Category Archives: 20th century

The aftermath of Marlene Dietrich’s life

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. It was rather a surprise, therefore, when the U.S. institutions showed no interest at all in Marlene’s estate.  Germany was different: the Deutsche Kinemathek had officially opened in February 1963 with Gerhard Lamprecht as its founding director. Over the following decades he had meticulously put together an extensive collection of films, documents and equipment. The City State of Berlin had acquired this collection and then handed it over to the new institution for its preservation and use.

It must be remembered that Marlene was German by birth and, on Sunday 24th October 1993, the largest portion of her estate was sold to Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek – and that very soon became the core of the exhibition at Filmmuseum Berlin.

Marlene’s collection included some 3,000 textile items from the 1920s to the 1990s, including film and stage costumes as well as over a thousand items from Marlene’s personal wardrobe.  There was also a photograph collection containing some 15,000 photographs from various sources including Cecil Beaton and Lord Snowdon.  There were also 300,000 or so pages of documents with correspondence from such individuals as Yul Brynner / Orson Wells / Nancy & Ronald Reagan / Ernest Hemingway and Burt Bacharach.

Separate to this there was Marlene’s Manhattan apartment along with her personal effects.  The personal items – such as jewellery and items of clothing were sold by public auction at Sotheby’s in Los Angeles on Saturday 1st November 1997.  Her former apartment at 993 Park Avenue, Manhattan was sold for $615,000 in 1998.

In 1992 a plaque was unveiled at Leberstrase 65 in Berlin-Schöneberg, the site of Marlene’s birth and on Thursday 14th August 1997 a postage stamp bearing her portrait was issued in Germany.

Glamorous star of the cinema screen, idolised vamp and charismatic diva – Marlene Dietrich was one of the most captivating women of the 20th century. In spite of her fame, star-performer’s salary and brilliant Hollywood career, the “Blue Angel” always remained true to her ideals and lived according to her own code of conduct, which not only made her perhaps the most uncompromising star of her era, but also a role model for all women who believe in realizing their visions.

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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.”

 

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!

Marlene Dietrich – a Dance Hall Queen

In the mid 1930’s things had begun to unravel for Marlene.  In her films she had become typecast as a woman of low morals.  Then, her chance of change came in 1939 when she was cast as “Frenchy” – a Western saloon hostess in ‘Destry Rides Again’.

1939 marked an incredible year in Hollywood cinema – one that saw probably the greatest variety of landmark films in its history: Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind, Ninotchka, The Wizard of Oz, Gunga Din, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, are just a few. It was also a year where Westerns like John Ford’s ‘Stagecoach’ were reaching new artistic heights. Another to rise above the past was ‘Destry Rides Again’ a new kind of film which was a complex synthesis of several genres – comedy, romance, musical and Western revenge fantasy. Director George Marshall twisted these together in a unique and entertaining blend that helped redefine the genre’s sense of irony and purpose.

In the story Kent – the saloon owner and unscrupulous boss of the town of Bottleneck – has the town’s sheriff, killed when he asked one too many questions about a rigged poker game. Kent and “Frenchy”, his girlfriend and the dance hall queen, now have a stranglehold over the local cattle ranchers. The crooked town’s mayor, Hiram J. Slade, is also in collusion with Kent and appoints the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale, as the new sheriff, assuming that he will be easy to control and manipulate. But – what mayor Slade does not know is that Dimsdale was a deputy under the famous lawman Tom Destry, and is able to call upon the latter’s equally formidable son, Tom Destry, Jr. – played by James Stewart – to help him make Bottleneck a lawful, respectable town.  Destry confounds the townsfolk by refusing to strap on a gun in spite of demonstrating that he is an expert marksman. He still carries out the “letter of the law”, as deputy sheriff, and earns their respect.

A final confrontation between Destry and Kent’s gang is inevitable.  However, “Frenchy” is won over by Destry, changes sides and, when a final gunfight ensues, “Frenchy” is killed in the crossfire, and the rule of law wins the day.

This film began a new direction for Marlene because it released her from the typecasting of old.  In 1996, Destry Rides Again was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”.

 

The Soviet journey landed safely

The Russian Luna 9 unmanned spacecraft has been traveling safely since its launch on Monday and now, on Thursday 3rd February 1966, the landing challenge had arrived.  At an altitude of 8,300 kilometers (5,200 miles) from the moon’s surface it now had to be turned around and prepared for the best – or was it ‘the worst’? At c75 kilometers (46.531 miles) the radar altimeter jettisoned the side modules, inflated the air bags and fired the retro rockets.

I can imagine the majority back at base sitting or standing with fingers and/or legs crossed.

At 250 meters (820 feet) from the surface the main retrorocket turned off and 4 outrigger engines cut in to slow the module.  At 5 meters (16 ft) above the lunar surface level a sensor touched the ground, the engines cut, the landing capsule was ejected and at a speed of 22 kph (14 mph) the spacecraft bounced a number of times before coming to rest on Thursday 3rd February 1966 at 18:45:30 UT.

