Marlena Dietrich

Marlena Dietrich, after filming the scandelous

Maria Magdalene Dietrich was born on December 27, 1901, in in Shoeneburg, Germany, a suburb of Berlin. As Marlene Dietrich, she first became popular in her native country as a cabaret singer and then a film star. She was known as the toast of Berlin, but her 1929 film "The Blue Angel" was a scandalous international success, and she left for Hollywood soon after. There she became one of the highest paid actresses of the "˜30's.

While Dietrich was making movies, the Nazis were coming to power in Germany and remaking German society based their ideal of a racial Utopia. Marlena was a vocal opponent of the regime from the first, despite the fact that her family still lived in Germany and she worried that they would suffer for her outspokenness. When she realized that Hitler wasn't going anywhere soon, she became a U.S. citizen on March 6, 1937. America's entrance into World War II coincided with a lull in Dietrich's career, and she threw herself wholeheartedly into working with the U.S.O.

With the U.S.O., she traveled throughout North Africa and Italy, risking her life by almost always staying at the front. Several times, she even rode in General George S. Patton's jeep as he led American troops. She was criticized by some for socializing with high-ranking brass, but she also went to the dances of the enlisted men, and thrilled them by accepting their offers to dance. Some of her work was not at all glamorous""coordinating mess details and food delivery""but she always looked glamorous doing it. She visited the wounded in hospitals and even assisted the nurses in some cases. In 1944 and 1945, she made over 500 personal appearances, boosting moral and leaving thousands of Allied soldiers with a memory to last a lifetime. She also broadcast Allied propaganda over the radio in German.

Dietrich was devastated to find out that her mother, trapped in Germany, was dying of heart failure. When she finally reached her in the last days of the war, bearing medicine, it was too late. Her mother died on November 6, 1945. Marlene never regretted her American patriotism, however, and many Germans were resentful of her.

Controversy erupted when it was proposed that a street in Berlin be named after her, but she still loved her hometown: her autobiography, published in 1987, was called "Thank God I Am a Berliner."

For her service in World War II, in 1947 the U.S. War Department awarded Dietrich the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. She was also decorated by the French and Israeli governments. Marlene Dietrich died in Paris on May 6, 1992, at the age of 90.

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