22 June 2013

Rudolf Sieber Talks: Eggs, Marriage and Marlene Dietrich

(This interview with Rudolf Sieber was originally published in the The Milwaukee Sentinel, on 13 March 1960.)

By Jean C. Bosquet

On the side of the gate of a chicken ranch in San Fernando, California, not far from Hollywood, is a two-foot –square sign reading: “EGGS” and two cowbells with a cord attached to them.

Pull the cord, and the clatter of cowbells will bring a slight 62-year-old man hurrying from an outbuilding to take your order. He has a lean, pink, sensitive face with twinkling blue eyes, and wisps of sandy hair can be seen under the edge of his blue beret. He wears faded blue denims and rough work shoes. He is Rudolf Sieber, for 35 years the husband of exotic Marlene Dietrich, one of the world’s most glamorous women since she rocked to screen stardom in The Blue Angel.

Rudy Sieber has often been referred to during those years as the “forgotten” man in Marlene’s life, but if he’s been forgotten it hasn’t been by his 55-year-old actress wife. He, himself, has chosen to be the silent partner in the strangest marriage in all the history of show business. The couple has been separated by an ocean or a continent, or both, 90 percent of the time, and Marlene has been linked romantically with one dashing male celebrity after another.

Rudy Sieber has shunned interviewers since 1931, when another man’s ex-wife charged La Dietrich with alienation of affections and Rudy rushed to the defense of his beloved Marlene.

Why has this marriage survived the long separations, the vast difference in modes of living, and countless divorce rumours through the years?

Sieber was breaking a silence of almost 30 years when he answered, simply but intensely: “Because it’s as good a marriage today as it was in 1924, when it was performed. The bond between us is just as strong. Only death will end our marriage.”

What about the years when Marlene was reportedly in love with French actor Jean Gabin, then novelist Erich Remarque, then actor Michael Wilding, and most recently Iva S. V. Patcevitch, New York magazine executive?

“Of course she has been rumoured in love with this one and that one,” says Rudy. “She is a glamorous woman, and a glamorous woman is supposed to be surrounded by romance at all times.

What of the shocking contrast between the faded blue denims, the pink stucco bungalow, the littered ranch yard – and the glittering world that is Marlene’s?

“This is Marlene’s home,” said Rudy. “She has her apartments in New York and in Paris, but when she is in California she lives here. Our daughter, Maria Riva, and our three grandchildren spent last Easter here.
Will Marlene live permanently at the ranch when she retires?

“Why should she retire? She keeps getting better all the time. I went to Las Vegas twice to see her show at the Sahara and was as proud of her as I was 35 years ago, when she was just beginning. Now she’s appearing in Paris again, and how they love her there! Am I still in love with her? More than ever.”

And despite the fact that Marlene seldom speaks of her husband to any of her intimates of business associates, the devotion in this fabulous marriage doesn’t seem one-sided. When Rudy had a heart attack in 1956 Marlene sped from Paris to Los Angeles to be at his side until he was out of danger. In 1944, before he bought the chicken ranch, Marlene nursed him through pneumonia in a Hollywood apartment. And for more than two decades, it was Marlene who made the vehement denials when the divorce rumours recurred.

“You do not consider the possibility that love might have something to do with our marriage!” she cried out to one interviewer. “I consider Mr Sieber the perfect husband and father.”

Marlene was 20 when, in 1924, she was sent from the Max Reinhardt school of dramatic art in Berlin to a film studio for an extra’s job. There she met Rudy, an assistant casting director, who advised her to put up her long blonde hair. She took his advice and won a part. She married him on May 13 of that year and became a hausfrau. Their daughter Maria was born in 1925 and Marlene went back to screen work and the stage.

She was appearing in a satirical stage revue when director Josef von Sternberg saw her and cast her in the role opposite Emil Jannings in The Blue Angel, which was being filmed in Germany. The movie catapulted Marlene to stardom when it was released in 1930, and von Sternberg brought her to Hollywood where Paramount Pictures signed her and, with von Sternberg’s guidance, she went into an orbit in which she’s still spinning.

