Hanut recalls that he first saw Dietrich at one of her stage performances when he was only eight years old. He was terrified by this commanding presence in furs, and his fears were only slightly assuaged when she came over later to speak to his aunt, another film actress, at a postshow gathering. Many years later he wrote to her on a whim, thereby engendering a series of phone conversations that are the raison d`être of this slender volume. Much of the book's first half is taken up with Hanut's rather overwrought narrative of his own depressing childhood and youth: abusive father; both parents killed in an auto wreck; raised by a dotty celebrity aunt; drugs, booze, living on the bum across Europe. He never met Marlene in person, but seems to have enjoyed rare confidences from her during their long chats. Their conversations, as recounted herein, range over a wide assortment of topics, touching only briefly on her film career, but dwelling at length on her philosophy of life, her love of Paris, her distaste for America and its culture, her devotion to the poetry of Rilke. The Dietrich that emerges from this book shows flashes of the scathing wit that was one of her cinematic trademarks, as in a series of derisive remarks about Monaco's Princess Stephanie. Most of the time, however, she deals in rather pretentious aperçus of a purportedly philosophical nature on such high-flown subjects as love and friendship. In that respect she is an accurate reflection of the author, who once sent her a copy of Gibran's verse.
The book reeks of sincerity. In describing his initial letter to Dietrich, the author calls it "a monument of touching imbecility." The same may be said of the book.