Interview: Marlene Dietrich
spring 1955, I had an assignment from Columbia Records to photograph
Marlene Dietrich in Las Vegas, where she was performing at the
Sands Hotel. It was all quite sensational, not least because
she was appearing onstage in a "nude evening gown" designed
by Jean Louis - all jewels and netting worn tightly over her
naked body. Our meeting was scheduled for 6:00 p.m. in her dressing
room backstage. I walked down the hallway looking for the door.
On my way I passed a room in which an elderly woman sat. She
looked very much like my grandmother, who had come from St.
Petersburg. I stopped in my tracks. This can't be. Was that
Marlene Dietrich? I slowly approached the dressing room door.
"Come in," she said. "You must be the photographer, yes?"
sat a small, thin lady with fine and delicate features and just
a wisp of hair on her head, just like my grandmother. She smiled
and invited me in. "Put away that camera; sit down next to me."
"Hannah," she said to her assistant, "bring our young photographer
friend a cup of tea." I sat down next her dressing table; she
sat facing her mirror, hardly looking at me. "Now, my dear.
You see this?" She pulled on the loose skin below her chin and
shook it. "We don't want to see this, understand? You sit there
and enjoy your tea, and I will explain how I like to be photographed.
I have a great deal of experience; and believe me, I know this
face." She tugged at her cheeks, not looking at me, looking
only at the mirror, and began to apply her make-up meticulously,
layer upon layer - eyelashes, rouges, powders of various shades
- all the while explaining to me how the light strikes her face,
how it hits her cheekbones and reflects back to the camera or
to the audience. Her eyes never left the image in the mirror.
After about an hour, she snapped her fingers and beckoned her
assistant. The assistant came in with a blond wig and helped
Ms. Dietrich place it carefully on her head. They fussed with
it a bit. Finally, she turned and faced me directly. She looked
stunning. "Now," she said, "you may take out your camera."