Marlene Dietrich

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Dietrich, Marlene (27 Dec 1901 - 6 May 1992)

“If there is a supreme being, he’s crazy,” famed movie actress Dietrich told a Rave reporter (November, 1986).

Maria Magdalena Dietrich, was born in Schoneberg, Germany, near Berlin. She became a cabaret singer in the 1920s, worked in silent films, then was typecast as a cabaret singer in the memorable Blue Angel (1930), directed by Josef von Sternberg. She was invited to Hollywood, where her first role was opposite Gary Cooper in Morocco (1930). She played a prostitute in Shanghai Express (1932).

For a time, she was Hollywood's most highly-paid actress, although unhappy over the casting. After several failed films, she returned to Europe to work. Dietrich became a U.S. citizen in 1937.

Her comeback came in Destry Rides Again (1939) with Jimmy Stewart. A noted critic of Nazism, she toured in arduous conditions with the Allies during World War II and was awarded the U.S. War Department's Medal of Honor in 1947. Following the war, she worked in nightclubs and Las Vegas, and periodically appeared in films, notably Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).

Her Bisexuality

Her dissatisfaction with the explanations of theologians was in keeping with her independence of spirit. Her only child, Maria Riva, shocked not a few with a 1993 biography that listed her mother’s lovers, one of whom - a lesbian identified as “the rhinoceros” - raped her. The other of her mother’s lovers allegedly included a who’s who of notables: newscaster Edward R. Murrow; generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton; actor Jean Gabin; novelist Erich Maria Remarque. There also were others: Edith Piaf, John Gilbert, Gary Cooper, Maurice Chevalier, Yul Brynner, José Iturbi, Hans Jaray, Brian Aherne, Adlai Stevenson, Michael Wilding, Mercedes de Acosta, Frank Sinatra. Also, there was her husband - Rudolf Sieber - to whom she is said to have shown or sent all the letters she received from her various lovers. Molly Haskell has written of Maria’s biography, Marlene Dietrich (1993),
  • Ms. Riva endorses Kenneth Tynan’s axiom that Dietrich "has sex without gender," but I would say she is both genders, and she existed at a moment in time in a censored medium - romantic rather than sexual, glorying in a language of innuendo rather than clinical categories - when it was possible (in the von Sternberg-Dietrich masterpiece Morocco) to kiss a woman on the lips and run off after a man in the desert sand, to be love object and love subject simultaneously. She makes us wonder, safely, without having to lose sleep over it, what is a man and what is a woman, after all, if so much of one can exist harmoniously in the other?

Cari Beauchamp's Joseph P. Kennedy Presents (2009) includes information not only about Kennedy's financial dealings, Dietrich's 1963 tryst with John F. Kennedy, but Dietrich's answer as to why she had so many sexual partners: "They asked."

Thoughts About Religion

In her autobiography, Dietrich wrote of her deserting Germany, becoming an American citizen, and joining the United States army as an entertainer. She toured widely and was honored by France with the Legion d’Honneur and by the U.S. with a Congressional Medal. Of her battlefront experiences and how they led her to renounce her Calvinist faith, Dietrich wrote,

  • Back in my early childhood I learned that God doesn’t fight on any army’s side. So there was little point in praying. Nonetheless, before every battle prayers were read, all kinds of incantations were recited, staged by all sorts of preachers. We attended these ceremonies and I saw how the soldiers stood in place, as though they couldn’t believe their ears. I couldn’t believe it either, but I counted for nothing. . . . Since then, I have given up belief in God, in a “light” that leads us, or anything of that sort. Goethe said, “If God created this world, he should review his plan.”

In Steven Bach's Marlene Dietrich, Life and Legend, she is quoted,

  • I lost my faith during the war and can't believe they are all up there, flying around or sitting at tables, all those I've lost

Her Death

Although most who know about Dietrich know and love only her films, her daughter Maria wasted no time following her mother’s death in detailing the last moments: At the age of ninety-one, Dietrich had spent much of the last decade of her life in bed, using a casserole instead of rising to go to the bathroom, and subsisting on pills and alcohol. Her monthly telephone bills sometimes reached $7,500. Apparently needing money, she sold off some of her cigarette cases and compacts in 1987 for ?$81,500.

As critic Gabriele Annan has pointed out, Maria is an “Electra from Beverly Hills” who, like Euripides’s Electra, is “almost a monomaniac from hate and brooding over her wrongs,” one who “doesn’t actually help anyone to kill Dietrich, but she disembowels and flays her after her death. She tears off her specially engineered corset to reveal the ugly breasts and - in later years - ‘the crepe-flesh of her hanging thighs.’ ”

Mike Pare wrote of her,

  • She was not bedridden in the classic sense, she just chose not to get up and around. She had had a bad fall, and did have arthritis, but she was in otherwise excellent health, she just preferred to be a martyr. She was not hard up for money, she maintained her NYC apartment 'til she died tho she had not seen it in years, she was on occasion cash poor. One emerald piece she left her daughter was sold for over $900,000.

She had an aversion to being seen as she aged, tho one resourceful photographer did capture pix of her thru a window and on her balcony shortly before she died that were printed in European papers. Wish I had it.

Dietrich3.jpg - last known photo

Dietrich, who chose to live at 12 Avenue Montaigne in Paris rather than Germany, spent most of World War II in the United States, entertained Allied troops, and refused offers from the Nazi Government to make movies.

Despite the ambiguous relationship Dietrich had with her native Germany, she asked to be buried in her native Berlin.

More than 1,500 people mourned at her funeral at the Madeleine Church in Paris. Her closed coffin, draped in the French flag and adorned with a simple bouquet of white wildflowers, rested beneath the altar. Three medals, including France's Legion of Honor, were displayed at the foot of the coffin, military style, for a ceremony symbolizing the sense of duty Dietrich embodied in her career as an actress, and in her personal fight against Nazism. Her daughter placed a wooden crucifix, a St. Christopher's medal and a locket enclosing photos of Dietrich's grandsons in the coffin. On May 16th, Marlene was flown to Berlin, her birthplace, for burial near her mother Josefine von Losch. The grave has been occasionally covered with excrement and vandalized with epithets.

Her simple gravestone bears a cryptic inscription in German that proclaims,

  • Here I stand on the marker of my days.