Tuesday, December 28, 2010
– November 22, 1980) was an American actress, playwright, screenwriter and sex symbol.
Known for her bawdy double entendres, West made a name for herself in Vaudeville and on the stage in New York before moving to Hollywood to become a comedienne, actress and writer in the motion picture industry. One of the more controversial movie stars of her day, West encountered many problems including censorship.
When her cinematic career ended, she continued to perform on stage, in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom, on radio and television, and recorded rock and roll albums.
West was born Mary Jane West in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, daughter of John Patrick West and Matilda "Tillie" Doelger (also spelled Delker).
Her father was a prizefighter known as "Battlin' Jack West" who later worked as a "special policeman" and then as a private investigator who ran his own agency. Her mother was a former corset and fashion model. The family was Protestant, by some accounts West's mother was reported as Jewishimmigrant from Bavaria. Her Irish Catholic paternal grandmother, as well as other relatives who were Roman Catholic, disapproved of her career and her choices, as did the aunt who helped deliver her. West's paternal grandfather, John Edwin, may have been an African American who passed for white.
Her siblings were Mildred Katherine West (December 8, 1898 – March 12, 1982), known as Beverly, and John Edwin West (February 11, 1900 – October 12, 1964). During her childhood, West's family moved to various parts of Woodhaven, Queens, as well as Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. She may have attended Erasmus Hall High School.
At five years old, West first entertained a crowd, at a church social, and she started appearing in amateur shows at the age of seven. She often won prizes at local talent contests. She began performing professionally in vaudeville in the Hal Clarendon Stock Company in 1907 at the age of fourteen. West first performed under the stage name Baby Mae,and tried various personas including a male impersonator, Sis Hopkins, and a blackface coon shouter. Her trademark walk was said[by whom?] to have been inspired or influenced by female impersonators Bert Savoy and Julian Eltinge, who were famous during the Pansy Craze. Her first appearance in a legitimate Broadway show was in a 1911 revue A La Broadway put on by her former dancing teacher, Ned Wayburn. The show folded after just eight performances. She then appeared in a show called "Vera Violetta," whose cast featured another newcomer, Al Jolson. In 1912 she also appeared in the opening performance of "A Winsome Widow" as a 'baby vamp' named La Petite Daffy.
In 1918, after exiting several high-profile revues, West finally got her break in the Shubert Brothers revue Sometime, opposite Ed Wynn. Her character Mayme danced the shimmy. Eventually, she began writing her own risqué plays using the pen name Jane Mast. Her first starring role on Broadway was in a play she titled Sex, which she also wrote, produced, and directed. Though critics hated the show, ticket sales were good. The notorious production did not go over well with city officials and the theater was raided with West arrested along with the cast.
She was prosecuted on morals charges and, on April 19, 1927, was sentenced to ten days for "corrupting the morals of youth." While incarcerated on Welfare Island (now known as Roosevelt Island), she dined with the warden and his wife and told reporters that she wore her silk underpants while serving time. She served eight days with two days off for good behavior. Media attention about the case enhanced her career. Her next play, The Drag, dealt with homosexuality and was what West called one of her "comedy-dramas of life". After a series of try-outs in Connecticut and New Jersey, West announced she would open the play in New York. However, The Drag never opened on Broadway due to the Society for the Prevention of Vice vows to ban it if West attempted to stage it. West was an early supporter of the women's liberation movement, but stated she was not a feminist. She was also a supporter of gay rights.
West continued to write plays, including The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man and The Constant Sinner. Her productions were plagued by controversy and other problems, although the controversy ensured that West stayed in the news and most of the time this resulted in packed performances. Her 1928 play, Diamond Lil, about a racy, easygoing lady of the 1890s, became a Broadway hit. This show enjoyed an enduring popularity and West would successfully revive it many times throughout the course of her career.
