All posts by talkinghistory2013

About talkinghistory2013

Social historian with Masters degree from Cambridge Uni on the subject. Presented over 2,000 courses, talks and lectures in past 15 years on various subjects ranging from Nursery Rhymes to witchcraft, plagues and monastic life. Guide at Burghley House and for Peterborough Museum. 75,000 word Peterborough Book of Days launched in November 2014. Active blogs on Wordpress which includes weekly 'On this day in history' and free standing historic pieces. Also developing fictional stories with social history as a broad base.

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.

It was nice to see you Marlene

On the late morning of Tuesday 27th February 2018 (yesterday) I was scanning through my weekend magazine to see what was on.  On page 55 I found that, at 12.35pm in their Film 4 program on Freeview 15; Freesat 300; Sky 315 & Virgin 428 (HD429) was a 1939 film – ‘Destry Rides Again’.  The star, playing the sheriff, was James Stewart that ‘makes an enemy, later a friend, in the shape of a sultry saloon singer’.  No mention was made of the real name of that woman but I knew who she was – I had written about her in my posting earlier this month.  It was Marlene Dietrich!

I wonder if I could make this a valid excuse to sit at home and watch more films!

The War was over and Marlene moved on

After the 2nd World War things began to change for so many people.  Marlene was one of them! In 1953 she was offered $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas.  The show was short and mainly consisting of a few songs associated with Marlene and her daringly sheer “nude dress” – a heavily beaded evening gown of silk soufflé that gave an illusion of transparency.  Surprise Surprise – it attracted a lot of publicity!  One of these ‘attractions’ led to her being signed to appear at the Café de Paris in London the following year.  She also had her Las Vegas contracts renewed.   From that point forward to the mid-1970s she was a highly paid cabaret artist, performing live in large theatres in major cities world-wide.

Marlene employed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger starting in the mid-1950s; together, they refined her nightclub act into a more ambitious theatrical one-woman show with an expanded repertoire. Her repertoire included songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. Bacharach’s arrangements helped to disguise her limited vocal range – she was a contralto – and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect.

Francis Wyndham offered a critical appraisal of the phenomenon of ‘Dietrich in Concert’ when he wrote in 1964: “What she does is neither difficult nor diverting, but the fact that she does it at all fills the onlookers with wonder … It takes two to make a conjuring trick: the illusionist’s sleight of hand and the stooge’s desire to be deceived. To these necessary elements (her own technical competence and her audience’s sentimentality) Marlene Dietrich adds a third—the mysterious force of her belief in her own magic. Those who find themselves unable to share this belief tend to blame themselves rather than her.”

At this time Burt Bacharach felt he needed to devote his full-time to song writing. Together, they recorded four albums and several singles between 1957 and 1964.  However – Marlene had come to rely on him in order to perform and, in a TV interview in 1971 she credited Bert Bacharach with giving her the “inspiration” to perform during those years. She said:-

‘From that fateful day on, I have worked like a robot, trying to recapture the wonderful woman he helped make out of me. I even succeeded in this effort for years because I always thought of him, always longed for him, always looked for him in the wings, and always fought against self-pity…  He had become so indispensable to me that, without him, I no longer took much joy in singing. When he left me, I felt like giving everything up. I had lost my director, my support, my teacher, my maestro.’

In November 1972 a version of Marlene’s Broadway show ‘An Evening with Marlene Dietrich’ was filmed in London.  It was titled ‘I Wish You Love’ and Marlene as paid $250,000 for her co-operation but she was unhappy with the result. Non-the-less the show must go on and in January 1973 it was broadcast on the BBC in the UK and on CBS in the US.
Continue reading The War was over and Marlene moved on

Marlene Dietrich and the 2nd World War

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II, and Marlene became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before some 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.  During two extended tours for the non-profit United Service Organizations Marlene – along with others such as comedians and musicians – provided live entertainment.

In 1943 Marlene assumed the honorary rank of Colonel in the American Army and began to make radio broadcasts – and then to make personal appearances on behalf of the American war effort.

In 1944 and 1945, Marlene performed for Allied troops in North Africa, Italy, France and the UK.  She also went into Germany – her place of birth – with Generals James Gavin and George Patton.  When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometres of German lines, she replied, aus Anstand“out of decency”.   Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower!

Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act for the first tour, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw – a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s – and a “mind reading” act that her friend Orson Welles had taught her for his Mercury Wonder Show.  Marlene would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!”

American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of her act.  Right or not – in 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategies Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project – a musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene was the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use.  A number of songs were made in German for the project and included “Lili Marleen”, a favourite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.  Major General William J Donavan, the head of the OSS, wrote to Marlene, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for use.”


