The Patriotic Artist

December 13, 2020

Written by Mustafa Ali

During the German Empire’s reign, a future actress was born days after Christmas in 1901, in Berlin. Marlene Dietrich’s mother was from a wealthy family, and her father was a police officer. She studied violin in her youth and was attracted to the theater and poetry as a young woman. Her early beginnings involved playing violin for silent films, singing in the choir, and playing small and vital parts in many German movies. Her role in musicals attracted attention to her talents. After massive success in a film called the Blue Angel, in which Marlene played a singer, she moved to the United States.

Through her connection with director Josef von Sternberg, she starred in six films under his direction. She cultivated her image as a glamorous actress, using her musical talent often to star in movies that were somewhat provocative for her era. After starring in other films that proved to be a commercial success, she becomes one of the best-paid actresses of her time. However, she later declined in her popularity and was placed at the 126th rank in the box office.

At this time, the Nazi Party approached her while she was in London and offered her lucrative deals in return that she agrees to return to Germany as a film star, boosting the Third Reich image. Marlene declined and applied for US citizenship. She used her resources to create a fund that helped Jews and other dissidents to escape Nazi Germany. Marlene used her entire salary from one of her movies, “Knight Without Armor,” to put it in the fund. After renouncing her citizenship, she helped sell war bonds, succeeding at it than any other celebrity. Marlene performed to allied troops through the war in Algeria, Italy, UK, France, Netherlands, and Germany. She played a critical role in assisting the Office of Strategic Services (known today as the Central Intelligence Agency) to record and broadcast her music in German to be used as propaganda against enemy soldiers. For her actions during the war, she received the Medal of Freedom for entertaining the troops and was also awarded Légion d’Honneur by the French government for her contributions. The tours that she went on often resulted in her being put in difficult and dangerous environments. There were reported instances where Marlene was working on the front lines of the war. She adapted to those environments and was found sleeping in tents and giving performances without power.

Marlene is one of the icons of Hollywood cinema. However, she is also an example of a musically talented celebrity who put their fame and skill into good. Not only did she entertain Allied troops, but she saved many lives by financing their escape from the fascist regime. And while she continued to have financial success in her musicals and films, she suffered from her contribution to the war effort. Her visit to West Germany in 1960 was met with negative press, hostility by nationalistic Germans who felt she was a traitor, two bomb threats, and protests chanting “Marlene Go Home!”. Her visit and tour in Germany were not successful financially, and she felt drained by the attitude she met there. When her career ended in show business, she continued to be politically active and in contact with many world leaders, attempting to exert whatever influence she had to advance positive change.


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