If you think Material Girl Madonna is the original master of constant self-reinvention, and Fame Monster Lady Gaga is a mere copycat, you may start counting years back to pre-war Hollywood, in the era of silent films, to determine who is really the queen of character fabrication.
These two contemporary pop icons must have found inspiration in Marlene Dietrich (27 December 1901 – 6 May 1992) – a German-American actress and singer. The constant birth and rebirth of her persona (such as being femme fatale and androgynous) both professionally and characteristically made Dietrich popular throughout her long career since being discovered as a stage performer and silent film actress in Berlin.
Her stellar performance as the character Lola-Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel catapulted her into international stardom, paving way to her being a Paramount Pictures contract star. Her glamorous style and exotic looks in Shanghai Express and Desire made her a true Hollywood star and genuinely a bankable actress. In fact, she was making more money than most of her contemporaries.
Making America her home more than her birth country Germany, the legendary actress became a US citizen in 1939. When World War II broke out, Dietrich became a frontline entertainer to American soldiers. This siding with the enemies of Nazi Germany made her a controversial figure among some Germans and Nazi symphatizers. After the war, she still made some films but largely spent the 50s to the 70s performing in shows worldwide. The American Film Institute recognized her in 1999 as the ninth-greatest female star of all time.
As my humble tribute to her fabulous existence and legacy in world history, theater and cinema, I created these experimental triples using old photos of her with night lights and street vignettes.