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Thanks Soldier
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With DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939, George Marshall) and SEVEN SINNERS (1940, Tay Garnett), a new and strong Marlene Dietrich presented herself. Joe Pasternak had known her in Berlin while working with Paul Kohner as an assistant for the German branch of Universal. Frederick Hollaender who had written many of her songs since DER BLAUE ENGEL, also composed songs for her again, and later many of these became classics and standards in Marlene Dietrich's repertoire, for instance: "The Boys in the Back Room" and "The Man's in the Navy". In DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, her role involved her in a social situation similar to Lola Lola's in DER BLAUE ENGEL for the first time again – although with the slight difference that this time it was not Professor Emil Jannings but young lanky James Stewart whom she met. and she fought – as every young woman in the audience would have – with utter determination for him. The elaborate costumes by Travis Banton from Paramount days were passÚ, instead a fluttering saloon skirt and western gear quite openly displayed her womanly charms. In seven sinners, she once again donned masculine clothes, however, this marine uniform did not serve just to confuse the men, it also expressed: I am one of you guys. And with a wink: I know everything about you all.

Marlene Dietrich fought for her career and her position in Hollywood. And she won. She made six films between 1940 and 1942, not all of them as successful as DESTRY RIDES AGAIN and SEVEN SINNERS , but they were – except for RenÚ Clair's THE FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS (1941) - solid fare and reliable at the box office. "I only make action pictures these days", she said in an interview in 1942. "The public does not want polite drawing room comedies or too heavy drama now." Did she believe that Josef von Sternberg had hurt her career? "All that I am today I owe to Mr. von Sternberg."

She regained a foothold in Hollywood. Her affairs with Erich Maria Remarque, John Wayne and James Stewart were all tolerated; it was only when she began an affair with Jean Gabin that she had trouble, attracting the attention of the FBI. Marlene Dietrich tried to help Jean Gabin get a permanent visa; but a lawyer, who was also supposed to try to help him on behalf of Fox and who was afraid of losing her job, denounced "the German". Yet an official investigation was quickly dropped: Marlene Dietrich had become the main attraction of war bond tours, proving almost daily where she stood in this war between America and Germany. From January 24, 1942 until September 9, 1943, she toured the United States, bringing in more money than any other show star. She did so not only by singing her own songs but also by writing her own speeches.

Normally, ghostwriters wrote the speeches. One of these "suggested talks for Marlene Dietrich" began as follows: "I am extremely pleased to represent the film industry on the occasion of the awarding of the 'T' symbol to your United States Treasury Minute Man Flag. In representing this industry I feel that I can sincerely bring to you the appreciation of the hundreds of men and women who are doing everything that they can to bring home to the people of America the vital necessity of investing our money in our own future." Marlene Dietrich turned this into: "Hello boys (...) I'm probably the only girl in the world tonight who has a date with 18,000 men. This is the first time in my life I ever stayed awake all night and rode thirty miles just to keep a date. But then it's all also the first time I ever had 18,000 men together in one place."

Her tour dates were planned with precision, day for day, hour for hour; she was proud of her achievements, and received a number of distinguishing awards from the Treasury (which did not stop the internal revenue office from filing against her for taxes she owed on her films; they even issued a distress warrant). For the first time she had the feeling that she could do something meaningful as a film actress for her country. She visited hospitals, sang for more than 250,000 soldiers in one huge tour along the Pacific Coast, and was compared with Ernestine Schumann-Heink, a German, who had similarly raised the spirits of American soldiers during the First World War.
In a strenuous, unparalleled effort, Marlene Dietrich completely altered her image. A journalist noted: "Here is not the Marlene Dietrich I once met at a 'tea' in New York. Back in the days when she was being listed by the independent exhibitors among those who were 'poison at the box office' (and she was in good company!), she put on a glamour show. Mark her down now in the list of what the soldiers call a swell dish. Gone is everything which once marked her as one of the most affected stars - one of those screen darlings who had to live up to 'my public'."

