31 December 2011

Maria Riva's Blind Items Pt. 4

Click photo to visit Library of Congress site
for more information
One more post from me before the new year! I figured I may as well revive this series of blog entries, especially after discovering a photograph on the Library of Congress (LC) site--Marlene Dietrich, Rouben Mamoulian, and Amelia Earhart on the set of The Song of Songs. Purdue has a photo from the same shoot of just Dietrich and Earhart (although their metadata doesn't specify the film's name, it's clearly from The Song of Songs), as does Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin (MDCB). A copy of the photo that MDCB shared in the newsletter is also available for purchase at Ebay.

About the LC photo, unless the "Recently Processed Collections" page hasn't been updated in a while, it appears that the Rouben Mamoulian Papers have become the freshest crop of Dietrich-related resources available to researchers. Browse the finding aid to learn more about this collection, which includes correspondences between Mamoulian and Dietrich throughout the '30s, '40s, and even 1960, materials related to the production of The Song of Songs (e.g., correspondences, memoranda, photos, and a script), and a jeweled cigarette case that Dietrich gave to Mamoulian.

And now for the blind item!

Miriam, was it you?
Maria Riva described what I assume was the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, which rocked the set of The Song of Songs. A "well-known actress" whose name Dietrich couldn't remember told Dietrich to calm down during the quake and not worry about Maria back at the Marion Davies estate because her children were also in Santa Monica. Dietrich then crudely pointed out that this actress's children were adopted. Who was this victim of Dietrich's razor tongue?

My guess is Miriam Hopkins (a name Bette Davis never forgot), who would have been filming Paramount's The Story of Temple Drake around that time, but I'm not sure. As far as I can tell, Hopkins had only one adopted kid (Michael Hopkins), and I wouldn't be surprised if Dietrich made at least one disparaging comment about her looks in Maria's book.

Think it was another actress? Let me know!

To read my guesses about Maria Riva's other blind items, click here

30 December 2011

Flickr Odds 'n' Ends Pt. 5

Here's a light and airy entry I've whipped up before the New Year's festivities distract me, Dietrich and Gary Cooper on the set of Desire. You can see the pair in the same threads here (apologies in advance for the unsolicited soundtrack) and here (the first photo in the second row), but I'm posting this photo because the fellow who uploaded it has many more well-scanned classic Hollywood images. Click and see:

marlene  Dietrich, Gary Cooper

 For those of us who don't read Dutch, I've been told this is a loose translation:


29 December 2011

La Dietrich duranguense

Andrea Palma, La mujer del puerto, 1934
Marlene Dietrich has influenced sundry entertainers, but I never knew that she became an archetypal performer within less than five years after her Hollywood debut, inspiring a fellow emigrant named Andrea Palma to transition from obscure milliner to iconic Mexican actress. I may be a smidge illiterate because I fail to notice in either Steven Bach or Maria Riva's tomes any mention of Palma.

Born Guadalupe Bracho in 1903 from a good Durango family, Andrea Palma was the cousin of two other famous Mexican stars, Dolores del Rio and Ramon Novarro, and the sister of director Julio Bracho (if you read Spanish, check out the biographical chronicle that informs this post, Los Bracho: tres generaciones de cine mexicano, by Jesus Ibarra). Of course, we're familiar with the dolorously gorgeous del Rio, whose beauty Dietrich admired (that Maria did confirm in her book). Even though I'd rather swim with the fishes than fantasize about them, I'm aware that some of you may find it titillating to imagine del Rio attending those mythical sewing circle shindigs.

20 December 2011

Dietrich's Fashion Advice for Dionne Warwick

Dionne Warwick's book, My Life, As I See It: An Autobiography, contains a funny anecdote about Marlene Dietrich tossing her clothes out because they were mere prêt-à-porter. Dietrich then played Warwick's fashion godmother by giving her a Balmain dress, which Warwick modeled on her Here I Am album cover (see left). Aside from gifts, Dietrich treated Warwick to her wisdom, such as the criteria for choosing a gown. No wonder Warwick called Dietrich "Momma"!

Now for dry technicalities. Did the Olympia concert in Paris, where Dietrich gave Warwick her big break, take place in 1963 or 1964? Warwick's book says the latter, while her official site lists the former. Whatever the case may be, I hope you enjoy reading from Warwick's book below:

19 December 2011

Dior Trick?

