Posts Tagged ‘The Blue Angel’

Marlene Dietrich – Bisexual Femme Fatale

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Marlene Dietrich was one of the few German actresses and singers to achieve International fame. Born Marie Magdalene Dietrich in 1901, she started contracting her two first names to form “Marlene” when she was only eleven years old. Her mother, Josephine, came from an affluent Berlin family, and her father was a police lieutenant who died when Marlene was only ten.

Marlene Dietrich was known for her androgynous film roles and her bisexuality. She successfully marketed her “exotic” looks, although I always perceived her as severe and unapproachable rather than exotic. Her trade marks were her low and sensual voice, long and slender legs, top hats and tails and men’s tailored suits. She often performed the first part of a show in a body-sculpted dress and changed to top hat and tails for the second half of the performance. Dietrich’s vocal range was actually rather limited. She was a contralto.

The Career of Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) had an unusually long career, which started in Berlin and Vienna in the 1920s when Dietrich acted on stage and in silent films. Her performance as Lola in The Blue Angel (1930) brought her International fame. Joseph von Sternberg directed that motion picture and created the life-long image of Dietrich as a glamorous and mysterious femme fatale by using light and shadow to their optimal effect. In The Blue Angel, Dietrich played a seductive cabaret singer who causes the downfall of a schoolmaster.

The same year, Marlene Dietrich left Germany for Hollywood and successfully starred in several other movies directed by von Sternberg. In the late 1930s, Dietrich, who openly opposed the Nazi regime, created a fund together with Billy Wilder and others to help Jews and dissidents escape from Germany. In 1937, she even put her entire salary earned for the filming of Knight Without Armor ($450,000) into escrow to help refugees. In 1939, she became an American citizen and renounced her German citizenship. In 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, Great Britain and France during USO tours and even went into Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton. During those last war years, Marlene Dietrich recorded Lili Marleen, which had been previously popularized by Lale Andersen. To hear Dietrich sing Lili Marleen, click

Marlene Dietrich received several honors from the United States, France, Belgium and Israel for her work in improving morale at the front during the war. Although she still made occasional films following World War II, Dietrich spent most of the 1950s to the 1970s touring the world as a live entertainer.


Marlene Dietrich in 1951 at age 50.

Marlene Dietrich in 1951 at age 50.

In her sixties and seventies, the health of Marlene Dietrich deteriorated. She became increasingly dependent on painkillers and alcohol. A fall in 1973 injured her left thigh. A year later she fractured her right leg. Dietrich’s career ended in 1975, when she fell off the stage and broke her thigh during a performance in Sydney, Australia. She subsequently withdrew to her apartment in Paris and spent the final eleven years of her life bedridden and alone.

The Private Life of Marlene Dietrich

Unlike her professional persona, which was carefully crafted, Marlene Dietrich’s personal life was largely kept out of the public eye. In 1924, she married film producer Rudolf Sieber and had a daughter with him. Although the couple stayed together for only 5 years, they never divorced. Dietrich, who was bisexual, had a reputation of romancing her co-stars as well as other prominent figures. Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo, John Wayne, Edith Piaf, Yul Brunner, Errol Flynn, George Bernard Shaw, John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart and others are said to have been among her conquests. Her husband knew of her affairs, accepted them and had a long-time lover himself.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.