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Marlene: Marlene Dietrich, A Personal Biography
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Marlene: Marlene Dietrich, A Personal Biography

3.8 5
by Charlotte Chandler

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In Marlene, the legendary Hollywood icon is vividly brought to life, based on a series of conversations with the star herself and with others who knew her well. In the mid-1970s Charlotte Chandler spoke with Marlene Dietrich in Dietrich’s Paris apartment. The star’s career was all but over, but she agreed to meet because Chandler hadn’t known


In Marlene, the legendary Hollywood icon is vividly brought to life, based on a series of conversations with the star herself and with others who knew her well. In the mid-1970s Charlotte Chandler spoke with Marlene Dietrich in Dietrich’s Paris apartment. The star’s career was all but over, but she agreed to meet because Chandler hadn’t known Dietrich earlier, “when I was young and very beautiful.” Dietrich may have been retired, but her appearance and her celebrity—her famous mystique—were as important to her as ever.

Marlene Dietrich’s life is one of the most fabulous in Hollywood history. She began her career in her native Berlin as a model, then a stage and screen actress during the silent era, becoming a star with the international success The Blue Angel. Then, under the watchful eye of the director of that film, her mentor Josef von Sternberg, she came to America and became one of the brightest stars in Hollywood. She made a series of acclaimed pictures—Morocco, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, Destry Rides Again, among many others—that propelled her to international stardom. With the outbreak of World War II, the fiercely anti-Nazi Dietrich became an American citizen and entertained Allied troops on the front lines. After the war she embarked on a new career as a stage performer, and with her young music director, the gifted Burt Bacharach—whom Chandler interviewed for the book—Dietrich had an outstanding second career.

Dietrich spoke candidly with Chandler about her unconventional private life: although she never divorced her husband, Rudi Sieber, she had numerous well-publicized affairs with his knowledge (and he had a longtime mistress with her approval). By the late 1970s, plagued by accidents, Dietrich had become a virtual recluse in her Paris apartment, communicating with the outside world almost entirely by telephone Marlene Dietrich lived an extraordinary life, and Marlene relies extensively on the star’s own words to reveal how intriguing and fascinating that life really was.

Editorial Reviews

A few cynics might think that Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) outlived her beauty, but no sane person could contend that she outlived her mystique. Author Charlotte Chandler (Not The Girl Next Door; Ingrid) can claim a status that few biographers of silver screen icons can claim: She actually knew many of her legendary subjects. Her personal biography of the German-American movie star is informed by Chandler's conversations with her, which enables her to transcend the generic rehashs of publicist copy and tabloid concoctions. Dietrich was fiercely private during her film career, but spoke candidly to Chandler about her unconventional (and notably active) romantic life. A fascinating bio of a star who outshone Oscar.

Publishers Weekly
To most, Marlene Dietrich is an enigma, a divine creation of the silver screen. Chandler's newest biography wonderfully brings to life the person behind the facade of lights and cameras, using interviews, interspersed with synopses of her films, to tell Dietrich's story. Chandler's gift is her ear for anecdote. Contributing oral passages are Leni Riefenstahl, Edward Kennedy ("she preferred my brother Jack"), and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who provides a fascinating account of Dietrich's intent to dissuade Edward VIII from abdicating and her plot to kill Hitler ("if necessary, I would go in and visit him naked"). Born Marie Magdalene, she would eventually change her name to Marlene Dietrich and capture Hollywood as a love goddess on and off the screen. Dietrich made her own contribution to history: she abandoned her German citizenship to become a U.S. citizen as an anti-Nazi gesture. She dazzled U.S. troops as a front line patriot singing "Lili Marlene" at the liberation of Paris. As the supreme chanteuse, she toured Las Vegas, Nev.; Germany; and Israel where she boldly sang in German to a Tel Aviv audience. A complex woman, Dietrich struggled with her fame, and in the end it came to hold her hostage, and her principles of candor and liberty were lost to ego and vanity. Photos. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"It hardly seems possible that there could be room for yet another important biography on so iconic a star as Marlene Dietrich. . . . Yet Charlotte Chandler's Marlene: Marlene Dietrich, A Personal Biography proves invaluable. . . . Chandler has again demonstrated her unparalleled ability to get major figures of Hollywood's golden age to talk about their lives with unprecedented openness."
—Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
Library Journal
Drawing on original interviews she conducted with Marlene Dietrich and others, Chandler (author of many "personal biographies," on, e.g., Mae West, Ingrid Bergman, and Alfred Hitchcock) mixes the screen icon's personal reminiscences with impressions from those who knew her, including Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Chandler follows Dietrich's career trajectory chronologically, with a basic synopsis of and reflections on each of Dietrich's films. Although Dietrich remains one of the great faces of Hollywood, her life and career as relayed here are not riveting. She is presented as an enigma, which is how she seems to have wanted it. VERDICT The information Chandler provides on Dietrich's career before her breakout role in The Blue Angel is of interest, but little else sets this book apart from other Dietrich biographies, e.g., Donald Spoto's Blue Angel: The Life of Marlene Dietrich and her daughter Maria Riva's Marlene Dietrich. Any of these three would suffice.—Barb Kundanis, Longmont P.L., CO
Kirkus Reviews

Prolific biographer Chandler (I Know Where I'm Going: Katharine Hepburn, a Personal Biography, 2010, etc.) delivers an evocative portrait of film icon Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992), perhaps cinema's ultimate manifestation of the mysterious, dangerous, unknowable woman.

