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Marlene Dietrich – Lioness at Large

Marlene Dietrich

(1901 – 1992)

Marlene Dietrich (1951): Biographical Sketch

Marie MagdaleneMarleneDietrich (Berlin Germany, December 27, 1901 – Paris, France, May 6, 1992) was a German-American actress and singer and one of the great icons of Hollywood’s Golden Age. 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 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, beginning with vaudeville-style entertainments and chorus girl roles, but moving on, towards the end of the decade, 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).

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. Thereafter, Dietrich starred in numerous Hollywood films; beginning with six pictures directed by von Sternberg, who was already established in Hollywood and worked effectively with her to create the image of a glamorous and mysterious femme fatale, applying to optimum effect his exceptional skill in lighting and photographing, e.g. in the use of light and shadow, including the impact of light passed through a veil or slatted blinds (as for example in Shanghai Express).  The six collaborations of Dietrich and von Sternberg were

  • Morocco (1930), the film that earned Dietrich her only Academy Award nomination; 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;
  • Dishonored (1931), a major success, with Dietrich as a Mata Hari-like spy;
  • Shanghai Express (1932); dubbed, by the critics, as “Grand Hotel on wheels”, and Sternberg and Dietrich’s biggest box office success (the highest-grossing film of 1932);
  • and the less successful films Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935); even though Dietrich later remarked that she was at her most beautiful in The Devil Is a Woman.

After the end of her collaboration with von Sternberg, she had another success with the romantic comedy Desire (1936).  Her movie career then took a downward turn; she was ultimately able to revive it, however, with the casting – against type – as a bawdy cowboy saloon girl in the western-comedy Destry Rides Again, opposite James Stewart (1939).  See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have, a song she introduced in the film, also 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.

Having become an American citizen in 1939, throughout World War II Dietrich was a high-profile frontline entertainer.  She was also noted for her humanitarian efforts during the war, housing German and French exiles, providing financial support, and even advocating for their US citizenship. For her work improving morale on the front lines in WWII, she received honors from the US, France, Belgium, and Israel.

After the end of the war, Dietrich had further successes with movies such as A Foreign Affair (1948), Stage Fright (1950), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and Touch of Evil (1958). She spent most of the 1950s to the 1970s, however, touring the world as a marquee live-show performer.

During the last years of her life, Dietrich withdrew to her apartment at 12 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. She spent here final 11 years 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. – 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. In fulfillment of this wish, she was interred at the Städtischer Friedhof III, Berlin-Schöneberg in May 1992, shortly after her death and funeral service in Paris.

Dietrich was a fashion icon to the top designers as well as a screen icon that later stars would follow. She once said, “I dress for myself. Not for the image, not for the public, not for the fashion, not for men.” Her public image included openly defying sexual norms, and she was known for her androgynous film roles and her bisexuality.

She was posthumously made an honorary citizen of Berlin on May 16, 2002. The U.S. Government awarded Dietrich the Medal of Freedom for her war work, and Dietrich has been quoted as saying this was the honor of which she was most proud in her life. She was also awarded 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). In 1999, the American Film Institute named Dietrich the ninth-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema.

Read more about Marlene Dietrich on Wikipedia.


Major Awards and Honors

American Film Institute (AFI)
  • 1999: 100 Years, 100 Stars: Top 25 Legends (female) – No. 9
Laurel Awards (USA)
  • 1958: 2nd Place, Golden Laurel, Top Female Dramatic Performance – “Witness for the Prosecution”
Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • 1960: Star plaque
Online Film & Television Association (USA)
  • 2003: OFTA  Film Hall of Fame – Acting
Deutscher Filmpreis (German Film Award)
  • 1980: Special Award – for her Contributions to German Film
David di Donatello Awards (Italy)
  • 1962: Special Award, for her Performance – “The Judgment at Nuremberg”



  • Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (1962)
  • Nehmt nur mein Leben: Reflexionen (1979)
    (Take Just My Life)
  • Marlene (1989)
  • Some Facts About Myself (1990)



