27 December 2012

Leni, wenn du Geburtstag hast?

Happy birthday to Marlene Dietrich, whose sultry birthday song, "Johnny," should have replaced the insipid American one. In honor of this day, I'll post my favorite cover of her song. Please share your favorite versions--by Marlene or by others--in the comments section.

26 December 2012

Dietrich vs Garbo: Dishonored & Mata Hari

Pitting Marlene Dietrich against Greta Garbo may be an unfair battle on a blog devoted to La Dietrich, but I've always wanted to compare the movies they made during the Great Depression, when their rivalry roared. Thus, I give you my thoughts on Dishonored and Mata Hari, two films that feature World War I women spies whose feminine foibles ultimately lead to their executions.

According to John Baxter, Josef von Sternberg whipped up Dishonored as an answer to Garbo's Mata Hari. When I read this, I thought, "Sternberg was a visionary, but I never realized that he was also a prophet!" Garbo Forever indicates that Mata Hari was in production during the fall of 1931, a year after Marlene made Dishonored, but let this not mislead us because Garbo Forever also quotes text from the November 9, 1930 issue of The New York Times, which suggests that the Mata Hari story had been a Garbo vehicle for quite some time.

In a later NYT article (March 15, 1931), movie critic Mordaunt Hall took a more diplomatic stance and wrote that "it was reported simultaneously through the offices of Paramount Publix and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo were going to play the role of Mata Hari." Regardless of which screen siren had first dibs on the spy role, Dishonored premiered on March 5, 1931, giving everyone working on Mata Hari ample time to steer the film in a different direction, and I shall explore whether they did. . . .

26 November 2012

Maria Riva's eBook: The Tea and (no) Sympathy

Maria Riva, Katherine Hepburn, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Marlene Dietrich
All, this will be an uncharacteristically brief post from me. I contacted Random House about the eBook release of Maria Riva's biography, Marlene Dietrich, and received a cordial yet appalling reply:

Thank you for contacting Random House, Inc.  We appreciate your feedback and continued interest in our publications.

Our current production schedule shows the electronic release of Maria Riva's "Marlene Dietrich" is 3/11/2014.  This date can change at any time.

To be notified of when new releases for Ms. Riva are available we invite you to sign up for "author alerts" at the following link:

Thanks so much for your time.

2014??? Please let your interest in Maria's eBook be known! Read this post on how you can contact Random House. If you have more potential contacts, let me know.

19 November 2012

Random House, I Beseech Thee!

Marlene Dietrich Maria Riva
I have been excited about the eBook release of the original manuscript of Maria Riva's book, Marlene Dietrich, ever since I read about it on the "office" Marlene website. Unfortunately, there seems to be a delay.

On November 5, a person asked about the book on the official Marlene Dietrich Facebook page, and "Marlene Dietrich" stated that "Random House is dragging its heels." Well, I would like to express my interest in this release to Random House, and--if you share my sentiments--I urge you to do the same.

Contact Random House on Facebook to let them know that you want to purchase this eBook.

Contact Random House on Twitter to request its release, too. Please use the hashtag #teammariariva so that we can make our campaign trend.

Contact Random House on its website as well. If you have any specific, influential contacts at Random House, share them in the comments section. Better yet, ask on the official Marlene Dietrich Facebook page whom to contact at Random House. If you use my link, please feel free to copy-and-paste the following text in the Question/Comment box (or share what you have sent in the comments section):


I am an avid reader who is looking forward to the eBook release of Maria Riva's biography about her mother, Marlene Dietrich. It appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list for several weeks in 1993 and will certainly find renewed success in electronic format.

Please let me know whom I should contact to express my interest in its release because I was hoping to purchase it during the upcoming holidays for myself as well as to buy more copies as gifts for all my friends and family members. I certainly don't want to resort to buying the Charlotte Chandler biography published by Simon & Schuster, which would be like putting coal in my loved ones' stockings.

[Your name]

14 November 2012

Marlene Dietrich's "Confidential" File

 Hot off the scanner, I present to you what is--to the best of my knowledge--the first English-language exposé on Marlene Dietrich's lesbian affairs, "The Untold Story of Marlene Dietrich" by Kenneth G. McLain, from the July 1955 issue of Confidential magazine.

Within that Mondrian abortion of a cover, McLain name-drops Claire Waldoff, Mercedes de Acosta, Frederique "Frede" Baule, and Jo Carstairs. Long before The National Enquirer and Perez Hilton, Confidential's Lavender Scare-era gossip threatened to tarnish the careers of "closeted" celebs, but not Marlene's! Those silly McCarthyists must not have known that Dietrich looked good in any color and that men's clothes were especially becoming on her. Nevertheless, it is dreadfully discomforting to recognize that the homophobic sport of outing is something of an American pastime.

If you were to tell me that another Mc--Diana McLellan--listed this article in the references of The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood with ten pages of "Ibid." after it, I would have believed you. I have to give McLellan some credit, though. It appears that she only cited this rag a few times.

Below I have transcribed the article (not the photo captions, though--sorry!) for you as well as uploaded image files of the article. As you'll see, there are no photos of Marlene with any of these alleged lovers, but the Confidential staff more than made up for it with shots of the most burly babes in Marlene's harem and of lovers Gabin and Remarque making perplexed faces. Also, notice that only Frede squawked. Who are the unnamed others who sold out Marlene? Any guesses?

12 November 2012

Dietrich Apocrypha: Eryk Hanut's I Wish You Love

The second blog entry in a series about Marlene Dietrich biographies that have not joined Maria Riva and Steven Bach's books in the Dietrich canon.

When I began writing this entry, my opening line was, "Like any genre, biographies tend to be cannibalistic." What hogwash! Those who have written biographical accounts about Marlene Dietrich may have often referenced each other, but I can't deny that they presented untapped sources that always stop me from throwing out their biographical babies with the bathwater. For example, Donald Spoto impressively managed to quote the then-unpublished memoirs of Marlene's acting school pal, Grete Mosheim, in his book, whereas the great Steven Bach merely cited Charles Higham's brief account about the two Berthold Held neophytes.

