Marlene Dietrich (born Marie Magdalene Dietrich; 27 December 1901 – 6 May 1992) was a German-American actress and singer.
Dietrich maintained popularity throughout her unusually long show business career by continually re-inventing herself, professionally and characteristically. In the 1920s, in Berlin, she acted on the stage and in silent films. Her performance as Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel (1930), directed by Josef von Sternberg, brought her international fame and resulted in a contract with Paramount Pictures. Dietrich starred in Hollywood films such as Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1932) and Desire (1936). She successfully traded on her glamorous persona and "exotic" looks, cementing her super-stardom and becoming one of the highest-paid actresses of the era.
Dietrich became a U.S. citizen in 1939, and throughout World War II she was a high-profile entertainer. Although she still made occasional films after World War II, Dietrich spent most of the 1950s to the 1970s touring the world as a marquee live-show performer. Dietrich was noted for her humanitarian efforts during the War, housing German and French exiles, providing financial support, and even advocating their US citizenship. For her work improving morale on the front lines in WWII, she received honors from the US, France, Belgium, and Israel. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Dietrich the ninth-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema.
Marlene Dietrich (//, German pronunciation: [maɐ̯ˈleːnə ˈdiːtʁɪç] was born Marie Magdalene Dietrich on 27 December, 1901 in Leberstrasse 65 on the Rote Insel in Schöneberg, now a district of Berlin, Germany. She was the younger of two daughters (her sister Elisabeth was a year older) of Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine (née Felsing) and Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, who married in December 1898. Dietrich's mother was from a well-to-do Berlin family who owned a jewelry and clock making firm. Her father was a police lieutenant who died in 1907. His best friend Eduard von Losch, an aristocratic first lieutenant in the Grenadiers, courted Wilhelmina and married her in 1916, but he died soon afterward from injuries sustained during the First World War. Eduard von Losch never officially adopted the Dietrich girls, so Dietrich's surname was never von Losch, as has sometimes been claimed. Her family nicknamed her "Lena" and "Lene" (pronounced Lay-neh). Around age 11, she contracted her two first names to form the name "Marlene".
Dietrich attended the Auguste-Viktoria Girls' School from 1907 to 1917 and graduated from the Victoria-Luise-Schule (today Goethe-Gymnasium Berlin-Wilmersdorf) in 1918. She studied the violin and became interested in theater and poetry as a teenager. Her dreams of becoming a concert violinist were curtailed when she injured her wrist, but by 1922 she had her first job, playing violin in a pit orchestra that accompanied silent films at a cinema in Berlin. However, she was fired after only four weeks.
Her earliest professional stage appearances were as a chorus girl on tour with Guido Thielscher's Girl-Kabarett, vaudeville-style entertainments, and in Rudolf Nelson revues in Berlin. In 1922, Dietrich auditioned unsuccessfully for theatrical director and impresario Max Reinhardt's drama academy; however, she soon found herself working in his theatres as a chorus girl and playing small roles in dramas, without attracting any special attention at first. She made her film debut playing a bit part in the film, The Little Napoleon (1923).
She met her future husband, Rudolf Sieber, on the set of another film made that year, Tragödie der Liebe. Dietrich and Sieber were married in a civil ceremony in Berlin on 17 May 1923. Her only child, daughter Maria Elisabeth Sieber, was born on 13 December 1924.
Dietrich continued to work on stage and in film both in Berlin and Vienna throughout the 1920s. On stage, she had roles of varying importance in Frank Wedekind's Pandora's Box, William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night's Dream as well as George Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah and Misalliance. It was in musicals and revues, such as Broadway, Es Liegt in der Luft, and Zwei Krawatten, however, that she attracted the most attention. By the late 1920s, Dietrich was also playing sizable parts on screen, including Café Elektric (1927), Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame (1928) and Das Schiff der verlorenen Menschen (1929).
In 1929, Dietrich landed the breakthrough role of Lola Lola, a sexy cabaret singer who caused the downfall of a hitherto respectable schoolmaster (played by Emil Jannings), in UFA's production The Blue Angel (1930). Josef von Sternberg directed the film and thereafter took credit for having "discovered" Dietrich. The film is also noteworthy for having introduced Dietrich's signature song "Falling in Love Again", which she recorded for Electrola and later made further recordings in the 1930s for Polydor and Decca Records.
