Icons & Inspirations

MARLENE DIETRICH: THE BAD GIRL OF THE 30s

Posted on in Icons & Inspirations

After 26 years from her death, the Marlene Dietrich figure is unforgettable and will always be part of the history of Cinema not only in the US. But behind the Hollywood Diva there’s hidden a free and determinate Bad Girl with much things to say to todays “emancipated women”.

Algid, charismatic and with that touch of glamour to make her iconic and unreachable: I’m talking about Marlene Dietrich, one of the most influential divas of the ‘900. Actress, singer, muse and lover, Marlene was all this and more; her own glacial but at the same time sensual charm conquered everybody. Challenging the diktats of those times she was the first woman to wear trousers on set launching the ‘androgynous mood’ that was later taken by many other actresses.

Born in Schoenberg, Germany  1901. Her childhood was very difficult because after the untimely death of her father (she was only 5 years old) her mother remarried and the second husband died prematurely,too. These tragic events have marked the life of Marlene and are the reason that probably will always push her into the arms of men with strong personalities like Billy Wilder, Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Orson Welles, Jean Gain and Erich Maria Remarque.

She began to take his first steps in acting at the age of 20 but the turning point in her career came in October 1929 with the film “The Blue Angel” directed by Joseph von Sternberg, a figure that was fundamental in her life. 

For the first time an actress shows off a new perverse sensuality, bold but always elegant, which also conquers the critique overseas.

Marlene becomes a diva and this is why the director Sternberg understanding her great film potential decided to take care of her image: he putted her on a strict diet and made remove the 4 molars to give her an even more dramatic appearance.

Her fame reached the America and the production company Paramount (the United States dirtribution company of The Blue Angel) offered a 6-year contract. So she decided to abandon her sweet Germany, now under Nazi regime, for the United States. During that journey she knew Travis Banton, the costume designer with whom she will always collaborate.

 Hence her career was all on the rise: Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Capriccio Spanish (1935) are some of the many films in which she acted, leading her to become one of the richest and most popular actress in America.

. In a short time becomes a Hollywood Diva that stands out for the glamor and style that always accompany she; it’s not a coincidence that one of her most famous phrases is ‘No Dior, No Dietrich‘. She pronounced this sentence during the negotiations of the film ‘Stage Fright’ by Alfred Hitchock in 1950: she would have acted only if the costumes were signed by Christian Dior (do you blame her ?? !!).

In fact, a fundamental prerogative in all the movies it  was she who decided both the clothes and the jewelry to wear.

Like all women, Marlene madly loved jewels and precious stones; perhaps this passion was passed to her by her mother who had a jewelry shop in one of the most glamorous and important streets in Berlin. She was a real collector of jewels, some of which were given away by numerous lovers, while others commissioned them to master jewelers such as Paul Flato and VanCleef & Arpels. One of the most famous is the rose-shaped brooch in platinum and diamonds, received as a gift by Joseph von Sternberg, who wore in several films such as Shangai Express (1932).

 

The devotion to that nation (the USA) was so much that after 7 years of permanence she obtained the American citizenship and during the Second World War she offered to entertain the troops with performances and songs in English. Unforgettable was her interpretation of the German song Lili Marlene wearing an uniform she personally crafted .

Dietrich never denied her origins and will often say: “Thank God I was born in Berlin”, even though she will always condemn the Third Reich and will refuse the courtship of Hitler, who would have wanted her as the ideal woman of the “aryan race”.

 

These episodes have influenced her relationship with the Germans, some of whom considered her a treacherous of her country, so much so that when she returned to Germany in 1960 she was met with numerous protests like ‘Marlene go home’. That was the last time she set foot in Germany. Later in a statement the diva claimed to feel guilty for the crimes committed by Hitler, because if “she had accepted the advances of the dictator would perhaps be able to change his mind and perhaps avoid the war”.

The tie and the bow tie were two fundamental accessories, protagonists of  her  style as well-groomed as ‘ambiguous’. But to reinvent her Hollywood image was also the right make up: it was the Max Factor who studied the trick to enhance the features.

Heavy eyeshadow, eyebrows drawn and eyelashes well separated to make them look bigger with pronounced cheekbones and a hyper-sensual mouth with a dark lipstick.

And the hair?? In addition to layers and layers of grease  (yes, like the Grease movie ) to define the typical waves of the 30s and 40s, it seems that she used to sprinkle the head of gold dust so that the hair could capture and reflect light recreating the typical luminous halo that always surrounds the actress in films giving her that effect so mysterious and fascinating almost golden.

Her love for men’s clothes was not limited to cinema alone but also in private life she loved wearing suits, gilets and trousers and this was also interpreted as a clear sign of her bisexuality, which she never made a taboo; famous was the party of 1935 which showed up wearing the clothes of Leda (Leda and the Swan) and his escort dressed in tailcoats (interpreting the Dietrich). The event was considered as a real coming out.

“I dress for the image, not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men” Marlene Dietrich

At the end of the 50s her career started to slowly decade and in 1975, after  alcoholism and health problems she decided to retire from the scene. The latest interpretation on the screens was in Gigolò with David Bowie in 1978.

Over the years her health became more complicated than ever to end up in a wheelchair. After a long depression, she died on May 6, 1992, seized by a heart attack while she was sleeping even though the causes of death have always been unclear. Her secretary Norma Bousquet in 2002 stated that the actress committed suicide with a heavy dose of sleeping pills.

Despite the ups and downs of her life, Marlene Dietrich always maintained her image of DIVA, ethereal and androgynous, unique in her kind that embodied the feminine ideal of the ’30s giving rise to a new model of women, transgressive, daring , unreachable, sometime even perverse.

For many people her life was scandalous because although she was married, she had many love adventures with both men and women without any care, unleashing the gossip of the time. Her personal popularity always overcome the quality of the films and despite many performances and a nomination for best actress for Morocco, she never won an Oscar.

1932: Marlene Dietrich (1901 – 1992) as Madeline or Shanghai Lily in the film ‘Shanghai Express’, directed by Josef von Sternberg. Costumes by Travis Banton. (Photo by Don English/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

Today, like yesterday, she is an icon to which the world of cinema and fashion take inspiration and the American Institute has ranked ninth among the most important stars in the history of cinema.

 

By Francesca Tantillo

 

 

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