Rather than generalize all biographies, I should have only called Eryk Hanut's I Wish You Love: Conversations With Marlene Dietrich cannibalistic. It's as if he inverted the narrative of Goya's Saturn by devouring every available biographical account on Dietrich, regurgitating his readings to her, and eventually compiling her reactions in his own biographical account. Pardon me if that sounds unkind because I do in fact appreciate this book as a series of somewhat Socratic dialogues between Dietrich and Hanut. The questions that Hanut poses aren't the insipid fare. There's no "What was Hollywood like?" Well, almost nothing like that. Hanut does admit to asking, "What was it like, the war?" To which Marlene responds, "You are being really stupid" (p. 84). Usually, though, Hanut asks questions such as, "Who are your favorite painters, Marlene?" (p. 70). If you were the least bit cynical, you would probably suspect that Marlene's answer--Cézanne--came from her memoirs rather than any conversation that Hanut had with Dietrich. Who really knows?

I will be unambiguously skeptical about a few details, though, after reading a comment recently made by the inimitable Sauli Miettinen. Hanut recalls seeing Marlene perform in Paris when he was 8 years old. We later learn that Hanut was born in 1967. Let's do the math. 1967 plus 8 makes 1975. I, however, see no indication that Marlene performed in Paris during that year. We could give Hanut the benefit of the doubt because remembering one's childhood in terms of places and dates can be hazy. Perhaps he saw her when he was even younger or somewhere else altogether. I at least found evidence indicating that Hanut contributed to an exhibition of Marlene Dietrich photos, but in Charleroi rather than Brussels.

04 November 2012

Marlene Dietrich's Perfumes

 On my last trip to Berlin I visited numerous places that are in some way connected with Marlene Dietrich; my biggest hope was to see enormous collection of Marlene's property that the Filmmuseum (Deutsche Kinemathek) owns, but to my great disappointment, there were "only" few rooms of Dietrich's things on display. ;)

I was disappointed because one of the things I wanted to see were the flacons of Marlene's perfumes. I'm passionate about fragrances myself, so that interested me in particular-but, oh well, all the vintage bottles are lying in some Filmmuseum archive, temporarily hidden from the fan's curious eye. ;)

Even thought I didn't inspect what I wanted to, I'll try to answer the question: how did the Goddess smell?

In her 20s, she probably would wear No. 37 Veilchen (Pure Violet) perfume by Frau Tonis. The brand was just resurrected by the owner's granddaughter in 2009; they write on their website:
"Now to our final question: You also offer scents that once enthralled the legendary Marlene Dietrich?
Yes, that is correct. Dietrich’s favourite perfume was a scent as intense and eccentric as her she herself: pure violet. A scent that is dominated by the sweet, intense almost stubborn top note. This perfume may not capture the spirit of the time today, however, one can easily imagine how Berlin’s grande-dame of the roaring 20s once used this scent to cause quite the stir."
So I had to visit them.

I've bought the smallest version of this scent--it really is violet in all its glory--if you've ever drunk Creme de Violette from Monin, then the smell is exactly the same. I myself can imagine Marlene wearing this perfume in the 1920s Berlin; it's a bit sweet, intoxicating and very extravagant, but not as sophisticated as Dietrich's later olfactory choices.

So how did she smell like in the 1930s?

Various sources (like this, or this, or that one) mention Creed's Angelique Encens and Guerlain's Vol de Nuit, both from 1933.

These are the only two of Diva's scent that I haven't laid my hands on (at least not yet. ;) ) Creed dips in tuberose, which Marlene used to love, in jasmine,  and it's based on amber and incense--sounds very Dietrich, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the perfume is now discontinued and really hard to get.
Guerlain's Vol de Nuit is another interesting creation, my dream to get; absolute classic with its citrus head, floral-aldehyde body and warm, sandalwood and musk base. Perfect!

Tabac Blond from Caron (1919) is a fragrance that could be associated with Marlene even by its name. Leathery, full of tobacco, but softened by vanilla, it sounds possible that Dietrich would like it.

There's also a notice of Lelong's Indiscret from 1936, floral-woody perfume with galbanium- the same you can find in Vol de Nuit.

In the 1940s and 1950s, there was Piguet's Bandit from 1944-fragrance associated with Edith Piaf but, oh my, it screams Marlene. It's so feminine on one hand, but harsh and full of masculine tobacco on the other. I've found the info that Dietrich loved it repeated on various websites, especially those with Bandit's reviews.

Another Piguet's creation, Fracas from 1948, is also mentioned in one of the sources I've posted. The scent is very feminine, very sweet, it doesn't have the nerve as the above mentioned ones have. However, it's full of tuberose, so maybe that's why it appealed to Marlene?

Here you can find photo of Guerlain's Shalimar perfume that Marlene reputedly owned (it's a woody, oriental classic from 1925) and here a notice about the Young Dew scent (by Estee Lauder, 1953), another tuberose scent, this time spicy one, with cinnamon and earthy patchouli.

While smelling various scents that Dietrich was supposed to wear, remember one thing--most of them are now reformulated and don't always resemble their vintage versions. With this in mind, you can now go and check Marlene's taste in fragrances. ;-)

31 October 2012

You're Never Lonely With an eBook

I have been meaning to tell you about the latest eBooks in the Marlene Dietrich library, Marlene and ABC, but most of you are already well-acquainted with both titles, having read them on those blocks of wood pulp rectangles that the ancients called--correct me if I'm wrong--"books."

As you may have guessed, you will enjoy no substantial new material in these eBooks. Marlene's autobiography is almost exactly as it was published in 1989. Poor Travis Banton is still "Benton." I did at least find a new typo, with Jean Gabin metamorphosing into "Cabin"! I blame the typeface used in the Grove Press edition. Alas, the eBook editor(s) denied me the vulgar titillation of seeing the "G"s in "Günter Grass" replaced with "C"s.

