30 June 2012

Last Night, I Dialed 'M' For Marlene

Last night, I dialed 'M' for Marlene. There was a bit of static, but our operator-cum-playwright/director/stagehand Gary LeGault made the connection. In Dial 'M' for Marlene, the story begins at Marilyn Monroe's January 7, 1955 press conference where she announces the launch of Marilyn Monroe Productions with her business partner, Milton H. Greene. Never one to miss a publicity opportunity, Marlene Dietrich attends the event. Herein lies my first and only quibble. Why wasn't there a moment when Monroe, Greene, and Dietrich pose together, in reference to this photograph? Oh, one more gripe, which would come later. A dusty mirror initially assaulted my senses because Dietrich would have never tolerated such filth in her apartment. Because this play later kicks open the door to the spirit world, Dietrich's Prussian geist undoubtedly possessed LeGault, who Windexed (Or Fabuloso-ed? Who knows what's available at this end of Hollywood?) the soiled looking glass.

Otherwise, this play is rife with fun Dietrich (and Monroe, which doesn't interest me much here) trivia. Dietrich (Victoria Valentino) invites Monroe (Ariane Bellamar) and Greene (Jeremy Ebenstein) to her apartment at 993 Park Avenue (by the way, I racked my brain trying to remember whether Dietrich lived at this address during the first half of the '50s and am now inclined to believe that she actually lived at 410 Park Avenue at this time, which is why your knowledge is integral in augmenting and correcting the markers in the now-dormant Mapping Marlene Dietrich project), name-drops Ernest Hemingway and Noel Coward, and pretends to be a Spanish maid when she answers her phone, which happens to rest upon a trunk stickered with depictions of Cap d'Antibes and Le Grand Hotel, possibly inadvertent nods to Dietrich and Greta Garbo respectively. Speaking of trunks, Dietrich and Monroe chit-chat about the circus, in reference to Dietrich's ringmaster stint (on March 31, 1954 and also back in 1952) and Monroe's later elephant ride. Before I forget Garbo, I should add that there are a few jokes at her expense, which always wins my applause. I wish I could recall all of them, but I can only cite one at the moment--about Garbo in a floppy hat and a trench coat, shopping at a flea market and stalking poor Monroe.

So what about the performances? Well, it's nearly impossible to play Dietrich without her souffle foundation and skin-firming braids, but Valentino began to find Dietrich's trademark accent after the first scene. With some false lashes glued to the outer edges of her eyelids, she'd also have Dietrich's bedroom eyes. Maybe Bellamar could snip hers in half and share? As for Bellamar, she cooed her lines as sultrily as Monroe would have, and her Louboutins were a contemporary touch that I'm sure Monroe would sport if she were among today's stars. Given that Valentino and Bellamar had replaced the previous lead actresses with short notice, I was impressed by their efforts, although these beautiful women ought to give their scenes with a Sapphic touch a firm squeeze. Regardless, these two played their parts to meta-theatrical perfection. When Dietrich hands the torch--or, in this case, the confetti horn--to Monroe, I couldn't help but see the act transpiring between the actresses themselves, a 1963 Playboy Playmate graciously giving her blessing to a 21st-century Playboy Bunny.

The supporting cast gave Peter Sellars a run for his money by taking on multiple roles and accents, but my favorites were Bruce Culpepper, who (naturally?) evoked Dr. Phil in his role as 1st Psychologist, and Peter Cluff, whose lisping 2nd Psychologist may have been a reference that flew over my head. Dietrich fans will also chuckle upon seeing Sophie Brabenec's Mawia Wiva interpretation and her Gertrude Lawrence/Gertrude Stein possession at Dietrich's seance, where spaghetti--not spaetzle--is served. Bill Riva would have felt at home!

If I can, I'll gladly redial Dial 'M' for Marlene. As I've told you before, visit its Facebook page for more information and see it before it ends its run on July 15.

28 June 2012

Dial 'M' for Marlene Premieres Tonight!

