Marie Magdalene Dietrich maintained popularity throughout her unusually long show business career by continually re-inventing herself, professionally and characteristically.
In 1920s Berlin, she acted on the stage and in silent films. Her performance as Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel (1930), directed by Josef von Sternberg, brought her international fame resulting in a contract with Paramount Pictures. Dietrich starred in Hollywood films such as Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1932) and Desire (1936).
Dietrich successfully traded on her glamorous persona and “exotic” (to Americans) looks, cementing her super-stardom and becoming one of the highest-paid actresses of the era.
Dietrich became a U.S. citizen in 1939, and throughout World War II she was a high-profile frontline entertainer. Although she still made occasional films after World War II, Dietrich spent most of the 1950s to the 1970s touring the world as a marquee live-show performer.
Dietrich was noted for her humanitarian efforts during the War, housing German and French exiles, providing financial support, and even advocating for their US citizenship. In 1999, theAmerican Film Institute named Dietrich the ninth greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema.
Dietrich was a fashion icon to the top designers as well as a screen icon that later stars would follow. She once said, “I dress for myself. Not for the image, not for the public, not for the fashion, not for men.” Her public image included openly defying sexual norms, and she was known for her androgynous film roles and her bisexuality.
A significant volume of academic literature, especially since 1975, analyzes Dietrich’s image, as created by the film industry, within various theoretical frameworks, including that of psycho-analysis. Emphasis is placed, inter alia, on the “fetishistic” manipulation of the female image
The U.S. Government awarded Dietrich the Medal of Freedom for her war work. Dietrich has been quoted as saying this was the honor of which she was most proud in her life. They also awarded her with the Operation Entertainment Medal. The French Government made her a Chevalier (later upgraded to Commandeur) of the Légion d’honneur and a Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Her other awards include the Medallion of Honor of the State of Israel, the Fashion Foundation of America award and a Chevalier de l’Ordre de Leopold (Belgium)