27 June 2011

Throwing Shade: Homophobia In Riva's Dietrich Bio? Pt. 1

First and foremost, this blog entry represents my participation in the Garbo Laughs Queer/LGBTQ Blogathan. I look forward to continuing my exploration of queer/LGBTQ topics and encourage others to do the same. In this blog entry, I will give you some definitions of terms I'll use and then explore whether Maria Riva's biography, Marlene Dietrich, contains examples of homophobia.

With that said, I encourage you to use “throwing shade,” “homophobia,” “homosexuals,” “homosexuality,” and any other terms in the comments section. For the sake of mutual understanding, I only ask that you clarify what these terms mean in your comments if they differ from my definitions. Here's an example of why it's important to understand how people use terms in different ways. In May, a mother in Los Angeles calls her son in Melbourne to ask him, “When are you going to visit me?” The son says, “Some time during the summer.” June, July, and August pass, and the son has not even mentioned visiting his mother, infuriating her. At the end of September, the mother calls her son to confront him, “Why did you say you were going to visit me in summer if you never had any intention of doing so?” Taken aback, the son says, “What? It's not even summer yet!” Then, the son—who has been living in Melbourne for decades—realizes why his mother is confronting him and reminds her, “Oh, mom! We misunderstood each other! Summer in the Southern Hemisphere doesn't begin until December!” If the mother and the son had simply understood each other's different uses of terms, no hurt feelings would have resulted—at least, not because of the terms.

Now, here's how I'm using the following terms:

Throwing shade
- to criticize, demean, or insult; to diss or derogate (from here).

Homophobia – Throwing shade at homosexuals' homosexuality.

Homosexuals – People who express romantic and/or sexual attraction toward or practice romantic and/or sexual acts with others of the same sex or gender (adapted from here).

– Expressing romantic and/or sexual attraction toward or practicing romantic and/or sexual acts with others of the same sex or gender.


In his March 5 1993 Entertainment Weekly (EW) review of Maria Riva's Marlene Dietrich, George Hodgman stated the following: “The catalog of lovers is interminable, moving across gender lines and back again. Riva is obviously uncomfortable with her mother's bisexual tendencies and her large gay following. The case that she builds against her mother for trying to encourage homosexuality in the young girl by leaving her with a lesbian nanny is shoddy and homophobic.” Due perhaps to word limits, Hodgman did not supply examples of how Riva expressed her discomfort, and he omitted an important detail: Riva wrote that the lesbian nanny had raped her. If I accept Riva's admission of rape as truth, I would posit that Riva's speculation regarding why her mother chose a lesbian nanny was not homophobic; rather, the homophobia in Riva's case rests in how she characterized her lesbian nanny: “Strangely, I never really blamed that woman. She frightened me, disgusted me, harmed me, but 'blame'? Why? Lock an alcoholic into a liquor store and he helps himself—who's to blame? The one who takes what is made available or the one who put him there? Even an innocent parent would not have put a young girl into an unsupervised, wholly private environment with such a visually obvious lesbian.” Not only did Riva compare lesbianism to an addiction, she also asserted that a blatant lesbian shouldn't be a girl's primary caretaker, thus throwing shade at “obvious” lesbians as sexual predators with an appetite for female children. By the way, a 2010 study showed that ZERO percent of its adolescent participants had reported sexual abuse by a lesbian mother or other lesbian caretaker. While this study was flawed in its nonrandom, non-diverse, and small sample, its findings suggest that the experience that Riva suffered was a singular exception. Unless, of course, the sample was composed of only lipstick lesbians.

If you want to explore Hodgman's observation that Riva was “obviously uncomfortable with her mother's bisexual tendencies and her large gay following,” please consider addressing it in the comments section because I won't investigate it at this time. Instead, I will explore whether there were any other instances of homophobia in Riva's book by examining her descriptions of homosexuals. Keep in mind that I will continue listing people in future blog entries--this is only the beginning!

Banton & Dietrich on Angel set
Travis Banton (see this blog entry for another photo of him with Dietrich) – I don't know whether Banton was homosexual, but some sources report that he was. Riva did not overtly mention his sexuality in her book; in fact, she recalled that she “liked him. No matter what time of day, and that could mean anywhere from six a.m. To two a.m., Travis looked like one of his sketches—elegant, with a kind of razzmatazz.” Riva also praised Banton for treating his staff kindly and crediting him for introducing her to American cuisine, with no hints of homophobia.

