Forever Young | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 27.12.2001
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Forever Young

Marlene Dietrich’s wry dismissal of any Nazi principles made her one the world’s most well-known anti-Nazi activists. Marlene Dietrich was born 100 years to this day.


Always remembered by her youth and beauty - Marlene Dietrich

Hollywood diva, seductive vamp, "fur-wearing slut", all names for one of Germany’s most famous film stars: Marlene Dietrich. Today, Germany pays tribute to the both loved and hated icon in German film history, born 100 years to this day.

The hundredth anniversary of Marlene Dietrich’s birth provides a suitable occasion not only to focus on the person, but also on Dietrich’s life and career which reflects the century to which she was such a prominent witness. Dietrich films, books and exhibitions are on show all over the world. At the centre of all the fuss, Berlin is offering an especially wide selection of Dietrich events.

A life in a century

Born as Maria Magadalene Dietrich in 1901 in Berlin, she was witness to two World Wars and the Weimar Republic. After leaving her home country for Hollywood in 1930, she only returned to Germany for short visits. She resisted propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' repeated offers to play a leading role in the film industry of the Third Reich.

Dietrich’s career was influenced by the decadent film and theatre scene of pre-war Berlin. Her repetoire included concert hall, silent film, classical theatre, musical comedies, army camp shows, television, and even circus and ballet. Some of her most famous films include "The Blue Angel", "The Scarlet Empress" and "A Foreign Affair". But it was in Hollywood that she became famous all over the world.

Go home Marlene

In Hollywood, she experienced both fame and glory - and the calloussness of a relentness industry. When her films ceased to attract audiences, she was soon labelled "box office poison" in 1937.

Her decision to take on US nationality in 1939 in addition to various wartime performances to Allied soldiers led to resentment in her home country. Many Germans never forgave her for what they regarded as betrayal. Protesters picketed her tour through Germany in 1960, demanded "Marlene go home", called her a slut and even spit at her.

Despite roaring receptions in various theatre halls during the tour, Dietrich was deeply hurt and vowed never to return again to Germany. However, she still chose Berlin as a final resting place.

Marlene Dietrich‘s reputation wavered between sultry diva, to sex icon – a figure often imitated by other stars in film and music, such as pop star Madonna. But Marlene and Madonna have more in common than the blonde Venus. Both have a penchant for paradox, pertinence, and power, and like the rock star, Dietrich’s maiden name Maria Magdalene connotes the sinner-saint.

The image of Marlene, sitting seductively on a chair in the film "The Blue Angel" made Marlene Dietrich a subject of sexuality in both the hetero – and homosexual world. In fact she has often been depicted as an icon for homosexuals, an aspect which goes back to Marlene Dietrich’s liking for trousers, men’s suits and tuxedos and her wearing these garments long before other women dared to do so.

Afraid to show herself as an aging woman, Marlene Dietrich led a life in recluse after her last concert appearance in Sydney in 1975. She died in Paris in 1992 and was buried in Berlin.

Even after her death, Marlene Dietrich is still marked by controversy. Her grave has been repeatedly vandalized. Police once discovered the words "fur-wearing slut" smeared in red paint over her gravestone.

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