The (soon-to-be) legendary, lovely Victoria Valentino & Ariane Bellamar
You read that right! Dial 'M' for Marlene premieres tonight at The Flight Theater, which means you should dial (310) 360-7064 for reservations. Check the Facebook page for all the latest updates. Gussie sent me this lovely pre-production photo of Victoria Valentino and Ariane Bellamar, who will be playing Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe respectively. Of course, I'll let you know later whether they play the two respectfully. Gussie also gave me lots of insider gossip that's a day (or eight) late and a dollar short, but you'll enjoy it nonetheless:

With two new actresses taking over both leading roles, we are working hard to get everything ready for next Thursday's opening night.  Holly Woodlawn has promised to attend, as well as the play's inspiration, Alexis Del Lago.  There may be more colorful costumes in the audience than there are on stage.

Marilyn's wig is being created as we speak.  It will be made of human hair, which has been dipped in natural spring water and left to dry in the southern California sun (for a more natural look).  Authenticity is our goal.  Marlene will have a wood-cutting saw nearby, in case she feels inclined to entertain her guests.

Victoria Valentino is training for this part much as Mary Martin prepared for the role of Maria von Trapp.  We've strapped weights to her feet so that she may lift them alternately, as she yodels, thereby increasing lung power.  Never has an actress in Hollywood been more determined to practice her scales (and it's not even a musical).

23 June 2012

Fame Begets Parody: Morelegs Sweetrick

Marlene Dietrich & Shirley Temple (1934?)
Ah! Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Temple photographed so perfectly together that they were like the mother-daughter duo who never was. Forget Heidede! Heidi's stolen the show. If you want to see the photo to your left in print, I can tell you with certainty that it gets an entire page to itself in the McGraw-Hill edition of Sheridan Morley's biography, Marlene Dietrich, with a caption about Temple's first onscreen kiss in her role as the questionably named Morelegs Sweetrick, "a parody of Dietrich and Morocco." Tres Toddlers & Tiaras! Indeed, Temple spoofed Dietrich under Charles Lamont's direction in a 1933 short called Kid 'n' Hollywood, but it wasn't a nod to Morocco.

As you'll see below, the soundtrack announces Sweetrick's debut as lazy, big-footed Freta Snobo's (ouch! a snarky jab at Greta Garbo!) replacement to the strains of The Blue Angel's "Falling in Love Again," yet Sweetrick's costume resembles Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo" get-up from the film Blonde Venus. With a glittering top, fluffy trim, and an arrow through her head, all that Sweetrick's missing is an oversize afro. At least she compensates with a colossal diaper pin! Rather than croon a Dietrich standard, Sweetrick hiccups "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye," a signature song of Annette Hanshawwhose relaxed delivery at least didn't stray too far from Dietrich's. 

Music aside, the plot also references Blonde Venus. On the movie set, Sweetrick rejects her suitor's sugary temptations in favor of her husband and child (or, as she says it, "chee-yild"), just as Helen leaves her paramour Nick to return to her hubby Ned and son Johnny. On top of that, Sweetrick's suitor--whose military garb may be the closest link to Morocco, although it doesn't resemble anything Legionnaire Tom Brown sports--is wearing a hat similar to Helen's in her dressing room scene encounter with Nick. Offstage at the end, Sweetrick bathes a baby alongside her husband, evoking the first family scene shared by Helen, Ned, and Johnny. Speaking of Sweetrick's spouse, named Frightwig von Stumblebum, Wikipedia editors declare him a parody of director Erich von Stroheim, but the actress-director romance leads me to suspect that there's a little Josef von Sternberg in the character as well.

Thoughts? Reactions?

EDIT: A photograph of Shirley Temple as Morelegs Sweetrick is available now at Ebay!

20 June 2012


How many times must one repeat a fallacy for it to become reality? I ask myself this question whenever I browse the supposed "Marlene Dietrich" photos on Flickr, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Then, I remember a tune from Sesame Street: 
One of these things is not like the others.
One of these things doesn't belong.
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
Before I finish my song?
Even if we put that song on a loop, I bet some folks on Pinterest would still be stumped. How about you? Are you as sharp as a tack or a Pinterest user? Tell me which of the below photos tagged "Marlene Dietrich" just don't belong!

