When I was a kid, I was obsessed with what came before.
Yes, I loved Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Dungeons & Dragons and other '80s phenomena, but I spent an inordinate amount of time watching all things black-and-white, including the films of everyone from Abbott & Costello to Marilyn Monroe to, of course, Marlene Dietrich.
Dietrich was particularly fascinating to me in that she had exquisite beauty, so visually was immediately easy to grasp across the decades, but also because there was a debate over her actual talent. Was she an actress, or a set piece? Both sides had their arguments, and Dietrich herself once proclaimed, "I am not an actress."
I have always been drawn to complicated icons.
My adoration for Dietrich was so well-known in college that a friend of mine once pranked me by sending me condolences, making me fear the long-lived institution had died. She had not, and would not until May of 1992, at age 90.
Now, my good friend, author Michael Gregg Michaud (whose 2010 bio Sal Mineo: A Biography is the definitive work on that actor), has compiled dozens of Dietrich's interviews into one tome, the new book Marlene Dietrich: Between the Covers (BearManor Media, $42 cloth/$32 trade paper). It is the first work that does not attempt to explain Dietrich, but rather gathers as many of her own words as possible in an effort to let her explain herself.
Included in the book are quotes from such fan magazines as Photoplay, Movie Story, Silver Screen and Motion Picture, carefully selected to avoid any quotes that may have been generated by editors.
In the interviews, she talks about her career and life, perhaps accidentally sketching a portrait of the real woman behind the facade.
Sample piece: Marlene explaining why she wore men's clothes, circa 1933:
"The public is always getting excited over something, anyway. First, I covered my legs, and people were excited over that. Now I cover my legs, and that excites them, too ... I am sincere in my preference for men's clothes — I do not wear them to be sensational ... I think I am much more alluring in these clothes."
And she was.
At over 500 pages, Marlene Dietrich: Between the Covers is a great value. It even comes with her recipe for Bee's Nest Cake, just one more flame for all the moths.