Also slightly altered is the index. I haven't tallied the omission(s), but I immediately noticed in the eBook that "Academy Awards" was no longer the first entry. If you were hoping to read about such accolades, you can forgo the index and search "academy awards" yourself. I say good riddance!

Reading this book again has restocked my head with sundry minutiae much more satisfying than Oscars talk. Amidst her misinformation, Marlene recalls some eerily detailed trivia, such as a gift to Edith Piaf--a delicate emerald cross worn by the Parisian "guttersnipe" during her September 20, 1952 wedding to Jacques Peals. Squint to see it in the video below (or click here):

Dietrich's ABC is the same as the revised 1984 Ungar edition, but the e-format suits it better than print! It is as if Marlene had a prophetic sense of organization.

Before I explain that, I want to wave the banner for one of my favorite essays in Dietrich Icon, Amelie Hastie's "The Order of Knowledge and Experience." Hastie finds a filmic structure in ABC due to the cross-references that "capture and display the ephemeral." Well, isn't this how we often experience online text? Are you there, Carolina, or did you close this tab due to the paucity of pretty photos? Or maybe you took a detour by clicking on something I linked?

Such is an eBook experience of ABC--one of link-clicking. Think of it as Wikipedia, if you were only reading stub articles, half of which would probably be flagged for not being notable. Under most circumstances, you may not consider dill worth a second glance, but Marlene will have you reading about it again and again because you fear you will miss a dill dough recipe if you so much as blink.

Otherwise, you might be tempted to click on the cross-reference to dill under "BASIL" simply because you have been impulsively clicking every linked entry you encounter. Why not? It is almost effortless to get lost in ABC as an eBook. No risk of paper cuts as you thumb through the pages. No annoyance when you accidentally skip past the entry you were attempting to find. All you have to do is tap your finger on the screen.

You may have the vague notion that you have been clicking between the same two entries (see "SALK, DR. JONAS" and "SWIMMING POOL") for the past six hours, but you do not mind. The omnipotent link led you there, and you will keep clicking those links until your tablet shuts off, protesting against you for being too distracted to charge it. Then and only then will you return to the hazards of your print copy of ABC. Still, you will yearn for that convenient serial clicking experience, and it is better that you fill the Rivas' coffers than Charlotte Chandler's, whose Marlene biography--in electronic or print form--is akin to a mouthful of parsley.

10 October 2012

1940 U.S. Census--Here's Marlene Dietrich!

 After a simple search of the indexed 1940 United States census at, I finally discovered Marlene Dietrich's name on page 81 of the 84-page census schedule for California Enumeration District (ED) 19-43! Scouring through so many scanned sheets back in April must have made my eyes bleary because I know I viewed this very list. Indeed, Dietrich lived at the Beverly Hills Hotel (which then had the address 1201 Sunset Boulevard). Listed below Marlene is her retinue: daughter Maria Sieber, "secretary" Viola Rubber (a.k.a. "The Rhino"), and Erich Maria Remarque. See the full page for more details. You'll notice that Marlene is only 35, in keeping with her preferred birth year of 1904. You'll also observe that she worked only 8 weeks in 1939--on Destry Rides Again, of course--earning "over $5,000."

04 October 2012

Thom Nickels' "Daddy, Buy Me That" (Pt. 2)

Many moons ago, I shared the first part of an interview that Thom Nickels conducted with Marlene Dietrich pal John Banks, called "Daddy, Buy Me That!" Well, if you weren't sold on Banks' story, maybe this second part will sway you. Banks discusses Dietrich's envy and jealousy toward Angie Dickinson, his thoughts about Maria Riva's depiction of her mother, the time he gave Marlene a Twiggy make-over, and much more.  I'll add my two-cents in brackets. Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, I never got around to contributing to the Paramount centennial blogathon, but I will post what I had intended someday--hopefully before the studio celebrates its bicentennial. Now, please enjoy . . .

Daddy, Buy Me That!

part two

by Thom Nickels


  Turbulent Sixties

Banks says that the '60s were a hard time for Marlene because she didn't like the fact that age was waning her power.

"In her book, Maria talks about Marlene arriving home from Washington, D.C. and walking in her apartment waving her panties in the air and saying that she'd just had it off with John Kennedy, and that you could still smell him on them, or whatever." Banks thinks this is a crock and maintains that, because Marlene was 60, he doesn't think that John Kennedy would have been interested. "Especially since they'd known each other since they were [e.g., he was?] small. She and Joe Kennedy spent the summer of 1938 or 1939 on the Riviera together when Kennedy was a child. But would a child of his age have kept that image of that super woman until 1960?" Banks says he doubts it.

"When she finally faced age, she realized that things finally had to stop. She could have gone on having affairs right up until her death, but she didn't because she wasn't offering what she had before. She also began to drink in the '60s. She drank as much tea and honey as she drank scotch when I met her," Banks remembers. "She also drank beer. We went to restaurants, and I would always order a Pilsner, and she would always order a half a bottle of champagne. She'd get the champagne, and I'd get the beer, but we'd switch . . . I thought drinking champagne was still very exciting. She was very European. She drank beer at noon. She drank beer with meals. She was German, darling. She was a wonderful German broad."

Thalidomide Babies


"What she'd been all her life, even in those pictures that we see of her in the 1920s when she's kind of hefty, was a gorgeous woman. People wrote about her then as being absolutely fabulous looking. She had reddish blond hair. She had this white-white complexion, a great bone structure. I have very few photos of me with Marlene. I would have felt as if I was insulting her if I'd asked to do photographs. I couldn't say to her, 'Can I have my photograph taken with you, please?' I didn't think she would have liked that. I think she rather liked the fact that I didn't.

"She was a funny broad. She had a good sense of humor. The only thing we did not joke about was 'the image.' That was work, and you did not fuck around with work. But, otherwise, she was pretty funny, and she could laugh at herself. She liked practical jokes like tripping people. She had great gallows humor. For instance, she'd make terrible jokes about thalidomide babies and then say, 'Oh, that's terrible!'"