Motion picturesmotion picture contract by Paramount Pictures. She was 38, unusually advanced for a first movie, especially for a sex symbol (though she kept her age ambiguous for several more years). West made her film debut in Night After Night starring George Raft. At first, she did not like her small role in Night After Night, but was appeased when she was allowed to rewrite her scenes. In West's first scene, a hat check girl exclaims, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." West replies, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." Reflecting on the overall result of her rewritten scenes, Raft is said to have remarked, "She stole everything but the cameras."
She brought her Diamond Lil character, now renamed Lady Lou, to the screen in She Done Him Wrong (1933). The film is also notable as one of Cary Grant's first major roles, which boosted his career. West claimed she spotted Grant at the studio and insisted that he be cast as the male lead.The film was a box office hit and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The success of the film most likely saved Paramount from bankruptcy.
I'm No Angel (1933), paired her with Grant again. I'm No Angel was also a financial success. By 1933, West was the eighth-largest U.S. box office draw in the United States and, by 1935, the second-highest paid person in the United States (after William Randolph Hearst). On July 1, 1934, the censorship of the Production Code began to be seriously and meticulously enforced, and her screenplays were heavily edited.
West's next film was Belle of the Nineties (1934). Originally titled It Ain't No Sin, the title was changed due to the censors' objections. Her next film, Goin' to Town (1935), received mixed reviews.
Her next film, Klondike Annie (1936), was concerned with religion and hypocrisy and was very controversial. Many critics have called this film her screen masterpiece. That same year, West played opposite Randolph Scott in Go West, Young Man. In this film, she adapted Lawrence Riley's Broadway hit Personal Appearance into a screenplay. Directed by Henry Hathaway, Go West, Young Man is considered one of West's weaker films of the era. After this film, West starred in Every Day's a Holiday (1937) for Paramount before their association came to an end.
In 1939, Universal Pictures approached West to star in a film opposite W. C. Fields. The studio was eager to duplicate the success of Destry Rides Again starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart with a vehicle starring West and Fields. Having left Paramount eighteen months earlier and looking for a comeback film, West accepted the role of Flower Belle Lee in the film My Little Chickadee (1940).Despite mutual dislike between West and Fields (at least in part because West was a teetotaler who disapproved of Fields' heavy drinking) and fights over the screenplay, My Little Chickadee was a box office success, outgrossing Fields' previous films You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939) and The Bank Dick (1940).
West's next film was The Heat's On (1943) for Columbia Pictures. She initially didn't want to do the film but after producer and director Gregory Ratoff pleaded with her and claimed he would go bankrupt if she didn't, West relented. The film opened to bad reviews and failed at the box office. West would not return to films until 1970.
RadioOn December 12, 1937, West appeared in two separate sketches on ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's radio show The Chase and Sanborn Hour. Appearing as herself, West flirted with Charlie McCarthy, Bergen's dummy, using her usual brand of wit and risqué sexual references. West referred to Charlie as "all wood and a yard long" and commented that his kisses gave her splinters.
Even more outrageous was a sketch written by Arch Oboler that starred West and Don Ameche as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. She told Ameche in the show to "get me a big one... I feel like doin' a big apple!" Days after the broadcast, NBC received letters calling the show "immoral" and "obscene". Women's clubs and Catholic groups admonished the show's sponsor, Chase & Sanborn Coffee Company, for "prostituting" their services for allowing "impurity [to] invade the air". The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) later deemed the broadcast "vulgar and indecent" and "far below even the minimum standard which should control in the selection and production of broadcast programs". NBC personally blamed West for the incident and banned her (and the mention of her name) from their stations. West would not perform in radio for another twelve years until January 1950, in an episode of The Chesterfield Supper Club hosted by Perry Como.
Middle yearsCatherine the Great of Russia, surrounding herself with an "imperial guard" of tall, muscular young actors. The play was produced by Mike Todd and ran for 191 performances. In the 1950s, she also starred in her own Las Vegas stage show, singing while surrounded by bodybuilders. Jayne Mansfield met and later married one of West's muscle men, a former Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay.
When casting the role of Norma Desmond for the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder offered West, then nearing 60, the role. West turned down the part. Wilder later said, "The idea of [casting] Mae West was idiotic because we only had to talk to her to find out that she thought she was as great, as desirable, as sexy as she had ever been." Gloria Swanson was eventually cast in the role.
