Ich bin ein Berliner!

"Ich bin ein Berliner!” John F Kennedy proudly announced in 1963 - thus proclaiming himself to be a jam doughnut. The intended exclamation was, of course, `I am a citizen of Berlin' - a statement declaring US support to West Berliners in the struggle to maintain freedom against Communist aggression. Fascinatingly, US Allies, Nazis and JFK are all connected to the compelling life story of another citizen of Berlin - Marlene Dietrich.

Dietrich was undeniably the most alluring screen goddess of her time. Inspiring many for the years to come (including a certain Madonna Ciccone) and exhibiting behaviour that could make even today's divas blush, Marlene was an enigma who was well before her time. Born Maria Magdalena Dietrich on the 27th of December 1901 in the Berlin town of Schoneberg, Marlene was known from an early age for her 'bedroom eyes.' The death of her police lieutenant father Louis Erich Otto Dietrich when she was 10, followed by her mother Elisabeth Josephine's subsequent remarriage to Eduard von Losch, may have shaped her loose attitude towards relationships and relations: the first of her many affairs was at this stage in her life, with a professor at her school - who was consequently fired.

A wrist injury spelt the end of her affinity with the piano and the violin, leading Marlene to the stage and an illustrious acting career. A student of German director Max Reinhardt's acting school, she landed her first roles in film in 1922 - small parts in 'Napoleon's Young Brother' and `Tragedy of Love'. Ironically, it was on the set of the latter film that she met Rudolph Sieber - the man she married in 1924, and who fathered her daughter Riva the same year. Although they were married until his death in 1974, they only lived together for a mere five years before Marlene succumbed to a star studded, sex riddled lifestyle.

Her presence on the silent screen increased with each role. She soon captured both the attention and affection of director Josef von Sternberg while on the cabaret stage, making her a shoe-in for the role of the cabaret singer in his movie 'Blue Angel', and also his lover. The success of the film, and presumably their illicit relationship, inspired von Sternberg to take Dietrich to the bright lights of Hollywood. Her first American film, 'Morocco', led the way for a series of hit films, establishing her as the highest paid actress of her time. Although no doubt is cast over her acting ability, she was once quoted as stating, quite rightly, "I'm not an actress - I'm a personality."

Film goers could not resist the German's sultry tones, smoky voice and charismatic energy - and nor could her co-stars. Marlene had the reputation for romancing her leading men, so technically she was a pioneer of method acting. It's no wonder she once claimed, "The diaphragm is the greatest invention since pan-cake makeup".

Marlene also progressed from thespians to lesbians, conducting a number of affairs with women - most notably Mercedes de Acosta. Far from an unfounded rumour, Marlene was even quoted as saying, "Sex is so much better with a woman, but one can't live with a woman!" She didn't stop there. Later in life, she proudly boasted she had slept with three men of the Kennedy clan – Joseph P Kennedy, Joseph P Kennedy Junior and John F Kennedy.

Insightful casting saw Marlene typecast as a prostitute, or woman of low morals, in all three movies succeeding 'Morocco'; `Dishonoured', in 1931; 'Shanghai Express' in 1932; and `Blood Venus', also in 1932. Marlene eventually escaped being typecast, but continued to shock audiences by wearing men's clothing, exposing all in nude swimming scenes, and suggesting various and sundry sexual excesses, such as, "In Europe, it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman - we make love to anyone we find attractive."

Marlene continued enchanting audiences until the start of the Second World War. Marlene became an American citizen in 1937, and was a staunch anti-Nazi who despised Germany's anti-semantic policies of the time. Approached by Hitler to return to her native country to make pro-Nazi films (in what is rumoured to have been a very lucrative offer), Marlene not only refused, but took it upon herself to stick it to Hitler and entertain the American troops on the frontline with the USO, for which she received the US War Department's 'Medal of Freedom' in 1947. Can you imagine what kind of world we'd be living in today if she had chosen to use her sultry powers for evil?
The Germans defeated, Marlene was once again insightfully cast as an ex-Nazi entertainer in 'A Foreign Affair' in 1948; and then as an aging starlet in 1950's 'Stage Fright', among a trickle of other releases at that time. As she aged through her 50's, that trickle slowed to drips, with Marlene starring in only four movies that decade. She returned to her roots as a cabaret entertainer, appearing in very successful shows from Las Vegas to Broadway. However, where in the past Marlene would become acquainted with her co-stars, she now became very well acquainted with the bottle - the resulting alcoholism may have been related to the end of her career.

She was once quoted as saying, "Careful grooming may take years off a woman's age, but you can't fool a flight of stairs", words that would haunt her in 1975. While performing in Sydney (no doubt looking very carefully groomed for a lady in her mid 70's), Marlene fell and broke her leg - inviting many obvious show business puns, and spelling the end of her career.

The remainder of her life was spent in seclusion in her Parisian apartment, withdrawn from public life. Bedridden for her final 12 years (in what would have been a new experience - alone), Marlene passed away in her sleep on May 6th 1992 from natural causes. Buried next to her mother in Berlin, her tombstone simply reads: `I am standing on the signposts of my life'.