Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)
- Maly Delschaft, Varieté, Germany, 1925. EA Dupont told his assistant that he knew Marlene - discovered by William Dieterle in Berlin - but the only place Dupont would use her was already occupied by her husband, Rudi Sieber. “Maybe some day you can give her a chance, if you ever have a bit part that needs a mini-vamp with beautiful legs.” So instead of being Emil Jannings’ spurned wife here, Marlene (who described her 20s’ look as “a potato with hair”), she seduced him as Der Blaue Engel/The Blue Angel, 1930. Delschaft made a further 73 films until the 60s.
- Louise Brooks, Pandora's Box, l929.
“That... contraption!” Brooks called Dietrich. She was in GW Pabst’s office to sign her contract when Paramount made Brooks available. Despite having made her theatrical debut in the play, Pabst told Brooks that the five-year-older Marlene was “too old and too obvious - one sexy look and the picture would become a burlesque.” Feeling guilty, he persuaded Kurt Bernhardt sign Marlene as The Woman One Longs For (US: Three Lives), scripted by Pandora’s Ladislaus Vajda, and as Marlene’s biographer, Steven Bach, attests sans son she would never have become “Mar-le-ne! Mar-le-ne!”. “Imagine Pabst choosing Louise Brooks when he could have had me! Lulu’s story is as near as you’ll get to mine. Pabst once called me a born whore.”
- Nancy Carroll, The Night Angel, 1931. Dietrich always recognised a rotten script. This one flopped so hugely, it virtually ended Carroll’s Hollywood career.
- Helen Hayes, A Farewell To Arms, 1932. Director Josef von Sternberg’s fourth venture (in his head) for his creation was stymied by Paramount needing something... well, a more simplified money-maker... after the Wall Street crash. Their fourth proved to be Shanghai Express, 1937.
- Viviane Romance, La Belle équipe (aka They Were Five), France, 1935. Heaps of years later, leading lady Romance revealed that first, Edwige Feuillière, and then Marlene Dietrich were selected by réalisateur Julien Duvivier. Paramount refused to allpow Narlene to go Paris to play Jean Gabin’s lover. Dietrich played that role for real during the 40s; their affair ended after their sole film together, Martin Roumagnac, 1946.
- Greta Garbo, Camille, 1936. Although her Von Sternberg films horrified him, producer David Selznick thought it “a crying shame that she has been dragged down... There is no personality so important that he or she can survive the perfectly dreadful line-up of pictures that Marlene has had.” He set out to save her with his Garden of Allah, to be followed by Camille, Jezebel and the never made Madame Sans-Gene.
- Dorothy Lamour, The Hurricane, 1937. By now, they had made seven films but it was difficult to shoot hurricanes when there were none available. Von Sternberg would rather quit (at 38) to paint and read and Marlene vowed never to make any US films without “the best friend I ever had in the world.”
- Bette Davis, Jezebel, 1938. Only Selznick’s rescue plan for Marlene could envisage her as a Southern belle in the black-and-white Gone With The Wind
- Myrna Loy, The Rains Came, 1938. Dietrich and Ronald Colman became Loy and Tyrone Power for the Fox melo set in a Hollywoodian India - ie California’s Balboa Park. Power’s performance won the first Harvard Lampoon Worst Actor Award.
- Claire Trevor, Stagecoach, 1939. Western director John Ford’s idea was Claire and that Wayne kid. He was shocked by producer Walter Wanger voted: Coop and Marlene. “Too old, too expensive,” said Ford. So he and King Kong's Merian C Cooper formed a company and made the classic. Dietrich won her own Western, Destry Rides Again, from a producer who lusted after her. She told Joe Pasternak she would never bed him until Hitler was dead. In 1945, Joe tried to collect. Only to be told: “Hitler is still alive. In Argentina.”
- Isa Miranda, Hotel Imperial, 1939. She quit when it was half-finished by Von Sternberg’s ex- assistant, Henry Hathaway, as I Loved A Soldier in 1936. Margaret Sullavan took over for re-shoots, broke her arm and the production was cancelled. It was resurrected under a new title, but Paramount’s new Euro-find had entered The Garden of Allah by then.
- Dorothy Tree, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, 1939. Vehemently anti-Hitler, Marlene tried to move (Paramount) mountains to play the small role of a spy-hairdresser in Hollywood’s first look at the Nazi threat, which produced death threats for Edward G Robinson, Jack Warner, And the expected review by the German ambassador: “pernicious propaganda poisoning German-American relations.”
- Rosalind Russell, No Time For Comedy, 1939. The working title, Guy with a Grin, obviously referred to James Stewart when his co-star was due to be Dietrich. However, she changed into Russell and all chemisty evaporated… Cool and collected said the New York Times. Put it another way: cold.
- Joan Bennett, The House Across The Bay, 1939. Before producer Walter Wanger got his hands on it - for his lover - Warner had been planning the thriller for Dietrich and James Cagney! Cagney took a walk about a pay-hike. Dietrich just took off. Bennett won the 26 costume changes!
