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Marlene: A Personal Biography of Marlene Dietrich

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In Marlene, the legendary Hollywood icon is vividly brought to life, based on a series of conversations with the star herself and with others who knew her well. In the mid-1970s Charlotte Chandler spoke with Marlene Dietrich in Dietrich’s Paris apartment. The star’s career was all but over, but she agreed to meet because Chandler hadn’t known Dietrich earlier, “when I was In Marlene, the legendary Hollywood icon is vividly brought to life, based on a series of conversations with the star herself and with others who knew her well. In the mid-1970s Charlotte Chandler spoke with Marlene Dietrich in Dietrich’s Paris apartment. The star’s career was all but over, but she agreed to meet because Chandler hadn’t known Dietrich earlier, “when I was young and very beautiful.” Dietrich may have been retired, but her appearance and her celebrity—her famous mystique—were as important to her as ever. Marlene Dietrich’s life is one of the most fabulous in Hollywood history. She began her career in her native Berlin as a model, then a stage and screen actress during the silent era, becoming a star with the international success The Blue Angel. Then, under the watchful eye of the director of that film, her mentor Josef von Sternberg, she came to America and became one of the brightest stars in Hollywood. She made a series of acclaimed pictures—Morocco, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, Destry Rides Again, among many others—that propelled her to international stardom. With the outbreak of World War II, the fiercely anti-Nazi Dietrich became an American citizen and entertained Allied troops on the front lines. After the war she embarked on a new career as a stage performer, and with her young music director, the gifted Burt Bacharach—whom Chandler interviewed for the book—Dietrich had an outstanding second career. Dietrich spoke candidly with Chandler about her unconventional private life: although she never divorced her husband, Rudi Sieber, she had numerous well-publicized affairs with his knowledge (and he had a longtime mistress with her approval). By the late 1970s, plagued by accidents, Dietrich had become a virtual recluse in her Paris apartment, communicating with the outside world almost entirely by telephone Marlene Dietrich lived an extraordinary life, and Marlene relies extensively on the star’s own words to reveal how intriguing and fascinating that life really was.


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In Marlene, the legendary Hollywood icon is vividly brought to life, based on a series of conversations with the star herself and with others who knew her well. In the mid-1970s Charlotte Chandler spoke with Marlene Dietrich in Dietrich’s Paris apartment. The star’s career was all but over, but she agreed to meet because Chandler hadn’t known Dietrich earlier, “when I was In Marlene, the legendary Hollywood icon is vividly brought to life, based on a series of conversations with the star herself and with others who knew her well. In the mid-1970s Charlotte Chandler spoke with Marlene Dietrich in Dietrich’s Paris apartment. The star’s career was all but over, but she agreed to meet because Chandler hadn’t known Dietrich earlier, “when I was young and very beautiful.” Dietrich may have been retired, but her appearance and her celebrity—her famous mystique—were as important to her as ever. Marlene Dietrich’s life is one of the most fabulous in Hollywood history. She began her career in her native Berlin as a model, then a stage and screen actress during the silent era, becoming a star with the international success The Blue Angel. Then, under the watchful eye of the director of that film, her mentor Josef von Sternberg, she came to America and became one of the brightest stars in Hollywood. She made a series of acclaimed pictures—Morocco, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, Destry Rides Again, among many others—that propelled her to international stardom. With the outbreak of World War II, the fiercely anti-Nazi Dietrich became an American citizen and entertained Allied troops on the front lines. After the war she embarked on a new career as a stage performer, and with her young music director, the gifted Burt Bacharach—whom Chandler interviewed for the book—Dietrich had an outstanding second career. Dietrich spoke candidly with Chandler about her unconventional private life: although she never divorced her husband, Rudi Sieber, she had numerous well-publicized affairs with his knowledge (and he had a longtime mistress with her approval). By the late 1970s, plagued by accidents, Dietrich had become a virtual recluse in her Paris apartment, communicating with the outside world almost entirely by telephone Marlene Dietrich lived an extraordinary life, and Marlene relies extensively on the star’s own words to reveal how intriguing and fascinating that life really was.

30 review for Marlene: A Personal Biography of Marlene Dietrich

  1. 5 out of 5

    tara

    Score: 25/30 Grade: A If I could give this four and a half stars, I would! Marlene: Marlene Dietrich, a Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler paints an incredibly intimate portrait of the classic star, recounting her endless love affairs, her life throughout both World Wars, her storied and strained relationships with her mother and sister, and her reclusive later years in Paris, France. It is a very comprehensive and, as the title would suggest, personal biography of an enigmatic icon like Marl Score: 25/30 Grade: A If I could give this four and a half stars, I would! Marlene: Marlene Dietrich, a Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler paints an incredibly intimate portrait of the classic star, recounting her endless love affairs, her life throughout both World Wars, her storied and strained relationships with her mother and sister, and her reclusive later years in Paris, France. It is a very comprehensive and, as the title would suggest, personal biography of an enigmatic icon like Marlene. Chandler's biography really captures Marlene's incredible essence, which is something that I can only imagine would be a feat to accomplish. I've always been a big fan of just who Marlene Dietrich is--so glamorous, so alluring, so hypnotic. I watched a few of her films in conjunction with reading Marlene and it was such an experience, I tell you!! If you ever get the chance, her films play occasionally on TCM. Record them and read this biography with it, which includes detailed plot descriptions of her films and Marlene's experience on set and sometimes the film director's, writer's, or crew's personal experience on set with the icon, too. She talks directly and candidly about what her experiences on set were like and what her opinions were on the films she made, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Mostly, it was just entertaining! In the biography, Marlene speaks openly about her harsh childhood, her father dying when she was only a girl, leaving her with a disciplined mother who would later remarry to Marlene's distant step-father, who he himself would later die tragically. Then, the first World War, pushing the family into financial instability and a different lifestyle than the young Marlene had known. Marlene continues to keep that honest conversation while recounting her affairs, of which she had many, and her open marriage to Rudi Sieber, who also had a mistress who would sometimes live with the family. Her free and open marriage is absolutely dazzling to hear her talk about in such a cool and loving manner! Marlene also, though only briefly, discusses her sexual experiences with women. Perhaps Marlene didn't want to open up further, perhaps Chandler didn't press on about Marlene's bisexuality, but I would have loved to hear more about it. She is (at least for me) such an icon to gay and queer women, especially in her early tuxedo wearing days. I could have read pages upon pages about her affairs with women, to be honest. You also get the feeling reading this that Marlene is somehow incredibly insecure, as I think many pre-code and classic film actresses were. Often made to change their entire appearance before getting a role, rewrite their name and their history, it's no surprise that Marlene feels that same insecurity, as she was made to do the same thing. During her later years, she was a recluse, never leaving her tiny Paris apartment. She says on page 265, "But there is nothing I want to do outside that would be worth seeing ugly photographs of myself in the paper." I can't help but feel sad for her, as there is some bleakness that overrides this book. Despite the flirtatious, witty, and bold woman she proclaimed herself to be, she was also very shy and insecure in many ways. It's beautiful to get that portrayal of Marlene here, because it is real. Nevertheless, Marlene is such an enjoyable read. I think Marlene Dietrich is one of the most interesting women in Hollywood history, one of the most vocal in her ideologies, one of the most non-judgmental, one of the most open and carefree in all that she does. Every word Marlene said just enraptured me to me core. She clearly had something to say, and I am so glad she said it. The style in which this book is written will not be for everyone, I will admit. I loved it, however. There's very little fluff. I hate fluff in a biography like this! It reads very much like an interview, with long paragraphs of dialogue spoken by Marlene and other people that Chandler spoke to about Marlene. There's very little description, no lengthy reports of the dress Marlene was wearing that day or how her hair looked or how she sighed longingly gazing out a window as the interviewer records at length every last thought they happen to be thinking at that moment. No crap; Chandler cut it all out and that's just how I like it. There were some interviews with other people that seemed to drag on far too long and could have easily been condensed down by pages. But, ultimately, no interview was too boring, because at the end of it, there was always another anecdote about Marlene that I adored. If you are looking for a biography that reads like a fiction book, this ain't it. If you're looking for a book that shoots it straight from the star's mouth, then this is it! Quotes: "After Mr. [Josef] von Sternberg took charge of my looks, sometimes I thought they belonged more to him than to me. The emphasis on the way I looked became a burden to bear, almost too great to enjoy." (page 4) "Life is a constant struggle, a fight to protect your illusions. People are very keen on making you aware of the truth, but it's their truth, not yours. Certainly not mine. Illusion is fragile and has to be protected." (page 10-11) "I remember walking in the country one spring and passing a prisoner-of-war camp for French soldiers. One of them put his hand through the barbed wire and I impulsively picked up some wildflowers and put them into his hands. He clutched them like a gift from God. I said a few words to him in French. Some girls from my class saw this and reported me, and I had to miss some school. It was considered a disgrace, but I didn't feel disgraced." (page 33) "So, what my mother had said was the right thing for a girl to do, not to be noticed, wasn't right for me. I did was came naturally to me, the exact opposite of what she had said, and that was what turned out to be right." (page 42) "I was totally in love," Marlene told me. "Every girl should have that experience--once. Then you know what it is, what it feels like, the real thing. You can never be fooled once you have known true romance, true passion, true love!" (page 45) "Marlene Dietrich enjoyed the constant hint of scandal, more than a hint, and she did her best, in a subtle way, to enhance rumors that she was a bad girl, not a good girl. She believed bad girls were more compelling for the public's imagination than saintly women." Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on Marlene, (page 114) "[Marlene] leaned close and almost whispered in that glorious voice of hers: "I want to kill Hitler." [...] "I wouldn't have any trouble killing him. It would be a pleasure. It's like war. I think killing him would save thousands of lives, even millions. [...] I would not expect to escape. I would go there prepared to die. I don't want to die. I want to live. Life is wonderful. But to kill Hitler would be wonderful. We all have to die sometime, and that would be something to die for."" - Douglas Fairbanks, Jr on Marlene, (pages 129-130)" "But we must not go on fighting the war after it has ended. The bitterness hurts the one who is bitter." (page 165) "She liked to play bad girls because they were more interesting that good girls, and she preferred real-life love scenes to the ones on the screen." - Billy Wilder on Marlene (page 185) "In July of 1964, during her South African tour, Marlene and the group from her show were having dinner [...] As they were being served, Marlene noticed that someone was missing. "Where is our driver?" she said. "Why isn't he having dinner?" One of the local press people explained to her that he was waiting in the car, unable under apartheid law to enter a white restaurant. "Hasn't anyone thought about him being hungry?" she asked. "I want two heaping full plates with everything, as much food as they can hold." [...] She took the two plates out to the car and to the surprise of everyone got into the car and ate her dinner there." (page 206) "There are people you think you can't live without. Then you have to. And you don't die. You live on. But life isn't ever the same." (page 226)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anna Ryan

    The writing of this book doesn't really use a common structure. The quotes the author uses are far too long, and you sometimes don't know who is telling a certain story. The long anecdotes need to be broken up by the author summarising what certain people say. The whole book needs more structure. However, I am a big fan or Marlene Dietrich, and find her immensely fascinating and beautiful. I did find the what Marlene Dietrich, and others, had to say about her and her life very interesting. The writing of this book doesn't really use a common structure. The quotes the author uses are far too long, and you sometimes don't know who is telling a certain story. The long anecdotes need to be broken up by the author summarising what certain people say. The whole book needs more structure. However, I am a big fan or Marlene Dietrich, and find her immensely fascinating and beautiful. I did find the what Marlene Dietrich, and others, had to say about her and her life very interesting.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rosie Beck

    Why do I read this author? Her writing style is abominable. The story of this marvel is very interesting but the writing is choppy, flat and confusing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy Lee

    I haven't read any of Charlotte Chandler's other works - I picked up "Marlene" because I was interested in Marlene Dietrich (and the book had photographs). It's a chatty book, springboarding off stories that Marlene apparently told Charlotte when she was in her waning years. As those of us who have older parents know, perceptions and perspectives tend to evolve a bit as age increases, and as the availability of those who might corroborate the stories decreases. Dietrich herself mentioned seeing i I haven't read any of Charlotte Chandler's other works - I picked up "Marlene" because I was interested in Marlene Dietrich (and the book had photographs). It's a chatty book, springboarding off stories that Marlene apparently told Charlotte when she was in her waning years. As those of us who have older parents know, perceptions and perspectives tend to evolve a bit as age increases, and as the availability of those who might corroborate the stories decreases. Dietrich herself mentioned seeing images as a memory described by others, rather than her own memory. So I took many of the stories with a grain of salt. Chandler does provide a near complete synopses of Marlene's early movies, as well as a filmography listing key crew and cast. Her sources for stories are not just Dietrich, but also contemporaries encountered: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Fritz Lang, Joshua Sinclair and one of her Dietrich's grandsons, for example. We are definitely left wanting more, however. Given when this interview occurred, it's not surprising there's nothing from Marlene's family in Germany (and her only daughter Maria wrote her own book). There's very little from Marlene's agents, casting directors, or directors. Nothing from her childhood that Marlene herself doesn't describe - and no pictures from her childhood. I particularly was disappointed that the photographs that Dietrich referred to as important to her, and that were minutely described by the author, were not duplicated in the book. And no real data that you can hang your hat on either. There are no pictures of her husband or daughter, no date of daughter's birth, no cost or income estimates from her movies, no pictures of things she or her family owned, not even the date of Dietrich's birth. So it's a real stretch to call this a biography. This is more like perfume than information. It's a pleasant read, but when you're done, you feel like you sat next to someone at dinner who has gathered some interesting stories. It's not a lot of effort to sit there, so if that's what you're looking for, enjoy the meal.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Duckett

    In Charlotte Chandler's "Marlene" I found Chandler's writing and organization style (if you could call it organization) often erratic and hard to follow, not to mention that the synopsis of every single Marlene Dietrich film was quite unnecessary. The division into three sections: Berlin, Hollywood, and Paris would have been better split into actual chapters that had to do with certain topics rather than going from a two page interview with Marlene to a thirty page interview with Douglas Fairban In Charlotte Chandler's "Marlene" I found Chandler's writing and organization style (if you could call it organization) often erratic and hard to follow, not to mention that the synopsis of every single Marlene Dietrich film was quite unnecessary. The division into three sections: Berlin, Hollywood, and Paris would have been better split into actual chapters that had to do with certain topics rather than going from a two page interview with Marlene to a thirty page interview with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. with no correlation whatsoever. I applaud Chandler for her extensive research and interviewing but as with most biographies on the deceased, I had to stop and wonder if all of the dialogue in her interview with Dietrich was actually said or if Chandler was exploiting the late Miss Dietrich to bring a certain shock factor to her book à la Scotty Bowers. That being said, I enjoyed much of the content in the book, but would not likely recommend this to a friend.

  6. 5 out of 5

    James Siejak

    One of a few books written by an author who came to know the legendary star while claiming they did not know much about her. Interesting read! I have thoroughly enjoyed all I have read about the great Marlene!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jean-Pierre Vidrine

    A fascinating book about a fascinating person. Like any biography worth the paper it's printed on, the story wound up being about more than the central figure. A lot of other interesting people people turn up here in intriguing (and sometimes startling) episodes. A fascinating book about a fascinating person. Like any biography worth the paper it's printed on, the story wound up being about more than the central figure. A lot of other interesting people people turn up here in intriguing (and sometimes startling) episodes.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Fab read was like live conversation with the author and all the people in connection with Marlene Dietrich .

  9. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    While I enjoyed learning about film legend Marlene Dietrich's life on and off screen, the format took some getting used to. It took me much longer to get through this book than I was expecting and I found it easy to set this aside and come back to it. It some ways, it felt almost like a series of verbatim interview transcripts with anecdotes interspersed with film synopses. I found myself skimming over the film synopses since I felt like I could've gotten those from IMDB or some place similar an While I enjoyed learning about film legend Marlene Dietrich's life on and off screen, the format took some getting used to. It took me much longer to get through this book than I was expecting and I found it easy to set this aside and come back to it. It some ways, it felt almost like a series of verbatim interview transcripts with anecdotes interspersed with film synopses. I found myself skimming over the film synopses since I felt like I could've gotten those from IMDB or some place similar and I was more interested about learning about the woman behind the roles; they might have worked better in the Filmography section at the end. The author clearly had incredible access to Ms. Dietrich and several of her closest friends and former colleagues. I felt like more focus on those anecdotes and less focus on summarizing the films would have aided the narrative. I selected this as my pick for the 2020 #AACPL Reads Challenge's August prompt (read a biography) and the 2020 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge prompt "your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge" (used 2017's "a book about an interesting woman").

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andy Hickman

    Charlotte Chandler, “Marlene: A Personal Biography” (NY: Smith & Schuster, 2011). Interesting biography based on personal interviews of Marie Magdalene “Marlene” Dietrich, the Hollywood actress who was born in 1901, Germany, and died in 1992, Paris, aged 90. Mostly firsthand accounts from Marlene herself describing her father's death (when she was six years old), her family's starvation during the Great War, her skill as a seamstress, her hatred of the Nazi regime and her disassociation with her s Charlotte Chandler, “Marlene: A Personal Biography” (NY: Smith & Schuster, 2011). Interesting biography based on personal interviews of Marie Magdalene “Marlene” Dietrich, the Hollywood actress who was born in 1901, Germany, and died in 1992, Paris, aged 90. Mostly firsthand accounts from Marlene herself describing her father's death (when she was six years old), her family's starvation during the Great War, her skill as a seamstress, her hatred of the Nazi regime and her disassociation with her sister in order to protect her from being found by the Nazi's Fascinating to read that Hitler and Goebbels wanted her back in Germany and that she only considered doing so if she could meet with Hitler privately in order to murder him (p129-130). She also received threats that her daughter was going to be kidnapped. Much is written about her many films with director Josef von Sternberg, and of course her many affairs with actors such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne (p152) and James Stewart with whom she became pregnant (p138). Of John Wayne she said, “What pleased me most was he wasn't vain or arrogant. Far from it, he was insecure as an actor, worried about his talent, or what he felt was a lack of it. As a man he was a little insecure and vulnerable. I was able to help in both respects.” (p152) Chandler includes a helpful filmography. “What I miss is having people around to recharge my batteries. Intellectually, I mean.” (p263). - - -

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lee Anne

    This is the last of my free books from the 2012 Book Expo America. I didn't even necessarily want to read a book about Marlene Dietrich; I mean, I like her okay, but she's not one of my favorite favorites. I DID, however, want to meet the ancient Charlotte Chandler. Chandler (real name Lyn Erhard) has made a career of taking the long-ago interviews she did with the big stars of yesteryear (Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and more) and slapping them together with biographical information in This is the last of my free books from the 2012 Book Expo America. I didn't even necessarily want to read a book about Marlene Dietrich; I mean, I like her okay, but she's not one of my favorite favorites. I DID, however, want to meet the ancient Charlotte Chandler. Chandler (real name Lyn Erhard) has made a career of taking the long-ago interviews she did with the big stars of yesteryear (Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and more) and slapping them together with biographical information into these "Personal Biographies." When I met her, I couldn't guarantee with 100% certainty that she even knew where she was, but she signed (and personalized) my book and was sweet, while I'm sure I burbled on about Crawford and Groucho Marx, another of her subjects. So what did I learn from this book? That Dietrich had a long affair with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; that she loved to cook and play nursemaid to people, and tried to "save" John Gilbert and Edith Piaf; that she hated the Nazis so much that she barely returned to Germany after the war; that she spent the last 15-20 years of her life as a shut-in in her Paris apartment, daily ordering a BLT from room service from the hotel across the street. Chandler is no great literary genius, but this book, like the others of hers I've read, is conversational and just gossipy enough to be fun. If you're a fan of old Hollywood and have never read Charlotte Chandler, she's worth a look.

  12. 4 out of 5

    PAULINA

    I`m sure that Marlene was a brilliant actress but according to me she deserved to star in more ambitious and exciting films. Unfortunately, it was impossible in the past. She was quite a character with a very forceful personality so she couldn`t stand the presence of people who gave her clues and told her what to do. But I think that her beauty was exaggerated; in my opinion she was not necessarily beautiful but characteristic and specific. This book reveals many secrets from her life, her roman I`m sure that Marlene was a brilliant actress but according to me she deserved to star in more ambitious and exciting films. Unfortunately, it was impossible in the past. She was quite a character with a very forceful personality so she couldn`t stand the presence of people who gave her clues and told her what to do. But I think that her beauty was exaggerated; in my opinion she was not necessarily beautiful but characteristic and specific. This book reveals many secrets from her life, her romances (with John Kennedy), the dark side of her marriage - lack of time, her friendships (with Edith Piaf, Mae West or Ernest Hemingway) and her attitude towards Hitler and the World Wars. The most exciting part of the book describes her old age in Paris. She was no longer attractive, fit and happy but she agreed to star in her last film "Just a Gigolo" - her unexpected appearance was really emotional and touching. She was the same young Marlene Dietrich, it was wonderful!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bkwormmegs

    This book was poorly organized, the writing horrid, and the subject not at all given to the kind of introspection a book such as this requires. I love reading about old Hollywood, but this is the second time a Chandler book has disappointed me - no structure, boring writing, and not a difficult question posed. This is not worth the trouble.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    She had an interesting life, but the way this was written with long quotes from interviews, it was hard to keep track of who was talking. There was a synopsis of every movie she was in and who else was in it, so it seemed more like a reference book than a story.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    Just starting this.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

    a very close look at the stars life, very good

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michael Jepson

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ewa (rvdzik)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Abbie

  22. 4 out of 5

    Vickie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rusty

  24. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  25. 4 out of 5

    Riccardo Callabro

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alex Cooper

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cambria Covell

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherina

  30. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

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