I've been reading that Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, and Marilyn Monroe were digitally included in the Charlize Theron J'Adore Dior "movie" (is this what we're calling commercials nowadays?) that premiered this fall, but that Lola Lola doesn't look like a CGI Dietrich to me. Rather, she's a beautiful impersonator, no? If this doppelganger has any acting skills, maybe she can play Dietrich now that Gwyneth Paltrow thankfully no longer has the biopic listed on her IMDB page.

Venus, Untouched

I recalled that missladiva had mentioned Dietrich's involvement with the play, "One Touch of Venus," when I came across a biography of its producer, Cheryl Crawford. Even though "Surabaya Johnny" with musical saw accompaniment sounds like roaring camp, I can't believe Dietrich wormed her way out of two original Kurt Weill projects during her career. Aside from this play, which eventually became a star vehicle for Mary Martin (listen to her lush rendition of "Too Soon" with Kenny Baker here), Dietrich never recorded "Der Abschiedsbrief" back in 1933, which Weill apparently had written with her in mind.

To read more about "One Touch of Venus," see:

Also, read this for more on "Der Abschiedsbrief" and--even more surprising--a proposed Dietrich-Sternberg-Weill movie musical proposal that fizzled:

Others have speculated that Weill's compositions were too vocally demanding for Dietrich, but Weill tailored songs to his wife Lotte Lenya's voice, which Dietrich could have easily sung as well, knowing how to compensate for her weak diaphragm by emoting. In fact, many utterly unimpressive vocalists have put their spin on Weill compositions over the years (e.g., The Doors' version of "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)" and Louis Armstrong's take on "Mack the Knife"). If I must settle for "Surabaya Johnny," though, someone please let me know whether any recordings of Dietrich's performance exist.

16 December 2011

Tsk, tsk, Daily Mail

Several months ago, I blogged about Dietrich's Rolls Royce featured in Morocco. Daily News has reported more on that car, which Bonhams expects to sell for around $0.5 million next month, and the article has used what appears to be the screen captures that I made. I don't care that people take content from this blog, but how tasteless of them to pass those images off as their own copyrighted material. I hate to sound so "kumbaya," but we should be sharing our sources when we spread information instead of presenting ourselves as the harbingers of facts for the sake of profit.

UPDATE: Read more about the sale of the car here!


When I babble about Marlene Dietrich's film characters, I tend to revert to her name, but the loner Lydia in 1947’s Golden Earrings was a creation that I regard as a true alter ego, paralleling in some respects personas such as Amos 'n' Andy. Like that pair, Lydia presented ethnic/racial stereotypes for comical effect, yet these characters diverge in terms of their historical background. Although blackface has been traced as far back as the Middle Ages in France, the blackface minstrelsy that tapped into American culture had developed during the early nineteenth century. As for Gypsyface, the only instances that I know to have preceded Golden Earrings were stage and screen renditions of Victor Hugo's novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Please tell me more about these adaptations because the 1939 film version is the earliest one that I’ve seen. In that film, the Gypsies don’t prominently embody comical stereotypes; rather, some are bestowed with sharp wit. Of course, Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda was so fair that I would more likely mistake her for an Irish Traveller.

In contrast to O’Hara’s gypsy performance, Dietrich’s Lydia embodied the phenotype, attire, and accoutrements of a Hollywood Gypsy (see here): a horse-drawn wagon, greasy black hair, bronze skin, a torn skirt, head kerchiefs, and gold coins strewn in her hair and sewn on her clothes. Lydia was also gifted with a Gypsy's supposed sixth sense: spewing garrulous curses, reading the mind of Ray Milland's character Col. Ralph Denistoun, and telling fortunes. When Lydia's supernatural powers couldn't aid her, she relied on superstitious rituals such as marking her chin to guard herself from the evil eye. In contrast to her broken sentences with omitted articles and botched conjugation, Lydia peppered her vocabulary with Romani words such as “gadze” (also spelled "gadje"--a non-Gypsy), German words such as “Liebling,” and Hungarian words such as “istenem,” evoking an exaggerated creole that Gypsies would speak after encountering multiple languages during their international wanders. By stealing apples and a coat, Lydia flouted concepts of ownership in a caricatured Gypsy fashion, too.