Silent Movies
  • Im Schatten des Glücks (1919)
    – Unconfirmed Role.
  • The Little Napoleon (1923)
    – Role: Kathrin
  • Tragedy of Love (1923)
    – Role: Lucy
  • Man by the Wayside (1923)
    – Role: Kramerstochter
  • The Monk from Santarem (1924)
    – Role: Uncredited
  • Der Sprung ins Leben (The Leap Into Life) (1924)
    – Role: Girl on the Beach
  • Dancing Mad (1925)
    – Role: Dance Extra
  • Manon Lescaut (1926)
    – Role: Micheline
  • Madame Wants No Children (1926)
    – Role: Dancer (Uncredited)
  • A Modern Dubarry (1927)
    – Role: Kokotte
  • The Imaginary Baron (1927)
    – Role: Sophie
  • Heads Up, Charley (1927)
    – Role: Edmee Marchand
  • His Greatest Bluff (1927)
    – Role: Yvette
  • Cafe Elektric (1927)
    – Role: Erni
  • Princess Olala (1928)
    – Role: Chichotte de Gastone
  • Dangers of the Engagement Period (1929)
    – Role: Evelyne
  • I Kiss Your Hand, Madame (1929)
    – Role: Laurence Gerard (Lucille in USA)
  • The Woman One Longs For (1929)
    – Role: Stascha
  • The Ship of Lost Souls (1929)
    – Role: Ethel Marley
Sound Feature Films
  • Der blaue Engel / The Blue Angel (1930)
    – Role: Lola-Lola
    – Separate German and English versions shot simultaneously.
  • Morocco (1930)
    – Role: Mademoiselle Amy Jolly
    – Nominated: Academy Award for Best Actress
  • Dishonored (1931)
    – Role: Marie Kolverer
  • Shanghai Express (1932)
    – Role: Shanghai Lily
  • Blonde Venus (1932)
    – Role: Helen Faraday
  • The Song of Songs (1933)
    – Role: Lily Czepanek
  • Hollywood on Parade No. A-13 (1933)
    – Role: Herself
  • The Scarlet Empress (1934)
    – Role: Princess Sophia Frederica / Catherine II
  • The Devil is a Woman (1935)
    – Role: Concha Perez
  • The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935)
    – Role: Herself; promotional short film publicizing costumes designed by Travis Banton.
  • Desire (1936)
    – Role: Madeleine de Aupre
  • The Garden of Allah (1936)
    – Role: Domini Enfilden
  • Knight Without Armour (1937)
    – Role: Countess Alexandra Vladinoff
  • Angel (1937)
    – Role: Maria Berker
  • Screen Snapshots Series 16, No. 7 (1937)
    – Role: Herself; documentary short film.
  • Destry Rides Again (1939)
    – Role: Frenchy
  • Seven Sinners (1940)
    – Role: Bijou Blanche
  • The Flame of New Orleans (1941)
    – Role: Countess Claire Ledoux
  • Manpower (1941)
    – Role: Fay Duvall
  • The Lady Is Willing (1942)
    – Role: Elizabeth Madden
  • The Spoilers (1942)
    – Role: Cherry Malotte
  • Pittsburgh (1942)
    – Role: Josey ‘Hunky’ Winters
  • Show Business at War (1943)
    – Role: Herself; documentary short film.
  • Kismet (1944)
    – Role: Jamilla
  • Follow the Boys (1944)
    – Role: Herself
  • Memo for Joe (1944)
    – Role: Herself; documentary short film.
  • Martin Roumagnac (1946)
    – Role: Blanche Ferrand
  • Golden Earrings (1947)
    – Role: Lydia
  • A Foreign Affair (1948)
    – Role: Erika Von Schlutow
  • Jigsaw (1949)
    – Role: Herself (cameo appearance)
  • Stage Fright (1950)
    – Role: Charlotte Inwood
  • No Highway in the Sky (1951)
    – Role: Monica Teasdale
  • Rancho Notorious (1952)
    – Role: Altar Keane
  • Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
    – Role: Saloon Hostess (cameo appearance)
  • The Monte Carlo Story (1957)
    – Role: Maria de Creveçoeur
  • Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
    – Role: Christine Vole
  • Touch of Evil (1958)
    – Role: Tanna
  • Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
    – Role: Frau Bertholt
  • Black Fox: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler (1962)
    – Role: Narrator (voice only)
  • Paris When It Sizzles (1964)
    – Role: Herself (cameo appearance)
  • Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo (Just a Gigolo) (1979)
    – Role: Baroness von Semering
  • Marlene (1984)
    – Role: Herself (voice only)
    – Film received Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary.



  • Souvenir Album (1949)
    – Compilation album.
  • Marlene Dietrich Overseas (1951)
  • M.D. Live 1932–1952 (1952)
    – Compilation album.
  • Live at the Café de Paris (1954)
  • Dietrich in Rio (1959)
  • Lil Marlene (1959)
    – Compilation album.
  • Wiedersehen mit Marlene (1960)
  • Die neue Marlene (1965)
  • Marlene singt Berlin, Berlin (1965)
  • Dietrich in London (1965)
  • Marlene Dietrich (1969)
    – Compilation album.
  • The Best of Marlene Dietrich (1973)
    – Compilation album.
  • Das war mein Milljöh (1974)
    – Compilation album.
  • Her Complete Decca Recordings (1982)
    – Compilation album.
  • Hermine: Udo Lindenberg singt Lieder von 1929 bis 1988 (1988)
    – Featured artist; spoken verse introduction to Illusions and Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte.
  • The Blue Angel: The Original Recordings (1990)
    – Includes a previously unreleased parody of See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have, recorded in 1941 for the wrap party of The Lady is Willing.
  • The Marlene Dietrich Album (1992)
    – Compilation album; first, previously unreleased issue of Baubles Bangles and Beads (recorded 1952) and A Guy What Takes His Time (1953; also previously unreleased).
  • Art Deco Marlene Dietrich (1992)
    – Compilation album.
  • Cosmopolitan Marlene Dietrich (1993)
    – First issue of La Vie en Rose, No Love, No Nothin’, Something I Dreamed Last Night, Let’s Call It a Day (all recorded 1952 and previously unreleased), as well as Falling in Love Again and Lili Marlene (both recorded 1953; also previously unreleased).
  • Der Blonde Engel (2001)
    – First, previously unreleased issue of Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte (alternate studio take, recorded 1930), Alle Tage Ist Kein Sonntag (studio recording, 1954) and Qui me delivera (studio recording, 1955). Also first issue of My Baby Just Cares For Me (recorded live at the Arie Crown Theatre, Chicago, 1961) and I Refuse To Rock And Roll (recorded live at the Sahara Hotel’s Congo Room, Las Vegas, 1955).
  • Marlene Forever (2002).
    – First issue of Moon River (recorded live at the Paris Olympia, 1962).
  • Marlene Dietrich with the Burt Bacharach Orchestra (2007)
    – Compilation album.
  • The Ultimate Collection (2015)
    – Compilation album; 44 songs, with 14 unreleased live tracks.


A Selection of Quotes

Marlene Dietrich’s ABC

“I do not think we have a ‘right’ to happiness. If happiness happens, say thanks.”

“Sex: In America an obsession. In other parts of the world a fact.”

“Courage and grace is a formidable mixture. The only place to see it is the bullring.”


“Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin.”

Unsourced / Attributed

“It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.”

Find more quotes by Marlene Dietrich on Wikiquote and Goodreads.