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27 July 2012

Rudi Polt's The Ultimate Marlene Dietrich Souvenir & Memorabilia Book: A Review

Several months ago, I discovered The Ultimate Marlene Dietrich Souvenir & Memorabilia Blog, run by Rudolf "Rudi" Polt, which astounded me because a) I was certain that I knew every blog about Marlene Dietrich and b) I was sure that I had already seen Polt's name somewhere. Although I proved myself wrong about my omniscience, I was right about my observant eye. Indeed, Polt is cited and acknowledged by Steven Bach in Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend. Also, I've seen his generous contributions on YouTube.

After browsing Polt's blog, I learned that he had published a book through Lulu.com, The Ultimate Marlene Dietrich Souvenir & Memorabilia Book. To be frank, when I first visited the link, I balked at the price (currently US$118.75) of a self-published book with a typo on its cover, but we all know the adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover." After corresponding a bit with Polt, I realized that this man is a tireless wealth of information about Marlene as well as a keen Dietrich researcher, and I decided that I would buy his book.

Well, now it's in my hands, where I wish it had been sooner because it's a helpful pictorial bibliography of Dietrichiana (or Marlenebilia, if you will). Not only do I consider the scans (often in color) more impressive than the plates of photograph reproductions in most trade publications (ahem, Donald Spoto!), I also contend that the succinct captions are more informative than most Dietrich biographies (*cough* Charlotte Chandler! cough*). If you know about the Major Arcana in a Tarot deck, you may be aware that it tells the story of a Fool's journey toward knowledge. Let me cast myself as that fool and reveal what I've learned from Polt's book:

In a captioned photo below the table of contents, I learned that the ubiquitous German photographer credited as "v. Gudenberg" on postcards (see Fabrice's collection at Marlene Dietrich Collection), "W. von Gudenberg" in Marlene Dietrich: Portraits 1926-1960, and "Baron Wolff von Gudenberg" on auction sites had a given name--Walter! On IMDB, a Walter von Gudenberg is credited as a cinematographer for one of Dietrich's first films--The Little Napoleon. Is that accurate? I don't know, but it does lead me to wonder how much influence von Gudenberg had on Marlene's image during the '20s. Like others, he saw the glory of her gams, even though I've never seen them in such a greased-up and girlish pose. If anyone knows where I can read a substantial biography on von Gudenberg, please direct me to it.

We've seen images of Marlene playing singing saws, violins, and pianos, but what about ukuleles? There are many magazine images that I never saw before communicating with Polt, such as the Das Magazin ones featured prominently in his book. Speaking of images new to me and Hawaiian accoutrements, Polt presents a photo of Marlene and Maria Riva in hula skirts, which is one of the most charming photos of the two from the early '30s--far more than the ones circulating online. Also available are scans of entire film programs! Polt isn't merely showing off his extensive collection--he's sharing it! With an emphasis on sheet music illustrated with Dietrich's image, featuring songs from Dietrich's movies, or containing compositions inspired by Marlene, Polt's book covers a "genre" of Marlenebilia that others have yet to explore thoroughly.

If I have any concerns about Polt's book, it's this: were any of these photos retrieved online? A Manpower publicity shot looks identical to one I saw at Profiles in History, right down to its crooked scanned edges. Then, it occurred to me that perhaps these auction items were consigned by Polt himself. As for criticisms, I must admit that some scans look too heavily pixelated, especially the ones from the January 30, 1951 issue of the miniature People Today, which shouldn't have been enlarged. In these digitized magazine and newspaper photos, the halftone Marlene instead looks like she was caught in a fishing net. Quibble as I may, I can't but praise the many clear color photos of Dietrich during the 1960s, and the breadth of Dietrich-related images in this book will help guide me--a relative neophyte--in collecting Dietrichiana.

5 comments:

  1. The book has to be really good to have that outrageous price. Really worth spending the money for that book though unseen photographs appear and new comments? It seems a really abusive price. I do not understand as of today than with movie memorabilia and other memorabilia people want to do business ... maybe I have a very romantic vision of it at times too practical.

