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FOUND TEXT: Marlene Dietrich MARLENE DIETRICH Taken on the set of Morocco in 1930. Photo by Eugene Robert Richee. On the set of Song ofSongs in 1933. Photo by Don English. MARLENE DIETRICH and FRANZ HESSEL In Berlin in 1929 a legend was born. The celebrated director Josef von Sternberg shocked the film world by giving an obscure actress named Marlene Dietrich the female lead in the first major German talkie, The BlueAngel. There are at least as many divergent accounts of the legendary discovery as there were eyewitnesses. The general consensus is that Dietrich caught von Sternberg's eye in the revue Two Neckties and was invited to a screen test. Without the least expectation of getting the part, Dietrich made no attempt to please, and her real or feigned indifference captivated von Sternberg. He saw her as the perfect material he needed to create a star. Top billing went to Emil Jannings as Professor Unrath, but even as the shoot progressed, the venerable actor found himself eclipsed by a new star, one whose film and stage career would last another hati a century. The centenary of Marlene Dietrich's birth in 2001 offered an opportunity to rediscover the many facets of her legend. Dietrich was von Sternberg's creation and the strong-minded technician of her own aura: a vamp who commanded the love and respect of intellectuals from Ernest Hemingway and Erich Maria Remarque to Jean Amery; a sex goddess for whom the ultimate expression of love was not sex but pot-au-feu. She was the kraut in the USO uniform and the boche with the Legion of Honor. What fused these disparate roles into a fascinating whole was her self-irony, the phlegmatic detachment that had first fascinated von Sternberg. It is hardly surprising that certain areas of her life blur slightly, as if to make the fascinating contrasts of her legend stand out all the more sharply. Her roots in Berlin, for example. The symbolic value of the reciprocal love-hate relationship between Dietrich and Berlin overshadows the city's actual role in her life. Dietrich herself played down her acting experiences in Berlin; in her memoirs she claimed that when she auditioned for The Blue Angel she was a "nobody, one of hundreds of amateurs, students and aspiring actresses. I was a student at the Reinhardt School, that was aU." In fact, The Blue Angel was her eighteenth fUm, her second leading role, and more than one film reviewer had already compared her to Greta Garbo. She had partnered with some of Berlin's leading singers and cabaret performers, and her picture had The Missouri Review · 73 been plastered across the front page of Berlin's popular weekly Berliner Illustrirte. She had worked her way up through Berlin's vital, mercUessly competitive acting scene, and by then, as Franz Hessel puts it, "We come to know her by sight; her face imprints itseti on our minds." In "the time of Marlene's first Hollywood triumphs" the novelist and essayist Franz Hessel wrote the text for a book of photographs, Marlene Dietrich: A Portrait, published in 1931. He later revised the text for magazine publication under the title "Marlene as a Mother, Marlene as a ChUd," with a stronger emphasis on his personal encounter with the actress. Taking Dietrich's Berlin childhood as its point of departure, Hessel's analysis complements later homages to her stardom that focus on her Hollywood years. "Marlene was never again as significant to me as in this role [Lola Lola in The Blue Angel]. I could celebrate the Berlin child; I could only admire the later artist," he later wrote. At the same time, he was one of the few intellectuals to take the Dietrich phenomenon seriously, addressing it without a trace of snobbery or sensationalism and with a sensitivity to intimate detail. "Marlene Dietrich: A Portrait" is a prime example of Hessel's skill as an essayist. In one cryptic detail the essay reflects the drama ofHessel's private life—a drama that inspired Francois Truffaut's landmark film, Jules and Jim. For Hessel, in characteristically self-effacing fashion, is a film legend in his own right...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 71-78
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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