20 September 2012

"The Blue Angel" goes Blu

Kino Lorber have announced that they will be releasing The Blue Angel on blu-ray on 4 December. No word on whether this edition includes both the English and German versions (or extras, if any -- a running time of 124 minutes on a single disc is given by Amazon; this disc may well be Region A locked). It is available for preorder at

Universum Film GmbH released the film on blu-ray in Europe (Region B, stated running time 107 minutes on German Amazon) on 31 August. Their version, according to a review on, includes both the English and  German versions, as well as the extras including Dietrich's screen test, interview and concert clips and a German commentary by Werner Sudendorf. According to Universum theirs is a two-disc edition.

19 September 2012

Is Dietrich Through? (2/2)

In their January 1933 edition the fan magazine, Photoplay, published an exclusive interview with Marlene by Ruth Biery. Dietrich's "startling statements" promised to answer the questions that "kept the public and studios agog". (We presented Part One of the interview on Monday.)


Her American life has not been happy. Her first year -- Mrs Von Sternberg's suit for alienation of affections. The suit was understandable from an wholly American viewpoint -- it was completely a puzzle from Marlene's European one. She had a husband. He understood. Why should not Mr Von Sternberg's wife do the same? she reasoned. Incidentally, I have known both Marlene and Von Sternberg since she first came and I have always said both in print and in person that Marlene's devotion has always been as she now explains it.

A mental and, to her, common sense one. Then -- the fight on "Blonde Venus". Von Sternberg did not want to direct it. The studio wished to make the story saccharine. He bolted. Richard Wallace was assigned as director. She bolted. You now know why. Von Sternberg really went back and directed that picture for the sake of Marlene. He hated it then -- he hates it now. And no man can do a truly great picture with a story which he hates.

And then -- the kidnapping threats for her baby. Any description of her suffering would sound like an exaggeration. That Marlene Dietrich has a mother complex, no American would question. To her, the extend of her love is is only as natural as her refusal to be directed by any man other than the one who bridged the screen chasm for her. The letters she received were made up of words clipped from newspapers to avoid trace of handwriting. People said it was a joke.

They continued for six weeks. Each new letter showed a new knowledge of her movements. Why had she hired detectives? Why had she taken her child to such and such a place the day before? Marlene Dietrich was close to a mad woman. Neither she nor her child even now stir in the open today without armed guards.

The bars on the windows of her home are inches thick.

17 September 2012

Is Dietrich Through? (1/2)

In their January 1933 edition the fan magazine, Photoplay, published an exclusive interview with Marlene by Ruth Biery. Dietrich's "startling statements" promised to answer the questions that "kept the public and studios agog".


HOLLYWOOD is eagerly discussing Marlene Dietrich and her problems.

Her contract with Paramount is finished in February. Will she re-sign? Will she make pictures with other directors than Von Sternberg? Will she remain in this country or return to Europe as has been rumoured? That Maurice Chevalier gossip? What was behind the seeming unfriendliness between herself and Von Sternberg?

What was ll that fuss about the kidnapping of her daughter? Was this just another publicity racket?

Literally hundreds of curious, anxious questions.

Marlene has not granted an interview for seven months.

She has remained isolated behind her forbidden guard of nine detectives. Yes, I said NINE. Neither Marlene nor her daughter has moved without the protection of armed guards for many, many weeks. She had added what threatened to be an indefinite silence to her well-managed defense.

But now she has broken that silence. "It is right that the American people who have been kind enough to see my pictures should know and understand. It is right that I, myself, should tell them."

12 September 2012

Cornel Lucas Exhibition @ Fiorentini + Baker

My favorite Lucas shot--just a little flirtier than the more famous one exhibited
 Last year, missladiva reported on some Cornel Lucas prints of Marlene Dietrich on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Now, you New Yorkers have a chance to see them at Fiorentini + Baker through October 28.

As you will see, Dietrich is the star of the show at this exhibition and on Lucas' website. Time LightBox even features Marlene's face and Cornel's memories of her, another testimony of her perfectionism and directorial tendencies.

Funnily enough, Fiorentini + Baker is a shoe shop, and many of Lucas' images feature his subjects flaunting their footwear, including one of Dietrich on their flyer! Time LightBox also informs us that this is the first Lucas exhibition in New York, and I can't think of a more appropriate way for him to get his foot in the door.

Now, here's my question for you Dietrich scholars. Should these portraits of her be dated 1948? I thought they were taken for No Highway in the Sky, which was in production from October 1950-January 1951. Also, were they works made for hire (e.g., for 20th Century-Fox) or did Lucas take them as an independent contractor?

07 September 2012

Earl Wilson's Vintage Gossip Bites: The Broadway Edition

At The Last Goddess, we devour good gossip; below are some tasty morsels from New York-based Earl Wilson's syndicated  column, written at the time of Marlene's two Broadway triumphs in 1967 and 1968:

  • MONTREAL -- Maurice Chevalier, "a very happy old man" in his own words, delivered himself of the provocative opinion here the other day that "Marlene Dietrich had the guts that Greta Garbo never had" in continuing her career and that Garbo "must not be very gay now not working." ... "I don't approve of Garbo not working," Chevalier said. "she got so scared because something she did went wrong, and she didn't dare to come back, and she has refused everything. If she had kept working she would still be the great Garbo, whereas now Dietrich is greater than Garbo. She would have had to take older parts so she would be the great old lady of the screen. It is better to be a great old lady than just a souvenir." Chevalier was sure that Marlene -- "who has a lot of guts and it's surprising to find guts in one so feminine" -- will be a big hit in her one-woman singing, dancing show which, he pointed out, "is not her profession, but a new one for her". (5 August 1967)

    • Marlene Dietrich insists upon a special stage door watchman for her one woman show, to protect a gown allegedly costing $ 50,000. Advance word is that she's so good and lovely, that "she performs for an hour and 20 minutes, then takes bows for 40 minutes". (9 October 1967)

