Nationality: American. Born: Marie Magdalene Dietrich in Berlin, Germany, 27 December 1901 (some sources list 1904); became citizen of United States, 1939. Education: Attended the Augusta Victoria School, Berlin, and boarding schools in Weimar; Hochschule für Musik. Family: Married Rudolf Sieber, 1924 (separated 1939), daughter: Maria. Career: Early 1920s—chorus girl in revue circuit in Germany; 1922—accepted into Max Reinhardt's Deutsche Theaterschule; began appearing in films for Ufa, debut in So sind die Männer ; 1928—first starring film role in Prinzessin Olala ; 1930—in the first German talking film, Der blaue Engel , beginning long personal and professional relationship with director Josef von Sternberg; contract with Paramount and moved to Hollywood; 1935—in last film for von Sternberg, The Devil Is a Woman ; 1936—walked out on Paramount contract and began freelancing for other studios; 1937—approached by Nazi agents with offer to return to German films but refused, resulting in the banning of her films in Germany; 1943–46—entertained American troops, participating in war bond drives, and made anti-Nazi broadcasts in German; 1950s—recording and cabaret performer; in radio series Cafe Istanbul and Time for Love ; 1967—Broadway debut in one-woman cabaret act. Awards: Medal of Freedom, for entertaining American troops and working against Nazi Germany, 1947; Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, 1951. Died: In Paris, 6 May 1992.
So sind die Männer ( Napoleons kleiner Brüder ; Der kleine Napoleon ; Men Are Like This ; Napoleon's Little Brother ; The Little Napoleon ) (Jacoby) (as Kathrin)
Tragödie der Liebe ( Tragedy of Love ) (Joe May) (as Lucie); Der Mensch am Wege ( Man by the Roadside ) (Dieterle)
Der Sprung ins Leben ( They Leap into Life ) (Guter)
Die freudlose Gasse ( Joyless Street ; The Street of Sorrow ) (Pabst) (as extra)
Manon Lescaut (Robison) (as Micheline); Eine DuBarry von Heute ( A Modern DuBarry ) (Korda); Kopf hoch, Charly! ( Heads Up, Charly ) (Wolff) (as Edmée Marchand); Madame wünscht keine Kinder ( Madame Wants No Children ) (Wolff) (bit part)
Seine grösster Bluff ( Er oder Dich ; His Greatest Bluff ) (Piel) (as Yvette); Café Electric ( Wenn ein Weib den Weg verliert ; When a Woman Loses Her Way ) (Ucicky) (as Erni); Der Juxbaron ( The Imaginary Baron ) (Wolff) (as Sophie)
Prinzessin Olala ( Princess Olala ; Art of Love ) (Land) (as Chicotte de Gastoné); Die glückliche Mutter (Sieber—short)
Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame ( I Kiss Your Hand, Madame ) (Land) (as Laurene Gerard); Die Frau, nach der Man sich sehnt ( The Woman One Longs For ; Three Loves ) (Bernhardt)
Der blaue Engel ( The Blue Angel ) (von Sternberg) (as Lola Frohlich); Morocco (von Sternberg) (as Amy Jolly)
Dishonored (von Sternberg) (as X-27)
Shanghai Express (von Sternberg) (as Shanghai Lilly); Blonde Venus (von Sternberg) (as Helen Faraday)
Song of Songs (Mamoulian) (as Lily Czepanek)
The Scarlet Empress (von Sternberg) (as Catherine II)
The Devil Is a Woman (von Sternberg) (as Concha Perez)
Desire (Borzage) (as Madeleine de Beaupré); I Loved a Soldier (Hathaway); The Garden of Allah (Boleslawski) (as Domini Enfilden)
Knight without Armor (Feyder) (as Alexandra Vladinoff); Angel (Lubitsch) (as Maria Barker)
Destry Rides Again (George Marshall) (as Frenchy)
Seven Sinners (Garnett) (as Bijou)
The Flame of New Orleans (Clair) (as Claire Ledeux); Manpower (Walsh) (as Fay Duval)
The Lady Is Willing (Leisen) (as Elizabeth Madden); The Spoilers (Enright) (as Cherry Mallotte); Pittsburgh (Seiler) (as Josie Winters)
Screen Snapshots No. 103 (short)
Follow the Boys (A. Edward Sutherland); Kismet (Dieterle) (as Jamilla)
Martin Roumagnac ( The Room Upstairs ) (Lacombe) (as Blanche Ferrand)
Golden Earrings (Leisen) (as Lydia)
A Foreign Affair (Wilder) (as Erika von Schluetow)
Jigsaw (Markle) (as nightclub patron)
Stage Fright (Hitchcock) (as Charlotte Inwood)
No Highway in the Sky ( No Highway ) (Koster) (as Monica Teasdale)
Rancho Notorious (Fritz Lang) (as Altar Keane)
Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson) (as hostess)
The Monte Carlo Story (Taylor) (as Marquise Maria de Crevecoeur); Witness for the Prosecution (Wilder) (as Christine Vole)
Touch of Evil (Welles) (as Tanya)
Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer) (as Mme. Bertholt)
The Black Fox (Stoumen) (as narrator)
Paris When It Sizzles (Quine)
Schöner Gigolo—armer Gigolo ( Just a Gigolo ) (Hemmings) (as Baroness von Semering)
Marlene's ABC , 1961.
