Greg Poppleton

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09 April 2024

(Until 09 April)

Marlene Dietrich – Singer and Activist – Phantom Dancer

Greg Poppleton's Phantom Dancer swing jazz radio show

Marie Magdalene “Marlene” Dietrich was a German and American actress and singer whose career spanned from the 1910s to the 1980s. She was known for her humanitarian efforts during World War II, housing German and French exiles, providing financial support and even advocating their American citizenship. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Dietrich the ninth greatest female screen legend of classic Hollywood cinema. She is your Phantom Dancer feature artist this week.

The Phantom Dancer is your weekly non-stop mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio and TV every week.

LISTEN to this week’s Phantom Dancer mix (online after 2pm AEST, Tuesday 9 April) and weeks of Phantom Dancer mixes online at, at https://2ser.com/phantom-dancer/

MARLENE

In 1920s Berlin, Marlene Dietrich performed on stage and in silent films. Her breakthroigh role as Lola Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930) brought her international acclaim and a contract with Paramount Pictures.

She starred in six iconic Hollywood films directed by Sternberg: Morocco (1930) (her only Academy Award nomination), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express and Blonde Venus (both 1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), The Devil Is a Woman (1935).

Marlene Dietrich became one of the era’s highest-paid actresses.

Throughout World War II, she was a high-profile entertainer in the United States. Although she delivered notable performances in several post-war films, including Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948), Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950), Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958), and Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), she spent most of the 1950s to the 1970s touring the world as a marquee live-show performer.

The earliest professional stage appearances by Dietrich were as a chorus girl on tour with Guido Thielscher’s Girl-Kabarett vaudeville-style entertainments and in Rudolf Nelson revues in Berlin.

In 1922, Dietrich auditioned unsuccessfully for theatrical director and impresario Max Reinhardt’s drama academy. She soon found herself working in his theatres as a chorus girl and playing small roles in dramas.

Dietrich’s film debut was a small part in the film The Little Napoleon (1923).

She met her future husband Rudolf Sieber on the set of Tragedy of Love in 1923. Dietrich and Sieber were married in a civil ceremony in Berlin on 17 May 1923. Her only child, daughter Maria Elisabeth Sieber, was born on 13 December 1924.

Dietrich continued to work on stage and in film both in Berlin and Vienna throughout the 1920s.

On stage, she had roles of varying importance in Frank Wedekind’s Pandora’s Box, William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and George Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methuselah and Misalliance.

It was in musicals and revues such as Broadway, Es Liegt in der Luft, and Zwei Krawatten, however, that she attracted the most attention. By the late 1920s, Dietrich was also playing sizable parts on screen, including roles in Café Elektric (1927), I Kiss Your Hand, Madame (1928), and The Ship of Lost Souls (1929).

In 1929, Dietrich landed her breakthrough role of Lola Lola, a cabaret singer who caused the downfall of a hitherto respectable schoolmaster, played by Emil Jannings, in the UFA production of The Blue Angel (1930) shot at Babelsberg film studios.

Josef von Sternberg directed the film and thereafter took credit for having “discovered” Dietrich. The film introduced Dietrich’s signature song “Falling in Love Again”, which she recorded for Electrola. She made further recordings in the 1930s for Polydor and Decca Records.

1930s

In 1930, on the strength of The Blue Angel’s international success, and with encouragement and promotion from Josef von Sternberg, who was established in Hollywood, Dietrich moved to the United States under contract to Paramount Pictures, the U.S. film distributor of The Blue Angel.

The studio sought to market Dietrich as a German answer to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Swedish-born star Greta Garbo. Sternberg welcomed her with gifts, including a green Rolls-Royce Phantom II. The car later appeared in their first U.S. film Morocco.

The collaboration of one actress and director creating seven films is still unmatched in motion pictures, with the possible exception of Katharine Hepburn and George Cukor, who made ten films together over a much longer period but which were not created for Hepburn the way the last six von Sternberg/Dietrich collaborations were.

Dietrich’s first film after the end of her partnership with von Sternberg was Frank Borzage’s Desire (1936) with Gary Cooper, a commercial success that gave Dietrich an opportunity to try her hand at romantic comedy. Her next project, I Loved a Soldier (1936), ended in shambles when the film was scrapped several weeks into production due to script problems, scheduling confusion and the studio’s decision to fire the producer Ernst Lubitsch.

Extravagant offers lured Dietrich away from Paramount to make her first color film The Garden of Allah (1936) for independent producer David O. Selznick, for which she received $200,000, and to Britain for Alexander Korda’s production, Knight Without Armour (1937), at a salary of $450,000, which made her one of the best paid film stars of the time.

