05 April 2014

Doctor Dietrich's Best Production? Her Daughter.

[In 1971, Jeffrey Archer organised a charity midnight matinee (to benefit MIND) at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It was Marlene Dietrich's first  concert appearance in London for several years. This backstage interview  with both Marlene and Maria Riva, preparing for the show   comes courtesy of the wonderful Crees Collection.]


by James Green

September 1971: Marlene at Heathrow.
There are many ways of saying Darling. But Marlene Dietrich's way is unique. A mixture of warning, invitation, seduction, plus a mocking suggestion that the men are about to be separated from the boys. But “Dar-ling” she says silkily by way of greeting. And crosses to plant a kiss on my five o'clock shadow. Not at all a bad start backstage at the Drury Lane theatre where tonight at midnight she will hold the football pitch size stage alone for one hour, 45 minutes. It is a charity concert and the audience will be paying up to £50-a-seat to hear her sing 25 songs and turn on the living legend magic.

At the moment she is wearing a navy blue coat with matching trousers, and a floppy-brimmed hat in the same colour pulled down over one eye.

As she checks on songs, running order, lighting, I have a word with her daughter, Maria.

She is the only daughter – married to an American businessman – and through her four sons has promoted Miss Dietrich into the grandmother league.

“What most impresses me about her,” Maria says, “is her strength. By that I mean strength of character, principle, and, horrible word, integrity.

“I don't think she and I have ever had a mother and daughter relationship. Being an only child has made us more like good friends. Now I think of it we were more like friends when I was a child.

“It wasn't like being a daughter. I used to watch her on the film set and she shared everything with me.

“She was entertainer, mother and friend without sacrificing any of the parts.

Outside the Savoy Hotel, on her way to a rehearsal.
“Today I look on her as confidante and adviser – and she's wonderful on medical things. Well, the family nickname for her is Doctor. That's because her initials are M.D.”

Miss Dietrich comes over and pretends to pout as she asks “What has she been telling you?”

Inside the dressing room she orders: “You sit, I stand. Don't fuss, I'm a standing person.”

Yes, ma'am!

It's six years since her last British concert, so how important to her is this one?

“Very important to me … but every one has to be important. It's my work. It has to be right and it always is right. If it isn't the answer is easy … you go on working.

“I tell them we will work all night and another night until it is ready. I don't take chances and get the best of everything.”

Dietrich trademarks, like Lili Marlene, See What The Boys, and Where Have All the Flowers Gone will be in her concert.

“But my own favourite is When The World Was Young,” she says.

“Cabaret song? You call it a cabaret song! It is not. Listen to the way I do it.”

Behind her hangs an extravagant gown. “Yes, that is my costume for London. Would you like to see it?” It consists of white chiffon dress – all the better for displaying the legs – and white swan coat.

“I never change during a performance. It's the lighting that changes.”

Dietrich, in one of her Jean Louis  gowns,
with Princess Alexandra after the show
Her stage dresses and coats are designed by Jean Louis of Hollywood and cost £4,000 give-or-take a zip or two. She has three such working outfits altogether.

Obviously, I say, the lady has expensive tastes and I'm glad I'm not picking up the bill.

Miss Dietrich laughs. “These are only for work and glamour. Most of the time you will find me in slacks or jeans.

“What do I want with possessions? They are nothing. I have no home except where I put my hat down. I am always travelling … Paris, New York, Los Angeles, South America.

“So I have no home. No motor car. No jewellery. Money? I have no money either. And I have no roots. I don't mind about possessions but I'm conscious of not having any roots.

“Remember I chose – belief rather than necessity – to leave Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power. If you lost your country and language and could never go back, where would you go and how would you feel? Wouldn't you feel just great? Right?

“So I'm left rootless, but in demand all over the world.

“I love England and would love to live here, but you can't always do as you want.”

Miss Dietrich closes in suddenly and I wait for the coup-de-grace or a second kiss. Neither. “Do you type?” she asks. “I type. Very fast. An electric typewriter. Look what it does to my nails.”

Some short, brightly-painted nails are offered for examination. I tell her if she wants an office job she can start on Thursday. “Ah, but I have to go on to another concert in America.

“My daughter is trying to persuade me to return to England to work. If she is going to be here I may possibly do that.”

We are now full circle, back to Maria. Where do the family stand with “Doctor” Dietrich?

They are the most important things in her life, she says. “I am much more strict with my grandchildren than Maria is.

“The boys and I call each other Love or Sweetheart and they know me as a cook and housekeeper.

“As for Maria, she's my best production. My only production: that was as much as I could manage. Don't forget my husband who lives on a ranch in California.”

But I had the impression she had been separated from him for years? She dismisses that as nonsense.

“No, I have never been separated from my husband. In fact, I've just spent five months with him. I enjoy being with him.”

Then she thanks the technicians for their rehearsal time, gives me a second kiss, and disappears out of the stage door.

Leaving me convinced Miss Dietrich is a dedicated professional to the end of her short nails … and I'm left wondering, not about the flowers, but where have all the taxis gone?


  1. Thanks a lot for this article. MD really was due to perform in Washington in September 1971 but for some reason her show was canceled. Instead of rehearsing and performing on 27. - 28. of September she had fittings at Chanel in Paris. Possessions? She liked to tell that she had nothing, though she definitely had two homes (as we all know) - 993 Park Avenue in New York and the rented apartment 12 Ave. Montaigne in Paris. There was quite a lot of valuable jewelry too. And some stocks (or is it shares?), though far less than Garbo, who really had made a fortune. There was some money too, but her expenses were very, very high.

    1. "Only" rented the apartment in Paris. However, Mary's life have financed Marlene. Whether home or life, everything is paid at Marlene. As the farm by Rudi, also paid for by Marlene. Don't forget the enormous legacy that got Maria.
      DM 8 million from Berlin for the large part of the estate. The sale at Sotheby's, sale of apartment in NY. and and and

  2. No possessions ?
    Here is a woman making her own legend even bigger .
    Dietrich would NEVER throw anything away ! Not even from her earliest childhood .
    The Film Museum in Berlin is packed with Dietrich possessions , not much new on display ... . alas .
    But it sounds more like a woman of the world : " Darling, I have no possessions , what do I want with possessions ?
    And nobody would ever dare to argue with here .
    " A famous person with absolute power is dangerous " , you can read it in Maria Riva's book . F