Marlene

Marlene Dietrich Leaves Behind a Stunning Library With Over 2,000 Books

Marlene Dietrich, one of the most famous movie stars of the twentieth century, friend of Hemingway, supporter of Jewish refugees during World War II, was also a huge bookworm, seeking solace in literature over the final decade of her life. 

 

Dietrich was one of Hollywood’s first femme fatales, known for her work on films such as Blue Angel, Shanghai Express and The Devil Is a Woman, as well as her numerous affairs with men and women, and androgenous dress sense, in addition to her work with and for refugees fleeing Europe during World War II. In Berlin, several years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the film museum, Deutsche Kinemathek, and see their permanent Dietrich exhibition, which features her most iconic outfits and effects, including an engraved gift from her friend Ernest Hemingway, with whom she was said to have conducted a ‘cerebral affair’ over many years. Even though ‘cerebral affair’ seems like the type of term the likes of James Franco would love to employ, in this case I’ll allow it.

 

Last month, The New Yorker ran a feature on the 2,000 or so books found in Dietrich’s apartment after her death in 1992. Peter Riva, Dietrich’s grandson, was responsible for clearing her apartment, after which, the article says:

 

A portion of Dietrich’s collection was given to the Film Museum in Berlin, and some items—such as her personal copies of Mein Kampf and first editions of Cecil Beaton—were sold to private collectors. Many books donated to the American Library were simply marked with a bookplate and put into circulation. As of 2006, students could still check out Dietrich’s personal copy of The Collected Works of Shakespeare.

 

The article goes on to explain that Dietrich herself wrote poetry, with her daughter editing and publishing a volume entitled Nachtgedanken (Night Thoughts) in 2005.

 

She wrote often in her bed-bound later years, and her poetry addressed Ronald Reagan, aids, and the loss of the use of her famous legs. Her book collection includes Baudelaire, Rilke, and many inscribed books by the poet Alain Bosquet, who was born in Odessa and raised in Brussels, and whose wife, Norma, was Dietrich’s secretary from 1977 to 1992. Shortly after Dietrich died, Bosquet published a recollection of decades of phone conversations with her, titled Marlène Dietrich, une amour par telephone.

 

Dietrich was fond of annotating and personalizing the many, many books she read, leaving notebook pages slotted in volumes at key points, reminding herself ‘Don’t Forget!’ A particularly amusing instance of this is her note in a copy of Love Scene, the tale of Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh: “this is without a doubt the worst writing I ever laid eyes on.” I love this woman.

 

Image Via The New Yorker

Image Via The New Yorker

 

She had also annotated a letter from Hemingway to his wife Mary, in a copy of Hemingway’s Collected Letters. Dietrich met the famous author in 1934 aboard an ocean liner, and they subsequently entered into what is described as “a thirty-year, sexually charged correspondence,” ending with Hemingway’s death in 1961. Often Hemingway would send drafts of his work to Dietrich. Despite this prolonged contact, “their intimacy was, according to her grandson Peter Riva, ‘cerebral.’ Her personal German dictionary has only one underlined word—the term of endearment by which Hemingway addressed her in his letters: ‘kraut.'”

 

Image Via The New Yorker

Image Via The New Yorker

 

Image Via The New Yorker

Image Via The New Yorker

 

Even when housebound and incapacitated by addiction and the loss of the use of her legs, Dietrich read ferociously, all manner of literature, from potboilers to philosophy to biographies to novels, engaging and considering everything she read. 

 

If you were hitherto unfamiliar with Dietrich, I would recommend reading her Wikipedia page, watching her films and, if you happen to be in Berlin, stopping by the exhibition I mentioned earlier, as she was some woman.

 

Featured Image Via Metro