    • Marlene Dietrich was escorted to El Morocco the other morning by Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret's husband who is here on business, and Alexander Lieberman of Vogue, and Mrs Lieberman. For supper (or breakfast) they had scrambled eggs with red wine. Several beautiful woman such as Mrs Pat Uchitel were there, and I asked what they noticed. They replied, "Marlene's figure." ... "Isn't she TOO thin?" asked somebody near me ... "A woman," they shrieked, is NEVER too thin!" (Is that right?) (24 October 1967)

    • Marlene Dietrich rejected a 50Gs-a-week offer from Miami Beach Deauville, "but I'd like to vacation there". (18 November 1967)

    • Marlene Dietrich told the Billy Reeds she'll go into white tie and tails again when she does Die Fledermaus in Vienna next summer. (19 November 1967)

    • Marlene Dietrich shelved a return to NY -- but may play Osaka, Japan, Fair in the mid-1970s. (25 January 1968)

    •  The Marlene Dietrich triumphal return had some light moments. The "white mink" floor-length coat -- or was it ermine? -- turned out to be swans' down (from the belly of a swan), and it was gorgeous, and I may start breeding swans ... Producer Alexander H. Cohen was funny when I mentioned to him that one bouquet-thrower, who also threw love beads, which Marlene promptly put on, was working both aisles, flinging flowers from one side to the other, and was later seen backstage. "Those flowers cost me a lot of money," joked Producer Cohen, "and Marlene won't let me use them twice." Marlene wore a Jean Louis silk net gown with bugle beads and crystals -- and now jewelry -- and as she took her short little hobble-skirted steps across the stage, bowed the deepest, prettiest bow in history, and waived from the parted red curtains, we thought she is the greatest showman of our time. (10 October 1968)

    02 September 2012

    Marlene '59

    Marlene Dietrich at the Sahara Hotel, 1959.
     When Marlene opened at the Sahara Hotel's Conga Room in May 1959, she gave 'em legs -- and feathers. Her dress, a beaded Jean Louis number with a thigh-high slit, was topped with extravagant yellow plumage. (The costume also came in sedate black, but photos of Dietrich wearing it in actual performance are hen's teeth).

    She sang her usual suspects but included an odd  repertoire choice: Johnny Cash's "Don't Take Your Gun To Town".

    In 1959, Marlene also announced her TV debut. Press were told that her upcoming performances in Paris would be filmed in colour, directed by Orson Welles. In the end, the special -- a French-language performance filmed for an American TV audience -- didn't happen, but Marlene  did  make her TV debut that year, without fuss, while on tour in Brazil.

    Marlene makes her TV debut on Brazil's TV Tupi. With host, Jayce Campos (1959).
    The show, on the TV-TUPI channel, was presented by Jayce Campos. Dietrich appeared in her top hat and tails to sing "The Boys in the Backroom" and "Falling in Love Again". After some chat, she changed into a dress for a final number.

    Although it is a studio recording with overdubbed applause, the LP, Dietrich in Rio gives a good representation of the material Marlene sang on her South American Tour.

    South American exuberance gave way to Parisian jubilation when Marlene performed at the Théâtre de l'Étoile in November. Orson Welles came for the opening, as did Jean Cocteau and Noel Coward. Coward thought Marlene too brassy, but liked her rendition of "One For My Baby":

    (The entire performance, including Maurice Chevalier's introduction, is available as a digital download on itunes. Although the sound quality is sub-par, it is an interesting historical artifact.)

    10 August 2012

    Dietrich At War.

    Guest Blog by Poet Rehan Qayoom.

    Marlene Dietrich’s reckless war service has never been put together and documented in one piece though several of her biographies describe the war years in some detail. [1] This is what the author hereby purports: as a tribute to the duty which she fulfilled “Duty to the school, duty to everybody, duty to the world to principles you stand for.” [2] He hopes the present will prove to be an averment of her being an ardent perfectionist and her strength of achievement.

    Dietrich entertained over 12000 soldiers (on 20 March 1944) in Maryland – America with ‘The Boys in the Back Room’ and ‘Falling in Love Again.’ Causing them serious unease she played ‘Pagan Love Song’ on her musical saw and performed a telepathy act. She was also selling war bonds at the time.

    On 2 April, Dietrich boarded a plane for the first time in her life to desultory Casablanca. She had 3 hours of sleep using her sequined evening dress wrapped in a knapsack as a pillow.

    From Casablanca she moved to Rabat performing twice daily. Travelling in open jeeps she ate (regulation) tinned food which gave her a bad stomach because of the phenol it contained. ‘Whenever I went to entertain troops, there were frankfurters and sauerkraut, all over and always outdoors. Even when there was an indoors, we ate outdoors, often in the rain, with rain on the food and millions were perishing of starvation in Russia.’ [3]

    Dietrich then took off to support the allied campaign in North Africa. Jean Gabin was there to greet her on arrival in Algiers on 11 April – They clutched and kissed in full public view. Colonel Dietrich gave her first performance at Algiers Opera House and even that wasn’t devoid of drama:
    Danny Thomas is my friend. He can drum better on 2 dirty helmets than many can on
    the best pair of pong drums. [4]
    Danny Thomas announced on stage “Fellas! I’ve got bad news! We were expecting Marlene Dietrich but she went out for dinner with a General and hasn’t shown up …” Suddenly “No, no, I’m here! …” Dietrich fought her way to the stage pulling off her tie en route. Once on stage she casually began unbuttoning the khaki shirt of her New York tailored uniform before screaming soldiers (and removed her slippers) saying “I’m not with any General – I’m Here! I’ve just got to change into...” She was down to the last button and she said “Ooh! Sorry, boys, I’ll just be a second” as Danny Thomas and Lynn Mayberry hauled her off stage pushing her (down) behind a screen from which she transpired in no time in a sequined dress. She then proceeded to sing ‘The Boys in the Back Room’ and perform a mind reading act on a boy from the crowd “When a G.I. looks at me, it’s not hard to read his mind” she announced to her audience of 5000 with gusto. She was half way through 'Symphonie' when local power supplies failed. Then, she played the musical saw (repeatedly interrupted by air raid sirens during the whole do). To play the musical saw Dietrich had to sit on a stool, hike up her skirt and place the saw between her knees. Danny Thomas (whose real name was Amos Jacobs) remembered ‘Everyone got down on all fours to look up into paradise!’ Her audiences sometimes numbered up to 20000!

