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By Penny Deutsch

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1934 Marlene Dietrich Real Photo Trading Card1929 Marlene Dietrich Movie-Land Keeno Game CardMary Magdalene Dietrich, born in Germany on December 27, 1901, was quite an accomplished violinist prior to an injury to one of her hands.  Undaunted, she decided to pursue an acting career and auditioned at the Berlin school of drama at the age of twenty-one, supporting herself by working in a glove factory. During this time, she met and married casting director and well-known playboy, Rudolf  Sieber, and her only child Maria was born. Although their marriage failed, they never divorced and remained amicable until her death.

Acting on stage, she became “The Toast of Berlin” in such plays as “Duel on the Lido” and “From Mouth to Mouth”.  She acted in 17 silent movies between 1922 and 1929, and in 1927, with two important engagements in Vienna, she made her first notable silent film, “Café Elektric”. When she returned to Germany, she played leading roles in “I Kiss Your Hand”, “Madame”, “The Woman One Longs for/Three Loves”, “The Ship of Lost Souls”, andDangers of the Engagement Period”. While starring in Mischa Spilansky’s “It’s in the Air”, in 1928, she recorded her first two songs.

In 1929, the Jewish-Austrian film director, Josef von Sternberg, arrived from Hollywood to make “Professor Unrat”, with Emil Jannings, which was based on a novel by Heinrich Mann, and Sternberg was still seeking an actress to play the lead female role. While sitting in the audience of Zwei Krawatten, he saw Marlene for the first time and decided she would be perfect for the role.  And thus began their six-year relationship and Marlene went on to become a sultry screen siren.

Also in 1929, Marlene starred as the seductive nightclub singer in one of the first German movies with sound. Her songs were written by composer, Friedrich Hollaender, whose compositions for the film, “The Blue Angel”, helped make it one of the most timeless films of the era and launched Marlene Dietrich’s world movie career.

In April of 1930, after her arrival in New York, Sternberg introduced her to America with the “Marlene Dietrich Trailer”, and the two worked on six exceptional and unrivaled Hollywood films together.

She portrayed her characters with such artistry that she adopted their persona, sometimes to shock as well as entertain. In her American Early LOOK Magazine with colorful Marlene Dietrich in the centerdebut with “Morocco” in 1931, she created a sensation with her portrayal of a nightclub singer in black tails and top hat, who kisses a woman in the audience on the lips, takes a flower from her hair and tosses it to Gary Cooper. The movie made headlines worldwide. Hollywood was enamored with the sultry star and her ability to perform the scene with such artistry – to shock, but not offend.  Ernest Hemingway wrote of her, “If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it.”

In 1932, Marlene starred as a femme fatale in “Shanghai Express”, her most successful movie with Sternberg, as a woman traveling from Peking to Shanghai during the Chinese civil war. This began her allure as Hollywood´s leading empress of glamour, allure, and mystique.

In her fourth American film, “Blonde Venus”, in 1932, Marlene again wore tails and top hat in a movie success, but this time they were white.

Her first talking film not directed by Sternberg was “Song of Songs”, in 1933. It was banned in Germany because of its anti-German rhetoric, and although Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels offered to make her “The Queen” of German films if she made movies promoting Hitler, she consistently refused.

Marlene and Sternberg’s “The Scarlet Empress” in 1931, is one of the most controversial historical dramas ever produced, with Marlene playing the German princess Sophie Frederike, who became “Catherine the Great.” The last Dietrich/Sternberg-film was “The Devil is a Woman”, in 1935, where she played the Spanish dancer Concha Perez. And although her role was much out of character, it became one of Marlene´s favorite films.

Also in 1931, Marlene demonstrated her great sense of humor in the comedy movie “Desire”, directed by Frank Borzage, playing a glamorous jewel thief who wins Gary Cooper’s heart. It also demonstrated her aptitude for success without Sternberg and their AMC Magazine with Classic Marlene Dietrich coverrelationship began to falter.

Her film career continued with movies such as, “Destry Rides Again”, with James Stewart, where she uttered her famous invitation to “See what the boys in the back room will have.”  In 1957 and 1958, Marlene was a sensation playing a cigar-smoking brothel madam in director, Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil”, in which he also produced, designed and starred as the corrupt police captain, Hank Quinlan. Around the same time period, Billy Wilder, an old friend with whom she had made “A Foreign Affair” ten years before, directed Marlene in “Witness for the Prosecution”. Marlene`s performance as Christine Vole in this immortal courtroom thriller was one of her greatest dramatic roles.

She continued in films, starring with and being romantically linked to many of the most handsome leading men, until her career faltered in the early forties, possibly because the characters she agreed to play were not versatile enough. She then focused her interests on entertaining Allied troops with such endearing renditions as “Lili Marlene”, and received the Medal of Freedom. France honored her with the title Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.

After working with the most well known directors of the time, she experienced another suspension in her movie career, and once again, turned this respite into an opportunity, becoming a highly paid nightclub entertainer and reviving the sultry voice that made her famous.

After the death of her husband and an inability to continue her grueling routine, she surprised everyone when in 1978 she appeared with David Bowie in “Just a Gigolo”, which was her final screen appearance. She died in her apartment in Paris on May 6, 1992, but the “Toast of Berlin” is still alive in the hearts of her fans.
Penny Deutsch is a freelance writer who watched Marlene's films as they originally played amongst packed theaters while growing up in England.

Other Marlene Dietrich Pages:

A Tribute to Marlene Dietrich Once the highest paid actress of her time, German-born Marlene Dietrich is today viewed by many movie fans as an icon. She finished 9th on the AFI's list of greatest actresses.
Denny Jackson's Marlene Dietrich Page -- From a Berlin Chorus Line to Cinematic Stardom!