BLUE ANGEL by Donald Spoto


The Life of Marlene Dietrich
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 Spoto's second book on Dietrich (Falling in Love Again, 1985- -not reviewed), minus the sexual fantasy and foot-slogging style that marred his recent Laurence Olivier (p. 42). Spoto captures well the high kitsch of the twilight of the German aristocracy into which Maria Madgelene Dietrich (1901-92) was born. Her mother drilled the spontaneously honest child never to show her feelings--the birth of the actress's famous mask of alluring remoteness. Ten years of violin lessons trained her for the musical side of her career (her violin teacher deflowered her, she told Billy Wilder) and for some of her funniest and even moving scenes under the direction of Josef von Sternberg, the Svengali who--in The Blue Angel--turned Dietrich into a goddess after many roles in drama school and German silents. The skill, emotional depth, and richness of the actress's finest work (Judgment at Nuremberg) were overshadowed by the sheer emission of star-power in such ``rapturously photographed'' early films as The Devil is a Woman--her own favorite picture--because she was then, Spoto points out, at her most beautiful. Dietrich married early and never divorced (though she remained parted from, if friendly with, her husband) and became a doting mother and grandmother. In private, she was nothing like the insolent indifference of her screen image, but was an intelligent, ambitious creature who was addicted to lengthy long-distance calls and who died a reclusive, wealthy alcoholic. Her lovers included Gary Cooper, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra--and on and on. Spoto's best biography--warm, well balanced, restrained. (B&w photos--75--not seen.)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-385-42553-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1992


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