Mercedes de Acosta
Mercedes de Acosta – Riva threw ample shade at de Acosta, calling her “a Spanish Dracula,” implying that she wasn't a skilled screenwriter, and stating that her renown derived from her romance with Greta Garbo. Throwing shade at homosexuals wouldn't alone count as homophobia according to my definitions, though. Riva would have to throw shade at their homosexuality, and I don't see anything homophobic in Riva's countless jabs at de Acosta. Rather, Riva seemed to tease de Acosta's purple prose (particularly de Acosta's “highly romantic pseudonyms”) and tedious romantic efforts (“She was so 'smitten,' she was boring!”).

The “boys” (see this blog entry for their possible identities) – Riva referred to them as “comic relief,” “an odd couple,” “their kind,” “scavengers,” and “homosexual cons.” The use of the word “homosexual” was gratuitous, but I don't consider the shade that Riva threw to be homophobic. Riva was describing a particular group of gossipy sycophants who happen to be gay, and she cleverly quoted a gay man, Clifton Webb, as calling the boys “Dietrich's private Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”

The Pirate (right)
The “Pirate” (see this blog entry for her possibly identity) – Riva buried this woman's looks in shade. Despite describing that the Pirate as “a sexy, flat-chested woman” first mistaken as “a sexy boy,” Riva compared her to a rhinoceros. Poking fun at a person's looks doesn't constitute homophobia, though, and the preceding comments that Riva did make regarding the Pirate's masculinity were not demeaning.

Well, here's where I'll end this blog entry, and I will pick up from where I left off to continue reviewing whether Riva wrote homophobic portrayals of others, including Edith Piaf and Noel Coward.

23 June 2011

On Hollywood Memorabilia And Museums

Unrelated photo of M.D. and Billy Wilder from here
Recently, I read a blog entry about the Debbie Reynolds auction that prompted me to write a lengthy comment. The comment is pending the blog owner's approval, but I want to post it here to initiate a dialogue with all of you regarding the role and responsibility of museums to manage Hollywood memorabilia. I'll edit it to give you all a better understanding because I make a lot of local Los Angeles references and--as you have perhaps already observed--often correct typos and undesirable diction.

Thanks for posting what may be the most comprehensive overview of Debbie Reynolds' collection efforts. I have been seeking such an article since I read about the big auction and failed to find one until I stumbled upon your blog. This situation reminded me of Maria Riva's claim that that she offered her mother Marlene Dietrich's estate as a donation to American film museums (see this video), and when no one showed interest, Riva reportedly sold it to the city of Berlin for $5 million, which subsequently made the Filmmuseum Berlin [note: then known as Deutsche Kinemathek, no?] its caretaker. The contradiction between donation and sale makes me wonder whether Riva acted solely as an altruist, and I harbor similar suspicions about Debbie. Certainly, I wouldn't blame either woman for making money (or, in Debbie's case, attempting to recuperate money) from a Hollywood collection. If it's their property, they have every right to sell it.

On another note related to this blog entry, the contradiction between donation and sale also reminds me that the distinction between culture and commodity can be blurred, which is why I wouldn't consider Debbie's auction items national treasures. Debbie's former possessions have made a cultural impact in films, but they are also the products of profit-driven movie studios, which do not uphold all the criteria of non-profit institutions such as museums. For the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) or another local museum to accept Hollywood memorabilia, the following criteria would have to be met: first, the memorabilia would have to promote the museum's mission; second, the memorabilia would have to be affordable; third, the museum would require the staff and space to properly preserve the memorabilia; fourth, these staff and this space would have to be affordable. 

When movie studios such as MGM housed old costumes, they had to deal with the second, third, and fourth criteria, but because they are businesses, they had no obligation to accept the most important criterion, the first one. If a business needs money to stay afloat, it will sell its assets; museums could never ethically follow such a model (although some have, e.g. the Hermitage Museum when its hometown was called Leningrad). Certainly, the memorabilia from Debbie's collection would meet the mission of LACMA and even the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), but I don't know whether any museums in the United States let alone in L.A. have the money, staff, and space to properly preserve items such as costumes—and such an extensive collection as Debbie's was. Only the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum comes to mind as a local option, but I can only say with certainty that they have the staff to care for what Debbie sold. As for financial means and space—I don't know. They thrive on donations—dress and textile as well as financial—which suggests that unless someone donates a multimillion-dollar Monroe gown or donates millions so they can purchase a Monroe gown, they can't afford to play with the big spenders at auctions.