The author covers the actress' career but foregoesin-depth analysis of the star's films and technique, focusing instead on Dietrich's enduring persona. Chandler is greatly aided in this by the inclusion of copious reminiscences by Dietrich herself, who recounts the triumphs and tragedies of her life in her inimitable grand manner, full of rueful irony and Olympian hauteur. Dietrich is candid about her various affairs, which included the likes of James Stewart, Yul Brynner and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., whose own recollections reveal a supremely witty and urbane man clearly still in erotic thrall to the legend years after the conclusion of their physical relationship. Among the narrative's most delightful surprises are Dietrich's wartime plan to seduce and murder Adolph Hitler—she would consistently denounce the Nazis and maintain a troubled relationship with her homeland throughout her life—and her many-years-removed trysts with Joseph and Jack Kennedy, the latter dismissed with a withering report of his abbreviated performance. One time accompanist Burt Bacharach waxes appreciatively about Dietrich's courage and tenacity, and various family members weigh in on the star's conflicted filial relationships, but the heart of the book remains Dietrich's account of herself as simultaneously an earthy, maternal woman, who was happiest cooking and cleaning for friends and loved ones, and an impossibly glamorous camera subject who retired into near total seclusion when her looks began to fade. At the end of her life, Dietrich, holed up in her Parisian apartment, eccentrically answered the phone in the guise of her own nonexistent maid in a gambit to preserve her dignity and ward off unwanted visitors.

A poetic and indelible portrait of the great star.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


M arlene Dietrich was on her farewell tour and she was going to be at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for two weeks, in 1968,” publicist Dale Olson told me. “I received a call from the Ahmanson, and they were worried. They had heard that she would be a terror, that she would be unreasonably demanding, and they wouldn’t be able to work with her. They said they wanted to hire me for the two weeks because they knew I had a good relationship with her, and they wanted me to look after her. I think what they really meant was they wanted me to look after them.

“I said yes.

“When she arrived, I told her what they had said, that they were afraid of her.

“She laughed. ‘They are right,’ she said. ‘They are right to be afraid of me.’ She was laughing as she spoke.

“She said there was one thing she wanted. She had to have an extremely large refrigerator for her dressing room. I said they had one which was large enough for champagne bottles, smoked salmon, and caviar, which doesn’t take up much room, the usual for the dressing room of a star.

“She said, ‘No. That isn’t what I want. I want the largest refrigerator.’

“So I went back with her request. They didn’t understand and weren’t pleased. They wanted to know why she wanted such a large refrigerator. I certainly didn’t know. I wondered if she was going to cook her famous goulash for everyone. She loved to cook for people, and her goulash was delicious, but I didn’t think that was likely. Anyway, she got her huge refrigerator.

“On opening night, I was in the dressing room. When she went out, I couldn’t resist. I was curious about what she had in the refrigerator. I opened the door and looked in.

“She had removed the shelves. It was completely empty.

“She was wonderfully received. After her opening night performance, there was tremendous applause, a standing ovation, and people in the aisles with bouquets of flowers, and single flowers, rushing up to throw their flowers on the stage.

“After absolutely everyone had left the theater, she went out on the stage, all by herself. She had changed from stiletto-heeled shoes to perfectly flat ballerina-type slippers. She began picking up the bouquets. She brought them back to her dressing room. She didn’t stop until she had picked up the last single rose and carried it back to her dressing room. Then, she began carefully arranging them in the refrigerator.

“We hadn’t seen the last of those flowers. The next night, the ushers had them ready for the end of her performance. The flowers were all thrown on the stage. The next night the same. And so on.

“At the end of the two weeks, on the night of the last performance, there they were. The flowers were performing for the last time. They were pretty wilted, but the audience didn’t know. From where they were sitting, the flowers looked fine.

“She was quite a showman.”

© 2011 Charlotte Chandler

Meet the Author

Charlotte Chandler is the author of several biographies of actors and directors, including Groucho Marx, Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, and Mae West, all of whom she interviewed extensively. She is a member of the board of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and lives in New York City.

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Marlene: Marlene Dietrich, A Personal Biography 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
carbolt More than 1 year ago
Biographer seems to have made a close contact with Marlene before she died. Just started but is enjoyable already.
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