Although we mostly think of Marlene Dietrich as an exotic and mysterious actress who began appearing in films way back in the 1920s, she had a surprising amount of success as a vocalist too. Although her singing voice might have been somewhat of an acquired taste for listeners, it was certainly distinctive, and music would play a big part in her long career.
The daughter of a police official, Marie Magdalene Dietrich grew up in turn of the century Berlin and was apparently quite a handful even as a teen, costing at least one professor his job in a way that foreshadowed a later movie. In any case, as she approached adulthood she began appearing in cabarets and eventually broke into the vibrant German silent film industry of the 1920s.
It was during this period that she married for the only time (although the bi-sexual entertainer would have a lifetime of high-profile affairs) and also gave birth to a daughter. By the end of the decade sound films had arrived, and her break-out role in the international hit Blue Angel not only made her a star, but also showcased her vocal style on what would become her signature tune, “Falling In Love Again.” The success of that performance helped her secure what would be the first of a series of recording contracts, leading to decades of strong record sales on an amazingly diverse list of songs, among them everything from “Lili Marlene” to a duet on “Too Old To Cut The Mustard” with Rosemary Clooney.
As was the case with many Germans of the pre-war era, Dietrich eventually relocated to America and turned against the rising Nazi threat. As her Hollywood star power rose in the 1930s, she continued to speak out and even became an American citizen. During the war years she entertained in USO shows, but her post-war movie career inevitably slowed as the years caught up with her. She continued to show up in choice film roles from time to time but mostly devoted herself to a triumphant return to cabarets. She was a smash hit for many years before finally retiring in the 1970s, and died in 1992 at age 90.