Personally, I would love to see every museum, library, and archive object (Hollywood memorabilia, fine art, cuneiform, what have you) digitized in a high-quality three-dimensional form to maximize their accessibility so that people who might never even have a chance to visit an institution could view and research its holdings, but I know the costs of my dreams are currently nowhere near the reality of any institution's budget.

22 June 2011

Beyonce For L'Uomo Vogue

Folks didn't flock to bid on Marlene Dietrich's "Boys in the Backroom" ensemble at Debbie Reynolds' recent auction, but celebrities continue to emulate La Dietrich in fashion magazines. Sometimes their intentions are questionable, and other times they genuinely pay respect, as Beyonce did at L'uomo Vogue. Although the intertitle would have been a more appropriate nod to Pola Negri or some other actress who peaked in silent films, Beyonce faithfully recreated two of Dietrich's most iconic looks--the swansdown coat and the top hat and tails. Manning the camera, Francesco Carrozzini snapped shots of Beyonce's prominent cheekbones in black-and-white and in color, but Beyonce's poses suggested a Dietrichian intimacy with her key light. Just as Dietrich couldn't play Catherine the Great without playing Dietrich, Beyonce couldn't play Dietrich without playing Beyonce--her hair flips making me wish for a Sasha Fierce "Diva" redux.

If questions of race came to your mind when you saw these Beyonce images, let me state that the video and photos reminded me of various analyses I've read regarding race and Marlene Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo" performance in Blonde Venus. I recently stumbled upon this blog entry by Natalia Cecire that drew from Mary Anne Doane's discussion of "Hot Voodoo," emphasizing the following concepts: white femininity representing unstable sexual purity, black masculinity representing sexual impurity, and black femininity remaining invisible. Cecire and Doane slightly weakened this last point by acknowledging the black(face) female troupe onstage during Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo" performance, who stood conspicuously behind an afroed Dietrich, but Cecire and Doane noted the insignificant and ornamental role of the dancers, calling them "props" and "mise-en-scene" respectively. EDIT 2: Additionally, "Hot Voodoo"'s song lyrics countered the claim that black female sexuality was invisible because Dietrich sang, "I'm beginning to feel like an African queen." Thus, black femininity was not only visible but also prominently typified sexual impurity in the "Hot Voodoo" sequence.

If I were to continue Cecire and Doane's comparisons, I'd add that this reduction of black women to stage decor valued only for their skin color subsequently minimized their skin color to a mere color. Just as an interior decorator could have a table painted red, a director could have a woman painted in blackface. Let me interject one admission: I am not certain as Doane was that the chorus girls were primarily white; some could be white, black, Latina, mixed, etc., but all we see is their uniform skin tone, exemplifying a sensibility expressed by "Blonde Venus" director Josef von Sternberg in Fun in a Chinese Laundry. Relating a story about a bearded extra who demanded to know his motivation for walking across the set of another director's film, von Sternberg revealed that this extra was replaced by another wearing a fake beard. Then, von Sternberg asserted that an actor "is no more than a small part of the entire chiaroscuro."

I don't know why von Sternberg opted for blackface instead of black skin, and while Cecire and Doane's depictions of these dancers-as-decor correlated with von Sternberg's description of actors as elements of his film canvas, I can't fully endorse Cecire's observation that "blackness becomes yet another prop for fully commodified white female sexuality."*** According to how von Sternberg objectified actors, white female Dietrich would be as much a prop as the troupe in blackface. In fact, black people were one of many groups whose look von Sternberg appropriated in his films with Dietrich--for example, Chinese people in Shanghai Express, Spanish people in The Devil Is A Woman, and Russian people in The Scarlet Empress. As for the presence of commodified white female sexuality in the "Hot Voodoo" scene, we could say that Dietrich's character used her sexuality to sell her show, ultimately to help pay for her husband's radium treatment. Indeed, in other von Sternberg-Dietrich films, we can enumerate many examples, the most blatant perhaps being Dietrich's role as a prostitute-turned-spy who used her sexuality to earn money (as a prostitute) and learn military secrets (as a spy) in Dishonored. I'd only add that in von Sternberg's films, Dietrich's characters held or eventually snatched the purse strings of their white female sexuality. The Scarlet Empress illustrated this inevitable act, with Dietrich's character initially a hapless Prussian princess brought to Russia to bear a male heir to the throne, hardly different than a female panda shipped to a British zoo as part of a breeding program. Later, Dietrich's character took the reins of her sexuality to woo suitors stronger and more attractive than her spouse, bear the needed heir, and usurp the Russian throne.