My Life Story , New York, 1979.
Ich bin, Gott sei dank, Berlinerin , Frankfurt, 1987; as My Life , London, 1989.
Talky, Jean, Marlène Dietrich, femme énigme , Paris, 1932.
Griffith, Richard, Marlene Dietrich—Image and Legend , New York, 1959.
von Sternberg, Josef, Fun in a Chinese Laundry , New York, 1965.
Frewin, Leslie, Dietrich: The Story of a Star , New York, 1967.
Dickens, Homer, The Films of Marlene Dietrich , New York, 1968; as The Complete Films of Marlene Dietrich , revised and updated by Jerry Vermilye, New York, 1992.
Kobal, John, Marlene Dietrich , New York, 1968.
Baxter, John, The Cinema of Josef von Sternberg , New York, 1971.
Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus , New York, 1973.
Silver, Charles, Marlene Dietrich , New York, 1974.
Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film , Princeton, New Jersey, 1974.
Morley, Sheridan, Marlene Dietrich , London, 1976.
Higham, Charles, Marlene: The Life of Marlene Dietrich , New York, 1977.
Hampton, Joe, Marlène Dietrich , Paris, 1981.
De Navacelle, Thierry, Sublime Marlene , London, 1984.
Seydel, Renate, Marlene Dietrich: Eine Chronik ihres Lebens in Bilden und Dokumenten , Berlin, 1984.
Walker, Alexander, Dietrich , London, 1984.
Spoto, Donald, Falling in Love Again: Marlene Dietrich , Boston, 1985.
Studlar, Gaylene, In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic , Chicago, 1988.
Zucker, Carole, The Idea of the Image: Josef von Sternberg's Dietrich Films , Cranbury, New Jersey, 1988.
O'Connor, Patrick, Dietrich: Style and Substance , New York, 1991.
Bach, Steven, Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend , New York, 1992.
Bosquet, Alain, Marlene Dietrich: un amour par telephone , Paris, 1992.
Bozon, Louis, Marlene: la femme de ma vie , Paris, 1992.
Lieberman, Alexander, Marlene: An Intimate Photographic Memoir , New York, 1992.
Spoto, Donald, Blue Angel: The Life of Marlene Dietrich , New York, 1992.
Baxt, George, The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case (fiction), New York, 1993.
Hofmann, Barbara, Marlene Dietrich, die Privatsammlung , Frankfurt, 1993.
Riva, Maria, Marlene Dietrich , New York, 1993.
Mentele, Richard, Auf Liebe eingestellt: Marlene Dietrich's schone Kunst , Bensheim, 1993.
Martin, W. K., Marlene Dietrich , New York, 1995.
Hanut, Eryk, I Wish You Love: Conversations with Marlene Dietrich , Berkeley, California, 1996.
George, Manfred, "Marlene Dietrich's Beginning," in Films in Review (New York), February 1952.
Sargeant, W., "Dietrich and Her Magic Myth," and "Tribute to Mamma from Papa Hemingway," by Ernest Hemingway, in Life (New York), 18 August 1952.
Knight, Arthur, "Marlene Dietrich," in Films in Review (New York), December 1954.
Lane, J. F., "Give Her Dirt—and Hard Work," in Films and Filming (London), December 1956.
Kyrou, Ado, "Sternberg et Marlène," in Le Surrealism au Cinéma (Paris), 1963.
Higham, Charles, "Dietrich in Sydney," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1965–66.
Current Biography 1968 , New York, 1968.
Calendo, J., "Dietrich and the Devil," in Inter/View (New York), October and November 1972.
Rheuban, Joyce, "Josef von Sternberg: The Scientist and the Vamp," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1972–73.
Gow, Gordon, "Alchemy: Dietrich + Sternberg," in Films and Filming (London), June 1974.
Flinn, T., "Joe Where Are You?," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Winter 1977.
von Sternberg, J., and A. Kerr, "Marlene wird geschaffen," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), October 1977.
Baxter, P., "On the Naked Thighs of Miss Dietrich," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no. 2, 1978.
Lewis, W. W., "Marlene Dietrich: From Devil to Angel . . . and Back" and "Sam Jaffe on Dietrich and Sternberg," in Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book , edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.
Zucker, C., "Some Observations on Sternberg and Dietrich," in Cinema Journal (Evanston), Spring 1980.
"Marlene Dietrich—Stationen eines Lebens," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), December 1980.
Rheinsberg, A., "Hommage," in Frauen und Film (Frankfurt), February 1984.
Marlene Dietrich Section of Positif (Paris), September 1984.
