Sexuality, Transgressive Roles and Anti-Nazism: The Life of Marlene Dietrich – Cinema

Marlene Dietrich cultivated love and sexual relationships with many men and women in show business

Female celebrities were the ones who best represented Hollywood during the golden age, being their beauty, talent and style what placed them in the center of the public eye. Such are the cases of Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe, who, like many other celebrities, under the star system, method used to direct the career and life of actresses, they became icons, mythologized in popular culture. There are many actresses of this time who still stand out for their talent and beauty, even for their life off camera, but a quite remarkable case is that of the German Marlene Dietrich, the ninth best female star of all time and one of the most obvious landmarks of Hollywood cinema.

Marlene Dietrch’s life was full of affairs with men and women, transgressive roles that showed scandalous scenes for the time and a strong anti-Nazi ideology. The above contributed to forging his myth within popular culture, being until his death a living legend that many remember for his sometimes androgynous style and for his sensuality.

With Josef von Sternberg he worked on the first European sound film, The blue angel in 1930. In a then controversial scene in this musical drama, she showed her thighs, making her the first Hollywood actress to perform such an “act.” With Sternberg Marlene made seven films, in which she played roles that built her myth on the screen. Perhaps that is why he affirmed in his memoirs that he was born twice: the first in Berlin in 1901 and the second in 1930 before Sternberg’s camera, since the director redefined the image of the actress by stylizing her body, highlighting her cheekbones and hiding his wide nose. In addition, he made her perfect her English and, together with Travis Banton, designed for her a style of clothing that would characterize her for years, in which she would represent in reality the fantasy that was projected on the movie screen of her. The actress lived by and for her image and Sternberg turned her into a living fantasy of sensual legs and tantalizing gaze that could captivate any man or woman.

With Paramount he participated in important films for the industry, playing completely transgressive roles that broke what was shown on the screen, as in the case of Morocco (1930) by Sternberg, co-starring Gary Cooper, in which Dietrich played Amy Jolly, one of the most important roles in her career.

The actress captured public attention for the scene in which she appears dressed in a tuxedo, acting masculine and kissing a woman in a cabaret. The role of Amy Jolly accentuated her androgynous profile and showed off her versatility. This performance was recorded in the collective memory of cinema, because at the time it was not common to see a woman act in such a way.

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Dietrich como Amy Jolly

The outbreak of the Second World War marked his life and career. He was offered to be a Nazi icon and to shoot German propaganda films, to which she refused. Joseph Goebbels, Minister for Public Illustration and Propaganda of the Third Reich, organized a campaign against the actress, accusing her of betraying her homeland, which is why her films began to be censored and banned by the Nazi campaigns. But from the outside the actress became an assistant to those who were being persecuted by the Government of Adolf Hitler.

She was a friend of those persecuted by the Third Reich, which did not suit the German Government, so Goebbels made her a public enemy: her films were said to be against any value and morality because they did not meet any decent ideal, offenses to the soldiers and was even condemned for the lack of purity found in his filmography.

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Dietrich receiving the Allied troops at the end of the War

He participated in various shows for the Allied soldiers and in Paris he helped many Jews and political refugees flee to another country. He remained firm in his anti-Naziism, but this cost him his relationship with his older sister, who maintained links with high command and Nazi soldiers. Dietrich’s actions were applauded by many and detested by others, leaving his audience divided.

In the 1960s he was able to return to Germany, a nation that was fragmented. The wall had once again divided the territory: in East Germany she was hailed, applauded for her work against the Nazi regime and was treated as heroin, while in West Germany she was branded a traitor. Without being able to please the whole public, he was always firm in his political ideology.

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Together with soldiers from the allied bloc

Marlene Dietrich cultivated love and sexual relationships with many men and women in show business, among which we can highlight her links with Edith Piaf, John Wayne, Rudolf Sieber (with whom she married and had a daughter, María Riva), Mercedes de Acosta, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, and Jean Gabin. The actress never identified as lesbian or bisexual, but she was always open to the possibility of a new love. She lived her sexuality openly both on screen and in reality and represented female liberation from sexuality in her time.

She was not afraid to live her sexuality as she wanted, avoiding the puritanism of the time and the rules of the Hollywood code of conduct, which prevented homosexuality from being shown on screen and tended to make her actresses keep their orientation a secret, although this it was a public secret that brought together actresses in the famous “Sewing Circle” a term used to refer to celebrities identified as lesbian and bisexual.

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Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf

The burden of old age and the longing look at the youth that had already left made her experience the last period of her life in repose, in her apartment in Paris, sheltered by her only daughter, María Riva. Dietrich then became fond of writing poems and letters, trying to protect his mythical image until the last moment. He passed away on May 6, 1992 at the age of 90. His body was taken from Paris to Berlin to be buried next to his mother, just as he had decreed his last will. His coffin was covered by the American flag and his remains rest in the Berlin-Schöneberg Municipal Cemetery.

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Marlene Dietrich continues to be an icon of cinema, theater and song, as well as a constant reference in the film industry. The roles to which he gave life were transgressive, as they broke stereotypes. Each woman he represented was characterized by changing the scheme of traditional femininity. Beyond the screen, he exercised his sexuality freely by freeing himself from the prejudices of the time. As a German she was hated and loved by a public that was marked by a strong war, but her figure was classified as that of a heroine in the worst times of humanity. Marlene Dietrich is, however, one of the most obvious legends of the seventh art with a career and a legacy worth remembering.


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