***Some time, I would like to accept this premise to explore how Beyonce inverted it. In other words, I'd be interested in assessing how Beyonce used (Dietrich's masculine and feminine?) whiteness as a prop for her commodified black female sexuality. Evidence I might use to support Beyonce's commodification of her sexuality as a black woman would include her House of Dereon fashion line and a term she coined--"bootylicious." Such a discourse would draw too much attention away from this blog's star, Marlene Dietrich, so I'll leave it for another outlet. If you would like to discuss it, though, please do and please discuss anything else that comes to your mind in relation to this blog entry. EDIT: Can't help but touch this topic a little more because it struck me that Beyonce lit white female mannequins--props, if you will--on fire in the "Diva" video (linked in this blog entry). EDIT 2: Keeping the aforementioned concepts in mind, what intrigues me about Beyonce is that her entertainment career took off in the 1990s, when black female sexuality became increasingly visible in commercially successful songs by black male entertainers (from Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" in 1992 to D'Angelo's "Brown Sugar" in 1995). Of course, there was no reason why men alone should profit from this emerging visibility, and Beyonce--like Dietrich's characters in von Sternberg's films--has successfully wrested black female sexuality to commodify it herself. Moreover, Beyonce has begun creating unique business ventures to sell multiracial female sexuality, which could be another way that I regard the House of Dereon, which bears the maiden name of Beyonce's Creole grandmother. With her recent single "Run the World (Girls)," Beyonce's marketing radical feminism, displaying impressive performance finesse and special effects.

19 June 2011

The Legionnaire and the Lady

Dietrich (a la Tante Valli?) & Clark Gable, Lux Radio Theater
When Marlene Dietrich first performed on Lux Radio Theater, the CBS-run program had recently begun airing from Hollywood with Cecil B. DeMille as its presenter. Not only was Dietrich's Lux Radio Theater debut an adaptation of her American debut film Morocco, it was also Lux Radio Theater's first film adaptation. In this June 1 1936 broadcast, called The Legionnaire and the Lady, Clark Gable took over the role of Gary Cooper, who coincidentally sat in the star-studded audience. Dietrich did not replicate Amy Jolly's drag king act, but she maintained the controlled cadence of her silver screen character, despite having mastered English so well that she had earned a reputation for critiquing her film scripts. Around the time of this broadcast, Dietrich had returned to Los Angeles from Arizona to complete another desert drama, The Garden of Allah, whose dialogue left a taste like rancid halvah in its stars' mouths and which failed to repeat Morocco's success.

Listen to The Legionnaire and the Lady below, or download it from Internet Archive. See photos from the Lux Radio Theater show at IMDB (with inaccurate dates).

18 June 2011

Marlene Dietrich Costume Sells for $ 8 000

Marlene Dietrich's Destry Rides Again costume, offered at the Profiles of History auction of items from the collection of Debbie Reynolds, sold for $ 8 000 (buyer's premium excluded), the low end of their estimate. There was only one bid for the item.

When the costume was previously offered at auction a decade ago (probably when it was bought by Debbie Reynolds), it sold for $ 19 000.

17 June 2011

Dietrich's First Rolls Royce--A Barn Find?

This unrestored 1929 (or was it 1930?) Rolls Royce Phantom, which was on display at the Saratoga Automobile Museum in 2007, was reportedly Marlene Dietrich's first set of wheels in Hollywood. Like many Dietrichian legends, this one is shrouded in conflicting details that may frustrate the fact-finders among you. Simply identifying who gave Dietrich this vehicle will make one's head spin. Was it her movie studio Paramount? Was it her "producer" Josef von Sternberg? Or was it inexplicably Warner Bros. exec Jack Warner? Clearly, it was Mr. Warner, consoling Dietrich over a decade in advance for having to play Edward G. Robinson's wife (image from Film Noir Photos) in Manpower. If it were Dietrich's "producer" von Sternberg, we need to get the facts straight. Gregory Peck was not the lead actor in Morocco--everyone knows Paul Robeson played opposite Dietrich! Read more about this vehicle's "history" below, and you will learn a new nickname for Maria Riva (no, not Heidede or The Child!):

According to the above, the vehicle was most recently owned by Kansas-based Roger Morrison, and this link suggests that Morrison (or whoever the current proprietor is) has taken efforts to restore the Phantom to its former green glory. In that link, you should also note that the two Dietrich photos appear to feature different cars; compare the convertible tops, the tires, and--most significantly--the metalwork around the tires.