In 1958, West appeared at the Academy Awards and performed the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Rock Hudson. In 1959, she released her autobiography entitled Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, which went on to become a best seller.
Later career and final yearsWest made some rare appearances on television, including The Red Skelton Show in 1960. In 1964, she guest starred on the sitcom Mister Ed. In order to keep her appeal fresh with younger generations, she recorded two rock and roll albums, Way Out West and Wild Christmas in the late 1960s. She also recorded a number of parody songs including "Santa, Come Up to See Me" on the album Wild Christmas.
Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1970) with Raquel Welch, Rex Reed, Farrah Fawcett, and Tom Selleck in a small part. The movie was a deliberately campy sex change comedy that was both a box office and critical failure. Vidal later called the film "an awful joke". Despite Myra Breckinridge's mainstream failure, it did find an audience on the cult film circuit where West's films were regularly screened and West herself was dubbed "the queen of camp".
West recorded another album in the 1970s on MGM Records titled Great Balls of Fire, which covered songs by The Doors among others. Her autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, was also updated and republished.
In 1976, she appeared on The Dick Cavett Show and that same year began work on her final film, Sextette (1978). Adapted from a script written by West, daily revisions and disagreements hampered production from the beginning. Due to the numerous changes, West agreed to have her lines fed to her through a speaker concealed in her wig. Despite the daily problems, West was, according to Sextette director Ken Hughes, determined to see the film through. In spite of her determination, Hughes noted that West sometimes appeared disoriented and forgetful and found it difficult to follow his directions. Her now failing eyesight also made navigating around the set difficult. Hughes eventually began shooting her from the waist up to hide the out-of-shot production assistant crawling on the floor, guiding her around the set. Upon its release, Sextette was a critical and commercial failure.
Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles where tests revealed that she had suffered a stroke. She remained in the hospital where, seven days later, she had a diabetic reaction to the formula in her feeding tube. On September 18, she suffered a second stroke which left her right side paralyzed and developed pneumonia. By November, West's condition had improved, but the prognosis was not good and she was sent home.
She died there on November 22, 1980, at age 87.
A private service was held in the Old North Church replica, in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, on November 25, 1980. Bishop Andre Penachio, who was also a friend, officiated at the entombment in the family room at Cypress Hills Abbey, Brooklyn, purchased in 1930 when her mother died. Her father and brother were also entombed there before her, and her younger sister was laid to rest in the last of the five crypts within 18 months after West's death.
For her contribution to the film industry, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street in Hollywood.
Personal lifeWest was married on April 11, 1911, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Frank Szatkus, stage name Frank Wallace, a fellow vaudevillian whom she first met in 1909. She was 17, he was 21. West kept the marriage a secret. But in 1935, after West had made several hit movies, a filing clerk discovered West's marriage certificate and alerted the press. An affidavit in which she had declared herself married, which she made during the Sex trial in 1927, was also uncovered. At first, West denied ever marrying Wallace but finally admitted in July 1937, in reply to a legal interrogatory, that they had been married. Even though the marriage was a reality, she never lived with Wallace as husband and wife. She insisted they have separate bedrooms and she soon sent him away in a show of his own in order to get rid of him. She obtained a legal divorce on July 21, 1942, during which Wallace withdrew his request for separate maintenance, and West testified that she and Wallace had lived together for only "several weeks." The final divorce decree was granted on May 7, 1943.
West may also have had another secret marriage. In August 1913, she met an Italian-born Vaudeville headliner and star of the piano-accordion, Guido Deiro. Her affair went "[v]ery deep, hittin' on all the emotions. You can't get too hot over anybody unless there's somethin' that goes along with the sex act, can you?" Deiro fell in love with West and arranged his bookings so that the two traveled together. They became engaged late in 1913 or perhaps early in 1914. Some sources reported the pair were married. During a 1935 radio broadcast Walter Winchell incorrectly reported that Mae West had been married to Guido's brother, Pietro. Walter Wincher, a writer for Accordion News magazine, corrected the error: "In a recent radio broadcast, Walter Winchell conveyed the information that Pietro Deiro had been married to Mae West for four years. As one Walter to another, I must set him right. Pietro was never married to the 'come up and see me sometime' girl. Guido Deiro, his brother, was supposed to be the fortunate accordionist."
