Marlene Dietrich maintained popularity throughout her unusually long show business career by continually re-inventing herself, professionally and characteristically.
Dietrich landed the breakthrough role of Lola Lola, a sexy cabaret singer who causes the downfall of a hitherto respectable schoolmaster (played by Emil Jannings), in UFA’s production The Blue Angel (1930).
Josef von Sternberg directed the film and thereafter took credit for having “discovered” Dietrich. The film is also noteworthy for having introduced Dietrich’s signature song “Falling in Love Again”.
It’s extremely rare for a woman to have class and swagger in equal measures. Dietrich’s signature contralto voice singing cabaret songs like “Falling In Love Again” in The Blue Angel was the embodiment of wistful melancholy. But she was just as entertaining coming out of a gorilla costume and putting on a blonde afro wig in Blonde Venus.
I’m worth more dead than alive.
Don’t cry for me after I’m gone.
Cry for me now.
In her later years, the glamorous star became an expert at preserving and promoting her legendary image with the help of body-sculpting undergarments, non-surgical temporary facelifts, expert makeup and wigs, and careful stage lighting.
Marlene Dietrich was fluent in German, English, and French. Dietrich, who was bisexual, quietly enjoyed the thriving gay scene of the time and drag balls of 1920s Berlin.
She also defied conventional gender roles through her boxing at Turkish trainer and prizefighter Sabri Mahir’s boxing studio in Berlin, which opened to women in the late 1920s. As Austrian writer Hedwig (Vicki) Baum recalls in her memoir, “I don’t know how the feminine element sneaked into those masculine realms [the boxing studio], but in any case, only three or four of us were tough enough to go through with it (Marlene Dietrich was one).”