If reading the above tortured you, be relieved the know that a more likely back-story regarding this vehicle appears here. Furthermore, you can read about other cars associated with Dietrich here.

EDITED TO ADD: I just skimmed through Morocco and noticed the car in 3 scenes.

First, when Dietrich bids Gary Cooper farewell...

Second, after Dietrich and Adolphe Menjou ditch a dinner party to see whether Cooper has been injured...

Finally, when Dietrich leaves Menjou to follow Cooper into the desert...

EDIT AGAIN: Thanks, Daily Mail, for showing your love for these screen caps!

Incidentally, this car sold for a jaw-dropping figure.

16 June 2011

Got Dietrich Under Your Skin?

Do any of you have Marlene Dietrich tattoos? Below are some inked renderings of La Dietrich, perhaps an intriguing way to avoid licensing permissions. For those of you with tattoos, why do you think all these people have Marlene on their limbs? Because those body parts are more visible, or because those body parts are less sensitive to pain?

tattoo portrait Marlene Dietrich by Mirek vel Stotker

15 June 2011

Marlene Dietrich Stoops To Conquer The Press

from: Sydney Morning Herald,
22 September 1975

Marlene Dietrich turned the tables on the press at the weekend by giving a press conference.
In recent years Miss Dietrich has been as loath to talk to the press as her 1930s rival, Greta Garbo.

On Saturday she spent 40 minutes sitting in the sunlight at the Loft at the top of the Boulevarde Hotel talking and talking.

She talked, rather than answered questions, on almost everything from photographers - "I hate them" - to relaxing - "I don't."

Miss Dietrich put everyone at ease. She was asked: "Will you ever make another film?"
She would not.

Not even a film about her own life? "Oh dear, I'd be bored stiff!" she said.

According to Dr Roger Manvell's Encyclopaedia of Film, she is probably 74 years old. Whatever her age, she certainly did not look a day older.

she wore a stylish but simple brown pants suit with a matching peaked cap. She wore a modest amount of makeup, with or without which, the mildly mocking Dietrich eyes were as recognisable as ever.

"Why was she talking to the press?"

"It's him, Mr Smith persuaded me," she said indicating Cyril Smith, the promoter of her show which opens at Her Majesty's Theatre tonight.

Why had she avoided talking to the press before?

"I haven't given any interviews since 1972. In 1972 someone wrote a very misquoting article about me.

"Anything you can ever read in the papers you can never believe. You are newspapermen, you know how they make it up," she said with a look which suggested there was a hint of something more in her jest.

Questions about her films prompted no nostalgia.

"Let's get one thing straight, don't mix me up with my movies. On stage, in my show, I am myself but not in films.

"When I was young I played a tart in a red light district. I would not have chosen it for myself.
"I was supposed to be the Blue Angel but it was nothing to do with me. They said can you play a tart in a harbour town? I said yes, I suppose I can, I went to theatre school. When they said can you speak with a deep voice? I said sure."

Why did she still sing her old songs?

"I have to sing them otherwise they won't go home," she said with the Dietrich huskiness of her films coming through.

Why did she still tour?

"To be a performer you have got to be disciplined, you have got to know that you are not very important. Young people tell you what they think and if they do something wrong it is not their fault - it is because they had an unhappy childhood, they say. It was not like that for us.
"My sister died the day I opened in Birmingham on my last tour. No one knew and I could not say 'I can't perform today.'

"We stand out there with a high fever and perform. We have been taught not to allow little personal things to get in the way."

14 June 2011

Lola Cubed

Imitations and spoofs of Marlene Dietrich cropped up soon after her Hollywood arrival. From a 1932 Hollywood on Parade short, here are the Brox Sisters singing "Falling In Love Again":

Did Dietrich herself ever appear in any Hollywood on Parade shorts? They were produced by Paramount but seem to only feature supporting actors and Dlisters (e.g. Helen Kane and Anna May Wong).

12 June 2011

10 June 2011

On Dietrich's Generosity

In a 1987 interview with Joan Rivers on The Tonight Show, Bette Davis praised Marlene Dietrich's generosity, recalling that Dietrich came from the set of The Garden of Allah to the Hollywood Canteen, "covered in gold paint" and making the men go mad. In fact, Davis was referring to Kismet, but set aside that inaccuracy to hear one legend praise another:

As for Joan Rivers, I Googled her and Dietrich's names together on a whim and found an amusing anecdote by a Preston Neal Jones (the same Preston Neal Jones who wrote a book on The Night of the Hunter?) about Dietrich ignoring Joan on an airplane.