On January 5, 1944, Jean Gabin left New York for Europe to fight with the "Free French". Marlene Dietrich, who despite all her other affairs saw Jean Gabin as the great love of her life, decided to entertain American troops for the United Service Organization (USO) in Europe. Yet her first stop was North Africa - where Jean Gabin was stationed. At the beginning of April, she flew from New York to Europe, although not without first having herself photographed in a uniform for "Vogue". Her husband Rudolf Sieber had already notified Gabin on March 15 of her arrival. But she put performing her duty above all personal motives. Work in Africa was hard and ruthless, and a roaring success. "Our records show that in your nine-week tour of NATOUSA (North African Theater of Operations United States Army, W. S.) you played to 149,750 troops in the 68 performances you gave. This is a record of which you may well be proud." With these words, T. B. Larkin, Major General of the US Army thanked her on September 1, 1944. Marlene Dietrich then traveled from North Africa to Italy and entertained the troops there. In June 1944, she returned to the USA. Her second tour for USO, between September 1944 and July 1945, took her to England, France and also to Germany. For the first time she performed in Berlin again, almost unnoticed by local residents, celebrated by the Americans. But there were also critical voices from puritanical America. The American headquarters of USO wrote her on April 18, 1945: "I have a letter form Mr. Philipps in New York drawing attention to an article which appeared in 'Life Magazine' saying 'Dietrich entices GI to the stage and in doing a telepathy act she reads the soldier's mind, and then cracks 'Oh, think of something else, I can't talk about that.' This article brought criticism from various church papers and I have been told to ask you to eliminate this line from your act. He has also received a clipping showing you making an entrance on the stage by thrusting only your leg through a curtain and some remark about a 'seduction act (boy, are we ripe for some of that)' and says that if this is as bad as it sounds, it should also be eliminated."

For the tour, Marlene Dietrich had had a new dress designed, high-necked, but accentuating her body, with hundreds of sequins that sparkled when the lights hit them. In A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948), Billy Wilder's comedy, which partly had been shot in destroyed Berlin, she sang of the "Ruins of Berlin". The film was so full of macabre political allusions, that the American board of censors banned it in Germany.

American soldiers traced down Marlene Dietrich's mother. On August 6, 1945, Marlene wrote her a letter from America in which, among other things, she said: "Up to 1939 Hitler sent messages to me that I should come back and when I refused they said that they had means to make me very unhappy. I knew that they meant you and I nearly went crazy with fear they would take it out on you. You must have had great courage all through those years. Liesel (Marlene's sister) told me that you hid Jewish friends in your apartment. Considering the fact that you were constantly watched – that was wonderful of you. I only hope that I can make good some day all the hardship you had to suffer on my account."

In Berlin, September 1945, Marlene Dietrich was once again able to take her mother in her arms, it was the first time in thirteen years. It also turned out to be the last time. Two months later, Josefine von Losch was dead. Marlene Dietrich went to Berlin, for what was to be the last time for a great while, to attend the burial service at Stubenrauchstrasse cemetery in Friedenau – the cemetery where she was also buried in 1992.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, Marlene Dietrich's commitment during the Second World War led to countless attacks and vicious slander. The general antipathy she encountered while on tour in Germany in 1960 was further aggravated by the media and this did not derive solely from what was apparently offended national pride, but also from envy, hypocrisy, self-pity and arrogance. "Political buffoons" was what the critic Friedrich Luft once called the journalists who participated in this campaign.

Today, after her death, plazas and streets in Berlin have been named after her, and musicals, plays and feature films based on her life have been produced. People have united in their indignation at the attacks in the fifties and sixties and, of course, at the two signs with the words "Marlene go home" held up when she arrived in Berlin in 1960. Marlene Dietrich has been reinstated into the fairy tale land of heroes and heroines, into an unambiguous realm whose existence she consistently rejected in her films. She will survive this, too.

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