West made no public statements indicating that she had been married to Deiro. She referred to him simply as "D" in her autobiography. West's biographers state that the two never married. If they were married, this would have constituted bigamy as West was legally married to Frank Wallace at the time. West and Deiro split in 1916.
Deiro's son claimed that years later Mae West privately revealed to him that she had become pregnant by Guido, had an abortion without his knowledge resulting in complications which left her sick for nearly a year and ultimately unable to bear children.
According to Deiro's biographer, West filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery on July 14, 1920. The divorce was granted by the Supreme Court of the State of New York on November 9 of that year.West later said, "Marriage is a great institution. I’m not ready for an institution yet."
In that year, she moved to Hollywood and into the penthouse at the historic Ravenswood apartment building (where she would live until her death in 1980). After she began her movie career, her sister, brother and father followed her there. West provided them with nearby homes and also jobs and sometimes financial support. Another person whom West spent her life with was lawyer James Timony. She met Timony, who was fifteen years her senior, in 1916 when she was a vaudeville actress. They became romantically involved and he also began to act as her manager. By the mid-Thirties when West was an established movie actress, they were no longer a couple. However, they remained extremely close, living in the same building, working together, and providing support for each other, until Timony's death in 1954. A year later, when she was 61, Mae West became romantically involved with one of the musclemen in her Las Vegas stage show: wrestler, former Mr. California and former merchant marine Chester Rybonski (1923–1999). He was thirty years younger than West, and later changed his name to Paul Novak. He soon moved in with her and their romance continued until West died at the age of 87. Novak once commented, "I believe I was put on this Earth to take care of Mae West." West also had many other boyfriends throughout her life. One was boxing champion William Jones, nicknamed Gorilla Jones. When the management at her apartment building discriminated against the African-American boxer and barred his entry, West solved the problem by buying the building.
In popular cultureDuring World War II, Allied aircrew called their yellow inflatable, vest-like life preserver jackets "Mae Wests" partly from rhyming slang for "breasts" and "life vest" and partly because of the resemblance to her curvaceous torso.
A "Mae West" is also a type of round parachute malfunction (partial inversion) which contorts the shape of the canopy into the appearance of an extraordinarily large brassiere, presumably one suitable for a woman of West's generous proportions.
West has been the subject of songs, such as in the title song of Cole Porter's Broadway musical Anything Goes and in "You're the Top", from the same show.
MAE-West was also the name of the Metropolitan Area Exchange West, located in San Jose and Los Angeles, one of the first Internet tier-one hubs to connect all the major TCP/IP networks that made up the Internet in 1992. It is not documented whether the founders of MAE-West named this early Internet Exchange after the actress.
One of the most popular objects of the surrealist movement was the Mae West Lips Sofa, which was completed by artist Salvador Dalí in 1938 for Edward James
A May West (originally spelled Mae West) is a Twinkie-like cake popular in the province of Quebec, Canada
In her later years, she famously described the gangster Owney Madden, a former boyfriend who helped bankroll her Hollywood career, as "Sweet, but oh so vicious."
Likewise, "When I'm good, I'm very good. When I'm bad, I'm better," from I'm No Angel, is generally quoted in its original context. Conversely, however, some quips have been widely adapted to very different settings and meanings. For example, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful" has been applied to many settings by others, including Warren Buffett (as a sound principle of informed financial investing).
- "It's not the men in your life that count, it's the life in your men."
- "Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution."
- "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better."