In less than five minutes after landing four petals that covered the top half of the module open to improve stability – the TV camera system began working!

Whilst Soviet authorities did not immediately release images, the scientists at Jodrell Bank in England reacted promptly and within a very short time the pictures were published worldwide.

Three years later the first humans stepped out on the surface of the moon – but that is a different story!

Marlene decides it’s her life – and she’ll live it her way.

On the strength of the international success of The Blue Angel’s that we saw last week, Marlene was given a chance for a crack in Hollywood. Her first film there was Morocco, a 1930’s romantic drama that she shared with Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou – an individual who had served as a captain in the US Army ambulance service during the war.  Morocco was nominated for four Academy Awards and won the National Board of Review ‘Top Ten Films’ award while Marlene was nominated but did not win the Best Actress award. In 1992, Morocco was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

With Paramount’s Josef von Sternberg at the helm Marlene starred in six more films between 1930 and 1935.  Their last two films – ‘The Scarlet Empress’ in 1934 and ‘The Devil is a Woman’ in 1935 – were the most stylized of their works together but also the lowest grossing films.  Later in her life Marlene was to remark that she had been her most beautiful in ‘The Devil is a Woman’.

Sternberg had welcomed her with many gifts – including a green Rolls-Royce Phantom II that appeared in ‘Morocco’ as well as acting as her own transport!  Behind all of this Marlene was also living a life of her own – and was also beginning to select her own lovers – with 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!

Another journey into space is planned

It seems an age ago now but, in the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a “space race” that ultimately saw the Americans land the first humans on the moon in 1969.

The Soviet Union’s earlier robotic missions had attracted a lot of international attention with a number of ‘first past the winning post’ successes.  It was in 1957 that they had sent their first satellite into space and in 1959 their Luna 3 rocket had flown past the moon – and even took pictures of the moon’s far side, which had never been glimpsed by humans before.

Flying by was difficult enough, but landing was another thing entirely. There were, in fact, a small number of experts who wondered if the lunar surface could even support a landing – suggesting that any spacecraft that landed on the moon would sink down into a pile of dust, and have difficulty emerging again. Both countries had certainly crash-landed probes on to the surface before, in some cases deliberately, but landing successfully required precision with something to cushion the spacecraft from a hard fall.  That probe also had to have a way of transmitting the information reliably back to Earth!

They kept trying and, on Monday 31st January 1966, their Luna 9 spacecraft was successfully launched by a Molniya-M rocket from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakh SSR.

As had been planned before – its destination was the surface of the moon!

Will it succeed?  We’ll have to wait a few days to find out that answer!

The birth of the United Nations

It was on Wednesday 24th October 1945 that the United Nations officially came into existence.  The charter had been signed by delegates from 50 member nations in San Francisco on Tuesday 26th June 1945 at the end of the United Nation Conference on International Organization.

The preamble to that Charter said:
‘We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, … and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.’

A United Nations resolution of 1947 stated that 24th October would henceforth be known as United Nations Day ‘and shall be devoted to making known to the people of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations, and to gaining their support for the work of the United Nation.’

I was sitting in Switzerland and watching things in Mexico.

It was Friday 18th October 1968 and four of us were having an evening drink or two by a lake in Switzerland.  We were on a product training course across the border in France but staying in Switzerland.  The Mexico City Olympics was on the television and the men’s long jump was about to begin.  I had done some long jumping at school and Pete’s son was a school high jump champion.  Alan and Chris were good at drinking beer!  We had been watching ‘our man’ Lynn Davis – the then reigning Olympics long-jump champion – but his first jump was poor – almost a foot shorter that the women’s champion had achieved!

Bob Beamon had come close to missing the Olympic final, overstepping on his first two attempts in qualifying. With only one chance left, he had re-measured his approach run from a spot in front of the board and made a fair jump that advanced him to the final.  When the final stages were beginning, and Bob Beamon was preparing for his first leap, Alan said ‘he don’t look very good; beers all round guys?’  We said yes and turned to the TV screen.  Beamon got ready, set off down the track and took off.  It looked pretty good but Alan returned with the beers and they now took precedence – although we all did watch his leap.

My beer was almost empty when the announcer called out the distance for the jump, 8.90 m (29 ft. 2½ in.)  Bob Beamon was unfamiliar with metric measurements and didn’t realize how far he had jumped.  It was when his teammate and coach Ralph Boston told him that he had broken the world record by nearly 2 feet, Bob’s legs gave way and an astonished and overwhelmed Beamon suffered a brief cataplexy attack brought on by the emotional shock, and collapsed to his knees, his body unable to support itself, placing his hands over his face.

In one of the more endearing images of the Games, his competitors then helped him to his feet.  Lynn Davies told Beamon, “You have destroyed this event,” and in sports jargon, a new adjective – Beamonesque – came into use to describe spectacular feats.

We also came to our senses and called for another round of beer to celebrate!