Success in the United States
In 1930, on the strength of The Blue Angel's international success, and with encouragement and promotion from Josef von Sternberg, who was already established in Hollywood, Dietrich moved to the United States under contract to Paramount Pictures. The studio sought to market Dietrich as a German answer to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Swedish sensation, Greta Garbo.
Dietrich starred in six films directed by von Sternberg at Paramount between 1930 and 1935. Sternberg worked effectively with Dietrich to create the image of a glamorous and mysterious femme fatale. He encouraged her to lose weight and coached her intensively as an actress—she, in turn, was willing to trust him and follow his sometimes imperious direction in a way that a number of other performers resisted.
Their first American collaboration, Morocco (1930), again cast her as a cabaret singer; the film is best remembered for the sequence in which she performs a song dressed in a man's white tie and kisses another woman, both provocative for the era. The film earned Dietrich her only Academy Award nomination.
Morocco was followed by Dishonored (1931), a major success, with Dietrich as a Mata Hari-like spy. Shanghai Express (1932), which was dubbed, by the critics, as "Grand Hotel on wheels", was Sternberg and Dietrich's biggest box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1932. Dietrich and Sternberg again collaborated on the romance Blonde Venus (1932), which a critical and box office disappointment. Dietrich worked without Sternberg for the first time in three years in the romantic drama Song of Songs (1933), playing a naive German peasant, under the direction of Rouben Mamoulian. Dietrich and Sternberg's last two films, The Scarlet Empress (1934) and The Devil Is a Woman (1935)—the most stylized of their collaborations—were their lowest-grossing films. Dietrich later remarked that she was at her most beautiful in The Devil Is a Woman.
A crucial part of the overall effect was created by Sternberg's exceptional skill in lighting and photographing Dietrich to optimum effect—the use of light and shadow, including the impact of light passed through a veil or slatted blinds (as for example in Shanghai Express)—which, when combined with scrupulous attention to all aspects of set design and costumes, make this series of films among the most visually stylish in cinema history. Critics still vigorously debate how much of the credit belonged to Sternberg and how much to Dietrich, but most would agree that neither consistently reached such heights again after Paramount fired Sternberg and the two ceased working together. The collaboration of one actress and director creating seven films is still unmatched in cinema history.
Dietrich's first film after the end of her partnership with Sternberg was Frank Borzage's Desire (1936), a commercial success that gave Dietrich an opportunity to try her hand at romantic comedy. Her next project, I Loved a Soldier (1936), ended in a shambles when the film was scrapped several weeks into production due to script problems, scheduling confusion and the studio's decision to fire the director, Ernst Lubitsch.
"Box office poison"
Extravagant offers lured Dietrich away from Paramount to make her first color film The Garden of Allah (1936) for independent producer David O. Selznick, receiving $200,000, and to Britain for Alexander Korda's production, Knight Without Armour (1937), at a salary of $450,000, which made her one of the best paid film stars. While both films did respectable box office, her vehicles were costly to produce and her public popularity had declined. By this time, Dietrich placed 126th in box office rankings, and American film exhibitors proclaimed her "box office poison" in May 1938, a distinction she shared with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Mae West, Katharine Hepburn, Norma Shearer, Dolores del Río and Fred Astaire among others.
While she was in London, officials of the Nazi Party approached Dietrich and offered her lucrative contracts, should she agree to return to Germany as a foremost film star in the Third Reich. She refused their offers and applied for US citizenship in 1937.
She returned to Paramount to make Angel (1937) , a romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch; the film was poorly received, leading Paramount to buy out the remainder of Dietrich's contract. When film projects at other studios fell through, Dietrich and her family set sail for an extended holiday in Europe.
Revival and later film career
In 1939, with encouragement from Josef von Sternberg, she accepted producer Joe Pasternak's offer—and a significant pay cut—to play against type in her first film in two years: that of the cowboy saloon girl, Frenchie, in the western-comedy Destry Rides Again, opposite James Stewart. Pasternak had tried to sign Marlene to Universal Studios after the release of The Blue Angel. The bawdy role revived her career and "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have", a song she introduced in the film, became a hit when she recorded it for Decca. She played similar types in Seven Sinners (1940) and The Spoilers (1942) , both opposite John Wayne.
