FUN IN A CHINESE LAUNDRY by Josef von Sternberg


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Josef von Sternberg is usually confused with Erich von Stroheim. Lately he's been rediscovered by some of the younger members of the French New Wave. His one solid achievement is The Blue Angel, which gave him his sobriquet ""Svengali Joe."" This is how he initially describes the star of that film: ""No puppet in the history of the world has been submitted to as much manipulation as a leading lady of mine...."" He is of course referring to Marlene Dietrich. How he changed her from an introverted, indifferent performer into the legendary beauty we now know (""She is not,"" said Malraux, ""an actress in the sense that Bernhardt was one: she is a myth, like Phryne""), makes for one of the most fascinating interludes in a corrosively witty, frank and rather out rageous memoir. His descriptions of Hollywood during the '20's and '30's bristle with the quotable: ""The general system was for 20 men to make a film and for 20 more to remake it""; Louis B. Mayer ""brimming over with tears"" could ""convince an elephant that it was a kangaroo""; ""The history of a film studio is like the history of a guillotine: each head is followed in turn by the head that has arranged the previous decapitation."" Laughton, whom he unsuccessfully attempted to direct, would squirm like a woman in labor, never remember the dialogue and for inspiration fill the sound stage with the recording of the Duke of Windsor's abdication speech. There are other incidents equally bizarre. Dietrich worshiped von Sternberg, but almost everyone else hated him. His story is one of dirty deals, awesome neglect and a few triumphs. It should become a little classic in its field.

Pub Date: March 8th, 1965
Publisher: Macmillan