19 December 2011

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.


  1. Interesting! It always amazes me all the information you dig up on Dietrich. I would believe that Weill compositions fit Dietrich's type of voice perfectly. I have a collection of Marianne Faithfull recordings of songs, in a later album called "20th Century Blues", and she did a good rendition of Weill's compositions, even if she did not have the "vocals" for it.

  2. Thanks, Cara! I must say that I'm amazed by the photos you've shared on your Tumblr. I don't think I've ever seen that one taken by Clarence Sinclair Bull--what a gem! It also invalidates my claims that Dietrich's eyebrows became thicker over the years.

    I'll have to listen to tracks from that Marianne Faithfull album because I'm more fond of expressive vocalists than powerful ones. When I was listening to various Weill songs on YouTube, I found several renditions sung by people in a more operatic style and didn't care for them as much as the jazzy/bluesy takes. Of course, I'm the type who'd rather listen to Marlene Dietrich's movie performances than Jeanette MacDonald's.

  3. Thank you. :) I've sadly been neglecting Tumblr lately, due to real life commitments again. But I constantly get updates from your blog, and it's the most delightful thing to get an alert and open it to find something on Dietrich than an email for work/uni. And her eyebrows are always a source of fascination for me.

    It's available on YouTube now, I think. She even does "Illusions" from A Foreign Affair (and does it wonderfully, IMHO), and Falling in Love Again too. I can understand your POV, I'm very much the same way! I'm all for singing talent, but I very much prefer "song stylists". I personally cannot stand Jeannette MacDonald, and quite a few of the "classic stars", I must say.

  4. Wow! I'm listening to that cover of "Illusions" now--Marianne's got a timbre like Elaine Stritch's. Thanks for pointing out these songs to me. I'm keen on listening to more Marianne Faithfull songs. I've always liked "Broken English" for being one of the few disco songs with meaning beyond the dance-floor but never spent time looking into Marianne's other songs.

  5. Another reading on the subject of "One Touch of Venus"--some quotes from Kurt Weill to Lotte Lenya, in which he called Marlene "a stupid cow" and "conceited like all those Germans" ostensibly because she withdrew from the play (New York Magazine, April 15, 1996).