While Dietrich never fully regained her former screen success, she continued performing in motion pictures, including appearances for such distinguished directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, and Billy Wilder, in films that included A Foreign Affair (1948), Stage Fright (1950), Rancho Notorious (1952), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and Touch of Evil (1958).
World War II
Dietrich was known to have strong political convictions and the mind to speak them. In interviews, Dietrich stated that she had been approached by representatives of the Nazi Party to return to Germany but had turned them down flat. In the late 1930s, Dietrich created a fund with Billy Wilder and several other Germans to help Jews and dissidents escape from Germany. In 1937, her entire salary for Knight Without Armor (450,000) was put into escrow to help the refugees. In 1939, she became an American citizen and renounced her German citizenship. In December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.
During two extended tours for the USO in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, the UK and France, then went into Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton. When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometers of German lines, she replied, "aus Anstand"—"out of decency". Billy Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower. Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw (a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s) and a pretend "mindreading" act. Dietrich would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, "Oh, think of something else. I can't possibly talk about that!" American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of Dietrich's act.
In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project, musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Dietrich, the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use, recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including "Lili Marleen", a favorite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Major General William J. Donovan, head of the OSS, wrote to Dietrich, "I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for us."
At the war's end in Europe, Dietrich reunited with her sister Elisabeth and her sister's husband and son. They had resided in the German city of Belsen throughout the war years, running a cinema frequented by Nazi officers and officials who oversaw the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dietrich's mother remained in Berlin during the war, her husband moved to a ranch in the San Fernando Valley of California. Dietrich vouched on behalf of her sister and her sister's husband, sheltering them from possible prosecution as Nazi collaborators. Dietrich would later omit the existence of her sister and her sister's son from all accounts of her life, completely disowning them and claiming to be an only child.
Stage and cabaret
From the early 1950s until the mid-1970s, Dietrich worked almost exclusively as a highly paid cabaret artist, performing live in large theatres in major cities worldwide.
In 1953, Dietrich was offered a then-substantial $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. The show was short, consisting only of a few songs associated with her. Her daringly sheer "nude dress"—a heavily beaded evening gown of silk soufflé, which gave the illusion of transparency—designed by Jean Louis, attracted a lot of publicity. This engagement was so successful that she was signed to appear at the Café de Paris in London the following year; her Las Vegas contracts were also renewed.
Dietrich employed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger starting in the mid-1950s; together they refined her nightclub act into a more ambitious theatrical one-woman show with an expanded repertoire. 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—she was a contralto—and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect; together, they recorded four albums and several singles between 1957 and 1964. In a TV interview in 1971, she credited Bacharach with giving her the "inspiration" to perform during those years.
She would often perform the first part of her show in one of her body-hugging dresses and a swansdown coat, and change to top hat and tails for the second half of the performance. This allowed her to sing songs usually associated with male singers, like "One for My Baby" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face".
"She … transcends her material," according to Peter Bogdanovich. "Whether it's a flighty old tune like 'I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby' … a schmaltzy German love song, 'Das Lied ist Aus' or a French one 'La Vie en Rose', she lends each an air of the aristocrat, yet she never patronises … A folk song, 'Go 'Way From My Window' has never been sung with such passion, and in her hands 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?' is not just another anti-war lament but a tragic accusation against us all."
Francis Wyndham offered a more critical appraisal of the phenomenon of Dietrich in concert. He wrote in 1964: "What she does is neither difficult nor diverting, but the fact that she does it at all fills the onlookers with wonder … It takes two to make a conjuring trick: the illusionist's sleight of hand and the stooge's desire to be deceived. To these necessary elements (her own technical competence and her audience's sentimentality) Marlene Dietrich adds a third—the mysterious force of her belief in her own magic. Those who find themselves unable to share this belief tend to blame themselves rather than her."
Her use of body-sculpting undergarments, nonsurgical temporary facelifts (tape), expert makeup and wigs, combined with careful stage lighting, helped to preserve Dietrich's glamorous image as she grew older.
