Marlene Dietrich is one of very few film stars whose career not only spanned 60+ years but who also enjoyed icon status for most of those years. Her life in film began in the early 1920s with silent pictures. It came to a close with Maximillian Schell's 1984 Oscar-nominated documentary, Marlene, in which she speaks but does not appear on camera.
|Marlene in the '30s|
Marlene Dietrich is remembered for her several classic films, her concert career, her breathtaking glamour and her many amorous adventures. But there was another side to the actress that is less well known today...
|World War II on the ground|
|World War II with Allied troops|
The OSS (the CIA of the time) had a Morale Operations (MO) branch that began producing 'black' (propaganda) radio programs in 1943. These programs reached listeners throughout Europe and the Mediterranean and were intended to create discord in the Axis countries. In 1944, the MO began to recruit Hollywood talent to boost the quality of programming on its stations. The MO’s most popular station was Soldatensender (Soldiers' Radio), and one of the most popular songs it played was Dietrich's "Lili Marlene" with 'black' lyrics created especially for the German version. The Nazi government banned the broadcast of the song, but the ban was lifted in the face of a backlash among Axis soldiers. "Lili Marlene" soon became the song played at the end of every Soldantensender broadcast.
In 1945, the U.S. government awarded Marlene Dietrich the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the first presented. Similarly, France made her a chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
But Dietrich's largesse did not begin with World War II…
|John Gilbert and Marlene Dietrich|
According to Leatrice, during Dietrich's romance with John Gilbert the actress tried to help revitalize his career as well as his health. She arranged for Gilbert to test for the role of her jewel-thief partner in Desire (1936). Gilbert got the part but unfortunately, shortly after filming began, he suffered a heart attack and was replaced in the role.
Leatrice recalled visiting her father's house on December 24,1935 and being dazzled by the beautiful Christmas tree, decorated in the German tradition by Dietrich herself. She noted that Dietrich had thoughtfully slipped away that day so she could spend time alone with her father. Just over two weeks later John Gilbert was dead of a heart attack.
Following his funeral, Dietrich contacted Leatrice's mother with information and advice about Gilbert's will that could benefit his daughter. Though her mother was unable to successfully pursue the information Dietrich provided, more important to young Leatrice was the relationship she developed with the actress.
|with Cary Grant in Blonde Venus|
Leatrice Gilbert Fountain wrote in Dark Star that for many years thereafter Dietrich made a point of spending time with her. She remembered Dietrich as a "fairy godmother" and told how the star took her to theater openings, on long walks and talks, baked cookies and cakes for her and generally made her feel like "a princess." All this was at a time when Dietrich was very busy with her film career.
|Marlene Dietrich in Just a Gigolo, 1978|