#278 Eau de Dietrich

Our featured photo is of her and Cesare Romano in “The Devil is a Woman” directed by Josef von Sternberg — her favorite film because it made her look “beautiful.”  You can watch it here and see if you agree.

Marlene Dietrich, a German femme fatale, is also a mutable hourglass. Like Joseph Haydn, she has a Virgo Ascendant, but her hourglass runs totally contrary to his.  While he has a singleton in the third quadrant of spirituality; she has nothing.  She was a professed atheist though born and raised Roman Catholic.  And where Haydn has plenty of planets in the first quadrant of intellectual endeavour, Ms. Dietrich is empty.

The bottom of her hourglass ends right on the the cusp of her Seventh House of Aquarius, with Venus standing tall.  Perhaps this gives added weight to her comment, supported by her daughter,  that she was bisexual.   This would not be notable except its part of the cutting pair (hourglasses are like scissors with two blades) and the only planet in the third quadrant.  The bottom part of the blade is Uranus, the ruler of Aquarius, in the fourth house of home affairs.

maria elisabeth
Maria Elisabeth Sieber Riva, Dietrich’s daughter
  • “As a child I thought my name was ‘Maria The-Daughter-Of’.”
  • I think I wanted to be a teacher, or something important. My mother didn’t force me into anything.
  • Most of my dear friends came from my mother’s lovers. I had a lot of strange fathers; some of them were women, some of them were men.

She married director Rudolf Sieber in 1923 and they had an open relationship, allowing each other lovers. With him, she had her one and only child  Maria Elisabeth who was also born in Berlin on December 13, 1924.  Miss Sieber was known professionally as Maria Riva.

Download her chart here: Marlena Dietrich,

Her planetary emphasis runs towards creativity and self-expression that she nurtured incessantly, almost narcissistically, reading her daughter’s accounts.  She was born to use them, she was a singer and actress,  for entertainment — she went on USO tours during World War II and raised War Bonds.  In 1992 when she was 92 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Pluto on the cusp of Gemini and Taurus bestowed a lovely voice and a curvaceous figure. Her Neptune (29.56 in mutable Gemini)  suggests she took great pains in protecting her assets and for her traveling was just a matter of course (those many planets in Sagittarius).

marlene_dietrich c 1938
marlene_dietrich c 1943

Her Line of Personality is conjunct (Saturn Jupiter)  in Capricorn) making her someone who was very much part of her times (1930s-1940s Hollywood) and a wise investor — she was known to be penurious and left her daughter a fortune.  Her Line of Vitality is also conjunct bestowing a long life.  She has no major aspect to either to her Lines of Efficiency, definitely not her thing, nor a Line of Culture, that in itself is rather interesting.


Marlene Dietrich’s natal chart progressed to her date of death.


The Times Obit…

“Marlene Dietrich is a professional,” Alfred Hitchcock once said. “She’s a professional actress, a professional ward rober, a professional lighting technician. . . .” Hitchcock knew his subject well, having directed her in “Stage Fright” (1950), in which she introduced one of her favorite cabaret songs, “The Laziest Girl in Town.” Dietrich was a professional just-about-everything.

Even before the British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, the incomparable Marlene understood the nature of time and used this knowledge to create a legend that, eventually, became as good as fact.

The stories from Paris reporting her death on May 6 said with journalistic authority that she was 90 years old, which is as ridiculous as the persistent rumors that she was once a little girl. Dietrich’s life spanned most of this century, and her active career, six decades; yet it’s not easily proven that at any point she was young. She certainly was never old.

Dietrich knew, if only intuitively, that when there is no beginning or end, the concept of time becomes meaningless. Thus her career has no easily defined start and nothing that, with certitude, can be called a finale. Her career seems to have accumulated in the collective conscious, as if it were some kind of force of nature that had always existed but only recently been identified.

Time gets turned upside down in any consideration of Dietrich. The German-made “Blue Angel,” her memorable first film for her mentor Josef von Sternberg, opened in New York in December 1930, one month after her second Sternberg collaboration, the equally memorable “Morocco,” which was her first Hollywood film. And both of these followed the release here of such early German productions as “Manon Lescaut” (1926) and “Three Loves” (1929), for which the anonymous New York Times critic cited her “rare Garbo-esque beauty.”

Dietrich didn’t burst onto the scene. She eased on, more or less the way she was to ease off, her final appearance being not an appearance at all but her quarrelsome off-screen voice in Maximilian Schell’s remarkable documentary, “Marlene” (1986). The voice is sometimes thick, but in it there is the tenacity of the woman who always was, and remains today, the keeper of her own flame.

Though her American career was launched as an attempt to cash in on the popularity of M-G-M’s Garbo, Dietrich went on to become a public personality who bore about as much relationship to Garbo as Mae West did to Dietrich. Her career tactics shifted through the years; the kind of movies she made became more varied, though the singular Dietrich persona was only enriched.