    The following morning she visited a stopgap hospital, visiting each bedside and playing ‘Swanee River’, ‘Oh Susana’ and ‘My Darling Clementine’ on her musical saw. Louis Berg reported there not being a dry eye in the room.

    A tour through Tunisia, Sicily and Italy followed where a brat begged a scarf off her to rent to G.I.s to put under their bunker pillows. One afternoon in Naples, Dietrich sent for Danny Thomas to her room. He recalls ‘I went in and there she was, stark naked, sunning herself on her balcony.’ [5]

    On the eve of 15 May, Dietrich and troupe were lost nearby enemy territory when their jeep broke down in a grove: they could hear gunfire and it was a cold night.  Eventually a truck drove up and the troupe approached it. Dietrich heard their language and said in French ‘I’m Marlene Dietrich.’ The reply came ‘If you’re Marlene Dietrich.  I’m General Eisenhower.’ She proved her identity with a flashlight: with them was the actor Jean-pierre Aumont and Dietrich referred to an unusual odour rising from his uniform. He explained that he’d just had his first sleep in days, next to the corpse of a Senegalese soldier:
    She was in fact being reshaped by circumstances and her own will for the new role
    she was destined to play: the role of international entertainer. [6]
    On 25 May whilst in Rome she sang ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ to hundreds of soldiers. Her boys provided light by beaming their flashlights at her: “If they don’t like my act, all they have to do is to turn off their flashlights. I felt as if I had passed the toughest test of my career”[7] she said.

    Dietrich and troupe wheeled many of the injured (after allies broke into Rome on 4 June and the commencement of a baleful battle) to a large hall where she sang till it was dark. She recalled “It gave me the opportunity of kissing more soldiers than any woman in the world, no woman can please one man, this way, you can please many men!” [8] Now Dietrich was back in New York to attend the premier of her film Kismet. Asked whether the Reich was about to collapse, she replied ‘The Germany I knew is not there any more, I don’t think of it. I suppose if I did, I could never do these tours.’ [9]

    On hospital visits she’d make beds for the wounded. Occasionally some wounded American allies would tell her of injured Germans in the same hospital. Passing boys would argue among themselves whether she was really Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich mused (in her 15 hour interview with Leo Lerman): “I’d go to these young, blank-faced, very young Nazis and they’d ask me with tears in their eyes ‘Are you the real Marlene Dietrich?’ All was forgotten and I’d sing ‘Lili Marlene’ to everyone. In that hospital. There was no greater moment in my life.”

    There is a piece of newsreel showing Dietrich dancing a frenetic jitterbug with a G.I. and a photograph showing her signing her autograph in lipstick across a young soldier’s chest, right over his heart: ‘There’d be an argument and as the convoy would stop off I’d discreetly show a leg.  After that, they never seemed to have a doubt.’ Slinking around in a form-fitting gown without undergarments she had to abandon her cosmetics, talc and rouge. There were big black circles round her eyes, she’d light her fags with airplane metal.

    Bunches of roses and laurels of scented bougainvillea blossoms were strung across her tent. She was accoladed with gin and tonics before her performances, she devoured cook-outs of steak and onion on campfire braziers, she’d milk cows for child refuges and the youngsters would take her autographs for their parents. In Greenland she returned to twice daily performances and played Schubert on the saw. Arriving in London in September, it was from here she made many propaganda broadcasts on the American broadcasting station in England. The program was called 'Marlene Sings to Her Homeland'. The programs were beamed all over Germany and she always dedicated her songs to allied soldiers. She said the British soldiers were “About to meet up with you boys and destroy the Reich.” In one particular program she suddenly lashed out with “Jungs! Opfert euch nicht! Der krieg ist doch scheiße, Hitler ist ein idiot!” [10] And as she began crooning ‘Lili Marlene’ she felt a sharp tug at her microphone and she was reminded that this was an English broadcast!

    In the autumn Dietrich visited France, where in Nancy she suffered shaking chills for which she drank Calvados. As a result of drinking alcohol on an empty stomach she was constantly vomiting.

    When returning to Belgium, the group was raided by crabs. They were told that the ladies would be permitted to bathe ‘In return for certain favours’ that is to say if the men were allowed to watch.  The ladies overcame their coyness on hearing of soap and water! At night rats with frozen feet would race across their faces!

    In Aachen, she had to wash her face, hair and underwear in snow melted in her helmet.  Dietrich performed amidst the ruins of a theatre and with no heat the building felt like ice. The caretaker bought Marlene his thermos pouring out of a cup his choice coffee for her. Her entourage warned her not to drink it lest it be poisoned “No, they wouldn’t do that to me” she retorted and drank it. She thanked the bloke in her native language and asked him why he’d wanted to share something so precious when he knew she was on “The other side”? He replied “Yes, yes, but The Blue Angel – ah! I can forget what you are, but The Blue Angel? Never!” Once when her hotel was bombed the board began to panic in search of a bed for her. When Marlene heard of this she said “I’m just one of the boys, don’t give me any privileges.”  The atmosphere was later re-enacted for her 1957 film Witness for the Prosecution.

    She was infected with lice in October and when the German General Sepp Dietrich put a price on her head when she was surrounded by his entire army she was adamant that she be given no star treatment ‘I’m just one of the boys’ she’d say.

    General George Patton (commander of the Third Army) admired her for her guts and for her impeccable wildness. He sent her to entertain the front-line battalion presenting her a pearl-handled pistol. She slept with him on many occasions in Bastogne.

