Dec 29, 2022

Review: A trio of fascinating books about Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich 
2022 (originally published 1989) 

Marlene Dietrich: Photographs and Memories Compiled by Jean-Jacques Naudet 
Captions by Maria Riva 
with Werner Sudendorf 

Marlene Dietrich’s ABC’s: Wit, Wisdom, and Recipes 
Marlene Dietrich 
Updated Edition 2022 (originally published 1961)  

All from University Press of Kentucky 

It took me a while to decide what I had to say about the University Press of Kentucky’s release of a trio of books about Marlene Dietrich this year, one new, the others reissues. I got a bit hung up on finding the truth of the woman in these publications, when what I truly loved about them was that they communicated her essence, which simply put is what gave her star power. Together, they tell a varied story about a complex woman, revealing different facets about the always vocal star. 
For a more complete story, I suggest reading Maria Riva’s memoir of her mother, but these three books are each essential in their own way. 

As with any memoir, Marlene by Marlene Dietrich tells what the actress was willing to tell, embellished by how she would like to be. She writes in a dramatic, almost poetic fashion, which is similar in style to the song introductions she made when she toured as a singer later in life. 

Dietrich goes into detail about her childhood, her rise to fame, and seems to have been especially affected by her service as an entertainer for the troops during World War II. It's an interesting read and as a story of her life it presents her essence well. I think the truth can be pretty well divined in reading this and Riva’s memoir, but the point of the book is how fascinating it and its author can be.

Marlene Dietrich: Photographs and Memories
is the new release of the bunch. It’s a gorgeous tribute to her aesthetic, which was a unique combination of the elegantly feminine and dapper masculine. An introduction provides context for the images to follow, and captions by Maria Riva lend a richness to the images, which consist of a healthy helping of classic Dietrich photos and color pics of several of her dresses and accessories. The garments are a marvel of style and construction and a visual treat for any fan of fashion.

I was most excited to finally read Marlene Dietrich’s ABC’s: Wit, Wisdom, and Recipes. This book is far more revealing than Dietrich’s memoir. It shows the actress was truly the devoted hausfrau she was rumored to be, deeply respectful of the workers who supported her in her craft, and generally kind at heart, though with a bit of vinegar she doesn’t always try to conceal. The extent of her enormous love for herself is rare to see even in a star; she knew her value and wasn’t afraid to speak about it. For that reason, this is an enormously entertaining book. 

While my excitement over finally reading the ABC’s gives that book an edge in my mind, I can’t say which of these publications I find most essential. Overall, it’s a matter of taste and what aspects of the star the reader finds most intriguing. The full picture here is that Dietrich worked in a profession of artifice but enjoyed a life with down-to-earth pursuits as much as the glamour, maybe even more so. Individually and combined, they present the legend well. 

Many thanks to University Press of Kentucky for providing copies of the books for review.

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