While both films performed decently at the box office, her vehicles were costly to produce and her public popularity had declined. By this time, Dietrich placed 126th in box office rankings, and American film exhibitors proclaimed her “box office poison” in May 1938, a distinction she shared with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Mae West, Katharine Hepburn, Norma Shearer, Dolores del Río, and Fred Astaire among others.

While in London, Dietrich later said in interviews, she was approached by Nazi Party officials and offered lucrative contracts, should she agree to return to be a foremost film star in Nazi Germany. She refused their offers and applied for U.S. citizenship in 1937. She returned to Paramount to make Angel (1937), another romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch; the film was poorly received, leading Paramount to buy out the remainder of Dietrich’s contract.

Dietrich, with encouragement from Josef von Sternberg, accepted producer Joe Pasternak’s offer to play against type in her first film in two years: that of the cowboy saloon girl, Frenchie, in the western-comedy Destry Rides Again (1939), with James Stewart. This was a significantly less well paid role than she had been accustomed to.

The bawdy role revived her career and “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have”, a song she introduced in the film, became a hit when she recorded it for Decca. She played similar types in Seven Sinners (1940) and The Spoilers (1942), both with John Wayne.

Dietrich was known to have strong political convictions and the mind to speak them. In the late 1930s, Dietrich created a fund with Billy Wilder and several other exiles to help Jews and dissidents escape from Germany.

In 1937, her entire salary for Knight Without Armor ($450,000) was put into escrow to help the refugees.

In 1939, she became an American citizen and renounced her German citizenship.

1940s

In December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and Dietrich became one of the first public figures to help sell war bonds. She toured the U.S. from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before 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 USO in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, the UK, France and Heerlen in the Netherlands, then entered Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton.

When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometers of German lines, she replied, “aus Anstand”—”out of decency”.

Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Dwight 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 taught to her by Igo Sym that she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s) and a “mindreading” act that her friend Orson Welles had taught her for his Mercury Wonder Show.

Dietrich 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 Dietrich’s act.

In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project, musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Dietrich, the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use, recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including “Lili Marleen”, a favorite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Major General William J. Donovan, head of the OSS, wrote to Dietrich, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for us.”

At the war’s end in Europe, Dietrich reunited with her sister Elisabeth and her sister’s husband and son. They had resided in the German village of Belsen throughout the war years, running a cinema frequented by Nazi officers and officials who oversaw the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dietrich’s mother remained in Berlin during the war; her husband moved to a ranch in the San Fernando Valley of California. Dietrich vouched for her sister and her sister’s husband, sheltering them from possible prosecution as Nazi collaborators. However, Dietrich later omitted the existence of her sister and her sister’s son from all accounts of her life, completely disowning them and claiming to be an only child.

Dietrich received the Medal of Freedom in November 1947, for her “extraordinary record entertaining troops overseas during the war”. She said this was her proudest accomplishment. She was also awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French government for her wartime work.

1950s – 70s

From the early 1950s until the mid-1970s, Dietrich worked almost exclusively as a cabaret artist, performing live in large theatres in major cities worldwide.

In 1953, Dietrich was offered $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. The show was short, consisting only of a few songs associated with her. Her daringly sheer “nude dress”—a heavily beaded evening gown of silk soufflé, which gave the illusion of transparency—designed by Jean Louis, attracted a lot of publicity. This engagement was so successful that she was signed to appear at the Café de Paris in London the following year; her Las Vegas contracts were also renewed.

Dietrich 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 Dietrich’s limited vocal range — she was a contralto — and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect. Together, they recorded four albums and several singles between 1957 and 1964. In a TV interview in 1971, she credited Bacharach with giving her the “inspiration” to perform during those years.

Dietrich’s return to West Germany in 1960 for a concert tour received a mixed reception—despite a consistently negative press, vociferous protest by Germans who felt she had betrayed her homeland, and two bomb threats, her performance attracted huge crowds. During her performances at Berlin’s Titania Palast theatre, protesters chanted, “Marlene Go Home!”

On the other hand, Dietrich was warmly welcomed by other Germans, including Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, who was, like Dietrich, an opponent of the Nazis who had lived in exile during their rule.

The tour was an artistic triumph, but a financial failure. She was left emotionally drained by the hostility she encountered, and she left convinced never to visit again.

East Germany, however, received her well. She also undertook a tour of Israel around the same time, which was well-received; she sang some songs in German during her concerts, including, from 1962, a German version of Pete Seeger’s anti-war anthem “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, thus breaking the unofficial taboo against the use of German in Israel.

