Publication: Theater Pizzazz
By: Ron Fassler

You have partly based your show on a three-hour phone call between you and the late Marlene Dietrich in Paris thirty years ago. It began with you sending her a postcard, her response to that. When you picked up the phone that day, were you at all prepared for who was going to be on the other end of the line? And could you ever have dreamed you would have a conversation that lasted three hours?

It was an unbelievable moment . I had to sit down .. wanted to scream in wonder .. and yet was so humbled and honored. I was alone in my hotel room and just wanted to share this with someone. I wished I had been prepared … with burning questions and more detailed information about her life and movies. But at the time it was a conversation between a very young curious German actress living and working in Paris and a grown actress, a legend with an incredibly rich life story and career, an inspirational free spirited woman to many generations .

We talked and talked , well mainly she talked .. I did ask many questions .. but she just took off. In the middle after a good hour she had to do something, she said a plumber was there to fix the sink (I think she made that up , may be she needed to go to the bathroom or pore herself another drink )

Though you are both native Germans, you were born decades apart and from different cities (she from Berlin and you from Munster). In your research and discoveries over the years, or even in that phone conversation, what were (if any) the similarities you shared as young women?

We are both kind of Expatriates and have a complicated relationship with our birthland. I lived many years in Berlin .. the Berlin of the cold war , the eighties. I rather feel like a Berliner than a Muensteraner , that is only my childhood. But my years as a young actress in this divided Berlin has had a huge impact on my artistic and personal identity. I think Marlene also always had a piece of Berlin inside of her in her interpretation of 35 Hollywood movie roles.

it is this expressionistic sense of crude reality with a political awareness and a scream in art of pain and longing. She lived in Berlin before the world ended and I lived in Berlin after the world had ended . It was tough to deal with the German history that was put into my cradle … Nazi Germany and of course the most unbearable fact of the Holocaust. Marlene wore the same scares , inflicted in earlier times as a witness of the war and a witness to the German Righteousness after the war .

I started recording the cycle of Kurt Weill and Berlin Kabarett albums at that time in 1987, which defined my connection to the Weimar time as a protagonist of the songs of Jewish exiled composers in hundreds of concerts all over the world . In 1988 I sang the songs of Hollaender and Spoliansky that Marlene had sung in 1928. I was the first German to rerecord this repertoire after the war.

Do you remember when you first became aware of who Marlene was as a young girl interested in singing and the dancing? Or was she such a ubiquitous presence in German culture, that any young person would have known who she was?

She was a mystery .. a glamorous Holywood actress … but also a statue , frozen in stylism. A mythe. Her German story was not rarely talked about. There were some dark clouds adorning this legacy.

What is it about Marlene Dietrich that fascinates you? Do you subscribe to the notion that she was more of a unique stylist than a great singer? And if so, is there a distinction between those two things that you would care to expand upon?

I care about her story. RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE is the story I want to tell ….. There are many stories out theer about her .. this one is my personal homage … I tell the story through my eyes and sing her songs with my voice .. I am not really impersonating her….neither imitating her……. but she is rather using my body and voice to speak.

Marlene was a groundbreaking woman. She was a free spirit , sexual , seductive, yet masculine , androgynous, totally polygamous in her open marriage. She was politically and morally outspoken and courageous. She was ladylike and bossy at the same time .. she had class but loved whisky , dirty jokes and a good smoke. She was a heck of a guy to hang out with said Billy Wilder.

Marlene recited Rainer Maria Rilke on the phone, she spoke about her movies and songs .. mostly about the really sad and heartbreaking songs that she preferred to the light entertaining ones. She spoke about Paris , Jean Gabin , about her daughter Maria Riva , who had written that ugly book about her. It was fully written at the time of our conversation and Marlene said that she had to beg her daughter on her knees , not to publish it before her death.

She was also very sad about being hated and rejected in Germany. She spoke about men .. love and solitude … and much more.

When you took on one of her most iconic roles, that of Lola in The Blue Angel, in a 1992 German stage production, how much of the film did you watch in order to prepare? Or did you even look at it at all?

Of coure I knew the movie. But , I did not want to act Marlene Dietrich , but the part of LOLA. I conceived that part intentionally opposite to Marlene’s image. I was red haired , punk , modern , edgy and wild. My physic was anyway so different from Marlene’s huge round body in 1928.

In what ways does Marlene Dietrich symbolize Germany for you, or Berlin specifically? And does it have more to do with its past, or does it resonate still in its present?