09 June 2011

Marlene Dietrich News Bytes

  • As missladiva already wrote, one of Marlene Dietrich's Destry Rides Again costumes is up for auction. See it here. According to that page "Public previews [are] at the Paley Center for Media, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210 [...] June 4-5, 8-12 and 15-17 [...] 12pm to 5pm," which I gather means you can take a gander at it for free if you can't afford the the $8,000 minimum bid. To those of you who admire Dietrich's collaborators, you may also enjoy gazing at the Travis Banton creations made for Rudolph Valentino, Carole Lombard, and Claudette Colbert (no Banton-Dietrich confections at this time, though).
  • Speaking of fashion, the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa in Getaria, Spain, which was inaugurated on June 7, will open to the public on June 10. Visit the museum's website in the language of your choice (English | español | Euskara | français) and see its YouTube channel. According to some articles, a Dietrich gown will be on display. If so, perhaps Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin (MDCB) loaned it out? Maybe it's in one of the YouTube videos? I didn't see anything Dietrich-related when I searched the museum's site.
  • EDIT: See where Marlene Dietrich apparently lived when she arrived to [now West] Hollywood here.
  • Comments? Questions? More news?

08 June 2011

Maria Riva's Blind Items Pt. 3

In Marlene Dietrich, Maria Riva wrote of a character nicknamed the "Pirate" (known as "Jo"/"Joe" by others), who courted her mother during the summer of 1939. According to Riva, Dietrich mistook the Pirate for a man when she first laid eyes on the butch beauty sailing her schooner along the French Riviera. In fact, the Pirate was a woman named Marion Barbara "Betty" Carstairs, dubbed "The Queen of Whale Cay," a cheeky reference to a Bahamian isle Carstairs owned and developed. Not only was Carstairs a woman of many monikers; she was also a woman of many hats. As a Standard Oil heiress, speedboat racer, World War I ambulance driver, and former owner of a chauffeur (or should I say chauffeuse?) company, Carstairs was perhaps the first diesel--well, I digress! Although Carstairs likely wasn't what Billy Ocean had in mind when he sang "Caribbean Queen," I would rather see more socialites like her and less like Paris Hilton.

Like Dietrich, Carstairs had a special German doll in her life, only hers was a Steiff--not a Lenci. Called Lord Tod Wadley, he was a foot-tall leather figure who wore Savile Row and hammed it up for the camera like his "friend" Carstairs, to whom he brought good luck during her boat races. Terry Castle wrote an extensive article about Carstairs and Wadley, which you can read here. Speaking of dolls, there is a building on Great Whale Cay called the Dollhouse and also Marlene Pavilion, which Carstairs apparently built for Dietrich and is now in ruins (see it here). Did Dietrich ever visit this island? Riva's book dispelled legends that she did. I wonder what this bio on Carstairs says of Dietrich. Have any of you read it?

As one of Riva's more thinly veiled blind items, the Pirate--who dared to call Dietrich "Babe"--was easy to unmask. In fact, Steven Bach mentioned Carstairs several times in Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend. Steven Bach also identified a "former secretary" of Carstairs who joined Dietrich's entourage, a certain Violla Rubber--a fitting name for a woman who ostensibly was the notorious nanny nicknamed the "Rhinoceros" by Riva (incidentally, Riva had earlier noted this animal's resemblance to Carstairs). According to Riva, Dietrich employed the Pirate's Rhino and installed her in a Beverly Hills Hotel apartment alone with Riva, corresponding to Bach's description of Riva's living arrangements with Rubber. For those who have read Riva's book, you know that the Rhino--"a visually obvious lesbian"--violated the teenaged Riva, who couldn't turn to her mother for consolation because Dietrich was apparently recovering from an abortion (Jimmy Stewart's child, which Bach claimed was Riva's revelation). After Riva's first engagement, the Rhino bolted, leaving Rudi Sieber to discover that she had forged Dietrich's checks.

What shocks me is that if the Rhino was indeed Violla (sometimes spelled "Viola," which would make for an awful pun in Spanish) Rubber, she may have been the same Miss Rubber who worked as Bette Davis' manager in the 1960s, likened to a "gym mistress" by Lionel Larner in Ed Sikov's book, Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis. Allegedly, Davis demanded that Miss Rubber try on a bathing suit she had purchased for Davis' daughter B.D. The Rhino may have also been the same Violla Rubber who gave Diana Barrymore a break and knew her intimately, inheriting $10,000 from Barrymore after her demise. Furthermore, the Rhino may have been the Broadway producer Viola (with one "l") Rubber, who was nominated for two Tony Awards in 1962 for the Tennessee Williams play, "The Night of the Iguana."