She would become the first woman and German to receive the Israeli Medallion of Valor in 1965, “in recognition for her courageous adherence to principle and consistent record of friendship for the Jewish people”. Dietrich in London, a concert album, was recorded during the run of her 1964 engagement at the Queen’s Theatre.

She performed on Broadway twice (in 1967 and 1968) and received a Special Tony Award in 1968. In November 1972, I Wish You Love, a version of Dietrich’s Broadway show titled An Evening with Marlene Dietrich, was filmed in London. She was paid $250,000 for her cooperation but was unhappy with the result. The show was broadcast in the UK on the BBC and in the U.S. on CBS in January 1973.

Dietrich continued with a busy performance schedule until September 1975. When Clive Hirschhorn asked her why she continued to perform, she said, “Do you think this is glamorous? That this is a great life, and that I do it for my health? Well, it isn’t. It’s hard work. And who would work if they didn’t have to?”

In her 60s and 70s, Dietrich’s health declined: she survived cervical cancer in 1965 and suffered from poor circulation in her legs. Dietrich became increasingly dependent on painkillers and alcohol. A stage fall at the Shady Grove Music Fair in Maryland in 1973 injured her left thigh, necessitating skin grafts to allow the wound to heal. She fractured her right leg in August 1974.

Dietrich’s show business career largely ended on 29 September 1975, when she fell on the stage and broke a thigh bone during a performance in Sydney, Australia.

POST-CAREER

The following year, her husband, Rudolf Sieber, died of cancer on 24 June 1976. Dietrich’s final on-camera film appearance was a brief appearance in Just a Gigolo (1978), starring David Bowie and directed by David Hemmings, in which she sang the title song.

Dietrich withdrew to her apartment at 12 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. She spent the final 13 years of her life mostly bedridden, allowing only a select few—including family and employees—to enter the apartment. During this time, she was a prolific letter-writer and phone-caller. Her autobiography Nehmt nur mein Leben (Take Just My Life), was published in 1979.

In 1982, Dietrich agreed to participate in a documentary film about her life, Marlene (1984), but refused to be filmed. The film’s director, Maximilian Schell, was allowed only to record her voice. Schell used his interviews with her as the basis for the film, set to a collage of film clips from her career. The film won several European film prizes and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary in 1984. Newsweek named it “a unique film, perhaps the most fascinating and affecting documentary ever made about a great movie star”.

In 1988, Dietrich recorded spoken introductions to songs for a nostalgia album by Udo Lindenberg.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2005, Dietrich’s daughter and grandson said Dietrich was politically active during these years.

She kept in contact with world leaders by telephone, including Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Margaret Thatcher, running up a monthly bill of over US$3,000.

In 1990, her appeal to save the Babelsberg Studios from closure was broadcast on BBC Radio. She had spoken on television via telephone on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous year.

In spring 1990, she spoke on French forces radio station addressing her fellow Berliners in Germany about her then most recent conversation with French president Mitterrand regarding his promise to her that Berlin would be the capital city of a united Germany later on—at that point in time, a quite appealing but non-official French presidential statement.

Her picture was used in the Cannes Film Festival poster the year she died, pasted up all over Paris.

9 April PLAY LIST

Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney
LISTEN ONLINE
Community Radio Network Show CRN #648

107.3 2SER Tuesday 9 April 2024
12:04 – 2:00pm (+10 hours GMT)
National Program
5UV Adelaide Monday 2:30 – 3:30am
5GTR Mt Gambier Monday 2:30 – 3:30am
3MBR Murrayville Monday 3 – 4am
4NAG Keppel FM Monday 3 – 4am
2MIA Griffith Monday 3 – 4am
2BAR Edge FM Bega Monday 3 – 4am
2BRW Braidwood Monday 3 – 4am
2YYY Young Monday 3 – 4am
7RPH Hobart Monday 3 – 4pm
3VKV Alpine Radio Monday 6 – 7pm
7MID Oatlands Monday 3am – 4 and 6 -7pm
2MCE Bathurst Wednesday 9 – 10am
1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Friday 10 – 11am
and Sunday 11pm
Reading Radio (QLD) Friday 1am – 2
2RRR Ryde Friday 11am – 12
2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm
5LCM Lofty FM Adelaide Friday 1 – 2pm
6GME Radio Goolarri Broome Saturday 4am – 5am
Denmark FM (West Australia) Saturday 10 – 11am
Repeat: Wednesdays 10 – 11pm
7LTN Launceston Sunday 5 – 6am
3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am
3BBR West Gippsland Sunday 5 – 6pm
2SEA Sapphire Coast Eden Sunday 9 – 10pm

