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What's New on the Rialto

Falling in love again...can't help it

"I must say farewell because now it's over. This was my last concert. I would like to tell you that I'm crying because I admire you so much. I admired your courage during the war. I love you, good-bye!" And then, Marlene Dietrich, the legend, walked off stage for the final time, never to appear in public again.

Marlene, a play with music by Pam Gems, is now in previews and opens April 11.

Sian Phillips (photo) stars as the famous chanteuse. The world, and a whole new generation, will now get to re-discover the incomparable Dietrich. That curtain speech was given over 25 years ago in 1974 after a career which spanned 50 years beginning in silent films.

Marlene Dietrich was born into a German aristocratic family in Berlin. Her father died when she was just a child, but because of the wealth her mother was able to afford the best schools for education. After completing her education she auditioned for silent films and landed some walk-on parts. She later conceded that these films were all kitsch or rubbish and that her film career really took off in The Blue Angel where she sang her now legendary signature song "Falling In Love Again."

With a blossoming film career in the 1930's Marlene decided to leave Germany and she would be called a traitor for doing so. Hitler had come to power and Marlene made a moral decision. "We knew about the concentration camps. Children being gassed etc. We knew all about that. So it wasn't difficult to decide."

And to infuriate the German people even more, their film star joined the United States Army and went on tour entertaining American troops on the front. Hollywood beckoned and Dietrich became a star again. Perhaps her most famous film is "Destry Rides Again" opposite Jimmy Stewart where she sang "Just see what the boys in the back room will have." But there were many others, most notably her powerful performance in Judgement At Nuremburg and her brilliant performance in Witness For The Prosecution where she was robbed of an Oscar nomination. Willie Wyler, the film's director, did not want her nominated as the publicity may have given away the film's secret plot which was that Dietrich was playing dual roles.

Marlene was a beautiful woman and her early film roles projected a certain eroticism, an eroticism she would deny. "I was only being snotty" is how she described her allure. Whatever it was, it was certainly box office. She sang in many of her films, but Dietrich didn't possess a great voice. It was in the lower register and really not a big range. Yet, she had that indescribable quality that makes one a star and, as a result, she knew how to sell a song. Just listening to "Lili Marlene" one shivers while eyes mist.

In the 1960's, after a long film career, Marlene teamed up with Burt Bacharach and toured the world in concert to cheering crowds. They eventually ended up in Berlin where there were bomb threats at the theater and picketers out front with "Marlene Go Home" signs. The Germans were still angry at their traitor, but like lovers after a spat, they made up and eventually the German people embraced their Marlene.

After the final concert Marlene lived the life of a recluse in Paris. She was fiercely protective of her private life even to the point of denying to the press the fact that she had a sister. In 1975 she made a final film, Just A Gigolo, where in a cameo appearance she acted the part in a wheel chair with a veil over her face. The glamour was gone and so was the radiant beauty. Old age had begun to set in.

She agreed to do a documentary film with Maximillian Schell in 1984 provided that she and her possessions would not be filmed on camera. As difficult a task as it was, the film was very successful in showing the legend.

Her final days were spent answering letters, signing autographs for fans and reading. Marlene was a voracious reader who read many newspapers and books. One thing she never did was look at her old films. "Take The Blue Angel for instance. Everyone's sick of it, aren't they? I really can't stand it anymore. 'Falling in Love Again'... I mean, really! It's ridiculous." Perhaps, as Schell's film pointed out, by a crewmember, "There is no greater pain than looking at past happiness."

Marlene Dietrich died in her sleep on May 6, 1992 at the age of 90.

Pam Gem's play with music, Marlene, opens April 11 at the Cort Theatre. Sian Phillips was nominated for an Olivier Award for this performance in London. Isn't it time that we were all "Falling in Love Again?"

I mean, really!

See you Sunday!

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