19 June 2012

Queer Film Blogathon 2012: Marginalia on Note 25

This entry is part of the 2012 Queer Film Blogathon, co-hosted by Garbo Laughs and Pussy Goes Grrr. While you're here, please read my contribution to the 2011 Queer Film Blogathon, Throwing Shade: Homophobia in Riva's Dietrich Bio? Pt. 1. You can also browse our entries tagged "LGBT."

Now that summer's upon us, I'd like to make a proposal that none of you should refuse. Instead of trekking across Yosemite, spelunking in Carlsbad Caverns, or zip-lining through the Redwoods, consider roughing it in my camp. There's just one caveat. I've assigned some required reading. Don't worry. You've probably already read this text in an introductory film course, an introductory queer studies course, or an introductory queer film studies course. If none of those apply to you, maybe you've read it elsewhere--Susan Sontag's seminal work, "Notes on 'Camp.'" In case I've offended any of you radical separatist feminists, you ought to leave now because this blog is like a can of Vienna sausages--not that I'm pushing my patriarchal power on you or anything--no, siree! For you less radical or non-separatist feminists, please forgive my male privilege and substitute "ovular" for "seminal." As for you trans-folk, I can never do right by you, so rip me a new one in the comments section.

16 June 2012

Dietrich Apocrypha: David Bret's Marlene, My Friend

The beginning of a series on Marlene Dietrich biographies that have not joined Maria Riva and Steven Bach's books in the Dietrich canon.

David Bret the biographer gets a bad rap. Yes, his publications have perpetuated inaccuracies and detailed sexually explicit content. So what? Like us, many of his celebrity subjects have lied about themselves and committed crude acts. Although stars may be more revered than us, they are no less human. Likewise, Bret's status as an author doesn't predetermine our role as readers. We need not accept him as an authority simply because his words were packaged in codex form, and we can engage in his works however we please.

13 June 2012

Dietrich's CBC Interview About Theatre de l'Etoile

Concert connoisseurs, were Marlene Dietrich's first French shows at Paris' Theatre de l'Etoile between 1959-1960? Nowadays, people write more about Dietrich's drama-filled dates in Germany during 1960, overshadowing her Parisian triumph. If it weren't for Uli's classic site, I wouldn't be able to keep up with these details. Thankfully, I've got an additional reminder--an interview that Dietrich gave to Kerry Ellard on January 6, 1960, which is available from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Digital Archives.

In this interview, Dietrich is sweeter than maple syrup, praising Burt Bacharach, Alexander Fleming, Jonas Salk, and Ernest Hemingway ("the wock of Gibwaltaw of my life"). Dietrich also shares that she prefers stage shows to making movies, that she lacks ambition (très "laziest girl in town"), that she wouldn't have dared to perform in Paris in the past, that she doesn't get stage fright, that Witness for the Prosecution was her only real part, that she's sick of the "grandmother" image, and that she looks for men who are intelligent and not stupid squares. Oddly, she credits the British for her gender-bending tuxedo act. Enjoy this clip!

EDIT: !@#$ it! I can't get the clip to stop autoplaying. Click the "Read more" link below, and it will load.

10 June 2012

Dial 'M' for Marlene Reminder

Dial 'M' for Marlene is no Trojan horse! (photo courtesy of Armen Ter-Barsegyan)
A dear friend alerted me of the publicity blitz rivalling Angelyne's for the play, Dial 'M' for Marlene. Its Facebook page now features headshots of some cast members, including the actress replacing Catherine Lydon as Marlene Dietrich--Victoria Valentino. If our little birdie Gussie Berger catches wind of this post, she may be able to tell us more about this beautiful thespian because a Google search of Valentino's name brings up a different kind of actress with titles such as MILF and Honey 6 and Cookies and MILF 3 in her resume. Although I wouldn't want to mistake the two, our Ms. Valentino appears to be a MILF in her own right, having been chosen in September 1963 as Playboy's Playmate of the Month.

