything else. You are disturbing me.”

With that, the lady held off, smacked him on the head with her playbill and walked away. Moss Hart then observed, “Well, that’s the first time I ever saw the fan hit the shit.”

I also saw Pearl Bailey treat a young fan terribly. It was at Sardi’s after a performance of “Hello, Dolly!” when a small boy of about ten approached the star at her table. “I saw the show today,” said the lad, “and could I have your autograph?”

Miss Bailey sneered at the boy, “Can’t you see I’m eating with my friends. Hasn’t your parents taught you any manners? I’ll sign the program when I finish eating and you can just stand there until I do.” The boy started to cry and stood frozen not knowing what to do. His mother ran over and collected him while Miss Bailey never looked up again.

The mood of the dinner changed for the good when Joe Davies, Dietrich’s lighting designer, arrived with an early edition of the San Francisco Chronicle that contained a rave:

Dietrich and her act are the most remarkable feat of theatrical  engineering since the invention of the revolving stage, and age has if  anything reinforced her voice to the point where (for " Lili  Marlene” or Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone ?") she seems to have within her the strength of entire armies.

While we sat at dinner, I asked Marlene how Stan had come to be her musical director. She told me that when she first put the act together, Bewt Bachwach was her conductor and friend, but he had tired of doing the show and was preparing his first (and only) Broadway musical “Promises, Promises.“ As things are meant to happen, Stan was walking down Fifth Avenue one night and ran into Bert who said Marlene was looking for a new conductor and he would recommend Stanley if he wanted the job.

Bert warned him that she wasn‘t easy to work with, but Stan couldn‘t pass up the money and the perks that came along with the job so he took on the assignment.

The first few weeks were rocky. Stan said she was impossible to work with and found fault with everything he suggested or did. After one performance in London, Marlene complained about something Stan had done and he hit the ceiling, calling her every name in the book. He told her she couldn’t sing and that she was overrated and a supreme pain in the ass to work with. She loved him from then on.

The outburst did the trick. Marlene cried and said that she couldn’t lose him because he was the best conductor she had ever had. They were together for twelve years until Stanley helped to end her career for good.

They were performing at the Shady Grove Music Theatre outside Washington, D.C. On the first night, all went well except for the curtain call. Marlene came over to the foot of the stage and reached down to shake Stan’s hand after the performance. He said that she had to bend so far that he was afraid she would fall into the pit.

The next night, November 14, 1973, the show went along fine - full house, responsive crowd and standing ovation at the bow. Stan, being a gentleman, decided to stand on the piano bench so that Marlene wouldn’t have to reach down as far to shake his hand. He stood on the bench, took Marlene’s hand, the bench broke and he pulled her into the pit. Miss Dietrich landed on the drums, accompanying her fall with a tremendous, unexpected rim shot. Blood poured over her famous gown and it turned out she had gashed her leg open as she was impaled on the cymbal.

He told me that the audience let out a group gasp and an elderly married couple who had been sitting in the first row leaned over the orchestra pit railing and very nonplused said, “Very nice show.”

An ambulance took her the then 72 year-old to the local hospital where she was stitched up but the doctor found it difficult to close the whole wound which was about four inches in diameter. Senator Ted Kennedy sent his own personal physician to assess her condition and he told her that she lost a great deal of skin which had been sliced off by the edge of the drum kit.

Stan visited her in the hospital and was truly heartbroken that he had been the cause of her troubles. She said she didn’t blame him. It was an accident and accidents happen. Though she did mention that the pain was unbearable and she would have to go through months of skin grafts and physical therapy. She added that the doctors weren’t sure if the wound would ever heal or that she would ever walk properly again but that Stan shouldn't give it a second thought because it wasn’t his fault - though if he hadn't gotten on the bench, the accident wouldn’t have happened.

For weeks after the accident, Marlene would send pictures of her leg with horrific pictures of her wound - before and after the skin grafts - and then with huge bandages that covered her legendary leg from ankle to knee. With each note and each picture, Dietrich underscored that it wasn’t his fault and he shouldn't feel guilty.

She performed two weeks later in Toronto against her doctor’s wishes where she saw no one outside of her group, traveled by freight elevator between her room and the stage and played the entire two hour show in enormous pain. Her leg would not heal if she kept up the schedule so she knew she had to tend to her leg or it would be amputated. The leg that once had been insured by Lloyds of London.

After Toronto, she returned to her apartment in Paris where Stan would call her from time to time to cheer her up. Marlene always answered the phone herself but insisted she was the maid and that Miss Dietrich couldn’t come to the phone but she would pass on his good wishes.

Dietrich eventually went back to work after about nine months of recuperation and brought Stan back to conduct for her. But she wasn’t the same. She was brittle and in pain while she performed and took to using a stool so that she wouldn’t have to stand. Even the potassium from the bananas couldn’t help.

On [September 29], 1975, while she was performing in Sydney, Australia she fell again without any help from Stanley and broke her leg. That was the end of her career. She never performed again and she retired to her Paris apartment, a place she never left until she was carried out in feet first in 199[2].


  1. Always loved this story, and those photos!

  2. It was the Mark Hellinger and not the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in NY in 1967. I sent her letters encoraging her to do the show in NY after I was at Expo 67. She arranged for me to have house seats. I am sure if Ann Miller whom I knew came over to the table she would have been very amiable. She definitely would have known her. I never saw her being rude. She asked me to bring my albums to be autographed! That was thrilling because I am an autograph collector.

    1. The playbills indicate otherwise. Lunt-Fontanne was 1967 (see, and Hellinger was 1968 (see