Los Angeles Times
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Marlene Dietrich was a seductive actress and entertainer whose sultry, distinctive face graced motion picture screens during Hollywood's two most glamorous decades.
Although she brought a depth of character to her final film roles, through the 1930s and '40s she was always the classic femme fatale. She became one by being a student and devotee of stardom from the first days of her discovery in Berlin in 1929 by Josef von Sternberg, who cast her as a cruel-hearted temptress in "The Blue Angel."
While early Hollywood stars such as Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford played virtuous and often victimized child-women, Dietrich brought a worldly sexuality, with a hint of decadence, to the screen. Instead of victims, her characters tended to be predators, indifferent and aloof.
She was also a trendsetter. Before Dietrich came to Hollywood, dramatic actresses kept their legs covered. After she appeared in "Morocco" wearing a black leotard and feather boa, that quickly changed. Although she was considered by many to have the finest legs in Hollywood, she conversely also was credited with popularizing slacks for women.
By 1936 she had become the highest-salaried woman in the world, and David O. Selznick paid her $200,000 for "The Garden of Allah." But her movies, in their sameness, had grown less and less successful, and soon afterward independent motion picture exhibitors put her on their "box-office poison" list along with Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis.
In the 1950s she again renewed her star image by launching a series of one-woman shows, concert and cabaret appearances. More than 20 years later she still drew enthusiastic crowds as she stood in an ermine coat, a tight-fitting spangled gown or her masculine tuxedo, singing the songs that now had become her signature—"Falling in Love Again," "Lola" and "Lili Marlene." She last appeared on stage in 1975.
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