- "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"
|01911-09-22 September 22, 1911 – September 30, 1911||A La Broadway||Maggie O'Hara|
|01911-11-20 November 20, 1911 – February 24, 1912||Vera Violetta||West left show during previews|
|01912-04-11 April 11, 1912 – September 7, 1912||Winsome Widow, AA Winsome Widow||Le Petite Daffy||West left show after opening night|
|01918-10-04 October 4, 1918 – June 1919||Sometime|
|01921-08-17 August 17, 1921 – September 10, 1921||Mimic World of 1921, TheThe Mimic World of 1921|
|01926-04-26 April 26, 1926 – March 1927||Sex||Margie LaMont||Written by Jane Mast (West)|
|01927-01 January 1927||Drag, TheThe Drag||closed during out-of-town tryouts (Bridgeport, Connecticut) |
credited only as writer
|01927-11 November 1927||Wicked Age, TheThe Wicked Age||Evelyn ("Babe") Carson|
|01928-04-09 April 9, 1928 – September 1928||Diamond Lil||Diamond Lil|
|01928-10-01 October 1, 1928 –October 2, 1928||Pleasure Man, TheThe Pleasure Man||credited only as writer|
|01931-09-14 September 14, 1931 – November 1931||Constant Sinner, TheThe Constant Sinner||Babe Gordon|
|01944-08-02 August 2, 1944 – January 13, 1945||Catherine Was Great||Catherine II|
|01945 1945–1946||Come On Up||Tour|
|01947-09 September 1947 – May 1948||Diamond Lil||Diamond Lil||(Revival) United Kingdom and Scotland|
|01949-02-05 February 5, 1949 – February 26, 1949||Diamond Lil||Diamond Lil||(2nd Revival) until West broke her ankle on the latter date. |
The play resumed as a "return engagement"
|01949-09-07 September 7, 1949 – January 21, 1950||Diamond Lil||Diamond Lil||(2nd Revival) as "return engagement"|
|01951-09-14 September 14, 1951 – November 10, 1951||Diamond Lil||Diamond Lil||(3rd Revival)|
|01961-07-07 July 7, 1961 – closing date unknown||Sextette||Edgewater Beach Playhouse|
- Other plays as writer
|1932||Night After Night||Maudie Triplett||Paramount Pictures|
|1933||She Done Him Wrong||Lady Lou|
|I'm No Angel||Tira|
|1934||Belle of the Nineties||Ruby Carter|
|1935||Goin' to Town||Cleo Borden|
|1936||Klondike Annie||The Frisco Doll/Rose Carlton/Sister Annie Alden|
|Go West, Young Man||Mavis Arden|
|1938||Every Day's a Holiday||Peaches O'Day|
|1940||My Little Chickadee||Flower Belle Lee||Universal Pictures|
|1943||The Heat's On||Fay Lawrence||Columbia Pictures|
|1970||Myra Breckinridge||Leticia Van Allen||20th Century Fox|
|1978||Sextette||Marlo Manners/Lady Barrington||Crown International Pictures|
|1933||Hollywood on Parade No. A-9||herself|
|Hollywood on Parade No. B-5|
|1935||The Fashion Side of Hollywood|
- 1956: The Fabulous Mae West; Decca D/DL-79016 (several reissues up to 2006)
- 1960: W.C. Fields His Only Recording Plus 8 Songs by Mae West; Proscenium PR 22
- 1966: Way Out West; Tower T/ST-5028
- 1966: Wild Christmas; Dragonet LPDG-48
- 1970: The Original Voice Tracks from Her Greatest Movies; Decca D/DL-791/76
- 1970: Mae West & W.C. Fields Side by Side; Harmony HS 11374/HS 11405
- 1972: Great Balls of Fire; MGM SE 4869
- 1974: Original Radio Broadcasts; Mark 56 Records 643
- 1987/1995: Sixteen Sultry Songs Sung by Mae West Queen of Sex; Rosetta RR 1315
- 1996: I'm No Angel; Jasmine CD 04980 102
- 2006: The Fabulous: Rev-Ola CR Rev 181
- West, Mae (1930). Babe Gordon. The Macaulay Company. (the novel on which The Constant Sinner was based)
- West, Mae (1932). Diamond Lil. Caxton House. (novelization of play)
- West, Mae (1959, revised 1970). Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It. Prentice-Hall.