Dietrich's return to West Germany in 1960 for a concert tour was met with mixed reception— despite a consistently negative press, vociferous protest by chauvinistic Germans who felt she had betrayed her homeland, and two bomb threats, her performance attracted huge crowds. During her performances at Berlin's Titania Palast theatre, protesters chanted, "Marlene Go Home!" On the other hand, Dietrich was warmly welcomed by other Germans, including Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, who was, like Dietrich, an opponent of the Nazis who had lived in exile during their rule. The tour was an artistic triumph, but a financial failure. She was left emotionally drained by the hostility she encountered and she left convinced never to visit again. East Germany, however, received her well. She also undertook a tour of Israel around the same time, which was well-received; she sang some songs in German during her concerts, including, from 1962, a German version of Pete Seeger's anti-war anthem "Where Have All the Flowers Gone", thus breaking the unofficial taboo against the use of German in Israel. She would become the first woman and German to receive the Israeli Medallion of Valor in 1965, "in recognition for her courageous adherence to principle and consistent record of friendship for the Jewish people". Dietrich in London, a concert album, was recorded during the run of her 1964 engagement at the Queen's Theatre.
She performed on Broadway twice (in 1967 and 1968) and won a special Tony Award in 1968. In November 1972, I Wish You Love, a version of Dietrich's Broadway show titled An Evening With Marlene Dietrich, was filmed in London. She was paid $250,000 for her cooperation but was unhappy with the result. The show was broadcast in the UK on the BBC and in the US on CBS in January 1973.
In her sixties and seventies, Dietrich's health declined: she survived cervical cancer in 1965 and suffered from poor circulation in her legs. Dietrich became increasingly dependent on painkillers and alcohol. A stage fall at the Shady Grove Music Fair in Maryland in 1973 injured her left thigh, necessitating skin grafts to allow the wound to heal. She fractured her right leg in August 1974. "Do you think this is glamorous? That it's a great life and that I do it for my health? Well it isn't. Maybe once, but not now," Dietrich told Clive Hirschhorn in 1973, explaining that she continued performing only for the money.
Final years and death
Dietrich's show business career largely ended on 29 September 1975, when she fell off the stage and broke her thigh during a performance in Sydney, Australia. The following year, her husband, Rudolf Sieber, died of cancer on 24 June 1976.
An alcoholic dependent on painkillers, Dietrich withdrew to her apartment at 12 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. She spent the final 11 years of her life mostly bedridden, allowing only a select few—including family and employees—to enter the apartment. During this time, she was a prolific letter-writer and phone-caller. Her autobiography, Nehmt nur mein Leben (Take Just My Life), was published in 1979.
In 1982, Dietrich agreed to participate in a documentary film about her life, Marlene (1984), but refused to be filmed. The film's director, Maximilian Schell, was allowed only to record her voice. He used his interviews with her as the basis for the film, set to a collage of film clips from her career. The final film won several European film prizes and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary in 1984. Newsweek named it "a unique film, perhaps the most fascinating and affecting documentary ever made about a great movie star".
In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2005, Dietrich's daughter and grandson claim that Dietrich was politically active during these years. She kept in contact with world leaders by telephone, including Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, running up a monthly bill of over US$3,000. In 1989, her appeal to save the Babelsberg studios from closure was broadcast on BBC Radio, and she spoke on television via telephone on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall later that year.
Dietrich's funeral service was attended by approximately 1,500 mourners in the church itself—including several ambassadors from Germany, Russia, the US, the UK and other countries—with thousands more outside. Her closed coffin rested beneath the altar draped in the French flag and adorned with a simple bouquet of white wildflowers and roses from the French President, François Mitterrand. Three medals, including France's Legion of Honour and the US Medal of Freedom, were displayed at the foot of the coffin, military style, for a ceremony symbolising 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. The officiating priest remarked: "Everyone knew her life as an artist of film and song, and everyone knew her tough stands... She lived like a soldier and would like to be buried like a soldier". By a coincidence of fate her picture was used in the Cannes Film Festival poster that year which was currently pasted up all over Paris.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dietrich instructed in her will that she was to be buried in her birthplace, Berlin, near her family; on 16 May her body was flown there to fulfill her wish. Dietrich was interred at the Städtischer Friedhof III, Berlin-Schöneberg, next to the grave of her mother, Josefine von Losch, and near the house where she was born.
