CA Lejeune, the Observer's first film critic, enjoys a very brief encounter with Marlene Dietrich

Christmas Miscellany 2010

Marlene Dietrich: A star is made, not born.

Marlene Dietrich: A star is made, not born.

My friend John Kilkelly from Ballina gave me this beautifully observed article on the difficulties endured by journalists and the film studios trying to placate a famous star.

Marlene Dietrich, beating Fred Astaire's record by a narrow margin, gave me a nonstop two-minute interview last week.

I had learned from the studio call-sheet earlier in the day that she was to be on set at Denham at 2pm for a costume test. At 4.45 precisely, she came, making her entrance on Alex Korda's arm, rather a tall woman, draped in brown furs, hatless, looking unreal and lovely. We rose to our feet like a congregation. Afterwards, I heard one man say to himself: “Why the hell did I do that?”

Miss Dietrich passed straight through the set and disappeared. We sat down again. Ten minutes later, I sought out Korda.

Alex, I said, I must see Dietrich.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“I, too,” he said. “But I cannot find her.”

“Let's hunt,” I said.

We looked in her dressing room, all pale wood, blue, glass-topped tables and pink satin cushions. We looked in [Elisabeth] Bergner's dressing room, on Walter Reisch's set. We tried, hopelessly, the canteen and the restaurant. When we got back to her dressing room she was there. Korda tapped at the door and called “Marlene” through the panels.

A lovely hand and bare arm were thrust round the door for someone to kiss. Korda, doing the honours, kissed it gallantly.

She came out in an evening gown of black tulle, trimmed with mauve ruffles; a white flower on her shoulder, a mauve flower in her hair.

Her eyes slid around the room, rested on me. She smiled just a little, offered me scarlet-tipped fingers.

“Come,” she said.

Then began a fantastic journey down the corridors to the stages. We were alone, the bodyguard half a pace behind us. I knew I had precisely two minutes.

“This picture,” I began. “Knight Without Armour: Do you begin work on it soon?”

“On Monday.”

“The ending is sad, isn't it?”


“You die?”


“You like it that way?”

“Yes. I like to die.”

We passed through a crowd of extras. We were getting near the set. I made one last attempt at a conversational opening.

“Miss Dietrich,” I said boldly. “Your one part in the book was a very small one. Has it been rewritten for the picture?”

She didn't bat an eyelid, but I felt the atmosphere become electric.

“It is still a small part. I like to play small parts. I prefer not to be on the screen the whole time.”

She swept through the soundproof doors on to the set. “Clear the stage!” someone yelled. “Lock the doors! Draw the screens! Here's Miss Dietrich.”

Three and a quarter hours late, the costume test began.

From The Observer, 13 September 1936 (12/9/10 ):

On the trail of the elusive Blue Angel. This is an edited extract.



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