- Claudette Colbert, Midnight, 1939. Director Mitchell Leisen said he would never work with Marlene again. He did. The Lady Is Willing, among others.
- Ellen Drew, French Without Tears, 1940. By 1937, she had joined Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Katie Hepburn as box-office “poisonalities” and Paramount eagerly paid “the most highly salaried woman in the world,” $250,000 not to make this movie. Anyway, after their Angel, 1937, the sophisticate film legend, Ernst Lubitsch, had also vowed never to work with Dietrich again. And did not.
- Constance Bennett, Sin Town, 1941. ’Twas a Western boom town, ripe for con men. “Marlene Dietrich was supposed to be in it,” co-star Anne Gwynne told Mike Fitzgerald, “but when she read the script she turned it down. She and Brod[erick] Crawford were having a fling at this time. [Broderick Crawford!!] She wanted to work with him but the character she played lost Brod to me until the final reel when he goes back to her and I land Patric Knowles. So, unfortunately, she didn’t appear in it. Then, Mae West turned it down for the same reason. Constance Bennett, who was getting a little long in the tooth, didn’t have any qualms and played it to the hilt.”
- Linda Darnell, Blood and Sand, 1941. Listed at Paramount for Dietrich in 1931.
- Lynn Bari, China Girl, 1942. Marlene was first choice for Captain Fifi. So it was the sexy Bari that George Montgomery liked: “Because you’re everything a girl should be, 115 pounds of lies, venom and kisses.”
- Merle Oberon, A Song To Remember, 1945 .“Frank Capra likes the look of me in slacks...” Another Capra dream that faded away: Spencer Tracy as Chopin opposite ex-lover Dietrich as George Sand. Far more exciting than the dullard Cornel Wilde and Oberon in the version helmed by Charles Vidor.
- Nathalie Nattier, Les portes de la nuit,France, 1946. The war was over, Dietrich and lover Jean Gabin returned to liberated Paris, madly in love - and out of work. But the lovers did not like Jacques Prevert's script, from his Rendez Vous ballet. She walked and Gabin took her arm... Faced with “just a kid!” as her replacement, he left his role to the totally inexperienced Yves Montand.
- Helen Walker, Nightmare Alley, 1947. Ya cain’t always get wot ya wanna… In handwritten note dated February 1947, head Fox Darryl Zanuck suggested Dietrich, Constance Bennett or Luise Rainer as Lilith... amid all the degradation, adultery, alcoholism, murder, larceny, spiritualism, high-stakes cons, and child abuse (listed New York Sun critic Gary Giddins in 2005) set against the Depression scrim of anarchy, racism, desperation, and top-down corruption. Not many laughs, then!
- Barbara Stanwyck, The Other Love, 1947. German novelist Erich Maria Remarque wanted Marlene (an ex-lover) for his story. United Artists did not.
- Jane Greer, Station West, 1947. Dietrich passed on Charlie, the saloon owner in this Western-noir with film-noir star Dick Powell.
- Simone Signoret, Dédée d’Anvers, France, 1947. Before WWII, Dietrich fell for Jean Gabin in Paris and chatted over various projects, including Henri La Barthe’s novel. However, YvesAllegret (director brother of director Marc) wisely kept the rights to himself and his gorgeous wife - Signoret. He then repeated - in fact, improved upon -thecharm of Signoret-Bernard Blier-Jane Marken in Meneges, 1950.
- Joan Fontaine, Letter From An Unknown Woman, 1948. Returning to Hollywood in 1931 for Von Sternberg’s “woman on a train” idea, Marlene had other projects beyond Shanghai Express in her luggage, mainly the Stefan Zweig novella which had now found its way to director Max Ophüls.
- Joan Fontaine, Letter From An Unknown Woman, 1948. Returning to Hollywood in 1931 for Von Sternberg’s “woman on a train” idea, Marlene hadotherprojects beyond Shanghai Express in her luggage, mainly the Stefan Zweig novella whichhad now found its way to director Max Ophüls.
- Ingrid Berman, Arch of Triumph, 1948. German author Erich Maria Remarque also fought for her to head the film of his novel. Critics agreed shewould have been better than Bergman.
- Flora Robson, Saraband For Dead Lovers, 1948. Negotiations ended, according toUK director Basil Dearden, when she realised they did not want her to be 16...!
- Bette Davis, All About Eve, 1950.
- Maria Casares, Orpheé, France, 1950. She refused Jean Cocteau’s offer to be Death - she’d had enough of that in her war service. Jean Gabin and Marlene had unwisely dropped Les Portes de la nuitforMartin Roumagnac, 1949. It flopped and La Grande quit Paris - and the “stubborn, extremely possessive and jealous” Gabin (he also beat her) - and returned to Hollywood. “The secret of your beauty,” Cocteau told Marlene. “lies in the care of your loving kindness of the heart. This care of the heart is what holds you higher than elegance, fashion or style; higher even than your fame, your courage, your bearing, your films, your songs.”