- West, Mae (1975). Mae West On Sex, Health and ESP. W. H. Allen.
- West, Mae (1975). Pleasure Man. Dell Pub. Co.
- West, Mae; Joseph Weintraub (1967). The Wit and Wisdom of Mae West. G. P. Putnam.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
[maɐˈleːnə ˈdiːtʁɪç]; 27 December 1901 – 6 May 1992) was a German actress and singer.
Dietrich remained popular throughout her long career by continually re-inventing herself. In 1920s Berlin, she acted on the stage and in silent films. Her performance as Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel, directed by Josef von Sternberg, brought her international fame and a contract with Paramount Pictures in the US. Hollywood films such as Shanghai Express and Desire capitalised on her glamour and exotic looks, cementing her stardom and making her one of the highest paid actresses of the era. Dietrich became a US citizen in 1939; during World War II, she was a high-profile frontline entertainer. Although she still made occasional films in the post-war years, Dietrich spent most of the 1950s to the 1970s touring the world as a successful show performer.
In 1999 the American Film Institute named Dietrich the ninth greatest female star of all time.
ChildhoodDietrich was born Maria Magdalene Dietrich on 27 December 1901 in Schöneberg, a district of Berlin, Germany. She was the younger of two daughters (her sister Elisabeth being a year older) of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing, who married in December 1898. Dietrich's mother was from a well-to-do Berlin family who owned a clockmaking firm and her father was a police lieutenant. Her father died in 1911. His best friend, Eduard von Losch, an aristocrat first lieutenant in the Grenadiers courted Wilhelmina and eventually married her in 1916, but he died soon after as a result of injuries sustained during World War I. Eduard von Losch never officially adopted the Dietrich children, hence Dietrich's surname was never von Losch, as is sometimes claimed. She was nicknamed "Lena" and "Lene" (pronounced Lay-neh) within the family. Around the age of 11, she contracted her two first names to form the then-novel name of "Marlene".
Dietrich attended the Auguste Victoria School for Girls from 1906 to 1918. She studied the violin and became interested in theatre and poetry as a teenager. Her dreams of becoming a concert violinist were cut short when she injured her wrist.
Early careerMax 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 1922 film, So sind die Männer. She met her future husband, Rudolf Sieber, on the set of another film made that year, Tragödie der Liebe. Dietrich and Sieber were married on 17 May 1924. Her only child, daughter Maria Elisabeth Sieber, later known as Maria Riva, 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 cabaret singer who causes the downfall of a hitherto respected schoolmaster, in UFA's production, The Blue Angel (1930). The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg, who thereafter took credit for having "discovered" Dietrich. The film is also noteworthy for having introduced Dietrich's signature song "Falling in Love Again".
Film starHollywood, Dietrich then moved to the U.S. on contract to Paramount Pictures. The studio sought to market Dietrich as a German answer to MGM's Swedish sensation, Greta Garbo. Her first American film, Morocco, directed by von Sternberg, earned Dietrich her only Oscar nomination. However, at the time she knew very little English and so spoke her lines phonetically.
Dietrich starred in six films directed by von Sternberg at Paramount between 1930 and 1935: Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, and The Devil is a Woman. In Hollywood, von Sternberg worked very effectively with Dietrich to create the image of a glamorous 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.
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 von Sternberg and how much to Dietrich, but most would agree that neither consistently reached such heights again after Paramount fired von Sternberg and the two ceased working together.
Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Mae West, Dolores del Río, Katharine Hepburn and others — was labeled "box office poison" after her 1937 film, Knight Without Armour, proved an expensive flop. In 1939, however, her stardom revived when she played the cowboy saloon girl Frenchie in the light-hearted western Destry Rides Again opposite James Stewart. The movie also introduced another favorite song, "The Boys in the Back Room". She played a similar role in 1942 with John Wayne in The Spoilers.
While Dietrich arguably never fully regained her former screen glory, she continued performing in the movies, including appearances for such distinguished directors as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, in films that included A Foreign Affair, Witness for the Prosecution, Rancho Notorious, Stage Fright and Touch of Evil.
