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!

Buddy and ‘Peggy Sue’ leave memories

In my younger days – the 1950’s that is – I was one of those thousands, or maybe millions, of British teenagers who latched on to the US ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ performers. Elvis was my number one with Buddy Holly a close second.  I can remember hearing – and then getting dad to buy – ‘Peggy Sue’ as Christmas got close in 1957. It reached number 6 in the charts – Harry Belafonte was at number 1 from 22nd November until Jerry Lee Lewis took the number one slot on 10th January1958!  Buddy had 3 hits in 1958 – ‘Listen to me’ [2 weeks & peaking at 16]; ‘Rave On’ [14 weeks & peaking at 5] and ‘Early in the Morning’ [4 weeks & peaking at 4]. In January 1959 he had a brief – one week hit – ‘Heartbeat’. While I was enjoying ‘Heartbeat’ – and hoping that Buddy would be over here soon – Buddy was getting on a plane and moving on to another show.

He was in ‘The Winter Dance Party’ tour that had begun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 23rd January 1959. The amount of travel involved created logistical problems.  The distance between the venues had not been considered and, adding to the problem, the unheated tour buses broke down twice in the freezing weather.  Added to this was Buddy’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized for frostbite to his toes which he had suffered while aboard the bus!  As a result Buddy decided to organise other form of transportation so, before their next appearance – planned for 2nd February in Iowa – Buddy chartered a four-seat Beechcraft from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City with Jennings, Allsup, and himself.  His idea was to depart after the Clear Lake Surf Ballroom show and fly to their next venue, in Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo, North Dakota.  This would allow them time to rest and wash their clothes.  It also meant that they could avoid a rigorous bus journey.

It was just before midnight when the Clear Lake show ended just before midnight.  There were some discussions on who was joining Buddy in the flight.  Allsup agreed to flip a coin for the seat with Ritchie Valens – he took out a brand new half-dollar and Ritchie called heads. Heads it was. Richie reportedly said “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life.”  Allsup later opened a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas called ‘Heads Up’. Waylon Jennings also voluntarily gave up his seat – this one to J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) who had influenza and complained that the tour bus was too cold and uncomfortable for a man of his size.

Roger Peterson, the pilot, took off in inclement weather, although he was not certified to fly by instruments only.  Shortly after 1:00 am on Tuesday 3rd February 1959, Holly, Valens, Richardson, and Peterson were killed instantly when their plane crashed into a cornfield five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport shortly after take-off. The bodies of the entertainers were all ejected from the plane on impact while Peterson’s body remained entangled in the wreckage.  Buddy Holly had sustained fatal trauma to his head and chest and numerous lacerations and fractures of his arms and legs.

We will be attending the funeral in a few days time.

Some February Traditions, Celebrations & Superstitions

February was, for the Romans, the month of atonement and purification, the time to regret sins and put things right.  Purification is also the concept in the Christian festival of Candlemas – the fortieth day after the birth of Christ and known as the ‘Presentation of Christ in the Temple’.  As such it was the day on which the purification of the mother and the presentation of the son should occur.

Other traditions and celebrations followed as the years went on and they spawned superstitions – things and activities that took on an increased importance.  In Britain February is also a time when the weather plays strange ‘tricks’ – confusing animals and plants alike. As both are instinctively influenced by nature the actions of plants & birds & flowers were seen as foretellers of the future – and this generated a whole range of traditions and superstitions as we have today.

The earliest reference to the festival we call Candlemas is in the late 4th century when a pilgrim to Jerusalem celebrated it on February 14th – 40 days after Epiphany (then celebrated as Christ’s birthday).  After December 25th was fixed as Christ’s birthday the emperor Justinian I decreed that the Presentation should be moved to February 2nd – 40 days after Christmas.  By the middle of the 5th century the custom of observing the festival with lighted candles had been introduced and the name Candlemas developed from this custom.  In the East it is primarily a festival of Christ; in the West it was primarily a celebration of the Virgin Mary until the calendar reform of 1969.

Until the tradition of Twelfth Night was established Candlemas Day was also regarded as the end of the Christmas season – and the time to take down Christmas decorations.  It was considered crucial that every last vestige of Christmas decoration was cleared from churches as traces of berries, holly and so forth would bring death among the congregation before another year was out.