She does not symbolize Berlin …. the story is very twisted and complicated. After the Germans rejected her in 1960 , treating her as a traitor to the fatherland , having been a soldier for the USArmy during World War 2 , she said the Germans and I no longer speak the same language ….. she never was welcomed back … only in her coffin .. and not even then …..

Only 100 years after her birthday the Germans embraced her again. This is now 2001 .. Berlin… finally the city had dedicated a big Square to her : the Marlene Dietrich Platz.

This is a complex subject and also reflects modern times of Nationalistic movements and populism. These feeling are deeply engrained in the societies, a selfrighteous arrogance that poisons the mind of our societies. As if people never learn ? Marlene had said it did not take much brain to be an Anti Nazi but still until 1990 many Germans did not forgive her to have chosen the other (obvious) side , the side of the Americans. …

You began your musical career singing in a jazz-rock band, and have Joan Armatrading, Chick Corea and the Brecker Brothers as influences. When did you become a fan of the sort of music that Dietrich represented?

I started recording the Weimar Music in 1987 and sing it world wide since those years. I have kept the dialog alive and burning about this chapter of history as a mission to my life .

Marlene sang many different songs .. Some are very corny …. so can be her singing style ..but some songs are classics and ever wonderful and contemporary.

And since you are singing many songs Dietrich used to sing in your show, where do her favorites fit into your catalogue of favorites?

sch , kleines Baby….. Where have all the flowers gone (Pete seeger)…. the answer my friend is blowing in the wind (bob Dylan) …. ne me quitte pas (brel) Laziest Gal in town ( Cole Porter) ….. falling in love again (Hollaender) and many others ……

Later in her career, Marlene had the good fortune to have enlisted Burt Bacharach as her musical director. Can you talk about the importance of Vana Gierig and the other musicians with whom you have had long associations?

I work with Vana for 15 years . A wonderful friend .. and incredible pianist .. but he is not my musical director … We actually invent most of the arrangements in collective creative rehearsal situations . We are always a team. All the musicians are my kings and brothers and sisters.

Finally, what would you want someone to take away with them about Marlene Dietrich, who might never heard of her before the curtain goes up on your show?

Oh , you are in for an incredible story … history , fate, courage, style, politics , glamour and sex, talent and a huge career in a deviiish dance around the fire between Berlin and Hollywood, youth and age.

Publication: Theater blog ‘Call Me Adam’
By: Adam Rothenberg

This month you are returning to Feinstein’s/54 Below with your new show “Rendezvous with Marlene.” What are you looking forward to about this show?

RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE means a lot to me. It is my personal homage to that great Lady. Its is the Story I chose to tell about her and the story I want people to hear. 

There are many portraits of Marlene out there , this one is coming from my heart. She is telling her life through my filter and singing her songs with my voice. 

This show is based upon your 3-hour phone call between you & Marlene back in 1988. When did you decide you wanted to turn this conversation into a show? How did you recall everything you talked about? Did you record the phone conversation 30 years ago?

No, I did not record that phone call on any recording device , just in my heart and consciousness. There it slept and stayed dormant for a long time. I always appreciated the comparisons, it was rather an honor to be called Marlene Dietrich. At the same time I knew that artistically I was nothing like her. Plus I was so young , wild and untamable in my own way. I grew up with the music of the 70s , with Pink Floyd and the Beatles… I always had an edge and  did not conform. Well , this last part sounds very much like Dietrich , right ? Yes , I was also German with a rather complicated history and relationship with my country. I was also an expatriate that would never sing the German National Hymne. I had a great anger and horror about the history of Nazi Germany and of course the Holocaust. Being married to a New York Jew, also in my 2nd marriage, I have much to separate myself in my heart and soul from my home country. It hurts to have feelings like this .. like I don t belong where I am born …. or I cannot belong there … She felt similar. 

There are many dimensions by now 30 years or more later than I can relate to her destiny. 

Last year I was asked to play Dietrich in 3 different stage productions , a play in Paris that shows her love affair to Jean Gabin, a stage show that explores her love affair to Piaf and another smaller british movie. I thought all the scripts were stereo type and not researched enough. I gave everyone my input and sold my ideas and knowledge for free … ha… then I thought , why don t I write  my own play and base it on the one unique personal encounter with her . 

Thats the story . Between memories , really inside treasures and a bunch of research  and of course some imagination I wrote this play and included Marlene’s most gorgeous songs. 

It is not an imitation of her , but my reflection of her, my projection .

