Actress and singer Marlene Dietrich was one of the most prominent political refugees of her generation, speaking out against Hitler and singing for the US troops in World War II.
Profession: Actress and singer
Country of Origin: Germany
Country of Asylum: United States of America
Country of Transit: France
Date of birth: 27 December 1901
Died: 6 May 1992
Actress and singer Marlene Dietrich was a living legend, famous for performances in movies such as “Blue Angel” and “Touch of Evil”. She was also one of the most prominent political refugees of her generation, speaking out against Hitler and singing for the US troops in World War II.
In the early 1920s, Dietrich attended the Max Reinhart drama school. She appeared in many stage productions and soon became the toast of Berlin.
It was with “Blue Angel”, directed by Joseph von Sternberg, that Dietrich attracted world-wide attention. In her deep, heavily-accented voice, she crooned the unforgettable words: “Falling in love again, Never wanted to, What am I to do? Can’t help it.” Writer Ernest Hemingway, said to be her lover, once wrote, “If she had nothing more than her voice she could break your heart with it. But she has that beautiful body and the timeless loveliness of her face.”
Paramount wanted her in Hollywood, so she left Europe and made six Hollywood films with von Sternberg, the most successful being “Shanghai Express”.
Appalled by Nazism, Dietrich refused to return to Germany and acquired American citizenship in 1939. The German press called her a traitor. Her work with the United Services Organisation brought her to Alaska, Greenland, North Africa and Europe, where she entertained American troops, helped in hospitals and made radio broadcasts. Her unmistakable voice and sheer glamour charmed the soldiers and troubled the enemy. Her sister was sent to a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, reportedly in a bid to make Dietrich stop singing. They were reunited after the war.
In 1948 she resumed her acting career, appearing in Billy Wilder’s comedy, “A Foreign Affair”. Dietrich played a Nazi singer in the ruins of Berlin, a part she took on only after much persuasion by Wilder. She also appeared in “Stage Fright”, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, performing songs by Cole Porter and Edith Piaf. Hitchcock described her as an absolute professional and allowed her to give directions on his set, something that was unheard of. In 1952, Dietrich decided to stop working in film and to concentrate on the stage, although she would still play roles in films such as Orson Well’s “Touch of Evil” and Wilder’s “Witness for the Prosecution”.
In 1962, she narrated a documentary called “The Black Fox”, which linked Adolf Hitler’s biography with a Goethe story. She began touring the world giving concerts, adding to her 1940s repertoire of anti-war songs such as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”.
In her memoirs she stated: “I was born a German and shall always remain one…. The United States welcomed me when I no longer had a fatherland that deserved to call itself that.”
After 1978, Dietrich rarely appeared in public and did not want to be photographed. She died in Paris on May 6, 1992, but her glamorous image lives on.