- Patricia Laffan, Quo Vadis, 1950. After negotiating for the rights since 1925, MGM came close to filming Henryk Sienkiewicz’s 1895 ancient Rome novel in 1935. With a Beery Nero and Marlene Dietrich as his missus, Poppaea. The 1950 couple was British: Ustinov and Patrica Laffan. And Sophia Loren (and her mum) were among the extras. Oh, yes they were!
- Betty Hutton, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1951. Three years after the Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick threw in the towel, CB DeMille was able to propduce his old dream of a circus thriller (and inspire a six-year-old Phoenix kid named Spielberg to make movies). He wanted Dietrich or Hedy Lamarr as the trapeze star - until Hutton sent him a $1,000 floral replica of her swinging from a trapeze. OK, said CB, but (imagine those Biblical tones) slim those hips!
- Ginger Rogers, Dreamboat, 1952. Clifton Webb, an old gay pal - and finally a star at 61 -called her up to play his ex-wife. But, er, well, he was the dreamboat!
- Gloria Grahame, Man on a Tightrope, 1952. Just like London buses, when once circus offer comes along, another follows… New York director Elia Kazan tried to persuade her to be a Lola Lola and Mother Courage mix in a circus troupe making a daring escape to Germany from the Communist Czechoslovakia.
- Paola Mori, Mr Arkadin, 1955. Passed on being Arkadin’s daughter, Rain. Mori, aka Countess Paola Di Girfalco, was Mrs Welles, 1955-1985. Film was made in a Kane manner,no way as brilliant,with Welles (ever the radioham) dubbing too many of his (cheap) Euro actors.As his wife’s lines were dubbed by UK actress. Billie Whitelaw.
- Vivien Leigh, The Deep Blue Sea, 1955. Producer Alexander Korda always wanted Dietrich for Terence Rattigan’s play.She refused for the same reason poor Vivfound it so difficult: too close to home.“Vivien,”reported Rattigan, “either wouldn’t or couldn’t bring herself to expose menopausal reality.” UK film critic Alexander Walker suggestedanother reason: “She could never be convincing as a woman who tries to gas herself because she cannot keep her lover or find other men.”
- Rita Hayworth, Pal Joey, 1956. Columbia boss Harry Cohn’s idea.Her’s was better - Sinatra as Joey.“King” Cohn wanted Jack Lemmon. "A nobody," said Dietrich. Cohn was livid and banned Jean Louis from designing her Vegas cabaret gowns... until she told her patrons... who called Chicago... who called Cohn... who said OK.(Again?).
- Hermione Gingold, Gigi, 1958. Most keen on “youth through lighting effects,” she was certainly not glad she was not young anymore.
- Simone Signoret, Dragees au poivre, France, 1963. French comic Guy Bedos wrote one ofthe film’s sketches for his pal, Jean-Paul Belmondo. AdieuRaymondhada French Légionnaire phoning a lady after an ecstatic night. Belmondo suggested Dietrich as the lady. Bedos called on her but she had“no wish to return to movies.”
- Marie Bell, Vaghe Stelle Dell'Orsa, Italy, 1965. “Too sad!”So, Italian director Luchino Viscontifollowed JeanCocteau’s suggestion and signed up the French veteran.
- Simone Signoret, Games, 1967. Marlene would have been better - if barely credibleas a cosmetics saleswoman, for as Chicagocritic Roger Ebert reported: “Miss Signoret... is not especially good this time. She has aged and put on weight, and that would be OK if she did some acting and had some good lines, but she doesn't. She sort of haunts the film, a ghostly reminder of the greatness of Les Diaboliques.”
- Hildegarde Knef, Fedora, 1978. For his final movie (a bookend to his Hollywood Blvd, 1949, also starring William Holden), director legend Billy Wilder wanted Marlene Dietrich and Faye Dunaway. Exactly what the film required. Kneff was naff and Marthe Keller was turgid - even if based upon parts of the lives such movie queens as Greta Garbo, Pola Negri and Olga Tschechowa… and Dietrich, herself. Which is exactly why she passed! She sent his script sbackl tpol him, marked: HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY THINK..!
- Marthe Keller, Fedora, 1978. “It wasn’t a question,” noted Wilder. “Smart girl.” She refused the dual role offer of mother and daughter, as well. Ex-actor Tom Tyron’s story was based on aspects of lives of Garbo, Negri and Marie Magdelene Dietrich von Losch. Paris auteur Louis Malle was planning his own “tribute to a vanished Hollywood” - with Uma Thurman as Marlene - when he died in 1995.
- Samuel Fuller, Les voleurs de las nuit, France, 1983. Maverick auteur Samuel Fuller never gave up on getting Orson Welles in a film and, created Zoltan for him in this French polar. “COULDN’T CONTACT HIM!” He rewrote it... for Marlene Dietrich! “COULDN’T CONTACT HER! I said we’d find SOMEONE GOOD and in the end, IT WAS ME!” (Sam invariably spoke, or growled, in CAPITALS).