Monday, July 4, 2011

The Rare Kind - Marlene Dietrich, 4th of July Unsung Heroine

Do you remember this woman?  I bet you don't.  Growing up with an Army Dad, you would.
AKA Maria Magdalena Dietrich von Losch
Born: 27-Dec-1901
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: 6-May-1992
Location of death: Paris, France
Cause of death: Kidney failure
Remains: Buried, Friedhof III, Berlin-Friedenau, Germany
Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Bisexual
Occupation: Actor
Nationality: Germany
Her biological father was an Army Officer who passed when she was only 11 years old.
I know of Marlene Dietrich from stories handed down by the men in my life. Grandfathers to sons to fathers - and I was told she was a rare breed of woman.  I didn't know what that exactly meant then, but I do now.  Some people choose to remember or best know Dietrich for her fantastic legs; her low, raspy sensual voice, and her trademark cross-gender wardrobe. Albeit, I grew up thinking she is so much more.
I have also learned about her admirable acts of bravery to stay in the forefront with the Army during World War II. I believe to this day Hitler would have loved to put a slug in her head if he had the chance.  She was wooed by the Nazis and could play both fields at war if she wanted to.
Stories have it that she braved sleeping in dirt, scrubbing floors, making hot soup and even took a bath with water from a U.S.soldier's helmet, just like any regular soldier at war.  Then she would be up and about to perform for them, to keep their morale high.  She was, as most people who remember her fondly, "magical."  But not unlike any of our species, she is said to be more an image; larger than life, than real. And I quote her: "I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men. "
Such is stuff that legends are made of;  a continuing conflict between what is and what is not;  what was and what was not.
A most endearing quality of the Dietrich myth is that undefinable "love-friendship" affair she had with Ernest Hemingway*.  (*Yes my dear Virginia, the same Nobel Prize winner in Literature in 1954, the same Ernest, no less). It is believed, as substantiated in the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, where letters between the "Kraut" and her "Papa" reside; (Dietrich was fondly called Kraut by Hemingway and she fondly called him Papa.)
Here is an excerpt of something Hemingway wrote to Dietrich:
"I love you and I hold you tight and kiss you hard.
I can't say how every time I ever put my arms around you I felt that I was home.  I fall in love with you bad and you're always in love with some jerk."
However, they claim their love is mere deep friendship, nothing beyond it. When asked about what really was going on, Hemingway once quipped: 
"'The thing about the Kraut and me, is that we have been in love since 1934, when we first met on the Ile de France, but we've never been to bed. Amazing but true.   Victims of un-synchronized passion.'" 
I can only smile and look at the description, "victims of un-synchronized passion" as words only a great writer like Hemingway can aptly and perfectly say.
I admire the legendary Dietrich for a lot of reasons;  for what she stood for and acted upon, that women of my generation would be too nervous and too risk-averse to dare embrace. She had courage and spunk and talent and beauty. Indeed rare and so few have risen to the same level of mystery and magic that she did. One of Dietrich's quotes about being a woman is among my list of favourites: 
"To be completely woman you need a master, and in him a compass for your life. You need a man you can look up to and respect. If you dethrone him it's no wonder that you are discontented, and discontented women are not loved for long."
But nothing comes close to being described in your life and in death, by the man who can say the most beautiful things in words.
 "If she had nothing more than her voice," said her friend, Ernest Hemingway, "she could break your heart with it."
 And the legend that is Marlene Dietrich lives on.  Happy 4th of July!


  1. A fascinating and heart-felt tribute to one of the iconic stars of Hollywood, whose actual life is so much more than her magnificent movie career.
    Thanks, a great post, as always.

  2. Wow! Great woman. Great post! Thank you for sharing.

  3. I love her.

    In fact she is possibly somewhat responsible for my belief that smoking would make me sexy.

    Well it worked for her.
    12 year old me...not so much.

  4. i read the bio book her daughter maria riva wrote after her mom passed- it's fantastic!
    she was a real strong dame, and so interesting

  5. An absolutely admirable and fascinating woman. I guess the world has stopped crunching these type of legendary dames in the last decades or so.
    I can almost imagine you, DCG, trying to look sexy with a dangling cigarette in your mouth at 12 years old. Awkward! hehe
    Thank you Drachma, any comment from you is an ego booster.
    Thanks Trickie, as Violet said, she is a must-read, must-know personality in Hollywood and Literature even.
    Violet, I have that Bio-book somewhere but I thought I may just read through them again. =)

  6. great post, really well written and informative. Always liked her... but have only seen a couple movies with her in them. I remember my mom playing some music with her singing. She has a cool singing voice !

  7. Wow, classy image. Pity the poor girls today with Paris and Lindsay as role models:S

  8. actually i do know who she is, but didn't until a year ago. i sang some of her songs at a cabaret night ... it was my first time on a stage after my accident :)

  9. Thanks for this post so I could learn about Marlene Dietrich. She was so beautiful and brave.

  10. What an amazing icon. I never knew all this about her. I was aware of her, as much as one can be of someone so famous, but not the full extent to her actions and service.

    Personally, I don't like the quote about being a woman, simply because I don't think that anyone was born to be "mastered" by anyone inthis world, but I also know that this was a thought pattern in that time, and still is amongst many woman.

    Thanks so much for sharing her life with us. Another name to add to my list of people I admire.

  11. Jamie: Paris and Lindsay? Not even in their most outlandish dreams do they come close to the icons of yesteryears!
    Big A: I don't know a lot of her songs but I bet you can belt them out as silkily and awesome!
    Alex: Dietrich is definitely worth your google research!
    Keda: I know what you mean, but I took her quote more as a pragmatic advise on how to handle the fragile man's ego. It's after all a very practical keep to keep a relationship healthy. We all know who rules and rocks the home, but we don't need to say that to our men. They know that too.


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