People often write or call asking how they can get more information about Dietrich, her life, career or just an autographed copy of a photograph. Some even ask for Dietrich’s autograph — something a little harder to accomplish (as an aside: We’re thinking of resurrecting her personal signature stamp since a gentle “no” is often taken as an affront). Some years ago, her daughter, Maria Riva, asked that we facilitate access for the thousands of fans to her memorabilia and archive, kept in storage over the decades. Marlene had often spoken of her need to sell it all off, dissipating its historic value.
Maria resisted this command and, eventually, we were able to secure a museum willing — and able — to safeguard this treasure for future generations: the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin which has grown into the FilmMuseum, Berlin. There remained the often posed questions and a need on our part to share with people all over the world the information, products and news surrounding this icon of the preeminent art form of the 20th century.
More common was a desire by many simply to keep the interest burning. The family has great respect for Dietrich’s talent and ability to create and sustain a unique image and persona over a sixty-plus year career. Silent pictures now restored, reveal that she had a very good idea of the power of her image even before von Sternberg and the heady early Paramount years. She worked on that image, perfected it, nurtured it, re-invented it as the years rolled by. Her later reclusive nature — misunderstood as vanity — was a direct result of her desire to control the image, protect the craft and sustain the creation of Marlene Dietrich.
A piece of gossip: At Paramount from 1932-1938, she was paid $2,000 a week, plus profits for two films a year. Translated into today’s dollars using New York real estate as a benchmark, she made $1.75 million a week or $91 million a year — plus profits. What she did not appreciate, perhaps, was the vast success of the indelible quality of that image. People copy it mercilessly, some with great talent (Madonna) — others a pale imitation, reduced to a life of mimicry.
Her videos sell in 60 countries, the recordings are re-mastered yearly and re-mixed into special editions, special perspectives of her unique vocal talent. Advertisers position product using her as status for excellence in their merchandise. TV channels devote festivals to her work. Today, tens of millions of dollars of annual turnover results from the talent and work she devoted her whole life to.
So, we decided to create this net site, partially to facilitate a flow of information when it occurs — an electronic newsletter — but also to start a long overdue News section. And it’s a two way street. We also want to hear from people who will, no doubt, have information and memorabilia that the museum in Berlin — and her subsidiaries — will need to know about. We’re working to keep the channels open, help the museum’s activities, promote the exhibits already traveling and remind people of Dietrich’s professional excellence. We hope this net site will be a constructive first step. From time to time the family may well contribute. Certainly any mail addressed to them will be forwarded on, but there is no promise of a reply. The family will try and get comments from book editors, film directors, friends and colleagues.
It should prove an exciting site. Enjoy