Unlike her professional celebrity, which was carefully crafted and maintained, Dietrich's personal life was kept out of public view. Dietrich, who was bisexual, quietly enjoyed the thriving gay scene of the time and drag balls of 1920s Berlin. She also defied conventional gender roles through her boxing at Turkish trainer and prizefighter Sabri Mahir’s boxing studio in Berlin, which opened to women in the late 1920s. As Austrian writer Hedwig (Vicki) Baum recalls in her memoir, "I don't know how the feminine element sneaked into those masculine realms [the boxing studio], but in any case, only three or four of us were tough enough to go through with it (Marlene Dietrich was one)."
She was married only once, to assistant director Rudolf Sieber, who later became an assistant director at Paramount Pictures in France, responsible for foreign language dubbing. Dietrich's only child, Maria Elisabeth Sieber, was born in Berlin on 13 December 1924. She would later become an actress, primarily working in television, known as Maria Riva. When Maria gave birth to a son (John, a famous production designer) in 1948, Dietrich was dubbed "the world's most glamorous grandmother". After Dietrich's death, Riva published a frank biography of her mother, titled Marlene Dietrich (1992).
Throughout her career Dietrich had an unending string of affairs, some short-lived, some lasting decades; they often overlapped and were almost all known to her husband, to whom she was in the habit of passing the love letters of her men, sometimes with biting comments. When Dietrich arrived in Hollywood and filmed Morocco (1930) she found time to have an affair with Gary Cooper, even though he was married and was having an affair with the temperamental Mexican actress Lupe Vélez. Vélez once said: "If I had the opportunity to do so, I would tear out Marlene Dietrich's eyes." Another of her famous affairs was John Gilbert, famous for his alleged affair with Greta Garbo. Gilbert's untimely death was one of the most painful events of her life. Dietrich also had a brief affair with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. even though he was married to Joan Crawford. At the filming of Destry Rides Again Dietrich started a love affair with co-star James Stewart, which ended after filming. In 1938, Dietrich met and began a relationship with the writer Erich Maria Remarque, and in 1941, the French actor and military hero Jean Gabin.Their romance began when both were supporting the Allied troops in World War II. The relationship ended in the mid-1940s. In the early 1940s, Dietrich also held an affair with John Wayne, her co-star in two films. Dietrich also had a strong friendship with Orson Welles, who for her was a kind of platonic love and whom she considered a genius. She also had an affair with the Cuban-American writer Mercedes de Acosta, who claimed to be Greta Garbo's lover. Sewing circle was a phrase used by Dietrich to describe the underground, closeted lesbian and bisexual film actresses and their relationships in Hollywood. In the supposed "Marlene's Sewing Circle" are mentioned the names of other close friends such as Ann Warner (the wife of Jack L. Warner, one of the owners of the Warner studios), Lili Damita (an old friend of Marlene's from Berlin and the wife of Errol Flynn), Claudette Colbert and Dolores del Río (whom Dietrich considered the most beautiful woman of Hollywood). The French singer Edith Piaf was also one of Dietrich's closest friends during her stay in Paris in the 1950s and always rumored something more than friendship between them.
Greta Garbo has been commonly regarded as Dietrich's greatest film rival, but there is also a rumor of an affair between them. This rumor had its highlight in 2000 when writer Diana McLellan released her book The Girls: Sappho goes to Hollywood. The author wrote that, in her research, she found proof of a never-before-reported affair between Garbo and Dietrich. She wrote that they met in Berlin in 1925 while Garbo was filming The Joyless Street and Marlene had a minor part in the film. Marlene confirmed that she was indeed in The Joyless Street with Garbo. She admitted it to her British late-life friend and biographer David Bret, an expert on the Berlin nightlife of her era. The two enemies shared the most intimate friends, without so much as a word passing between them or speaking each other's names in public. Finally, in the summer of 1945, when Dietrich was the guest of Orson Welles and his wife Rita Hayworth at their house in Los Angeles, she decided it was time to attempt a reconciliation with Garbo. Dietrich persuaded Welles to invite Garbo to a dinner hosted by Clifton Webb, and Garbo accepted. Welles presented the two women to each other, and promptly Dietrich swarmed around Garbo and told her how inspiring she was, calling Garbo “goettlich” (divine) and an “unsterbliche” (undying) muse. Dietrich was evidently unimpressed by Garbo remarking to Welles "It's not true that she doesn't wear makeup. She had her eyelashes beaded. Do you know how long it takes to have your eyelashes beaded?" They are alleged to have met one last time in NYC when Dietrich, dressed as a baby nurse to remain incognito, was with her grandson in New York's Central Park. Garbo is supposed to have admired the baby and not recognized Dietrich. In one of her last interviews, in the early 1990s, the Paris Match magazine asked Marlene who are, beside her, the biggest movie legends of all time. She named Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth.
