Marie Magdalene Dietrich, a German-American movie star and singer, was born to Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine and Louis Erich Otto Dietrich as their youngest daughter on December 27, 1901. Her birthplace was Leberstrasse 65 in Schöneberg district, Berlin, Germany. At 11 she adopted the name, Marlene, bridging her first two names.
From 1907 to 1917 she studied in Auguste-Viktoria Girls’ School and completed graduation in 1918 from ‘Victoria-Luise-Schule’. She studied English and French. She learned the violin and was inclined into poetry and theatre in her teens. Later, due to wrist injury, she gave up the aspiration of becoming a concert violinist and treaded towards acting.
This internationally famed actress cum singer was a frontline performer with an amazingly long career in the show business. One of the highest-paid actresses of her time she reached superstardom and was named the 9th greatest female star of classic Hollywood Cinema by the ‘American Film Institute’.
Starting her career on stage and in silent films, she reached the pinnacle of success by giving stunning performances in films like ‘The Blue Angel’, ‘Sanghai Express’, and ‘Desire’. A symbol of glamour and elegance, she continuously developed herself both professionally and personally.
Her rendition in films and enthralling cabaret dancing was seductive, magical, and ageless. Her image epitomized by Lola-Lola in ‘The Blue Angel’ was of an enticing cabaret singer with a top hat and silk stockings – a progressive woman who is financially independent and can choose her men.
During the Second World War, she was seen as a high-profile performer. After the Second World War, she mostly performed as a marquee artist doing live shows around the globe occasionally doing films. Her first job in 1922 as a pit orchestra violinist lasted for four weeks.
Marlene Dietrich worked with Gudio Thielscher in ‘Girl-Kabarett’ as a chorus girl and revues of Rudolf Nelson in Berlin. She failed audition in the drama academy of Max Reinhardt but eventually worked as a chorus girl in his theatres enacting trivial roles. In 1923 she made her debut in films playing a small part in ‘The Little Nepolean’.
She worked in ‘Tragodie der Liebe’ with Rudolf Sieber, her future husband. On April 2, 1930, she departed for the US and signed with ‘Paramount Pictures’. On November 14 her first American film ‘Morocco’ released.
Till 1935 she worked in six films with ‘Paramount Pictures’ under the direction of Josef von Sternberg including classics like ‘Dishonored’ and ‘Sanghai Express’. In 1936 she worked in ‘Desire’, a commercially successful film by Frank Borzage. ‘The Garden of Allah’, her first color film produced by David O. Selznick fetched her $200,000.
In the following year, she starred in ‘Knight Without Armour’ under the production of Alexander Korda drawing a salary of $450,000. Around 1937, officials of the Nazi Party tried to lure her by offering lucrative contracts to return to Germany but she refused their offers and applied for US citizenship.
The early 1950s to mid-1970s saw her exclusively performing live in theatres of all major cities as a high profile cabaret dancer. On September 29, 1975, her career almost ended after she fell from a stage in Sydney Australia and broke her thigh. ‘Just a Gigolo’ in 1979 was her last film where she did a cameo and sang the title song.
On May 17, 1923, she married Rudolf Sieber, an assistant director in Berlin. Even though she married only once, she had an unending string of affairs throughout her career. She had affairs with actors Gary Cooper and James Stewart. She died on 7th May 1992, in Paris due to renal failure at 90 and was buried at Roman Catholic Church, ‘La Madeleine’.