Thoughts? Comments? By the way, I will save the Cavalier blind item for the next post in this "series" because this entry thoroughly distracted me.

To read my guesses about Maria Riva's other blind items, click here!

06 June 2011

Marlene Dietrich Newsletters: How To Enhance Your Search

The Marlene Dietrich (MD) Newsletters (available here and here) published by the Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin contain a wealth of information, and I recommend that all fact-finders consult them first when conducting an online search. In fact, I've noticed that Google has been indexing them, but not in a systematic way that will help you sift through their contents more efficiently. If you want to conduct an organized search of newsletter contents, follow the tips below.

  • Go to
  • Type any Dietrich-related term that appeals to you, followed by site:
  • Press the "Search" button--it's that easy! I will show a screen capture example, with the search term "sternberg" below.

For (whose contents do not differ from, as far as I can tell, but it appears that Google hasn't indexed this site as extensively)
  • Go to
  • Type any Dietrich-related term that appeals to you, followed by site:
  • Press the "Search" button--it's that easy! I will show a screen capture example, with the search term "sternberg" below.

As you will see, there are 17 "sternberg" results from and 36 from, which is Google's fault. Bear in mind, however, that if you conduct this search with and cannot open the PDF file in the search results, you can at least take note of the newsletter's issue number and see whether you can retrieve it from the Newsletterarchive at

Unfortunately, I don't know how to sort Google's search results by date, but you can limit the date range by clicking "More search tools" in the lefthand column

Then, by clicking "Custom range..."

Finally, by picking any date range you want (I chose "1/1/2003" to "12/31/2004" as an example) and pressing "Search"

As you will see, restricting the dates will render 1 result from

Be aware that search engines can make mistakes, but if you do not want to wrack your brain trying to remember--for example--in which MD newsletter you saw Nicholas von Sternberg's letter about his father and Cesar Romero, try adapting these tips to your search. As always, if you have questions, comments, or other tips, please add them in the comments section.

05 June 2011

Studies in Light and Dark

Marlene Dietrich Movies That Never Were

You may be well aware of Marlene Dietrich's 1936 film, I Loved A Soldier, which went into production but was never completed. Doctor Macro's site has impeccable stills from that abortion. Did Dietrich perform in any other unfinished flicks? I don't know, but according to the American Film Institute catalog ( here and here), Marlene Dietrich was considered for the following films:

Confessions of a Nazi Spy, a 1939 Warner Bros. propaganda film in which Dietrich would have reportedly starred and probably refused to avoid any association with Nazi Germany. Aside from that, Dietrich was still “box office poison” and had yet to humanize herself in Destry Rides Again. I bet the role played by Dorothy Tree would have been hers.

All Through The Night, a 1942 Warner Bros. thriller. On April 10, 1941, The Hollywood Reporter listed Dietrich as a possible co-star alongside her chum George Raft, with whom she made another Warner movie (Manpower). Of course, Hollywood wasn't bereft of Germans who opposed the Nazis because Kaaren Verne got the part and shared screen credits with the great Humphrey Bogart.

China Girl, a 20th Century-Fox war drama released at the end of 1942 (the years in the AFI catalog appear inaccurate). One version of the script cast Dietrich as “Captain” Fifi. Maybe Dietrich was busy making Pittsburgh for Universal instead, but the beauty of Dietrich and Gene Tierney (who, by the way, played a Chinese character) in one picture would have been incomparable. On the other hand, who would want to see Dietrich and Victor McLaglen together again?

Dangerous Partners, an MGM crime drama released in 1945. In March (?) 1944, The Hollywood Reporter apparently announced Dietrich and Douglas Morrow as possible lead actors. In retrospect and with the help of Steven Bach's biography, I can't imagine why anyone would have considered Dietrich because she was in the midst of her USO tour. Then again, Dietrich was supposed to perform in a second film for MGM after Kismet, and Signe Hasso does exude the European mystique that would bring to mind Dietrich or more obviously Greta Garbo.

I Remember Mama, a 1948 RKO historical drama starring Irene Dunne in the lead role rejected by Greta Garbo. Supposedly, Dietrich dispatched Mitchell Leisen, a Dietrich devotee and the director of The Lady Is Willing and Golden Earrings, to win her the role of Mama, but RKO refused due to Dietrich's “racy image.” No wonder Dietrich became the star of RKO's Rancho Notorious in 1952. Even though a matronly character would have fit her late '40s real-life role as a grandmother, Dietrich's part in A Foreign Affair proved her flair for the racy after all.