But only a year later von Sternberg’s wife, Riza, after divorcing him, sued Marlene for “stealing” the director’s love. That’s when Rudy Sieber stoutly declared: “I know that the charge against my wife is utterly unfounded.”

The case never did reach court, and from that day until now, Rudy has never felt it necessary to invade the area spotlighted for his perennially spectacular wife.

“I have never wanted publicity, and I don’t want it now,” he said. “What good would publicity have done me when I was an assistant casting director, or when I worked for Paramount in Paris, or when I dubbed foreign version films at 20th Century-Fox in Hollywood? And what do I want with publicity now? I don’t need it to sell my eggs.”

Rudy began his chicken ranching in 1953 because he was “tired of living in big cities” and wanted seclusion and quiet. Now he has 9 000 chickens and employs several helpers. He’s highly regarded in the San Fernando Valley community and doesn’t want his desire for seclusion to be taken as meaning he’s a recluse.

“How can I be called a recluse? I go to visit my friend in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and they come to visit me and Marlene comes here too, doesn’t she? Is that being a recluse?”

He basks in the radiation of his wife’s glamour as she suns herself in the ranch yard or slinks through the rooms of the bungalow which, for him, is reward enough for being “forgotten”.

17 June 2013

Charles Marawood: Marlene Dietrich's "Boomerang" Baby

Charles Marawood wrote the two songs from “the room of the boomerang” in Marlene’s concert repertoire: her pseudo-rock foray, “Boomerang Baby” and  the haunting anti-war ballad (one of several in Dietrich’s arsenal), “White Grass”.

Born in Sydney in the 1920s, Marawood spent World War II as a member of the AIF; after the war he enrolled at the Sydney Conservatorium to study composition and harmony. He wrote a musical play in the early 1950s but was unable to secure a London production of it. Back in Australia, he continued to write and perform his own songs, also writing for other singers.

He briefly gained recognition in 1965 – around the time of Marlene’s first Australian concert tour – when he supplied all the music for an Aussie music TV series, Boomeride  (which featured both “Boomerang Baby” and White Grass”; a young Olivia Newton-John was one of the performers on the show).

["Boomeride" soundtrack performances of "White Grass" (vocals by Doug Kennedy, above) and "Boomerang Baby" (vocals by Tony Cole, below)]

While Marlene was performing  in Melbourne that year, Marawood auditioned her some of his songs.

Among them was “White Grass” which she thought a “very, very tragic song against war”, finding its theme of a returning soldier “quite a new angle”:   “I was fascinated with the song when he brought it to me because I’m always trying to look for songs that have a meaning, and since “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” I have never found anything quite like it.”

[Marlene sings "White Grass" ...]

Its antithesis was “Boomerang Baby” -- “a very gay song”.

[... and "Boomerang Baby"]

She decided to include both in her programme. Marawood accompanied Marlene to Sydney, her next stop on the tour, to polish the lyrics. She planned to record both songs in London; this seems not to have happened, although her interpretations are preserved on both her 1968 and 1972 TV specials.

According to Dietrich, they kept in touch. Other Marawood  songs popped up in some  Australian movies and TV series during the 1970s. One producer who worked with him during this time called him “a real eccentric ... he wore way-out clothes, capes and things like that, and his house was crammed full of amazing stuff” and found his music “great. He was very talented, but I don’t think he ever got the recognition he deserved.”

[Composer Charles Marawood sings his own song, "Aussie" (1965)]

When New Zealand singer Jennifer Ward-Lealand included “White Grass” in a 2007 tribute to Dietrich, she had to track down Marawood’s widow to obtain the necessary permissions to record the song.

[More information about Charles Marrawood and the "Boomeride" TV show is available here and here; a needledrop of its  LP soundtrack has been posted here; the photo of Charles Marawood is from this 1965 article in "The Age".]