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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Marlene  Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich 1901to –1992

German-born Hollywood actress and singer, with a career that spanned from silent cinema to the studio system to the stage. Her breakthrough role was Lola Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s silent film Blue Angel, which created the exotic and glamorous femme fatale persona with which she would be associated. Its success allowed her to move to Hollywood, where she signed with Paramount Pictures and made a quick succession of films, mostly in collaboration with Sternberg. Their first American film, Morocco, had the very memorable scene of Dietrich singing in a tuxedo and top hat, and then kissing a woman on the lips. The scene caused a stir, but was nothing new to Dietrich, who had often enjoyed crossdressing, gay balls, boxing, and other nonconformities during her time in permissive 1920s Berlin. She was openly bisexual, though kept it out of the public eye, and had numerous affairs with both men and women—often married ones. (She herself was married, with a daughter.) She sometimes referred to her female lovers as her “sewing circle," while her male lovers were her “alumni association.” She listed Cary Grant, John F. Kennedy, and Frank Sinatra among her many conquests, and there were rumors about her relationships with Greta Garbo and Edith Piaf. When her career began to slump, she revived it by playing an against-type saloon girl in 1939's Destry Rides Again, and recorded a hit song from the film. She continued to appear in well-regarded films through the 40s and into the 50s, but her focus shifted to politics during WWII. After Nazis had solicited her to return to Berlin, she renounced her German citizenship, helped Jews and others flee the country, sold American war bonds, and performed on the front lines. She spent the latter part of her career as a cabaret singer, performing numbers in her signature top hat and tails, and enjoying an active and varied sex life well into her 70s.