I call myself a fan of classic Hollywood, but I have to admit that I knew almost nothing about Marlene Dietrich. I thought C.W. Gortner’s biographical novel, Marlene, about the famous German would be an interesting way to learn more about her and it was. This was a good reimagined version of her life based on true events.
The novel was divided into periods of time based on the significant events happening to Marlene during those years. Admittedly, I was bored during the first hundred pages or so when her early life in Europe was discussed. She was depicted as a troublemaker in grade school and temptress as a teenager, but those stories just didn’t grab me. Later, her drive to be a star prompted her to defy her mother by giving up music lessons and enrolling in acting school.
I especially enjoyed Marlene’s life once she got to Hollywood and became a contract player in the notorious studio system. Her personality was showcased when she was vocal about the costumes her character wore and fought with directors to prove to them she understood the characters better than the costume designer did. I also liked when she improved during scenes to add action the directors hated but that stayed in the films and were hailed as brilliant by critics and audiences. The best thing the author did was discuss how World War II had such an impact on Marlene’s career. Her actions during that period, revealed her feelings about America, Germany, and her family. Her journey as a USO participant and then travels to war-torn Germany really gave her depth as a woman and made me like her.
Despite the setting, there is just something about this author’s writing style that does not connect with me. I had the same problem while I read his book on Coco Chanel. Marlene moved through the action of the novel but it was difficult to get insight into Marlene’s feelings. I also disliked the extraordinary emphasis the author placed on the rumor that Marlene was bisexual. He managed to work it into every single encounter she had, even when the other character was straight. It became distracting and I wished it wouldn’t have been so overpowering. At times felt like the author was going out of his way to portray Marlene as a, well, whore. When male authors do things like this I get the feeling that they hate the woman they are writing about.
There were parts of this I liked and a lot of parts I hated, but overall, it was an interesting glimpse into Marlene’s life and I did come out of it respecting her as a woman and actress.