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carole lombard 06

Marlene: Isn't she ironic, doncha think?

Posted by vp19 on 2011.04.23 at 05:43
Current mood: enthralledenthralled

Carole Lombard and Marlene Dietrich, shown with Cary Grant and Richard Barthelmess at Carole's famed party at the Venice pier in June 1935, were studiomates at Paramount for several years. While they were hardly at each other's throats, the relationship was occasionally rocky.

In the Dietrich biography by her daughter, Maria Riva, she described Lombard as one of Dietrich's "pet hates." It apparently stemmed from a time in the early 1930s where Carole -- still seeking a distinctive "look" -- briefly tried to appear as an Americanized version of Marlene. Compare Dietrich and Lombard in these Paramount portraits from 1931:

One can understand why Marlene was briefly peeved...and we emphasize briefly. Apparently later in the decade, the bisexual Dietrich erroneously believed she could recruit Carole into her army of bed partners (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/346936.html). And since Marlene always valued potential conquests for both body and soul, there must have been something about Lombard that she liked.

When Paramount imported Dietrich from Germany in 1930, it aimed to make her its answer to MGM icon Greta Garbo, failing to realize Marlene was an entirely different animal. Whereas Garbo immersed herself in her characters, transmitting her subtle passion to the film audience, Dietrich had a detached air about her; in fact, at the time, some viewed her as a Garbo with humor. (It wouldn't be until "Ninotchka" in 1939 that "Garbo" and "humor" would be synonymous.)

In his excellent book on pre-Code female roles, "Complicated Women," Mick LaSalle says this about Marlene: "She doesn't take herself seriously. She doesn't take her movies seriously. She is smarter than everyone in her films, and her attitude assumes that the audience is smart enough to be in on the joke -- even if there is no joke."

On the surface, that sounds like Groucho Marx breaking the fourth wall to the audience. But Dietrich's detachment is altogether different. As LaSalle further writes, "Watching Dietrich today it's no wonder that she lost most of her audience in the irony-impaired thirties. It's also no wonder why her contribution came to be sometimes overestimated in the irony-drenched second half of the twentieth century."

So you could argue Marlene not only paved the way for Madonna (and Lady Gaga, who's more or less Madonna 2.0), but Alanis Morrisette as well.

Dietrich may be an enigma who zealously guarded her image, but once you get beyond that there's much to admire about her. She was a talented singer who won wows for her musical performances from the 1950s to the '70s, stood up to Hitler and Nazism from the start, then performed for and gave comfort to Allied troops during World War II.

I bring this all up because I've recently discovered a wonderful site about Dietrich, http://lastgoddess.blogspot.com, with numerous entries on Marlene, her life and times. It's described this way:

"Almost two decades after her death, Marlene Dietrich survives as an archetypal celebrity in pop culture and academia. Through this blog, my co-bloggers and I report on what we consider the most fascinating online tidbits related to Dietrich. Since news is slow, I'd like to expand postings to include a wider array of topics that are nowadays associated with Dietrich. In that case, some things less will do!" If you're a Dietrich devotee -- and most fans of classic Hollywood fit that description -- by all means, go check it out.

We'll close with another pic from that '35 party; this one features Lombard and Dietrich with Lili Damita and husband Errol Flynn.


Donna Bambina
mo_chiusle at 2011-04-23 10:43 (UTC) (Link)
Oh those crazy eyebrows...
lastgoddess.blogspot.com at 2011-04-23 19:04 (UTC) (Link)

Thanks for the plug!

Your blog really is a valuable resource, so I'm happy to link to it. I do recommend that you skim through Maria Riva's biography on Marlene Dietrich some time because Carole Lombard's name comes up a bit. In fact, I do remember that Lombard's passing is mentioned. The edition I read unfortunately doesn't have a helpful index, but subsequent editions may.
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