Dietrich or Marlene, Falling in Love Again
A number of stars become known by their Surname or Chrisian name alone. Marlene Dietrich is unique in being universally recognised by the use of either of her names.
She was the first German actress to become a major Hollywood star.
After a successful career as a cabaret singer, chorus girl and film actress in 1920s Berlin, she became a World War II frontline entertainer during the 1940s, and finally a topline international stage show performer from the 1950s to the 1970s.
In the process she became one of the entertainment icons of the 20th century. The American Film Institute ranked Dietrich No. 9 amongst the Greatest Female Stars of All Time.
Early Life and Career
Marie Magdalene Dietrich was born on December 27, 1901 in Berlin-Schoneberg. Her parents were Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, a German police officer and Elisabeth Josephine Dietrich (nee Felsing).
Nicknamed "Lena" within the family, she contracted her two first names to form the now popular but then unusual name, Marlene, when she was still a teenager.
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She was an accomplished violinist but after an injury to one of her hands she decided to pursue an acting career and auditioned at the Berlin school of drama, supporting herself by working in a glove factory.
During this time, she met and married casting director Rudolf Sieber, and her only child, Maria, was born. Although their marriage failed, they never divorced and remained amicable until her death.
Acting on stage, she became "The Toast of Berlin" in such plays as 'Duel on the Lido' and 'From Mouth to Mouth'. She acted in 17 silent movies between 1922 and 1929, most notably, 'CafÃ© Elektric'.
In 1929, the Hollywood film director, Josef von Sternberg, cast her in his 1930 film Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) in which she sang what became her signature song "Falling in Love Again".
The Blue Angel
Even before the picture premiered, von Sternberg offered a rough cut to his American studio Paramount, who signed her for Morocco, where she played a cabaret singer romancing both Adolph Menjou and Gary Cooper, and which earned Dietrich her only Oscar nomination. She portrayed her characters sometimes to shock as well as entertain. In 'Morocco' she created a sensation with her portrayal of a nightclub singer in black tails and top hat. The movie made headlines worldwide.
Both films premiered in New York almost simultaneously, and Dietrich became a major star. Paramount signed her to a more long-term contract, at a cost of 125,000 dollars per film and with von Sternberg, who had become her lover, in the director's seat of each. The studio, in an unprecedented five-million-dollar publicity blitz, marketed her as a rival to Greta Garbo's supremacy; upon learning that Garbo was starring as Mata Hari, Paramount cast Dietrich as a spy in 1931's Dishonored in response.
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Marlene became one of the major female stars of the 1930s, in such films as Song of Songs, The Scarlet Empress, Knight Without Armour and the 1939 Western satire, Destry Rides Again, with James Stewart. A series of disappointments -- The Lady Is Willing, The Spoilers, and Pittsburgh -- followed in the early 1940's, with Dietrich reportedly so disheartened with her work that she considered retirement.
During the early Nazi years, Joseph Goebbels offered to make her "The Queen" of German films if she made movies promoting Hitler,
but she consistently refused. Instead, she mounted a series of lengthy tours entertaining wartime troops before returning to films in 1944's Follow the Boys, followed by Kismet.
Visiting the troops 1944
Because of her German heritage, and pronounced anti-Nazi views, the newly naturalised American citizen made a large mark in the war effort, performing the favorite "Lilli Marlene" on USO tours and recording anti-Nazi propaganda in German. At one time there was a reward offered for her death. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom and Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor after war's end.
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Change of Direction
After WWII, as her film career slowed, a new career as a singer and performer appeared, with reviews and shows in Las Vegas, touring theatricals, and even Broadway. Singing to packed houses in major cities all over the world she became famous as an on stage performer.
In 1953, Dietrich was offered a then-staggering $ 30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. The show was short, consisting only of a few songs associated with her. Her daring sheer costumes, designed by Jean Louis, attracted a lot of publicity and attention. This engagement was so successful that she was signed to appear at the Cafė de Paris in London the following year, and her Las Vegas contracts were also renewed.
It was the start of a new phase in Dietrich's career. When she signed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger in the mid-1950s, her show started to evolve from a mere nightclub act to a more ambitious one-woman show featuring an array of new material. Her repertoire included songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. Bacharach's arrangements helped to disguise Dietrich's limited vocal range and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect.
Cabaret Performer 1967
She appeared on Broadway twice (1967 and 1968), winning a special Tony Award for her performance. Her costumes (body-hugging dresses covered with thousands of crystals as well as a swansdown coat), body-sculpting undergarments, careful stage lighting (by Joe Davis) and temporary mini-facelifts helped to preserve Dietrich's glamorous image well into old age.
Her show business career largely ended on September 29, 1975, when, apparently under the influence of drink, she fell and broke her leg during a stage performance in Australia.
She appeared briefly in the film, Just a Gigolo, in 1979, and wrote and contributed to several books during the 1980s.
Late in her life, she was rarely seen in public, but she agreed to provide the voice-over for Maximillian Schell's screen biography of her Marlene (1984). She wrote three volumes of memoirs: Marlene Dietrich's ABC (1961), My Life Story (1979) and Marlene (1987).
Marlene Dietrich died peacefully of renal failure on May 6, 1992, at the age of 90 in Paris. A service was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris before 3,500 mourners and a crowd of well-wishers outside. Her body, covered with an American flag, was then returned to Berlin where she was interred at the StÃ¤dtischer Friedhof III, Berlin-SchÃ¶neberg, StubenrauchstraÃe 43-45, in Friedenau Cemetery, not far from the house where she was born.
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Marlene Dietrich Resource
- Marlene Dietrich Biography and Filmography
All about Marlene Dietrich, a bio and filmography of the first German actress to become a major Hollywood star. See why the American Film Institute ranked Dietrich No. 9 amongst the Greatest Female Stars of All Time.