In the mid-30’s she was among a number of top Hollywood stars to be called “box-office poison” by Photoplay Magazine. She turned away from the sort of grandly photographed madonna/whore dramas and spectacles directed by Sternberg, first to comedies, including two for Ernst Lubitsch, “Desire” (1936) and “Angel” (1937), and one for George Marshall, “Destry Rides Again” (1939). These led to a series of blue-collar action melodramas in which she played good-time women with names like Bijou and Cherry and Josie and was fought over by George Raft, John Wayne and Randolph Scott.

Beginning in the late 1950’s there were also a series of hugely successful appearances in cabarets and one-woman Broadway shows. With the planes of her face as dramatic as ever, Dietrich looked stunning on the stage, neither young nor old, wearing a sheer sequined gown that cost, it was always reported, $30,000. Her control of the audience, achieved as much by what the audience brought to her as by what she brought to them, was such that she could accurately pencil in standing ovations before a performance.

According to one of her associates, at least part of the reason for her dazzling figure was a tip-to-toe flesh-colored bodystocking with the tensile strength of steel. Artifice was her fine art.

At the steadfast center of this career was the public personality initially shaped by Sternberg. Though Dietrich dominated 20th-century show business more than any other woman, the public personality was a product of 19th-century Anglo-Saxon attitudes toward women. Like Carmen and Violetta, the Dietrich character was heartless, loose, proudly independent and, when loving, loving on her own terms. Only at a time when women were in bondage to motherhood, genteel manners and domestic servitude could the Dietrich temptress hold such fascination. There is no equivalent today, nor can there be in this liberated age.

Dietrich was always less erotic than a representation of idealized eroticism. When one looks at her films now, it’s difficult to imagine that her characters actually have sex or, if they do, that they have it in any conventional mom-and-pop or even hooker-and-john way. Sternberg’s emphasis on Dietrich-as-icon resulted in films that became increasingly elegant and, sexually speaking, theoretical. The films are gorgeous to look at, cinematically exhilarating and a bit arid.

Other actresses played this symbolic role, including the magnificent but comparatively limited Garbo. Had Dietrich stayed with Sternberg, her career might have ended about the same time as Garbo’s. Yet that speculation ignores the character of the real Marlene Dietrich, who learned from Sternberg and, when the time came, took command of her life. The Dietrich we see on the screen doesn’t change that much, but the wit, intelligence, independent spirit and talent seem to become more clearly evident.

How much of this was a real woman and how much of it was sleight of Dietrich’s hand, I’ve no idea. My own perceptions of the screen Dietrich changed as my awareness of the off-screen personality increased. It was difficult to be alive in the 40’s and 50’s and not be aware that this was a woman with a strong mind of her own, who was fondly called Kraut by Ernest Hemingway and who, though she had a husband, apparently didn’t hesitate to have affairs with whomever she wanted at her own convenience.

When the time came, she was canny enough to embrace her notoriety as a grandmother, which simply put her dominant glamour image in bold relief. One of the first times I felt jealousy as an adult was the day I learned that she had made chicken soup, and delivered it herself, to one of my former schoolmates, a recently published first novelist temporarily ailing. Who needs Pulitzers?

Though she thought Fritz Lang, who directed the underrated “Rancho Notorious” (1952), was “a monster,” she said of Orson Welles that “people should cross themselves when they speak of him.” She adored, and was adored by, men and women of substance.

Noel Coward brought down the house with his Las Vegas act in the 1950’s when he sang his own lyrics to Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It”: “Louella Parsons can’t quite do it/ ‘Cause she’s so highly strung/ Marlene might do it/ But she’s far too young.”

It is this Dietrich one sees in Billy Wilder’s chef d’oeuvre, “A Foreign Affair” (1948), playing the temptress of her career. The role is the wife of a former Nazi big shot surviving in the honeycombed ruins of Berlin by romancing a rather silly American Army officer. The film, which is mercilessly satiric, is full of Mr. Wilder’s own melancholy feelings about Germany, defined as much through the brilliant Dietrich performance as by the Wilder-Charles Brackett screenplay.

This is the Dietrich who plays, for smashing effect, a most uncharacteristic role in Mr. Wilder’s “Witness for the Prosecution” (1958). It is the same woman who, standing in a spotlight at the center of the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in 1967, earned bravos singing the lines, “Just Molly and me/ And baby makes three,” in her own concept of what constitutes “My Blue Heaven.”

Only Dietrich. No one else comes near.

Photos: Dietrich in “The Devil Is a Woman” (1935) — The keeper of her own flame. (Photographs by Movie Still Archives); Dietrich in Paris during the 1940’s.

PS.  At her time of death, her progressed Saturn, Father Time, was trine her natal Midheaven.  The progressed Ceres was conjunct ita nd the Nodes were activated to the Ascendant.