Let’s now have a look at the above from a different slant – Weather forecasting! Superstitions grew across Britain with regard to our weather happening. At the time we are talking now we have the following:

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight; but it be dark with clouds and rain; Winter is gone, and will not come again.”


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!

Robert Burns – the Scottish Poet

‘Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, first saw the light on this day, the 25th January 1759, in a small cottage by the wayside near the Bridge of Doon, two miles from Ayr.  A wonderful destiny was that of the peasant’s babe born that day – a life of toil, imprudence, poverty, closed in early death, but to be followed by an afflatus of popular admiration and sympathy such as never before nor since attended a literary name in any country.  The strains of Burns touch all hearts.  He has put words together, as scarcely any writer ever did before him.  His name has become a stenograph for a whole system of nation feeling and predilections.’

So wrote the original Chambers Book of Days in 1864.  What can we add to this?  Perhaps the descriptions in the 2004 publications will serve us:-

‘The birthday of Robert Burns (1759-96) on 25 January is celebrated by people of Scottish descent all over the world.  The central attraction of the Burns Night festivities is a traditional Burns Supper of haggis – a dish made of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep or calf, chopped up with suet, onions and oatmeal – and traditionally boiled in a sheep’s stomach-bag.  It is then served with tatties and neeps – potatoes and mashed swede.

The meal begins with the ‘Selkirk Grace’ and a short rhyme of an unknown author:  Some hae meat and canna eat; And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat and we can eat`, And sae the Lord be thank it.

The company then stand to ‘receive the haggis’ as it is ceremoniously piped into the room and set down in front of the chief guest, who the recites Burn’s poem of 1786 –    ‘To a Haggis’:-  Fair fa’ your honest, consie face, Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!  Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace as lang’s my arm.

This is, of course, just a touch of the whole event but – unless you have the right credentials – I’m afraid that I cannot tell you anymore!


It was January 1966 when the future of the Monte Carlo rally was put in doubt.

It was in 1909 that, at the ‘request’ of Prince Albert of Monaco, the Automobile Club de Monaco started planning a car rally.  The participants would start at points all over Europe and converge on Monte Carlo and – in January 1911 – 23 cars set out from 11 different locations.  The rally comprised both driving and then somewhat arbitrary judging based on the elegance of the car, passenger comfort and the condition in which it arrived in the principality. There was an outcry of scandal when the results were published and Henri Rougier, who was among the nine who left Paris to cover their 1,020 kilometres (634 mile) route, was proclaimed the first winner.

Let’s now roll forward to January 1966 and the first four cars to cross the finishing line were Timo Makinen (Finland) driving a British Motor Corporation Mini-Cooper, followed by Roger Clark in a Ford Lotus Cortina and Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk, both also driving BMC Minis. However they were all ruled out of the prizes – with six other British cars – for alleged infringements of complex regulations about the way their headlights dipped.

The official winner was announced as Pauli Toivonen, a Finn who lived in Paris and drove a France made Citroen.

The Monte Carlo rally had ended in uproar over the disqualification of the British cars.  BMC and Ford lodged protests and the rally had been severely dented.  A British official said: “This will be the end of the Monte Carlo rally. Britain is certain to withdraw” and ‘winner’ Timo Makinen said: “None of us dreamed that the stewards would turn the results upside down – and for such a stupid reason.”

So what was it all about?

The British cars had been disqualified because they used non-dipping single filament quartz iodine bulbs in their headlamps, in place of the standard double filament dipping glass bulbs, which were fitted to the series production version of each model sold to the public.

According to new rules introduced at the end of 1965, any car entering the rally must come off a standard production line, with at least 5,000 cars being built to a similar specification. The British cars were equipped with standard headlamps – but the only way of dipping them was to switch to non-standard fog lamps.

Richard Shepherd, from the BMC, said: “There is nothing new about the lights at all. They have been used in our rallies, on rally cars, including the Monte for two years now and we’ve had no trouble at all in the past.”

It transpired that the confusion had arisen because the rally organisers had initially said the race would be run under the old rules – and only announced the switch after entries had been accepted!  The BMC said that it had spent £10,000 on preparing for the Monte Carlo rally – and is now considering withdrawing from next year’s race.