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    1. No, I can't tell you that the book alone justifies its price. There are other factors that I took into account before buying it because I thought the same thing you did.

      First, I've been interested in online self-publishers such as Lulu and have noticed that many of their print books are much pricier than trade publications. Then, it occurred to me that authors/editors such as Rudi Polt obviously haven't received an advance even though they've put a lot of time into their books, which will barely sell because of the stigma surrounding self-published books. Last year, a Rudolph Valentino biography by Evelyn Zumaya was released as a print-on-demand self-publication, and jaws dropped--among other reasons--over its price. I wish I had bought it before it was pulled off the market because--despite its editorial weaknesses--Zumaya spent so much of herself to put it together.

      Second, I realized that Rudi has spent a lot of money, time, and effort collecting and compiling the contents of his book. If he consigns his goodies in auctions, I suppose he recuperates his costs to some extent (especially if that Manpower portrait was his!). Turning attention to myself, I'm aware that I'd otherwise spend far more money than the price of Rudi's book to see the various Dietrich-related tchotchkes reproduced within it. Simulacra may not satisfy many of you, but they do me! In fact, I've spent or have been willing to spend more money on Ebay for items that are in this book, and probably would only house these items and pay no attention to them (e.g., that People Today magazine). I've also spent a ridiculous amount of effort trying to get digital copies of photos now protected on Ebay by that annoying Auctiva software (hint: it involves a LOT of editing with Gimp). Now that I've seen pretty much everything in Polt's book, I've cured myself of the compulsion to even consider trying to buy most of these items or creating/saving digital copies of them.

      When I say that the book helps guide me in collecting Dietrich memorabilia, I guess what I mean is that it steers me away from bidding, spending, and agonizing over whether packages will arrive or whether I have to go to the post office on Saturday to pick up parcels and reorients me toward my relentless search of Dietrich-related materials that I can obtain "for free" and online (well, in reality, I do spend money and time to access these things, too).

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  2. Wolff von Gudenberg was a photographer based in Berlin who worked for illustrated papers like Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung and had his own photographic studio; what I have seen of Gudenberg are celebetry portraits and theatre photos. He even made a photograph of Aunt "Jolly" Felsing which made the cover of one of Berlins illustrated weeklies in the early thirties. In the late thirties he worked in Austria. Gudenberg made a lot of photos of Marlene - the one on auction at "Profiles on history" came from a Santa Barbara collector who bought a collection of photographs from Marlene when she needed money. The photo is also published in Marlene Dietrich. Die Privatsammlung. This one you can buy from time to time at ebay.
    The hula skirt photo with Maria is part of a serie where you also can see Marlene alone in hula; that one was on auction last year in Berlin and did not sell at all. Serie was made by Richee.
    No idea how anyone comes across Walther von Gudenberg being a cameraman for "Der kleine Napoleon". Film was the last production of german-american EFA production. First cameraman was an american by the name of Snyder (or Schneider)who was not at all fond of Marlene as director Georg Jacoby told his wife Marika Rökk who published the note in her memoirs. The other cameraman was Emil Schünemann who did dozens of german films.
    The cover of Rudi's book is an illustration from a fifties edition of Heinrich Manns novel. I don't think that is very rare. I find the publication extremly expensive; if Rudi had wanted to share his collection he would have made a website to do so.
    Keep on collecting
    Werner

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    1. If this is the Werner I think you are, I bow down to you! To a lowly library assistant like me, you are what Alexander Fleming was to Marlene. You've given me lots of helpful information and tips, and now I'd like to know about a photo that truly must be rare--a portrait that Umbo (Otto Umbehr) took of Marlene Dietrich. It appears to be held by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and a digitized version is available at ARTstor. I am curious to know when and why this photo was taken. Also, I'd like to learn whether Umbo took more "avant-garde" photos of Marlene because this one is frankly not very flattering. If you aren't familiar with this photo based on my description, please email the blog at lastgoddessblog@gmail.com

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  3. I forgot to give Rudi the benefit of my love (sorry, that's a reference for you Marlene fans who happen to be fans of "old school" R&B, como Pebbles;)!) by mentioning that he has recently added some interesting goodies on his blog that were not in his book.

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