Marlene Dietrich (and David Bowie)
Marlene Dietrich (born today in 1901, died 1992) came to the U.S. too late to be in American vaudeville, but she performed in the German equivalent, the Berlin cabaret scene during the years of the Weimar Republic. Her show biz entree came as a violinist in a silent movie pit orchestra in 1922. Within a few months she had become a chorus girl in Guido Thielscher’s Girl-Kabarett and in Berlin revues produced by Rudolf Nelson. Throughout the 1920s she got increasingly large roles in revues, musicals and dramas, both on stage and screen.
Her breakout role was the iconic one, that of Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel (1930), directed by Josef von Sternberg (the film was the source of her signature song “Falling in Love Again). She then followed Sternberg out to Hollywood, where she starred in a number of hit films: Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), The Blonde Venus (1932) etc. By the second half of the 30s her star was on the wane but then she rebounded with Destry Rides Again (1939). She continued to expand her rage throughout the 40s and 50s, at the same time transitioning back to her original love, live performance. She retired in 1975 when she broke her hip (followed by the death of her husband the following year). She did emerge one last time however, to play a role in this German film Just a Gigolo with David Bowie in 1979:
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.