All About Eve, a 1950 20th Century-Fox masterpiece starring Bette Davis as Margo Channing. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck considered Dietrich for this role, and Steven Bach wrote that Joe Mankiewicz convinced Zanuck otherwise. Although the role would have given Dietrich the best dialogue of her career, I would be foolish to argue that Davis didn't own that part with her performance.

Know more roles that Dietrich would have reportedly played but didn't? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Marlene Dietrich News Bytes

  • Yorkshire Post reviews the Stephen Joseph Theatre revival of Pam Gems' play Marlene. Was there a Vivian Hoffman in Dietrich's life? Or does she represent someone (or more than one person)? Or is she a fictitious character altogether?
  • Gazette & Herald also reviews the play. Again, it initially runs until June 18, then from August 18 to September 3. You get obtain ticket information here.
  • The Stage's review of the play. The reviewer, Kevin Berry, mentions that he spoke to Dietrich for three weeks over 50 years ago. Has he written about this somewhere?
  • Post more news and reviews in the comments section!

03 June 2011

Marlene Dietrich With The "Mexican Hoofer"

Question: did William Dieterle consciously borrow from Marlene Dietrich's dance scene in 1944's Kismet when he directed Rita Hayworth in 1953's Salome?

Clearly, Hayworth was the more skilled dancer, but Dietrich gave good face. Before I forget, let me note the genius structure of Irene's foundation on Dietrich and Jean Louis' flesh-colored chiffon on Hayworth, which would eventually equal a winning combination in December 1953--when Dietrich stepped out onto the stage in Las Vegas wearing "the eel."

Marlene Dietrich News Bytes

More on The Song of Songs DVD

In April, I mentioned the latest DVD release of The Song of Songs. Dave Kehr of The New York Times has written a comprehensive review of the DVD itself. Kehr asks a question that has also been on my mind, "Why this relatively minor effort when perhaps the most visually stunning of the Dietrich-Sternberg films, 'Shanghai Express' (1932), has never been released on DVD in this country [The United States]?"

YouTube Collections

Many YouTube users have posted Marlene Dietrich clips, and nowadays they are quite informative and well-executed. Of course, there is missladiva's MarleneDietrichVideo, which boasts an impressive array of live concert footage and audio, studio recordings, unissued songs, interviews, newsreels, and much more. There is also Ojara985's channel (run by the blogger of Serch Dietrich), with many HD clips from Dietrich's films, particularly her musical numbers. MarleneXtreme's channel features over 200 charmingly themed videos that pair Dietrich's songs with Dietrich's photos. Another channel I wish to recognize is MarleneInterviews, which delivers what its name suggests--Marlene Dietrich interviews (in French). Please inform me of others that I have overlooked.

On another note, someone wrote a comment asking whether Google is better than Yahoo, which I accidentally deleted (it was in the spam inbox). Perhaps it was spam, but I could answer simply by saying that I prefer Google, which more readily allows a user to search a term (such as "marlene dietrich") in specific sites, such as scholarly documents, books, blogs, realtime (e.g., Twitter) as well as translate sites. Please ask more about searching online if that interests you. I will gladly post tutorials to enhance your searching abilities.

02 June 2011

Pointing Out The Obvious Pt. 1

Marlene Dietrich fans and film buffs already know all the trivia that I post, but I don't cater solely to them. I also post for the casual pop culture observer who can't tell Dietrich from Bette Davis and may pronounce Our Lady's name as if it rhymes with "Darlene, why, bitch?" Thus, it's time I finally recognize some of Madonna's nods to Marlene, which others have acknowledged more disparagingly. By the way, who supposedly had the pleasure of hearing Dietrich say about the Madonna comparisons, "I only acted vulgar; she is vulgar"?

Madonna Channels Amy Jolly Two Ways

MGM Meets Paramount

The above is a 1931 photograph of Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich. Does anyone have any more details to add? The patterned wall looks distinct. Where are they?

01 June 2011

Name Recognition: Shanghai Lily

Shanghai Express was Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg's most profitable collaboration, and the name "Shanghai Lily" was clearly on the tip of tongues at the Warner lot when James Cagney sang "Shanghai Lil" in 1933's Footlight Parade. That same year, Gene Kardos and his orchestra also recorded the song: