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Marlene Dietrich
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Marlene Dietrich

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Posted by Charlie ( on August 04, 2003 at 20:51:14:

So what do you take her to be? Mecurial, Dramatic, Self-confident?

taken from website:
Strutting in an impeccable tailored tuxedo and a man's fedora or floating through shadowed rooms in a gossamer gown, Marlene Dietrich was the epitome of androgynous allure in cinema's golden age. A ravishing and mysterious femme fatale, she brought to the films of the thirties and forties a smoldering, hard-edged sophistication that her fans and scores of lovers - from George Patton and Edward VIII to Edith Piaf and Gertrude Stein - found just threatening enough to be irresistible.

At the age of eighteen, Marie Magdalena Dietrich, namesake of the penitent prostitute of the New Testament, had her career as a violinist ended by a damaged hand. Choosing instead to pursue acting, her other passion, she auditioned for drama school in Berlin at age twenty-one. The struggling young performer developed her talents through a number of insignificant roles while she supported herself working in a glove factory. At the same time, this respectable daughter of the Weimar bourgeoisie began to breathe in her city's wild, decadent air, absorbing the frankly erotic entertainment offered in the cabinets of pre-World War II Berlin. During this lively time she met and married Rudolf Sieber, a playboy casting director, with whom she had her only child, Maria. Though by 1928 theirs was a marriage in name only, the two never divorced, and they remained friends and confidants. It was in fact convenient for Dietrich to be able to say, when lovers became uncomfortably close, that she was, after all, a married woman.

When Austrian director Josef von Sternberg attended Dietrich's performance in the stage musical Two Neckties in 1929, he knew he had found the perfect actress to play the sultry show girl Lola Lola, who seduces and destroys a professor, in The Blue Angel, a film adaptation of Heinrich Mann's novel Small Town Tyrant. In preparation for her role, Sternberg forced the plump Dietrich to shed twenty pounds, then made her over - makeup, hairstyle, voice, wardrobe - to refine the rough edges. She emerged a screen goddess. Bathed in the director's dramatic lighting, which threw her sculpted profile into dramatic relief, she was a dangerous seductress, capable of great passion but also of cynical perfidy. The Blue Angel premiered to great acclaim, and Dietrich set sail for America that night, knowing she was going to be a star.

Paramount did not release The Blue Angel in America until late 1930, so that Dietrich could make her American debut in Morocco, the film that contained one of her most risqué and career-defining moments. As a singer, dressed in white tie, top hat, she takes a flower from a woman's coiffure, kisses the woman on the lips in front of co-star Gary Cooper, and then, to accent the scene's bisexual sizzle, casually throws the bloom to Cooper. With this insolent gesture, the actress took Hollywood's breath away, and La Dietrich was launched. Sternberg's romantic obsession in the face of Dietrich's indifference lasted for several memorable films - Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlett Empress (1934). Finally with The Devil Is a Woman (1935), said to portray the director's bitterness towards his unfaithful protégée, he unceremoniously ended their professional and personal relationship.

Dietrich had subordinated herself in a master-slave dynamic with Sternberg for their six-year partnership and swore that without him she was nothing. But this disciplined and resourceful woman quickly transcended her mentor's departure. Reunited with her daughter Maria, she went on to soften her rather brittle image with such landmark roles as Frenchy, opposite James Stewart, in Destry Rides Again (1939), where she delivered her memorable whisky-voiced rendition of "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have." Still, though she moved away from the seductress roles that had been her stock-in-trade with Sternberg, she did not go on to play ingénues or happy housewives. When her career languished in the early forties, she joined the war effort - much to the dismay of Adolf Hitler, who is reported to have begged her to return to the fatherland to be his mistress. She reveled in her new patriotic role, entertaining Allied troops at the front with husky renditions of her famous standards "Falling in Love Again" and "Lili Marlene", calling it "the only important work I've ever done", for her heroic efforts she was given the Medal of Freedom and named a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur.

She worked with almost all the great directors - among them Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, and Stanley Kramer. But after a second career lull there remained yet another reincarnation for Dietrich: She became in the sixties and early seventies the highest-paid nightclub entertainer in the world. Ernest Hemmingway had long before written of her, "If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it." Literally stitched into her fabulous costumes, the "Queen of the World" reigned until a series of onstage falls - possibly the result of her punishing garnments - and the death of her husband sent her into relative seclusion. She emerged in 1978, to everyone's astonishment, in Just a Gigolo with David Bowie, then drew the curtain again. Despite her final pain-dulling dependence on drugs and alcohol, however, Dietrich preserved to the end the mystery that had made her, for more than sixty years, a distant, luminous myth.

She was known to say on occasion to close family members that noone will ever know the real Marlene Dietrich. She used to orchestrate her movements and expressions in public, like an actor does on stage, and created an image that would become legendary. It is said she would take pictures of her facial expressions to see how they appeared.


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