Queer Ladies in Hollywood: Vintage Edition #1
Marlene Dietrich’s career spanned over 60 years in Germany and Hollywood, in film and on the stage. She was an actress best known for films such as Blue Angel, Shanghai Express, a songstress known for serenading the troops, and praised for wearing a tuxedo extremely well. Dietrich was cool, sexy, and lusted after the ladies and the gents in her films. Her most notorious moments included her seduction of a young Gary Cooper and sharing a kiss with a mysterious lady in the 1930 film Morocco, two years before the enforcement of the Hays Code (which specifically forbade the portrayal of “sex perversion or any inference of it,” [read: homosexuality] in movies).
Over time, after the height of her career, more personal information regarding Dietrich’s sexuality has come to light. While married to her husband Rudolf, Dietrich had affairs with many men and women, including actor Gary Cooper and playwright Mercedes de Acosta. Although Dietrich’s open sexuality was known in Hollywood at the time, her career remained strong and unaffected by the talk.
During the early days of the Hays Code, Dietrich continued to be a enormously successful actress for Paramount Pictures. However, this streak of popularity ended in 1936 when the actress was dubbed “box office poison” after starring in a number of box office flops. Dietrich bounced back in the later half of her career gaining a new audience through her Cabaret act which toured internationally. She eventually retired in 1981, becoming a social recluse. She agreed to participated in the making of a documentary about her life, but refused to be filmed.
Perhaps this is due to her want to keep her private life out of the public. It is difficult to say how Dietrich identified her sexuality, especially as the language of the time was not so vast or precise as it is today. She is often labelled as bisexual, a classification many derive from reviewing a list of her sexual partners. Some consider Dietrich openly sexual, as a woman who was attracted to individuals rather than specific genders. The woman wore the clothing that she liked and slept with the people that she wanted to and didn’t care about the consequences. Marlene was simply Marlene.
Written by MK McFadden and Scarlett North-Cavanaugh
We’ll be posting entries for our “Queer Ladies in Hollywood: Vintage Edition” all month.