    In Bari she contracted serious pneumonia, and when Alexander Fleming cured her with his antibiotic Penicillin, Dietrich, in turn, favoured him with a horoscope and a basketful of eggs for the rest of his life (until his death in 1955).

    William Walton (a famed journalist in his day) had bought a hat in Paris for a lady in New York which Dietrich wore while sharing the same hotel with him and one evening while he was working with his door open Dietrich paused outside, went to her room and returned completely naked except for the hat which she wore at a neat angle and asked him “Don’t I look cute?[11]

    In Ardennes, Dietrich suffered severe frostbite and influenza the effects of which remained with her lifelong resulting in her arthritis later in life. She continued her twice daily performances all through the final great German offensive on the western front in Southern Belgium. One of her numerous "War Stories" was when Field Marshal Gerd Von Bundstedt demanded that Bastogne surrender because they’d completely surrounded it. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe replied by saying “Nuts!” It took the translators 2 hours to explain its meaning to the Nazi General who still didn’t get what it implied though one cannot figure out how and why! [12] It was only when General Patton marched into Bastogne on 21 December that the Germans began to retreat after they were joined a week later by the First Army.

    The next vacation was Stolberg where Dietrich was interviewed on 2 February 1945 and she said “I hate to see all these ruined buildings, but I guess Germany deserves everything that’s coming to her.” In April she visited Belsen and its concentration camp where she had to sift through corpses. Here she found her sister who was put on detention in an apartment block nearby and arranged some medical care for her.  In July she returned to New York for treatment of a jaw infection.  Later she lectured students at a G. I. University in Biarritz – France about her films.

    [1] J David Riva, Dietrich's grandson, has also now edited an excellent book of retrospective articles written 
         by those who came into contact with her during the war years.  See A Woman At War: Marlene 
         Dietrich Remembered (Wayne State University Press: Painted Turtle Books, 2006).
    [2] Copenhagen TV Interview, (1971).
    [3] Pollock, Arthur.  'Theater Time', 1 June 1944.
    [4] Dietrich, Marlene. Marlene Dietrich’s ABC. (1962).
    [5] Thomas, Danny & Davidson, Bill.  Make Room For Danny.  (Putnam, 1991).  139.
    [6] Walker, Alexander. Dietrich. (Harper & Row, 1984).  158.
    [7] Berg, Louis.  'Dietrich Rides Again'.  This Week, 13 August 1944.  10.
    [8] Frischauer, Willi.  'Dietrich, the body and the soul'.  Collier's, 14 May 1954.  27.
    [9] Heimer, Mel.  'Dietrich "Home" Again'.  New York Journal-American, 26 August 1944.  2.
    [10] Lerman, Leo.  'Welcome Marlene'.  Vogue, 15 August 1944.  154.
    [11] Spoto, Donald.  Blue Angel: The Life of Marlene Dietrich.  (1992).
    [12] Riva, Maria.  Marlene Dietrich: By her Daughter.  (1992).

    © Rehan Qayoom, 2000, 9 August 2012.

    This article first appeared in Prose 1997 - 2008 (2009).  Rehan Qayoom is a poet, author and editor. Educated at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has featured in numerous magazines, periodicals and performed his work across the world. His books include Seeking Betjeman Country (2006), Prose 1997 - 2008 (2009), Parveen Shakir Adapted into EnglishAbout Time (2011) is a collection of his poetry in English.  He is the editor of the prose and poetry of Morney Wilson, published as Martyr Doll, Remains and The Recordings (2011) and Chiragh Jaltey Hen: The Unpublished Poetry of Obaidullah Aleem (2012). He lives in London surrounded by books.

    08 August 2012

    When Baryshnikov & Dietrich Met on Business

    Back in 1987, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) hosted its 6th annual awards dinner at the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For $750 a plate, attendees got to watch designers--who paid only $250 for their grub (beat that, AARP cardholders!)--walk like Egyptians to the podium and bask in the recognition of their peers.

    Absent from the ceremony was Marlene Dietrich, who had won a lifetime achievement award, which someone less respectful than I might term a sort of "deathbed award" that Dietrich describes under her ABC entry, "Academy Award." On Marlene's behalf, Mikhail Baryshnikov accepted the award. Maria Riva tells us in her book that Dietrich rejected David Riva for this task in favor of the diminutive dancer-turned-actor, who became the object of her mother's unbridled octogenarian lust.

    If Baryshnikov never had the chance to visit Dietrich's "nice and tight" nether regions, at least one of her top-shelf impersonators, played by Adele Anderson, flirted with him and Gene Hackman in the 1991 movie, Company Business. This Dietrich may be dressed like The Blue Angel's Lola-Lola, but she's singing "The Boys in the Backroom," the signature song of Destry Rides Again's Frenchy, even jiggling her Adam's apple like the saloon strumpet to whimper with vibrato!

    07 August 2012

    25th February 1966, Marlene in Poland for the second time

           On 25th February 1966, Marlene Dietrich was travelling to Poland for the second time.
    As 'usual', she was greated by Pagart (Polish Art Agency). She wore beige coat and (it seems) floral print headscarf. Marlene went to the Bristol Hotel (the one in which she stayed back in 1964).

    You can watch the airport arrival and Marlene during concert in 1966 in Warsaw here...:

    ...and something from a fan's private collection, including Polish magazine covers from 60s here(I hope you can watch this one).

     The plan was to give 13 concerts (6 in Warsaw, 5 in Gdańsk and 2 in Wrocław), then get back to Paris to get some rest as her health was really bad those days: in her journal she was writing about insomnia, back pain and frequent bleedings. Despite this, she gave all 13 concerts and didn't stop rehearsing with the orchestra.

