Interview by Jay Kent Hackleman recorded in 1969 for Houston radio station, KHRH. Dietrich was in midst of one of her many cabaret tours.
“Ms. Dietrich agreed to our interview on the condition that it could be done in a dressing room at the theater,” Hackleman recalled. “I certainly had no problem with that and she gave the entire interview reclining on a chaise longue and somehow that seemed absolutely appropriate.”
Hackleman’s granddaughter, Liss LaFleur, graciously allowed us to bring this lost tape to life.
The Animated Transcript
What do you do Miss Dietrich to keep from succumbing to the adulation because you had it for a good number of years, some people almost worship.
Well, I think if you have any sort of intelligence you can’t succumb to adoration because people adore so many things. They also adore things that you think quite worthless so you can’t take it too seriously.
There are some actresses who as they age, they become older, they still keep trying to be that ingenue. Do you begrudge these years?
No, God, no. Why should I? I think irrevocable things you can not begrudge. If you have any bit of intelligence.
You don’t begrudge what you can’t do anything about.
That’s right. America has a youth complex. In particular with me, they adore to make me older and I don’t see why they should do that because it’s bad enough as it is, but maybe it looks better in print if I’m a hundred and two and I still walk on the stage and I’m not on crutches. It becomes rather thick but youth cult is quite bad. You don’t have that in Europe at all because I think it is because America still thinks that it’s a young nation. I don’t think it is. It should stop that. I think they have been young long enough. They should grow up.
It could be said that you have been a sex symbol, a Marilyn Monroe sex symbol and so on. You use it, you have used it in the past for a purpose.
Well, I have never used my body. I have played roles where the legs were used and the body was used but in life, I have never done that.
The exploitations stayed with the screen and nothing else.
That is right.
You’re the kind of person that a lot of men would like to have loved or felt they have loved. Do you think the nature of love is something that’s changing? For example now, the hippie says, I want love and they say love and peace.
I think the real love has not changed at all. If people call all sorts of relationships love, they know themselves it isn’t so but they say it in order to make it valuable. In order to make it allowed. You know, when a girl says, but I love him, in order to say that’s why I live with him. That’s not necessarily so because the real love has not changed and the one great love that will never change is mother love.
How do you relax?
I don’t think I do. You see in our language, in German or in French, there is no such word as relax. This is an American invention. We don’t have a feeling like the American has, now it’s 07:00 or something and I have to have a drink and relax. It’s not a necessity in Europe. He drinks because he likes to drink.
Success in America means a lot to a man and it means a lot to his wife and family. There is a general belief that success is synonymous with happiness. Well, it doesn’t, as you know, they don’t go together at all. The American is striving for success and works much too hard in order to get, whatever, a little more money or a raise or something. He loses out on all the pleasures of life because of that. In Europe they have a car, they have it 15 years and they polish it and they wash it and they love it but here people don’t love their cars because they know next year they are going to get another one. And then everything is on credit. They don’t own it and then you buy many more things than you need because it’s on credit and it doesn’t bring them happiness. It just doesn’t. Possessions do not make you happy.
I only work in towns I like and I go back to the countries that I’ve liked before.
Why do you like Houston?
Well, I’ve always liked Texas because I met all the Texans in the war, 36th division. We always adored them because they were so terribly conceited being Texans. When they took a little village and set up school, they told everybody that Texas was the capital of the United States.
What is left that Marlene Dietrich wants to do that she maybe hasn’t done and wants to do more of?
Nothing. No, no. Absolutely no new ambition.
You want to keep doing what you’re doing?
Yes. Do my duty, that’s all.
Well, I hope you keep it up for a long, long, time.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for visiting us. Bye, bye.
More From The Interview
“This secret of all performing is that you have to be able to concentrate at such an extent that everybody who is listening to you has no other thoughts. It’s particularly difficult with songs because I sing in many different languages and all the people don’t understand what I’m saying. You still have to keep them in trance and I’m really happy that I’m able to do that.”
On why she never performed in Japan
“It is very difficult to make contracts with them. They say “yes” to everything. It worries me.”
“I do think it’s rather stupid to be nonchalant. I think one should be full of enthusiasm for everything that happens if one considers it to be worthy of enthusiasm.”
On America’s reliance on credit
“It was not created to accommodate people who didn’t have enough money to buy something when they needed it. It wasn’t created for that reason because they come too fast and pick it up and take it away when you don’t make the payment. It was made to make money and it is not a good thing. The credit system as it is here is a very bad thing and a very unhappy making thing particularly for the young. I don’t say that all people shouldn’t have comfort if they can buy it on credit, but the young can have everything they want and I think it’s very bad because when we were young we worked and worked until we could afford something. Today they’re going to have it anyway…it’s a terrible temptation. I understand that they buy it because somebody pounds in their ear from morning to night, just for five dolars you can get this and that. The temptation is too great. But I don’t blame the kids. I blame the people who are in the business.”
“Surely I’m anti-war. I don’t think there’s anybody that is for war – I mean women. Maybe generals are for war. Professional soldiers might be, I don’t know. But I have never found a woman who is for war and naturally I’m against war. I think if you’re being attacked you have to have answer back, you must defend yourself… I’m against war that goes and fights in some unknown land. I’m against that very much.”
A (Very) Brief Visual History of Marlene Dietrich’s Career
The Unconventional Sex Symbol
Dietrich was at the height of her fame playing the mysterious and provocative femme fatale. She made four more films with Sternberg between 1931 and 1935, and became known both on and off-screen for her signature style that was equal parts glamorous and androgynous.
The Comeback Kid
The Cabaret Singer
Dietrich spent the remainder of her career from the 1950s onwards touring as a cabaret act, releasing seven full-length albums from 1951 through 1969. The transition to live performer really took off in 1953 when Dietrich was offered a Las Vegas residency at the Sahara Hotel. She covered a wide range of material in her shows, from classic standards to Pete Seeger’s protest songs.
Dietrich’s War Effort
Dietrich referred to her strong anti-war sentiments in the extended interview with Jay Kent Hackleman. She became an American citizen in 1939 and was very involved in humanitarian activities during World War II, raising funds to assist refugees from Germany, selling war bonds, and traveling extensively with the USO on multiple overseas tours to perform for the troops.
Bonus David Bowie!
Animator / Director
“Alt Kabaret” Teddy Albert Lasry
“Die Andere” Helmuth Brandenburg
“Berlin Cabaret” Matthias Seuffert
“Ich Kusse Ihre Hand” Alain Francois Edouard Bernard