Valentine day with a difference


As I write this I am aware that Valentine’s Day is close at hand – well tomorrow as I write and today when you see it!.  What should I – must I – do on that special day?  I’ve been checking and have come across the cutting from the ‘Mainichi Daily News’.  On a page I found a story that may be fun – its headline are ‘Valentine’s Chocolate has various meanings’. I had to be intrigued so I bought a copy of the paper.

Oh – did I tell you where I found this?  The newspaper is the ‘Mainichi Daily News’; it was – and far as I am aware still is – published in Tokyo and Osaka – and I bought it there on Tuesday 11th February 1986.

The story – on this page – starts with a 13 year old girl called Fumiko who explains: ‘There was this boy that I really liked, but I was too shy to talk to him.  When Valentine’s Day came, I presented him with a homemade chocolate heart.  He said he didn’t want it and gave it back on the spot.”  All over the world, Valentine’s Day gives people the chance to say “I love you”.  Here in Japan it also gives you the chance, if you’re a high school boy, to say “get lost”!

The newspaper in 1986 says: ‘Valentine’s Day in Japan is a strange institution.  It was introduced into the country in the 1960s by confectionery companies, as a means of boosting chocolate sales.  In that respect it has been a resounding success. Unlike other countries where cards and miscellaneous gifts change hands, chocolate is firmly established here as the standard token of love.’

Later on in the newspaper we have: ‘This can lead to such heart-breaking refusals as Fumiko’s.  On the other hand, it does vastly increase the institution’s efficiency as a way of getting teenagers together.  For while the British are scurrying around trying to work out who sent the card, and whether it was meant seriously or not, the Japanese system in its purest form is a perfect matchmaker.’

Let’s now let’s us move forward to 2018 and there we find a strong tradition of women giving chocolates to men on Valentines Day. There are two types of chocolates, “Giri-choco” (obligation chocolate), and “Honmei-choco”.

Giri-choco is meant to be for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. “Giri” means obligation hence this Giri-choco has no romance involved. On the other hand, Honmei-choco is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband with true love.

Japanese women often prepare the Honmei-choco by themselves as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy the readymade chocolate at shops. You will start seeing large displays of chocolate, often heart-shaped in department stores and grocery stores from mid-January. Days before the Valentine’s Day, stores get packed with a large variety of chocolates, the cooking tools, and women!

What is more unique in Japan is that there exists a “White Day” which takes place on 14th March – exactly one month after Valentine’s Day. On White Day men are supposed to give return gifts to women who gifted them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. More often the colour of the chocolate is white because of the name of the day. Flowers, candies and other gifts are also popular along with the chocolates. Again, department stores have many advanced reminders with gift displays so men will have no excuse to forget about this special day which is important for women.


Marlene and her ‘other life’.

A lot had happened for Marie Marlene Dietrich since her birth in Berlin, Germany on the last Friday in December 1901. War had come and gone – and was back again for the 2nd time.  She had married; given birth to her daughter; parted company but kept in touch with her child’s father.  She has developed her skills and moved to Hollywood and, in 1930, made her first film – ‘Morocco’ – with Gary Cooper.  In 1932 she was in ‘Blond Venus’ with Cary Grant.  In both of these films – and others – she seemed to be typecast as a woman of low morals but, in 1939, she was cast as ‘Frenchy’ a Western saloon hostess – a change that would provide much for the future.  We’ll look at them later – but now we can have a look at another aspect of her life.

Marlene was beginning to select her own lovers – with Josef von Sternberg probably being the first.  It is said that Marlene juggled her lovers with the skill of a practical joker. At dawn her ‘visitor’ would sneak out of whatever rented Hollywood mansion she was living in at the time and then go back and ring the front doorbell as a polite visitor and sit down with Marlene to a breakfast of Scrambled Eggs!

When Marlene was taking part in a 1984 documentary ‘Marlene’ by Maximilian Schell she refused to be seen on camera but was ‘happy’ to talk and to snap “There have been 55 books written about me”.  It’s quite possible that another 50+ books have followed.

Steven Bach’s ‘Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend’ gives us a different slant but both agree that she slept with von Sternberg – also Maurice Chevalier; John Gilbert; Douglas Fairbank Jr; the screenwriter Mercedes de Acosta (on the rebound from Greta Garbo); Kirk Douglas; Yu Brynner; Frank Sinatra; James Stewart (her co-star in the western Destry Rides Again) – and quite a lot more!  Other sources add John Wayne, Maurice Chevalier and one General Patton!

Not ‘recorded’ as much but near as many meetings were Marlene’s relationships with members of her own sex – Edith Piaf being one.  In one of her diaries she was quoted as saying: “Women are better but you can’t live with women.”

Next week we’ll go back to the worlds of filming and war.

