Marlene Dietrich Biography

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Maria Magdalene Dietrich, 27 December 1901, Berlin, Germany, d. 6 May 1992, Paris, France. Dietrich’s heavily accented, half-spoken vocal style made her a femme fatale for nearly half a century. She studied acting with director Max Reinhardt, appearing in Germany on stage and in films during the 20s. Her first major role was in Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), in which she sang what was to become her theme tune, ‘Falling In Love Again’. The international success of the film led to a career in Hollywood, where Dietrich starred as a cabaret singer or bar-girl in numerous movies. Among them were Morocco (1930), The Blonde Venus (1932), The Song Of Songs (1933), Destry Rides Again (1939) (in which she performed ‘The Boys In The Back Room’), Follow The Boys (1944), and A Foreign Affair (1948). She became a US citizen on 6 March 1937, but returned to Britain to make Stage Fright, which was produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1950. After becoming a US citizen in 1939, Dietrich joined the American war effort in 1941, and became associated with the song ‘Lili Marlene’. Originally a German poem written in World War I, it had been recorded in 1939 by Lale Andersen, whose version was extremely popular in Nazi Germany. In turn, Dietrich’s Brunswick Records recording was a big hit in the USA.

In the 50s, Dietrich began a new career as one of the world’s most highly paid cabaret artists. With musical direction by Burt Bacharach, Dietrich sang in three languages and performed a wide variety of songs ranging from ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ to the Pete Seeger anti-war composition ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ In translation, this song was a German hit in 1968. In 1963, Dietrich appeared with the Beatles at the Royal Variety Performance. The media had a field day when they posed together for a photo call. She came out of retirement in 1979 for her final film role with David Bowie in Just A Gigolo, in which she sang the title song.

After almost a decade as a virtual recluse in her apartment in Paris, France, Dietrich died in 1992. Almost a year later, a new musical about her life, Marlene, Das Musical (originally known as Sag Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind (Where Have All The Flowers Gone)), opened in Berlin. In 1997, a play entitled Marlene, by Pam Gems, directed by Sean Mathias, and starring Siân Phillips, had a decent run in the West End. In November of that year, an auction of Marlene Dietrich memorabilia, 270 lots of items from her New York apartment, fetched a remarkable £440, 000 - more than twice what experts had anticipated. She retains an iconic status, not unlike that of Monroe.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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