Set 1
World Music
Open + Skyliner
Charlie Barnet Orchestra
‘International Music Man’
AFRS Hollywood
1953
Rum Joe
Blind Blake
‘International Music Man’
AFRS Hollywood
1953
All The Time and Everywhere + CloseDickie Valentine
‘International Music Man’
AFRS Hollywood
1953
Set 2
Sammy Kaye
Kaye’s Melody (theme) + Dixie
Sammy Kaye Orchestra
‘Sammy Kaye’s Serenade’
AFRS re-broadcast
1952
Interview
Karen Chandler
‘Sammy Kaye’s Serenade’
AFRS re-broadcast
1952
Madonna
Karen Chandler

‘Sammy Kaye’s Serenade’
AFRS re-broadcast
1952
Say It Isn’t So + Kaye’s Melody (theme)
Sammy Kaye Orchestra (voc) Tony Alama and Laura Leslie

‘Sammy Kaye’s Serenade’
AFRS re-broadcast
1952
Set 3
Marlene Dietrich
Open + Go See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have
Marlene Dietrich
‘Command Performance USA’
AFRS Hollywood
9 Sep 1943
Wo ist der Mann?
Marlene Dietrich
Comm Rec
Paris
Jul 1933
Es liegt in der Luft
Marlene Dietrich
Comm Rec
Berlin
May 1928
Open + You’ve Got That Look + Close
Marlene Dietrich
‘Command Performance USA
National Association of Broadcasters-AFRS Hollywood
13 May 1942
+
‘Command Performance USA’
AFRS Hollywood
9 Sep 1943
Set 4
Billy Bishop
Open + Song of India
Billy Bishop Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’
Trianon Ballroom
Chicago
AFRS Re-broadcast
23 Feb 1945
I Didn’t Know About You
Billy Bishop Orchestra (voc) Alice Mann
‘One Night Stand’
Trianon Ballroom
Chicago
AFRS Re-broadcast
23 Feb 1945
Memories + Am O Blue? + Pagan Love Song + Louise
Billy Bishop Orchestra (voc) Billy Bishop
‘One Night Stand’
Trianon Ballroom
Chicago
AFRS Re-broadcast
23 Feb 1945
Canadian Capers
Billy Bishop Orchestra (piano) Billy Bishop
‘One Night Stand’
Trianon Ballroom
Chicago
AFRS Re-broadcast
23 Feb 1945
Set 5
Duke Ellington 1920s-30s Sides
Jubilee Stomp
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Comm Rec
26 Mar 1928
Merry Go Round
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Comm Rec
15 Feb 1933
Yellow Dog Blues
Duke Ellington Orchestra (voc) Adelaide Hall
Comm Rec
5 Jun 1928
Harlem Speaks
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Comm Rec
13 Jul 1933
Set 6
Harry James
Cirribirribin (theme) + Maybe
Harry James Orchestra (voc) Dick Haymes
Aircheck
Chatterbox
Mountainside NJ
Apr 1940
Concerto for Trumpet
Harry James Orchestra
Aircheck
Chatterbox
Mountainside NJ
Apr 1940
Tangerine
Harry James Orchestra (voc) Johnny McAfee
Hotel Astor Roof
WABC CBS NYC
28 Aug 1942
Feet Draggin’ Blues + Close
Harry James Orchestra
Hotel Astor Roof
WABC CBS NYC
28 Aug 1942
Set 7
Dorsey Brothers Orchestra
I’m Getting Sentimental Over You (theme) + Song of India
Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra
Cafe Rouge
Hotel Statler WRCA NBC NY 1956
Sunny Side of the Street
Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra (voc) Lynn Roberts
Cafe Rouge
Hotel Statler WRCA NBC NY 1956
I Could Have Danced All Night
Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra (voc) Dolly Houston
Cafe Rouge
Hotel Statler WRCA NBC NY 1956
On the Street Where You Live
Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra (voc) Tommy Mercer
Cafe Rouge
Hotel Statler WRCA NBC NY 1956
Set 8
Charlie Parker and Miles Davis
Hot HouseMiles Davis (tpt); Charlie Parker (as); Al Haig (p); Tommy Potter (b); Max Roach (d); Art Ford (ann)‘Sunday Afternoon Symphony Sid Bop Concert’
Royal Roost
WMCA NYC
12 Dec 1948
Salt PeanutsMiles Davis (tpt); Charlie Parker (as); Al Haig (p); Tommy Potter (b); Max Roach (d); Art Ford (ann)
‘Sunday Afternoon Symphony Sid Bop Concert’
Royal Roost
WMCA NYC
12 Dec 1948
All Gigs
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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