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"Falling In Love Again" Original recordings 1930-1949
"A strange combination of the femme fatale, the German Hausfrau and Florence Nightingale" Film director Billy Wilder, on Dietrich
A living legend for most of her life, Marlene Dietrich appeared to be the very stuff of illusion. Both on screen and off, her image of the quintessential vamp desirable yet enigmatic and sublimely unattainable was one of the most successfully contrived myths ever fabricated by Hollywood. Although her early life was for many years shrouded in mystery (owing first to the machinations of press agents following her arrival in the USA, in 1930 and subsequently to her own unreliable memoirs) it is now certain that she was born Maria Magdalene Dietrich, in Schöneberg on the outskirts of Berlin, on 27th December, 1901. The youngest of two daughters of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, a severe and serious-minded Prussian police lieutenant and of Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing (a scion of the family of Conrad Felsing, the prosperous Berlin jewellers) her childhood was comfortable, conservative, upper-middle class. Her father died during her childhood and her step-father, cavalry lieutenant Edouard von Losch, was killed on the Russian front during the closing stages of World War 1.
Brought up in the war-torn German capital, Maria inherited her love of the arts (and, in particular, her penchant for poetry and music) from her mother. As a teenager, she took up the violin and was for a time in an orchestra playing accompaniments to silent pictures, and nurtured thoughts of a full-time career on the halls, until a wrist injury prompted a re-think which led her towards the theatre. In point of fact, her first stage experience was as a dancer, in the chorus-line of a 1919 revue but, in common with most important actors of the so-called "golden age" of German film (1920s-1930s), Dietrich went on to study acting and stagecraft at the drama school of Max Reinhardt (1873-1943). She failed her first audition for that legendary producer-director in 1921 but, after gaining more experience (again in chorus) in a touring revue, was accepted the following year.
By now already renamed Marlene Dietrich, until 1926 she played in stage dramas (from Shakespeare to Shaw) and in film productions, including a substantial support role in 1923 in Tragedy of Love, for which she was selected by her future husband, the Czech production assistant Rudolf Seiber. Dietrichs stature in Germany steadily grew throughout the 1920s on both stage and screen her early German film appearances, seventeen in all, included A Modern Dubarry (1926), The Art Of Love (1928) and I Kiss Your Hand, Madame (1929) until 1930 when she was at last "discovered" on the Berlin stage by the Viennese director Josef von Sternberg (1894-1969). Established in Hollywood from 1924, von Sternberg was in Germany to direct Emil Jannings in UFAs first talkie Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) and chose Dietrich to play the naughty-but-nice night-club singer Lola Lola who graces this CD cover. A "masterpiece of late 1920s German grotesquerie" which impressed critics on both sides of the Atlantic, the picture was made before the post-dubbing technique was perfected, when each scene had to be separately filmed and recorded in English and German, a long and laborious process (filming spanned early November 1929 to late January 1930). "At the time I thought the film was awful and vulgar and I was shocked by the whole thing
Remember, I was a well brought up German girl", Marlene later claimed, albeit she had audibly entered into the spirit of her rôle by the time various selections were recorded for commercial release (tracks 1-5), including her theme Falling In Love Again, under the baton of their composer, the London-born German theatre conductor and subsequent film composer Friedrich Holländer (1896-1976), whose 1933 to 1956 Hollywood residency included screen credits for other Dietrich movies and Deanna Durbins 1937 vehicle One Hundred Men And A Girl. Having previously signed a Paramount contract, Dietrich departed with her "Svengali" for Hollywood where, promoted as that studios answer to MGMs Greta Garbo, she was systematically transmogrified heavy-handedly, some said by von Sternberg from a podgy Hausfrau into a mysterious, smouldering sex-symbol. In some, but by no means all of her films, she also sang. In her first Hollywood vehicle, the Academy Award-nominated
Morocco (1930 co-starring Gary Cooper), an "enchantingly silly" if cinematically inventive tale of a cabaret singer who attempts to vamp the entire French Foreign Legion, she offers the cabaret-style selections Quand lamour meurt and Give Me The Man. (Conducted by its composer Mischa Spoliansky (1898-1984), another noted filmcomposer who wrote occasional songs for Dietrich, Leben ohne Liebe (track 6) was included in the 1931 German film Nie wieder Liebe, not a Dietrich vehicle).
The cabaret-girl/street-walking femme fatale typecasting is a thread discernible in most of her subsequent films including, in 1931 Dishonoured, in 1932 Shanghai Express ("it took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily") and Blonde Venus ("she loved two men at once"), in 1934 The Scarlet Empress. In 1935, after The Devil Is A Woman ("men are my slaves and glad to be"), her partnership with von Sternberg was terminated by Paramount, primarily as a result of dwindling box-office returns. Thereafter (during 1936) she continued for Paramount with Ernst Lubitsch and Frank Borzage on the romantic comedy Desire and David O. Selznick and Richard Boleslawski on the Oscar-winning The Garden Of Allah, before going to England in 1937 to work with Alexander Korda on Knight Without Armour (a romantic thriller set during the 1917 Russian Revolution, made for London films).
A hot property at this time, it is alleged that she was courted by the German Ambassador von Ribbentrop and Nazi agents resident in England and even received tempting offers from Hitler himself to return to the German film industry. Out of sympathy with the régime (many of her friends were Jewish or had Jewish connections) she refused to cooperate. By 1939 an American citizen, during World War 2 she made her own invaluable contribution to the Allied effort. Returning to Hollywood, and Paramount, later in 1937, she was back with Lubitsch for her usual typecasting in Angel ("I want love and Im going to get it"). In 1939, in Destry Rides Again (a classic comedy Western made for Joseph Pasternack at Universal), she beguiled Jimmy Stewart with Ive Been In Love Before and Youve Got That Look and stood on the saloon bar resplendent in black fishnets to deliver The Boys In The Back Room.
During World War 2, Dietrich entertained troops, raised funds for US war bonds and made anti-Nazi propaganda radio broadcasts from New York, in German. In 1945, she proudly re-entered Berlin upon its Liberation and later, once more back in New York, recorded her own adaptation of the trans-national wartime anthem Lili Marlene, made famous in the earlier recording by Lale Andersen. She was awarded the US Medal of Freedom and nominated a Chevalier of the French Légion dHonneur. In 1948, she became "the worlds most glamorous grandmother" when her daughter, Maria, gave her a grandson. In her next significant vehicle, the Oscar-nominated A Foreign Affair (Paramount, for Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, 1948), a sophisticated comedy set in post-war Berlin and scored by Holländer, she sang Black Market and Illusions.
By the 1950s, Dietrichs film career was in decline and albeit she continued to make screen appearances until 1978 (she emerged briefly from retirement for Just A Gigolo (Leguan, West Germany), with David Bowie) during her later years she also enjoyed a long Indian summer as a cabaret artist (in the 1960s she recorded a cult hit version of Pete Seegers anti-war song Where Have All The Flowers Gone?) and remained an institution, a youthful, trans-cultural link with the past among whose friends were numbered Chaplin, Cocteau, Hemingway, Noël Coward, Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Richard Tauber, Richard Burton and Burt Bacharach, whose lovers included John Wayne, Jean Gabin, Maurice Chevalier and the United States Generals Gavin and Patton. Still fit and glamorous, until the early 1970s she was still packing houses in London, Moscow, Las Vegas and New York and Paris, her final place of residence where, a virtual recluse and a living legend, she died on 6th May, 1992.
Peter Dempsey, 2001
Research, Transfers and Digital Restoration by Peter Dempsey
Cover photo: Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, 1930, © Hulton/Archive
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