Born in Berlin in December 1901, Dietrich was already an acclaimed film star when she emigrated to America in 1930 with a Paramount Pictures contract in her handbag. She went straight to Hollywood and into the big time, with leading-lady roles in the hit movies Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, The Scarlet Express and The Devil is a Woman, among others. Her director cultivated a femme fatale image for her, with an air of glamour and mystery. This image, combined with her exotic beauty, ‘come-to-bed eyes’ and swirling rumours about her sexual activities and preferences, made her the talk of Hollywood for decades, in a career that lasted into the 1970s.
Dietrich lived the Hollywood lifestyle to the full, but there was substance to her as well. She had strong political convictions and spurned a lucrative Nazi offer to return to Germany as a top film star. Instead, she made a major contribution to the American war effort and received the Medal of Freedom in 1947 for her efforts, along with numerous other awards. The French also recognised her, with the Legion of Honour. She moved into stage and cabaret work after WW2, including on Broadway – at very high contract rates – and toured, although at least one tour was a financial disaster. One of her final ‘appearances’ was in a documentary about her life, when she refused to be filmed but lent her voice to the production. She died in Paris on May 6, 1992.
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