The Eternal Marlene Dietrich

The German movie star was born on this day in 1901

The Eternal Marlene Dietrich

Marie Magdalene Dietrich was born on December 27, 1901, in Berlin. As a young girl attending private school, Dietrich did aspire to be a performer, but a concert violinist, not an actress. However, her dream was thwarted when she injured her hand at the age of 18. Her desire to be an artist continued, and against her family’s wishes, she decided to pursue drama under the name Marlene Dietrich. The 1930 German film “The Blue Angel” (“Der Blaue Engel”) catapulted her to fame. Soon after its release, she left for the United States, to appear in her first American film, “Morocco,” directed by Josef Von Sternberg; she would go on to make six more films with him. She attracted attention and affection from the Allies for refusing to return to Germany during the 1930’s. Supposedly, a Nazi agent offered her creative control over her films and a substantial paycheck. She turned down the offer, which allegedly came from Hitler himself, and her films were banned in Germany. Meanwhile, Dietrich spent the war years performing for Allied troops, often enduring rough conditions along with the soldiers. At the end of the war, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the United States. France and Belgium also honored the star, naming her Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and a Knight of the Order of Leopold, respectively. After the war, Dietrich continued to appear on stage and make movies. Her performance career ended in the 1970’s and she left New York for Paris, where she died at age 90 on May 6, 1992. In 1999, The American Film Institute sought to refocus attention on classic movies made before 1950 by hosting an epic awards ceremony that named the 50 Greatest Film Stars. Dietrich was ninth on a list featuring 25 women.

Listen to Marlene Dietrich performing her iconic song “Lili Marleen” in English, 1942

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