The British teams’ protest to the race organisers was rejected and boycotted the official farewell dinner held at the International Sporting Club. Prince Rainier of Monaco also showed his anger at the disqualifications by leaving the rally before attending the prize-giving which he had always done in previous years.

Just to make it worse when, on 13th October 1966, the supreme motor racing and rally tribunal upheld the disqualifications.  The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile in Paris said the iodine quartz headlights fitted on the British cars were not standard and the Citroen was declared the official winner.

Just to take it a step further – the Citroen had similar lamps fitted but was approved because the bulbs were fitted as standard on some of their models!

This year’s rally is from January 22nd to 28th  2018

A husband and a daughter – and the beginning of Fame

Last time we left Marlene, in 1922, being sacked four weeks after getting a job playing the violin in a pit orchestra for silent films at a Berlin cinema!

In 1923 Marlene met Rudolf Sieber, a film professional who helped her land a part in the German 1923 silent film Tragedy of Love where she took the role of the judge’s mistress. The couple married on 17th May 1923 and welcomed their only child, Maria Elisabeth Sieber, on 13th December 1924. Marlene and Rudolf only lived together for 5 years but remained a married couple until Rudolf’s death on 24th June 1976.

Marlene continued to work on stage throughout the 1920s with roles from Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw and in musicals and revues. By the late 1920 she was also playing sizable parts on screen and it was in 1929 that she landed a breakthrough role – the role of Lola Lola, a cabaret singer who caused the downfall of a hitherto respectable schoolmaster, in the UFA-Paramount co-production of ‘The Blue Angel’.  Josef von Sternberg directed the film and thereafter took credit for having “discovered” Marlene Dietrich!  For many the film was/is most noteworthy for having introduced Marlene’s signature song “Falling in Love Again”.

On the strength of the film’s international success, and with encouragement and promotion from Sternberg who was already established in Hollywood, Marlene moved to the USA under contract to Paramount Pictures where the studio set about marketing Marlene Dietrich as a German answer to the Swedish sensation, Greta Garbo!

PS: Not recorded above but performed by Marlene we can add: on-stage performance involvement in: Frank Wedekind’s ‘Pandora’s Box’; performances of Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Back to Methuselah’ and ‘Misalliance’.  She was also involved in musicals and reviews.

We’ll leave this as is now – and come back next week with some answers and some ‘challenges’.

A story of a Star begins

It was on the first day of this year – 1st January 2018 – that I wrote that it was on Friday 27th December 1901 in Schoneberg, a suburb of Berlin, that one Marie Magdalene Dietrich was born – the product of a privileged and conservative family – and a fact that she seemingly failed to acknowledge throughout her life.  One indication of this starts early as her name ‘changes’ – it will now be Marlene Dietrich.

Over the years, details of her personal life would appear and change with virtually every biography written about her; every studio press release and every word she spoke.  She was creating a legend, and the errors that abounded about her only served to deepen the mystery and to encourage and expand the enigma.  Film director Billy Wilder would describe Marlene as ‘A strange combination of the femme fatale, the German Hausfrau and Florence Nightingale’.

When all aspects are considered, she has been described as a ‘quintessentially the embodiment of erotic sophistication, cosmopolitan glamour and warm, maternal sexuality’.

So – what is my view on the Marlene Dietrich story?  That is a very good question that has taken some quite large thought and research over the past couple of weeks and will – I am sure – take a few more in the months to come so let’s start from the beginning …..

She was born on 27th December 1901in Berlin and was given the name Maria Magdalene Dietrich – the second daughter of police lieutenant Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Dietrich nee Felsing.  Louis died – some say in 1907, others say 1910 and others 1911 – and, in 1916, his fried Eduard von Losch married his widow Wilhelmina – only to die himself of war-time injuries that same year!

Reading between the lines Marlene had set about going her own ways before this anyway. She had begun school in 1907 and, in 1918, graduated from the Victoria-Luise-Schule.  During this time she had become interested in poetry and the theatre.  She also studied the violin but a wrist injury put a stop to her dream of becoming a concert violinist.  Non-the-less, in 1922 she did get a job playing the violin in a pit orchestra for silent films at a Berlin cinema – she was fired four weeks later!  But all was not lost and, by the end of 1922, the future began looking positive.

Watch out next week for the next part of Marlene’s life.