Buddy Holly’s legacy for us

Buddy’s funeral was held on Saturday 7th February 1959.  Up to that date the records that had been released in the British charts were:

‘Peggy Sue’ [first entered 6/12/57; 17 weeks in the charts; reached number 6]
‘Listen to Me’ [first entered 14/3/58; 2 weeks in the charts; reached number 16]
‘Rave On’ [first entered 20/6/58; 14 weeks in the charts; reached number 5]
‘Early in the Morning’ [first entered 29/8/58; 4 weeks in the charts; reached number 17]
‘Heartbeat’ [first entered 16/1/59; 1 week in the charts; reached number 30]

Buddy’s death changed things here in the UK.  In all we had 18 chart ‘hits’ ranging from:

‘It doesn’t matter anymore’ which entered our UK charts on 27th February 1959 and, for 3 weeks from 24th April 1959, held the UK’s number one slot.

In the 17 other entries we have ‘Brown-eyed Handsome Man’ entering the charts in March 1963 and spending 17 weeks there and reaching 3 in the charts.  Close behind on 6th June 1963 we have ‘Bo Diddley’ reaching number 4 in a 12 week stay.

Just to round off this whole story – I have just spent a rather nice 15 minutes or so listening – and watching – some real Buddy Holly with him on stage.  Have a look – it cost nothing!

Stolen from the stables – and never seen again.

Wednesday 8th February 1983 was the day the racehorse Shergar was stolen from its stables at the Ballymany stud in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland. At about 8.30 on that winter evening a Ford Granada pulling a horsebox, a van and another car entered the stable yard where Shergar ‘lived’. Two masked and armed men burst into the home of head groom Jim Fitzgerald, locked his family in a downstairs room, and forced him – at gunpoint – to release Shergar from his security protected stable.

There were six raiders in total and they pushed the horse and Jim into a horsebox and drove off. Jim was released four hours later some 40 miles away from the stud farm. The gang told him that they would telephone a ransom demand by lunchtime the next day.

Jim called the police, was picked up and questioned by detectives for several hours before he was released. The police then put listening devices in his home in preparation for the promised telephone call. It was not until the morning of 10th February that a ransom demand was phoned through. £2 million was demanded but, by the end of that day, the ransom figure had dropped to £40,000, the equivalent of £1,000 for each of the 40 shares in the horse. All 34 of the shareholders refused to pay the money on the basis that they wanted to deter future kidnappings. Over the following days there were numerous hoax calls and false alarms received by the police and media about sightings of the horse.

Shergar was never found; the insurers refused to pay out without evidence of the horse’s death; and his kidnappers have never been officially identified. Sean O’Callaghan, a former IRA member turned informer, later wrote in his book ‘The Informer’ that the horse had been killed by its abductors soon after it was taken because they were unable to handle him.

Nicknamed “Shergar – the wonder-horse” after the 1950s film and television ‘Champion the Wonder Horse’, this ‘wonder horse’ had been named European Horse of the Year in 1981 and had retired from racing that same September. Lloyds of London had carried an insurance premium of £300,000 when he was in competition and valued him at £10 million at stud.

María Elena Santiago & Buddy Holly – music & sadness

Buddy’s wife was born María Elena Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her mother died when Maria was 12 years old and, in 1953, her father had sent her to live with her aunt in New York City where she worked as a receptionist for a music publisher – ‘Peermusic’.  As a receptionist Maria Elena probably first met Buddy in August 1957 when, as rising stars, he and the Crickets first visited Peer Southern Music in the Brill Building on Broadway to meet their publishing manager Murray Deutch – Maria’s boss.

It was a day or so before Thursday 19th June 1958 – the day when Buddy recorded ‘Early in the Morning’ in New York’s Pythian Temple – that Buddy had asked Maria out. She had never been out on a date and told Holly he would have to ask her aunt for permission. Buddy promptly got her aunt’s permission and five hours into their first date, Buddy handed a rose to Maria and asked her to marry him!  On August 15, 1958, less than two months later, they were married in Buddy’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

They settled down there until Buddy broke up with his band, ‘The Crickets’, and moved to New York. It was in October 1958 that Santiago-Holly went on tour with her husband and took on promotional duties. Buddy also formed the Maria Music publishing company with which “Stay Close To Me” was filed.  Buddy produced Lou Giordano’s version of the song which was issued on Brunswick records on Tuesday 27th January, 1959.

Buddy and Santiago had been married for just six months at the time of the crash.  Maria Santiago-Holly learned of Buddy’s death from the reports on television. She was a widow and did not attend the funeral – nor has she ever visited the grave site. She told the Avalanche-Journal: “In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane.”

Maria Santiago-Holly suffered a miscarriage shortly after due, we are told, to “psychological trauma”

Buddy Holly’s funeral was held on Friday 7th February 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Holly’s wedding just months earlier. The pall-bearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis, and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend, because of his commitment to the still-touring Winter Dance Party.

Buddy’s body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery, in the eastern part of the city, with his headstone carrying the correct spelling of his surname – Holley – and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Buddy had gone – but his work would live on – and on – and on!