From stage actress to film star, wartime front-line entertainer to cabaret singer, “Lene” (Layna) was always a surprise. Starting off as a chorus girl, Dietrich landed a few small roles and made a number of pictures before hooking up with director Josef von Sternberg, who cast her in “The Blue Angel” and thereafter laid claim to discovering her. The film was an international success, and led to Dietrich moving to the U.S. for a contract with Paramount. She went on to make what most consider her best six films, all with von Sternberg.
Although she married (Rudolf Sieber, 1924) and delivered a daughter (Maria Elisabeth, 1924), it is said that Marlene was bisexual, having affairs with both men and women. Like Kate Hepburn, she was often seen wearing trousers in public. She is quoted as saying that, while they never really connected, Orson Welles was the love of her life.
Dietrich became an American citizen in 1939. During WWII, she was reportedly approached by the Nazi Party and asked to return to Germany, but she refused. Instead, she traveled with American troops to entertain on the front lines with the USO, and was one of the first celebrities to raise war bonds. She was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her patriotism to her adopted country.
During the 50’s and 60’s, Marlene worked the cabaret circuit, playing Las Vegas and London while wearing provocative, daring costumes. During this period, she contracted Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger, who worked to create arrangements that would make the most of her limited range.
In September of 1975, Dietrich fell and broke her leg during a performance in Sydney, Australia, marking her last stage appearance. She continued on screen, however, appearing in David Bowie’s “Just A Gigolo” in 1979. Soon after, she began to retreat to her Paris apartment, where she ultimately spent the last 11 years of her life mostly bedridden. She died in May of 1992 at the age of 90, and her remains were returned to Berlin to be interred near her mother—not far from where she was born.
Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, her estate included 300,000 pages of documents, including correspondence with “Burt Bacharach, Yul Brynner, Maurice Chevalier, Noel Coward, Jean Gabin, Ernest Hemingway, Karl Lagerfeld, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Erich Maria Remarque, Josef von Sternberg, Orson Welles, and Billy Wilder”. Her 59 films were made between 1919 and 1979 – a span of 60 years. She is credited with writing 3 autobiographical books, and is the subject of a number of biographies, including one by her daughter Maria Riva.
Marlene Dietrich’s “official” website opens with a surprisingly clear reproduction of Dietrich’s popular “theme”, “Falling In Love Again” – a song she purportedly hated!