Her last great passion, when Dietrich was in her 50s, appears to have been for the actor Yul Brynner, with whom she had an affair that lasted more than a decade; still, her love life continued well into her 70s. She counted Errol Flynn, George Bernard Shaw, John F. Kennedy, Michael Wilding and Frank Sinatra among her conquests. Dietrich maintained her husband and his mistress first in Europe and later on a ranch in the San Fernando Valley, near Hollywood.
Dietrich's family brought her up to follow the Lutheran religion, but she abandoned it as a result of her experiences as a teenager during World War I, after hearing preachers from both sides invoking God as their support. "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." Quoting Goethe in her autobiography, she wrote: "If God created this world, he should review his plan."
However, according to her daughter, Maria Riva, Dietrich always travelled with a satchel containing many religious medallions (e.g., St. Christopher, etc.), showing her desire to keep her faith. Also, during her reclusive twilight years in Paris, Dietrich converted to and strongly embraced Roman Catholicism. On 14 May 1992, her funeral ceremony was performed at her favorite Parisian church, La Madeleine.
Dietrich was fluent in three languages — her native German, English and French.
Dietrich was a fashion icon to the top designers as well as a screen icon that later stars would follow. In an interview with The Observer in 1960, she said, "I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men. If I dressed for myself I wouldn't bother at all. Clothes bore me. I'd wear jeans. I adore jeans. I get them in a public store – men's, of course; I can't wear women's trousers. But I dress for the profession." Her public image included openly defying sexual norms, and she was known for her androgynous film roles and her bisexuality.
A significant volume of academic literature, especially since 1975, analyzes Dietrich's image, as created by the film industry, within various theoretical frameworks, including that of psycho-analysis. Emphasis is placed, inter alia, on the "fetishistic" manipulation of the female image.
In 1992, a plaque was unveiled at Leberstraße 65 in Berlin-Schöneberg, the site of Dietrich's birth. A postage stamp bearing her portrait was issued in Germany on 14 August 1997.
For some Germans, Dietrich remained a controversial figure for having sided with Nazi Germany's foes during World War II. In 1996, after some debate, it was decided not to name a street after her in Berlin-Schöneberg, her birthplace. However, on 8 November 1997, the central Marlene-Dietrich-Platz was unveiled in Berlin to honour her. The commemoration reads: Berliner Weltstar des Films und des Chansons. Einsatz für Freiheit und Demokratie, für Berlin und Deutschland ("Berlin world star of film and song. Dedication to freedom and democracy, to Berlin and Germany").
Dietrich was made an honorary citizen of Berlin on 16 May 2002. Translated from German, her memorial plaque reads
Berlin Memorial Plaque
Funded by the GASAG Berlin Gasworks Corporation.
"Tell me, where have all the flowers gone"
27 December 1901 – 6 May 1992
Actress and Singer
She was one of the few German actresses that attained international significance.
Despite tempting offers by the Nazi regime, she emigrated to the USA and became an American citizen.
In 2002, the city of Berlin posthumously made her an honorary citizen.
"I am, thank God, a Berliner."
The U.S. Government awarded Dietrich the Medal of Freedom for her war work. Dietrich has been quoted as saying this was the honor of which she was most proud in her life. They also awarded her with the Operation Entertainment Medal. The French Government made her a Chevalier (later upgraded to Commandeur) of the Légion d'honneur and a Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Her other awards include the Medallion of Honor of the State of Israel, the Fashion Foundation of America award and a Chevalier de l'Ordre de Leopold (Belgium).