World War IIDietrich 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. Dietrich, a staunch anti-Nazi, became an American citizen in 1939.
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 it is said that she sold more war bonds than any other star.
During two extended tours for the USO in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops on the front lines in Algeria, Italy, England and France and 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 kilometres of German lines, she replied, "aus Anstand" — "out of decency". Her revue, with future TV pioneer Danny Thomas as her opening act, included songs from her films, a mindreading act and performances on her musical saw, a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s.
In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musac 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 favourite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. William Joseph Donovan, head of the OSS, wrote to Dietrich, "I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for us.
Dietrich was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the US in 1947. She said that this was her proudest accomplishment. She was also awarded the Légion d'honneur by the French government as recognition for her wartime work.
RecordingsKenneth Tynan called her voice her "third dimension". Ernest Hemingway thought that "if she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it."
Dietrich's recording career spanned over half a century. Prior to international stardom, she recorded a duet, "Wenn die Beste Freundin", with Margo Lion. This song, with its lesbian overtones, was a hit in Berlin in 1928. In 1930, Dietrich recorded English and German language selections from her film The Blue Angel, for Electrola in Berlin. It was at this time that she recorded Friedrich Hollaender's "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)" for the first time—it would become her theme song, to be sung in thousands of concerts.
A 1933 Parisian recording session for Polydor produced several classic tracks, including Franz Waxman's "Allein in Einer Grossen Stadt." Dietrich recorded "The Boys in the Back Room" from Destry Rides Again for Decca Records in 1939. In 1945, she recorded her version of "Lili Marleen". Dietrich signed with Columbia Records in the 1950s, with Mitch Miller as her producer. The 1950 LP Marlene Dietrich Overseas, with Dietrich singing German translations of American songs of the World War II era, was a hit. She also recorded several duets with Rosemary Clooney; these tapped into a younger market and charted.
Burt Bacharach at the helm of the orchestra. Dietrich in London, recorded live at the Queen's Theatre in 1964, is an enduring document of Dietrich in concert. In 1978, Dietrich's performance of the title track from her last film, Just a Gigolo, was issued as a single. She made her last recordings from her Paris apartment in 1987: spoken introductions to songs for a nostalgia album by Udo Lindenberg.
Asked by Maximilian Schell in his documentary, Marlene (1984), which of her own recordings were her favorites, Dietrich replied that she thought Marlene singt Berlin-Berlin (1964) – an album featuring her singing old Berlin schlager (popular songs) – was her best-recorded work.
Stage and cabaret
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 costumes, designed by Jean Louis, attracted a lot of publicity and attention. This engagement was so successful that she was signed to appear at the Cafė de Paris in London the following year, and her Las Vegas contracts were also renewed. When Dietrich signed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger in the mid-1950s, her show started to evolve from a mere nightclub act to a more ambitious one-woman show featuring an array of new material. 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.
Dietrich's return to Germany in 1960 for a concert tour elicited a mixed response. Many Germans felt she had betrayed her homeland by her actions during World War II. 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. The tour was an artistic triumph, but a financial failure. 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 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.
Dietrich appeared at the Edinburgh Festival, with Bacharach as conductor, in 1964 and 1965 and made appearances on Broadway twice (1967 and 1968), winning a special Tony Award for her performance. Her costumes (body-hugging dresses covered with thousands of crystals as well as a swansdown coat), body-sculpting undergarments, careful stage lighting helped to preserve Dietrich's glamorous image well into old age.
In November 1972, a version of the show Dietrich had performed on Broadway was filmed in London. She was paid $250,000 for her cooperation, but she was unhappy with the result. The show, originally titled I Wish You Love, was broadcast in the UK on the BBC on 1 January 1973 and in the US on CBS on 13 January 1973. The show was retitled An Evening With Marlene Dietrich for the later VHS and DVD releases.