Sorel, Nancy Caldwell, "Alexander Fleming and Marlene Dietrich," in Atlantic (New York), March 1991.
Obituary in New York Times , 7 May 1992.
McBride, Joseph, obituary in Variety (New York), 11 May 1992.
Taborska, Agnieszka, "Marlena—wieczny wamp" in Kino (Warsaw), May 1995.
Radio Times (London), 28 September 1996.
Marlene , documentary directed by Maximilian Schell, Germany, 1984.
* * *
For decades, filmgoers have clustered to her like moths around a flame, to paraphrase her signature tune "Falling in Love Again." That eternal flame burned brightest from the thirties onward, but Dietrich had toiled in the silent cinema for nearly ten years before her discovery as Teuton siren, Garbo-threat, and sphinxlike beauty of the international cinema.
The standard critical line is that without cine-magician von Sternberg, there would be no Dietrich; the less supportable exaggeration of this contention is that only the seven Dietrich-von Sternberg collaborations merit serious discussion. If von Sternberg deserves credit for sculpting her image and breathing life into this goddess, then let us applaud implacable Marlene with variations on a theme of mysterious enticement after The Devil Is a Woman and until Just a Gigolo . Even as a contentious old woman (who refused to appear on camera) in Maximilian Schell's riveting documentary, Marlene (1984), her mystique was untouched by time, and as someone once said, "her voice alone could break your heart." Forty years of image maintenance suggests that the provenance of Dietrich's legend was not the vision of her Svengali but could be found in her own steel will.
Certainly, the von Sternberg/Dietrich combination represents a singular symbiosis of visually oriented auteur and perfect camera subject. If Garbo drew the camera to her like a magnet, Dietrich not only fascinated viewers with her sultry glare but transfixed every other aspect of the mise-en-scène, a smoky world of sequined nets, exotic feathers, and glistening surfaces masked by shadows. It is a cinema in which style is the substance. Whether a plump temptress in The Blue Angel , foreign-legion groupie in Morocco , a fallen angel in Shanghai Express , or Czarina of Russia in The Scarlet Empress , Dietrich the great illusionist helped von Sternberg fabricate a fabulistic ambience where people lived and died for love. Whether impulsively stealing a kiss from a young woman in Morocco or defiantly reapplying her lipstick before the firing squad guns her down in Dishonored , the one constant in Dietrich's persona was her supreme control, a guarded willfulness she only relinquished for the one lover of her dreams. And if some of her less than dynamic co-stars (Clive Brook, Herbert Marshall) seemed hidden in her shadow, they were only props anyway. Dietrich's sacrificial gestures, however, were in no way lessened by the unworthiness of their recipients. No man could measure up to a divinity (although Morocco 's Gary Cooper is a step in the right direction).
After the peak of the von Sternberg/Dietrich teamwork, the ravishingly decadent The Devil Is a Woman (Dietrich's favorite movie), the movie's ultimate apotheosis of the femme fatale, Dietrich floundered a bit, but did not, as some suggest, survive as a mere impersonator of her former exalted self. Are cinephiles supposed to credit von Sternberg with the streak of wit Lubitsch helped unearth in the delicious romantic comedy, Desire ? And if the raucous comeback of Destry Rides Again represents a coarsening of her unapproachable allure, Dietrich's decision to prevail as a more democratic love goddess is completely defensible. What Dietrich cleverly did, while delightfully exploiting a freewheeling side to her nature, was to Americanize herself for the mass audience no matter what nationality she was supposed to be playing in Seven Sinners or The Flame of New Orleans . Converted to American attitudes, she became a one-woman emigrant experience on display. Rather than her beauty, her largesse made her a citizen of the world.
Repudiating Nazi Germany and touring for Yankee troops further endeared her to Americans and helped sustain her eminence through the difficult middle portion of her career. In a petulant biography, however, Dietrich's spiteful daughter Maria Riva implies that the khaki pinup girl simply used World War II for her own convenience and played the patriot as another acting assignment. In shortchanging her mother's sacrifices, Riva only conclusively establishes her own jealousy; obviously Dietrich's nurturing of her image was murder on child-rearing.
Rigidly taking care of her beauty, the way champions train their muscles for prize fights, Dietrich cheated time in her postwar film work and in the wildly successful cabaret act that kept her legend alive in an environment of husky-voiced song styling and perfectly positioned stage lighting that burned years off the fabulous face. On-screen, she was still surpassingly lovely as double-crossing dames in Witness for the Prosecution , Stage Fright , and A Foreign Affair . Somehow, the good-time gal of the forties was the aloof temptress of the thirties once more. In our contemporary cinema in which glamour seems to dissolve as soon as it is revealed on-screen, Dietrich remains the movies' most durable symbol of the power of artifice. Like Swanson and Crawford, her enemy was time but she did not go down without a long fight. When we stare at her perfection even in the gauze-lensed Just a Gigolo , we look into the face of our dreams—nostalgic dreams of a time when stars offered an escape from the commonplace not just a reaffirmation of it.