Dietrich is made reference to in the fourth season of American Horror Story, in which Elsa Mars, a German woman with dreams of stardom, fails to become famous in part because of her similarities to the already established Dietrich.
On 24 October 1993, the largest portion of Dietrich's estate was sold to the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek—after U.S. institutions showed no interest—where it became the core of the exhibition at the Filmmuseum Berlin. The collection includes: over 3,000 textile items from the 1920s to the 1990s, including film and stage costumes as well as over a thousand items from Dietrich's personal wardrobe; 15,000 photographs, by Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, George Hurrell, Lord Snowdon and Edward Steichen; 300,000 pages of documents, including correspondence with Burt Bacharach, Yul Brynner, Maurice Chevalier, Noël Coward, Jean Gabin, Ernest Hemingway, Karl Lagerfeld, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Erich Maria Remarque, Josef von Sternberg, Orson Welles and Billy Wilder; as well as other items like film posters and sound recordings.
The contents of Dietrich's Manhattan apartment, along with other personal effects such as jewelry and items of clothing, were sold by public auction by Sotheby's (Los Angeles) on 1 November 1997. The apartment itself (located at 993 Park Avenue) was sold for $615,000 in 1998.
Noteworthy appearances include:
- Lux Radio Theater: The Legionnaire and the Lady opposite Clark Gable (1 August 1936)
- Lux Radio Theater: Desire opposite Herbert Marshall (22 July 1937)
- Lux Radio Theater: Song of Songs opposite Douglas Fairbanks, Jr (20 December 1937)
- The Chase and Sanborn Hour with Edgar Bergen and Don Ameche (2 June 1938)
- Lux Radio Theater: Manpower opposite Edward G Robinson and George Raft (15 March 1942)
- The Gulf Screen Guild Theater: Pittsburgh opposite John Wayne (12 April 1943)
- Theatre Guild on the Air: Grand Hotel opposite Ray Milland (24 March 1948)
- Studio One: Arabesque (29 June 1948)
- Theatre Guild on the Air: The Letter opposite Walter Pidgeon (3 October 1948)
- Ford Radio Theater: Madame Bovary opposite Claude Rains (8 October 1948)
- Screen Director's Playhouse: A Foreign Affair opposite Rosalind Russell and John Lund (5 March 1949)
- MGM Theatre of the Air: Anna Karenina (9 December 1949)
- MGM Theatre of the Air: Camille (6 June 1950)
- Lux Radio Theater: No Highway in the Sky opposite James Stewart (21 April 1952)
- Screen Director's Playhouse: A Foreign Affair opposite Lucille Ball and John Lund (1 March 1951)
- The Big Show starring Tallulah Bankhead (2 October 1951)
- Marlene Dietrich in conversation with J. W. Lambert and Carl Wildman recorded after her season at the Queen's Theatre London, BBC radio, 12 August 1965 (a shorter version had been broadcast on 2 April).
- The Child, with Godfrey Kenton, radio play by Shirley Jenkins, produced by Richard Imison for the BBC on 18 August 1965
- Dietrich's appeal to save the Babelsburg studios was broadcast on BBC radio
Dietrich made several appearances on Armed Forces Radio Services shows like The Army Hour and Command Performance during the war years. In 1952, she had her own series on American ABC entitled, Cafe Istanbul. During 1953–54, she starred in 38 episodes of Time for Love on CBS (which debuted 15 January 1953). She recorded 94 short inserts, "Dietrich Talks on Love and Life", for NBC's Monitor in 1958. Dietrich gave many radio interviews worldwide on her concert tours. In 1960, her show at the Tuschinski in Amsterdam was broadcast live on Dutch radio. Her 1962 appearance at the Olympia in Paris was also broadcast.
- Desert Island Discs, Dietrich asked to choose eight recordings, broadcast Monday 4 January 1965
- Dietrich, Marlene (1962). Marlene Dietrich's ABC. Doubleday.
- Dietrich, Marlene (1979). Nehmt nur mein Leben: Reflexionen (in German). Goldmann. ISBN 3-442-06327-2.
- Dietrich, Marlene (1989). Marlene. Salvator Attanasio (translator). Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-1117-3.
- Dietrich, Marlene (1990). Some Facts About Myself. Helnwein, Gottfried [Conception and photographs]. ISBN 3-89322-226-X.