What part of your conversation did you know right away had to be in the show? What part of the conversation didn’t make it into the show?

Oh , the Rainer Maria Rilke quotes are memorable and meaningful. The tales about Germany , having lost her home land…  her sad words about her  broken relationship with her daughter. What I remember , made it into the show…., of course there is lots of additional storytelling to explore her journey. 

What did you learn about Marlene or yourself in creating this show that you didn’t know 30 years ago?

I internalized her story and identified with it. I never wanted to really embrace that identification. Now I am ready .. I am much older, I have enough distance to everything …in this world … career, society, culture, love, children, pressure, beauty, aging  … and yet enough proximity to her dignity, class, game , sexuality, pain and sorrow, solitude and hedonism.  It is great fun to crawl into her story. 

As you were talking to Marlene Dietrich in 1988, do you remember what was going through your head as you were talking to this living legend?

I could not believe it . I always said , I wish I would have been older when we had the conversation. Marlene asked on the phone how old I was and she was disappointed when I told her I was 24. She wanted an equal … a girlfriend, but I was not there yet . Now , I try to be a good friend of hers telling her story. 

How did Marlene Dietrich influence you?

I am not sure whether it was the influence of Marlene or rather just my personal aesthetics that often made me look like her on photos and in my styling. I just liked a classy , seductive, powerful and mysterious Aura. I was always drawn to the Art Nouveau, the Film Noir and the Shadows that determine the light.  Her style was classy but also corny and super artificial to me. Her unique choices were very inspiring. She was morally and politically courageous and outspoken. 

She represented an emancipated woman, a free spirit, sexual , yet masculine and androgynous, powerful , ladylike and bossy at the same time , she exercised an open marriage and was crazy polygamous (haha, fantastic).

Marlene chose to join the USArmy and entertain the Soldiers during World War 2,  to keep up their morals at the front lines. Yes , she loved the thousands of men / soldiers around herself , but she also risked her life. She admitted that she was scared of capture. 

For your performance in “Cabaret” in Paris, you received the French Moliére Award and garned a lot of comparison to Marlene Dietrich. At that time, what was it like to be compared to Marlene Dietrich? What made you send her an apology letter for the comparison? How did she respond to the letter?

I felt that this incredible Legend , who had been a Weimar Kabarett Star , a most glamorous Hollywood Diva, an Ambassador to peace deserved better than the comparison to a 24 year old young actress.   And just because I was German and started a career abroad  … I fell into this category Dietrich or Romy Schneider. I wanted to express my admiration and thanked her for myself and generations of women she had empowered. 

In 1992, Marlene Dietrich passed away, six days before the opening night of the Berlin production of “Blue Angel,” in which you played “Lola,” the role that made Marlene Dietrich a star in 1928. How did her passing affect you & influence the way you played the role after her passing?

Her death did not affect my interpretation of the role of LOLA.  I did not play Dietrich , but LOLA.  I had chosen deliberately not to play it with a blond wig and high penciled eyebrows, but rather red haired , punk and confrontational. 

Many things happened to her legacy and to mine too after her death throughout those years after the fall of the Wall , the new united Germany etc. Marlene’s story is a complicated one and it hurts … its a painful story and an embarrassing story for Germany honestly. It took Germany a hundred years to finally embrace her. How deeply rooted is nationalism and extreme righteous and rightwing hatred. ????

You will hear incredible parts of her story , you probably do not even know in this country …. it is shocking. 

But I lived through enough times of provincial populism that brings out the worst in human beings to also talk about that part of Marlene’s story……. but there is much more than that to this Lady… 

come check it out !

If Marlene were alive today, what do you think your relationship with her would be like? What song would you like to record with her?

I would go and visit and have a bottle or 5 of Moet Chandon with her… and laugh out loud about the world and simply have a good time.  We would be “the laziest gals in town !!!…..

I have a component to my interviews called “I Can See Clearly” now where I try to clear-up misconceptions about my interviewees. But for this interview, I’d like to ask, what do you think was the biggest misconception about Marlene Dietrich that you would like to clear up right now?

Due to the fact that mainly her photographs survive the wheel of time …. she was not this stereotype image …. she manipulated her shots to perfection and capture that still life .. and behind that image was a free bird , passionate, provocative, courageous and completely non conform. Also being a great cook and housecleaner, she loved a dirty joke , a stiff drink and good smoke. 

I visited Billy Wilder in 1988 in Hollywood with my friend Volker Schloendorff. Billy had known Marlene very well and gave me some personal insides that also contributed to RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE.