Monthly Archives: March 2018

Marlene Dietrich – her final years

It was on Monday 29th September 1975 that Marlene’s show business career largely came to an end when she fell off the stage and broke her thigh during a performance in Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, Australia.  The following year, her husband, Rudolf Sieber, died of cancer on Wednesday 24th June 1976.

In 1979 she did her final film appearance in David Bowie’s ‘Just a Gigolo’.  In that same year her autobiography, Nehmt nur mein Leben (Take Just My Life), was published.

With an alcoholic dependent on painkillers, Marlene withdrew to her Paris apartment and spent the final 11 years of her life mostly bedridden, allowing only a select few – mainly family and employees – to enter the apartment. She was not isolated though – she was a prolific letter-writer and phone-caller!

In 1982 she agreed to take part in a documentary film about her life, but refused to be filmed and her director – Maximilian Schell – was allowed only to record her voice. However he used the interviews with her as the basis for a film set to a collage of film clips from her career and in 1984 the film – Marlene – won several European film prizes and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary in 1984 and Newsweek named it “a unique film, perhaps the most fascinating and affecting documentary ever made about a great movie star”.  Four years later – in 1988 – Marlene recorded the spoken introductions to songs for a nostalgia album by Udo Lindenberg.

It was on Saturday 6th May 1992 that Marlene Dietrich died of renal failure at her flat in Paris – she was 90.

Her funeral ceremony was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris, a Roman Catholic Church on Sunday 14th May 1992 and her funeral service was attended by approximately 1,500 mourners in the church itself—including several ambassadors from Germany, Russia, the US, the UK and other countries—with thousands more outside. Her closed coffin rested beneath the altar draped in the French flag and adorned with a simple bouquet of white wildflowers and roses from the French President, François Mitterrand. Three medals, including France’s Legion of Honour and the US Medal of Freedom, were displayed at the foot of Marlene’s coffin, military style, for a ceremony symbolising the sense of duty Marlene Dietrich embodied in her career as an actress, and in her personal fight against Nazism.

The officiating priest remarked: “Everyone knew her life as an artist of film and song, and everyone knew her tough stands… She lived like a soldier and would like to be buried like a soldier”.

Marlene Dietrich’s gravestone is in Berlin – and the inscription reads “Hier steh ich an den Marken meiner Tage” (literally: “Here I stand at the marks of my days”), which is a line from Theodor Körner’s sonnet “Abschied vom Leben” (“Farewell to Life”).

Marlene had instructed in her will that she was to be buried in her birthplace, Berlin, near her family and, on Tuesday 16th May 1992, her body was flown there to fulfil her wish. Dietrich was interred at the Städtischer Friedhof III, Berlin-Schöneberg, next to the grave of her mother, Josefine von Losch, and near the house where she was born.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2005, Marlene’s daughter and grandson claimed that Marlene was politically active during those years and that she kept in contact with world leaders by telephone, including Ronal Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, running up a monthly bill of over US$3,000. In 1989, her appeal to save the Babelsberg studios from closure was broadcast on BBC Radio, and she spoke on television via telephone on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall later that year.


Marlene Dietrich in Australia

Marlene was a great traveller in the 1960s & 70s.  She was settled in England but in 1963 she also visited and performed in Monaco; Belgium; Spain; Germany; Mexico; various states in the USA; Stockholm as well as the Royal Albert Hall & the Prince of Wales Theatre in England.  This traveling would continue until the mid-1970s.  Her first visit to Australia was in 1965 where Marlene was at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre from the 7th to 23rd October before moving on to Sydney’s Theatre Royal from 28th October to 13th November.

It was three years later, in March 1968, that she returned to Australia and her arrival for a Festival was front page news, particularly when she was accused of slapping a television reporter!

Her first visit, though, was to the Adelaide Teachers College Theatre, Adelaide on 8th March where she appeared before an adoring audience at the Adelaide Teachers College Theatre.  The next day Jeff Turner of The News reported that Marlene was: ‘Magnificent in yards of fur and a shimmering form-hugging gown, she sang about love, about war. She sang old songs and new songs. And the audience did exactly as she wanted.’

She was still in Adelaide from 18th to 21st March before moving to the major performance that was to be at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne on Friday 23rd March.  The 1968 Festival was programmed by a committee of six officials and, while Marlene Dietrich was indisputably the Festival’s star attraction, other highlights included the Jerusalem Chamber Orchestra; the Salzburg Marionette Theatre; a performance of Mahler’s Eighth symphony by the combined South Australian and Melbourne symphony orchestras; opera singers Marie Collier and Tito Gobbi, and Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band!

The press of the time records: ‘the Hollywood screen legend Marlene Dietrich, performing songs which are musically arranged by Burt Bacharach, musical direction and orchestra directed by William Blezard, lighting devised by Joe Davis – performances by arrangement with Aztec Services Pty. Ltd. (Kenn Brodziak – Managing Director) and the 1968 Adelaide Festival of Arts, support act: Twiliters.’

It was seven years later, in September 1975, that Marlene made her third Australian visit.  From September 1st to 13th she was at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne.  She then moved on to the Canberra Theatre in Canberra for the 16th to 18th September.

Her final performances were at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney.  The schedule was for a run from 22nd September to 4th October 1975.  Unfortunately Marlene’s career largely ended on 29th September 1975, when she fell off the stage and broke her thigh.

She would perform publicly no more.  To add more to her troubles – the following year, on 24th June 1976 her husband, Rudolf Sieber, died of cancer.

Marlene’s final on-camera film appearance was a cameo role in the 1979 film ‘Just a Gigolo’ which starred David Bowie and was directed by David Hemmings, in which she sang the title song.