Marlene Dietrich in Words & Images

The AFS Surrealist Love Goddesses Essential Cinema series concludes Thursday, June 30 with a 35mm screening of THE SCARLET EMPRESS, starring Marlene Dietrich.

James Agate, critic
“I can only say that she makes reason totter on her throne.” (Contemporary review of THE BLUE ANGEL, 1930)

Ernest Hemingway, friend
“If she had nothing more than her voice she could break your heart with it. But she has that beautiful body and that timeless loveliness of her face. It makes no difference how she breaks your heart if she is there to mend it.” (Quoted in Peter Bogdanovich, “Who The Hell’s In It?”)

Curtis Harrington, critic & filmmaker
“Like Garbo, she transcends any period, though some of her films do not. Her style throughout remains constant, within little characteristic variations, and as a personification of sexuality her luster never dims.” (quoted in “The Great Movie Stars”, David Shipman, 1979)

Josef von Sternberg, director

“’Marlene’ is a contraction of ‘Maria Magdalene,’ two names not often found in one person. Before becoming reconciled to being known as Marlene Dietrich, she pleaded with me to change her name, as no non-German could pronounce it correctly. The plea was ignored and she was told, correctly pronounced or not, the name would become quite well known. She attached no value to it when I met her, nor did she attach value to anything else so far as I could ascertain, with the exception of her baby daughter, a musical saw, and some recordings by a singer called Whispering Jack Smith." (“Fun In A Chinese Laundry”, 1965)

Peter Bogdanovich, friend
“Privately, Dietrich would tell friends, she felt somewhat guilty about World War II. Hitler had wanted to sleep with her, and she had refused him. Later, Marlene often said that if she had slept with him, she might have altered his views on life, and history would have been different.” (“Who The Hell’s In It?”)

Jean Cocteau, friend
“Marlene Dietrich! ... Your name, at first the sound of a caress, becomes the crack of a whip. When you wear feathers, and furs, and plumes, you wear them as the birds and animals wear them, as though they belong to your body. Your beauty is its own poet, its own praise. There is no need for us to speak of it, and so I salute, not your beauty but your goodness. It shines in you, as light shines in the moving wave of the sea: a transparent wave coming out of the far distance, and carrying like a gift, its light, its voice, and the plumes of foam, to the shore where we stand.” (1954)

Ernest Hemingway
“I think she knows more about love than anybody. I know that each time I’ve seen Marlene Dietrich she has touched my heart and made me happy. If that is what makes her mysterious, then mystery is a fine thing.”

Kenneth Tynan, critic
“She has the bearing of a man; the characters she plays love power and wear trousers. Marlene’s masculinity appeals to women and her sexuality to men.”

Marlene Dietrich
“Beauty comes from within. The idea might seem horrible but it’s true.”