18 November 2014

Dietrich in London: 50th Anniversary

Half a century ago, this week, Marlene Dietrich arrived in London to prepare for a concert season in that city. She had previously performed there, at the Café de Paris in the fifties, but that was in cabaret. This would be London's first opportunity to experience her expanded repertoire, in a theatrical event finessed by musical director, Burt Bacharach, and herself.

Dietrich at Heathrow airport, November 1964.

Her concerts were presented by impresario "Binkie" Beaumont of H M Tennent Ltd at the Queen's Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. (This Edwardian theatre, which opened in 1907,  had suffered bomb damage during the World War II: the façade was destroyed, but the interior remained largely undamaged. After repairs it reopened in 1959 with its unusual combination of modern exterior and period auditorium. Today, it is the home of the London production of Les Misérables.)

Opening night was on 23 November 1964.

Judy Garland, who had performed at the Palladium earlier in the month (with daughter Liza Minnelli) was at the first night; she shared anecdotes about the event with TV's Jack Paar (also in town) a few days later, also recalling Marlene's applause record (her comments start at 3:05):

Reviewers generally thought Marlene excellent. Writing for The Sunday Times, Harold Hobson gave particularly thoughtful commentary about Dietrich, and her show, in two reviews (click to enlarge):

Appreciative crowds gathered at the stage door after every night's show; this was as much a part of the event as the show itself.  Marlene would sign their programmes or get on the roof of her car and fan hundreds of fan photos into the sea of people surrounding her. She would often need a police escort to make a safe exit.

The season, advertised to run for two weeks, closed on 12 December. 

The final night's show was recorded by Pye Records. The record trimmed much of Marlene's performance (focussing on selections in the second part of her act) in order to fit it on a single disc, but captures Marlene in peak concert form. (Her live version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, not on the LP, was later issued on a single sold at her shows).

Such was the success of this season, and Marlene's enjoyment at performing in London, that she would make return visits to the city semi-annually until her retirement from the stage in 1975.

(Special thanks to the Crees Collection for sharing the materials used in this post.)

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