Final yearsDietrich's show business career largely ended on 29 September 1975, when she broke her leg during a stage performance in Sydney, Australia. Her husband, Rudolf Sieber, died of cancer on 24 June 1976.
Dietrich's final on-camera film appearance was a cameo role in Just a Gigolo (1979), starring David Bowie.
An alcoholic and 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, 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 only allowed 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".
David Bret, one of the few people allowed inside her Paris apartment. Bret is thought to have been the last person outside her family that Dietrich spoke to, two days before her death: "I have called to say that I love you, and now I may die." She was in constant contact with her daughter, who came to Paris regularly to check on her.
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 in 1990.
Dietrich died of renal failure on 6 May 1992 at the age of 90 in Paris. A service was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris before 3,500 mourners and a crowd of well-wishers outside. Her body, covered with an American flag, was then returned to Berlin, where she was interred at the Städtischer Friedhof III, Berlin-Schöneberg, Stubenrauchstraße 43–45, in Friedenau Cemetery, near her mother's grave and not far away from the house where she was born.
Private lifeUnlike her professional celebrity, which was carefully crafted and maintained, Dietrich's personal life was kept out of public view. Dietrich, who was bisexual, enjoyed the thriving gay scene of the time and drag balls of 1920s Berlin.
She married only once, 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 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. 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 relationship ended in the mid-1940s. She also had an affair with the Cuban-American writer Mercedes de Acosta, who was Greta Garbo's lover. Her last great passion, when she was in her 50s, appears to have been for the actor Yul Brynner, but her love life continued well into her 70s. She counted George Bernard Shaw and John F. Kennedy among her conquests. Dietrich maintained her husband and his mistress first in Europe and later on a ranch in the San Fernando Valley, California.
Dietrich was an atheist. She was raised a Protestant but lost her faith due to battlefront experiences during her time with the US Army as an entertainer after hearing preachers from both sides invoking God as their support. She once said: “If God exists, he needs to review his plan.
Image and legacy
A significant volume of academic literature, especially since 1975, analyzes Dietrich's image, as created by the movie 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 Dietrich's portrait was issued in Germany on 14 August 1997.
Luxury pen manufacturer MontBlanc produced a limited edition 'Marlene Dietrich' pen to commemorate Dietrich's life. It is platinum-plated and has an encrusted deep blue sapphire.
For some Germans, she remained a controversial figure as a war-time traitor. In 1996, after some controversy, it was decided not to name a street after Dietrich in Berlin-Schöneberg, her birthplace.However, on 8 November 1997, the central Marlene-Dietrich-Platz was unveiled in Berlin to honor Dietrich. 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.
The U.S. Government awarded Marlene Dietrich the Presidential 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. She was also made a chevalier (later commandeur) of the Légion d'honneur by the French government.
EstateOn 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 through 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.
RadioNotable 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 Program 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 Tallullah Bankhead (2 October 1951)
- The Child, with Godfrey Kenton, radio play 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 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.
TelevisionComplete list of television appearances (excluding news footage):
- Unicef Gala (Düsseldorf, 1962): Guest Appearance
- Cirque d'hiver (Paris, 9 March 1963): Cameo as "Garcon de Piste"
- Deutsche-Schlager-Festspiele (Baden-Baden, 1963): Guest Appearance
- Grand Gala du Disque (Edison Awards) (The Hague, 1963): Guest Appearance
- Galakväll pa Berns (Stockholm, 1963): Concert, with introduction by Karl Gerhardt and orchestra conducted by Burt Bacharach
- Royal Variety Performance (London, 4 November 1963): Guest Appearance
- The Stars Shine for Jack Hylton (London, 1965): Guest Appearance
- The Magic of Marlene (Melbourne, October 1965): Concert, with orchestra conducted by William Blezard.
- The 22nd Annual Tony Awards (New York, 21 April 1968): Acceptance Speech
- Guest Star Marlene Dietrich (Copenhagen – for Swedish Television, 1970): Interview
- I Wish You Love (An Evening with Marlene Dietrich) (London, 23 & 24 November 1972): Concert TV Special, with orchestra conducted by Stan Freeman.