Those of you in the Greater Los Angeles area between June 28 and July 15 should try to reserve tickets for the show. That is, if it isn't already sold out. Visit its Facebook page for more details!

09 June 2012

Region 1 No Longer A Marlene Dietrich DVD Loser?

 Several months ago, I ranted about my difficulties with TCM Shop, but I am pleased to say that I eventually purchased and received the TCM Vault Dishonored/Shanghai Express double feature from an Amazon vendor. Despite my criticism of the TCM Shop site, I can only praise its TCM Vault products. This double feature and the one that included The Song of Songs contain solid prints and robust sound, which gives me hope for more TCM Vault and Universal joint releases, especially if the bigwigs can make available a better version of The Scarlet Empress. I would be exaggerating if I claimed that I must blink profusely and hold up an ear horn to fully enjoy the Criterion Collection release of The Scarlet Empress, but its quality leaves a lot to be desired that Amazon critics and even The New York Times critic Dave Kehr have decried. Does anyone know whether Criterion holds exclusive distribution rights in the U.S.? Before superfluous questions make me stray too far from my intended topic, I should spit it out now: American (and Canadian as well?) Dietrich fans are finally catching up with the rest of world as more Region 1 DVDs have hit the market.

08 June 2012

RIP J. Michael Riva

5D Conference : Bigger Bang Pt 4 - J. Michael Riva from Dave Blass on Vimeo.
A few weeks ago, I watched the above video, whose views have skyrocketed after reports of J. Michael Riva's passing began circulating yesterday. In it, the talented Mr. Riva discussed production design and his career as a production designer, and he even shared some personal stories. He described his family as "theatrical," "dreamers," and "nutty as fruitcakes," yet he was understated enough not to name his grandmother, Marlene Dietrich, only calling her "an actress."

You know what? Even though Riva had a creative pedigree, his own professional achievements spoke for themselves. Most recently, Riva has worked on CGI-heavy superhero films with extraordinary visuals, such as the Iron Man and Spider-Man franchises. Although I have seen some of these movies, my vision's probably too jaded to appreciate them with the childlike wonder that Riva's work so successfully inspires. In fact, my favorite sets of Riva's are from movies that I watched countless times during my childhood--The Color Purple, The Goonies, and Radio Flyer. Riva played many other behind-the-scenes roles during his career, too, and I remember the Tales from the Crypt episode that he directed when it aired ("The Secret"), even though I certainly didn't know anything about Riva at the time. Some of its dark sets lit in blue reminded me of Beetlejuice, another one of my juvenile favorites. I find hypothetical situations trivial, but I now wonder what magic Riva could have conjured up had he collaborated with Tim Burton.

RIP J. Michael Riva.

Also, RIP Ray Bradbury, another man with quite an impressive imagination. I learned that he was photographed during his teenage years with Dietrich in 1935, which you can see in this slideshow.

04 June 2012

Philly Marelene: Dietrich's Horsie Movies Pt. 2

PREFACE: OOPS! On June 7, I accidentally posted an entry when I merely meant to update labels. Sorry about that!
The Song of Song's Lily may be bad, but she's perfectly good at it
Thank you everyone who responded to my Horseathon entry. A few of you expressed surprise that horses appeared in so many Marlene Dietrich movies, and I didn’t even get halfway through her filmography! Picking up from where I left off, I will elaborate on my third group of Dietrich movies, the Europeans, but I'd like to hype some of the other topics I'll be raising this month. Between June 18-22, I'll participate in the second annual Queer Film Blogathon, hosted by Garbo Laughs. Last year, I wrote an entry in which I began to articulate thoughts that had been vague considerations in my head about the homophobia in Maria Riva's book. Whether I address a similar topic or examine Dietrich's movies, I'm not sure. Another topic that I have put on the back burner pertains to Greta Garbo. I plan to write a Dietrich vs. Garbo series by pitting their movies against each other, and you can expect at least one such post some time this month because I have folders brimming with Dishonored and Mata Hari screen captures that I'd like to delete from my hard drive. Now, let's race through the topic at hand. . . .