Aside from Lydia, other characters contributed to this barrage of Gypsy memes, such as Murvyn Vye's character Zoltan, who boasted of his fertility by claiming to have “thirty--and three” children and praised Denistoun for eating with his fingers. As far as Lydia was concerned, Denistoun’s visual trappings did not suffice until he pierced his ears to wear the film’s titular Gypsy symbol--a pair of golden earrings. Gypsy characterizations sometimes overlapped Black stereotypes as well, with Denistoun stealing a chicken from a coop. Paradoxically, this farcical imagery underscored the severity of Denistoun’s situation--survival in hostile territory. By upholding Gypsy tropes, Denistoun evaded his Nazi enemies and continued his espionage. In fact, Denistoun was able to reconvene with his colleague and learn about the Gestapo's actions under the pretext of telling fortunes. If Gypsies were the film’s archetypal tricksters, Denistoun was a metatrickster because he fooled friends and enemies to believe he was merely an errant buffoon.

With a penchant for reason, Denistoun resembled Shanghai Express’s Captain “Doc” Harvey when he told Lydia she would go to jail in England for her “hocus pocus.” Denistoun, however, suggested that the Lord’s Prayer could substitute spitting in a river before crossing a bridge, as if that act were any less ritualistic. While reading his colleague's palm, Denistoun unexpectedly foresaw his colleague's demise and later expressed to Lydia his doubt in his rationalist views. All along, Denistoun shared traits associated with Gypsies, which corroborated his realization, “Gypsy, gadze. Gadze, gypsy. It's all one, Lydia.” Indeed, Denistoun expressed assumptions about Gypsies (“I thought Gypsies always travelled around in caravans”), but Lydia and Zoltan also revealed their ignorance of gadzes. For example, Zoltan asked Denistoun whether gadzes bathe every day and blamed his father's early death on the baths the Hungarian army had forced him to take. Also, Lydia made an observation about gadzes that resembled the concept of white privilege: “You suckle pride and become ruler of world at your mother’s breast.” Perhaps you agree with Lydia’s statement, but my point in this context is that Gypsies saw gadzes as The Other just as gadzes saw Gypsies. In some later Hollywood productions, Gypsy characters exploited gadzes’ perception of them as exotic outsiders and used this status to con unsuspecting gadzes and elicit audience laughter. See this 1966 episode of The Andy Griffith Show:

Unlike this clip, serious references to ethnic persecution pervade the dialogue of Golden Earrings. Soon after meeting Denistoun, Lydia claimed that her husband had no papers, and that “they”--the gadze authorities--took them. Later, Lydia’s statements about gadzes became overtly bitter, such as, “In old days, they hunt us like wolves,” and, “One day in this accursed land, they will kill all of us.” Toward the film’s end, Lydia, Zoltan, and Denistoun boldly approached a home where high-ranking Nazi officials had met, and a houseguest declared, “We of the master race should not contaminate ourselves.” It was as if the film dealt with historical atrocities against Jews such as pogroms and the Holocaust through Gypsy allegory. Gypsies, too, were victims of genocide, and even though Golden Earrings did not entirely overlook prejudices against Gypsies, it did diminish the brutality that Gypsies endured during the Porrajmos by portraying Gypsies who roamed relatively freely through Nazi territory. Even the saccharine character development of Lydia couldn’t compensate for this historical omission, nor could her endorsement by a respectable Englishman like Denistoun: “You are the most wonderful person I ever met. Your generosity, and your warmth and affection, and your loyalty and devotion--you spill over with it.” The only other movie I know of that addressed both the persecution of Gypsies and Jews was The Man Who Cried, which I admittedly must watch again because I haven’t seen it in about a decade. If you've seen the film, please discuss it.

Of course, I can’t forget a woman who racked up three Billboard #1 hits in the 1970s by performing in ethnic drag--Cher. In addition to Bob Mackie’s peekaboo style, the imagery of Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” performance (see below) was rife with exotic Gypsy stereotypes, in contrast to the seemingly intimate lyrics that conveyed the desolation in which Gypsies lived as pariahs. Before the Kardashians, who made Armenian ancestry a brand, Cher had an exotic look that didn't fit the All-American mold. Thus, it's no wonder she performed as lyrical characters of Gypsy and Native American descent. Dietrich also played various ethnic parts, which her foreign image in the U.S. allotted her, but Lydia represented such a drastic departure from Dietrich's usual appearance that it came off as parody. Since her arrival to the U.S., Dietrich had perfected her international sensuality, and Golden Earrings was a unique film in which Dietrich clowned around with her non-native status, comparable only to that dumpy milkmaid disguise in 1931's Dishonored.