    She traveled by plane and train from town to town. Even though most of the organisors were able to provide decent conditions, in Gdańsk there were some problems; she didn't quite like the Grand Hotel in nearby Sopot, the stage location wasn't good either: she sang in shipyard which was just next to the railway; trains were so loud they interrupted the songs. You can find photos from Gdańsk airport right here. This Chanel (?) suit suited her so well. :)

    Big highlights from Dietrich's second visit to Poland were her meetings with Polish artist: musicians (you can see beautiful Marlene with two well known pianist here), actors, among which the most important person was Cybulski. She met him in Wrocław, when she was staying in Monopol hotel, where eventually Cybulski also decided to spend some time. They got along immediately; she knew his movies; they spend quite a lot time together and when it was high time for her to get back to Warsaw, he escorted her to the railway station. Afterwars, they started to exchange letters.

    After concerts in Warsaw and a glass of wine drank with musicians, Marlene headed for airport. She declared she wanted to return to Poland once more...but unfortunatelly, it has never happened.

    04 August 2012

    Revisiting Rosenbach's Mercedes de Acosta Trove

    The Vampire & The Child (from here)
    A few years ago, I briefly mentioned the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, which holds Mercedes de Acosta's papers. Shame on me for not digging deeper than a mere press release! You may recall in the first part of the Thom Nickels piece on John Banks that Marlene Dietrich supposedly gave Acosta a pair of her silk stockings. VP, the force behind Carole & Co. and a reader more astute than I, emphasized this factoid, and Nickels recently told me that his book, Gay and Lesbian Philadelphia, features a photo of the stockings, which are held by the Rosenbach.

    Well, with all this in mind, I thought to myself, "Surely, this museum's got an online finding aid that'll tell me more about its other Dietrich relics." I didn't expect all the photographs! Explore the Rosenbach Museum & Library's object catalog because you'll be as impressed as I was. Aside from the stockings, you'll see a silk scarf monogrammed with "marlene" in its polka dots, a sock (which I highly doubt is polyester!), publicity shots, and candid photos (incidentally, did jealousy lead Mercedes to crop her male rivals--such as Fred Perry--out of some photos? See this and compare with this).

    Oh, you probably expect me to tell you how to search this catalog. Well, if you insist!

    Try this link, type a simple term like "marlene" (retrieves 294 records) or "dietrich" (retrieves 293 records) in the box, and click the "Search" button. I recommend you play with terms like "riva" (to see a few early '30s head shots and also an intriguingly butch studio shot from the same era of Maria Riva) or "garbo" (to see a surprisingly small set of 39 Greta Garbo records) as well.

    You may notice the Rosenbach object catalog's request that researchers send any information that can improve their records, so do help them if you spot any errors or omissions. Just click the "Send Feedback" button on the record you're viewing, and fill out the form. You'll be aiding not only the Rosenbach, but also any future Dietrich researchers and fans. I myself have spotted several photos of Marlene with an unidentified Rudi Sieber and sent feedback about this. I haven't yet viewed all the photographed objects, but I'm hoping to see Tami Matul buried among these treasures. EDIT: I just saw two paintings of Marlene (one | two) that are surely by Martin Kosleck. Also, this woman is not Marlene, is she? She looks more like Zarah Leander . . . ?

    03 August 2012

    August Wishlist

    Before all else, I want to attune you to Terry Sanderson's upcoming Marlene Dietrich tribute at London's Conway Hall on September 7-8. Visit his site devoted to the show! If you've attended any of Sanderson's past Marlene tributes, please share your experience in the comments section.

    Now, I'll tackle my wishlist! While searching online catalogs of libraries, museums, and archives, I find myself coveting countless Marlene-related items. By giving these materials exposure here, I hope that I can somehow access them. Even if I can't, I'll be satisfied with making some of you aware of these things so that you can explore them yourselves.

    Marlene Dietrich w/ 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion officers
    Marlene Dietrich w/
    614th Tank Destroyer Battalion officers.
    Recognize the dress?
    First, I want a better-quality version of this photograph, in which Dietrich brings cheer in Germany to officers of the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, apparently one of the few Black (or--for search engine optimization purposes--African-American) tank destroyer units and also the first Black unit to receive a Distinguished Unit Citation. I'm only certain that this photo appeared in the May 26, 1945 issue of the influential Black newspaper, Chicago Defender; in the May 19 issue, an article describes how Dietrich dined with the troops, sang "Lili Marlene," and shook hands with the mess sergeant for cooking a yummy meal. I surmise, though, that the image lies in an archive somewhere because it's from the U.S. Signal Corps. Do tell me whether you know more or whether other publications have printed it.

    In case you're interested in war history, has rounded up several informative resources on the 614th TD Battalion. I also encountered a more colloquial but equally fascinating page that mentions Dietrich and the 614th troops at WWII vet Pierce Evans' site. You may be particularly drawn to his page with a photo of Marlene's leg.

    Marlene Dietrich photographed by Scotty Welbourne
    There's that dress!
    Photographed by Scotty Welbourne.
    (photo from here)
    For the eagle-eyed among you, the dress that Marlene's wearing is one of her '40s staples (also, it's pastel, according to the May 19, 1945 issue of Chicago Defender), and I can trace it to a photo shoot she did with photographer Scotty Welbourne. When was this shoot? I assumed it was for 1941's Manpower because Welbourne became the photography department head of Warner Bros., the studio that produced this Dietrich movie. The 1st U.S. edition of Alexander Walker's Dietrich, however, features an alternate shot on the dust jacket and dates it to 1940. As if I couldn't be any more clueless, I want to know who designed the dress. Irene? The cut looks similar to another one that Marlene wore throughout the '40s, which you can see at a link I know I've shared ad nauseam here--the FIDM Museum blog.

    Now, for the other item on my August wishlist, which piqued my interest while I was digging through the U.S. National Archives catalog:

    I want to hear Marlene's German version of "I'll Never Smile Again," one of my favorite classic pop standards in English--obviously thanks to the cool crooning of Frank Sinatra. As you may notice, Dietrich recorded a German version of "South American Way." To hear that, listen no further than marlenedietrichTV!