The Religious Affiliation of Actress
Marlene Dietrich apparently had a nominal Lutheran family background. But she essentially had no religion other than acting. Rudolf Sieber, her husband for 50 years, was Catholic. Marlene's mother was a very proper, Victorian, traditional German aristocratic woman, a virgin bride, well educated. Marlene Dietrich's birth name was Maria Magdalena.
From Marlene Dietrich, by her daugher Maria Riva, New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1993, pg. 6:
Three weeks after her twenty-fifth birthday, the morning of December 27, 2001... Josephine gave birth to a second daughter... Jospephine named her new daughter Maria Magdalena. Was it to implore God's protection that she chose this name, or clairvoyance?
Riva, pg. 8-9:
The new memorial church the Kaiser had commissioned, to be built in memory of his grandfather, was a topic they all [Marlene's family] found interesting. Had someone hear that its main spire was to be 113 meters high? It would be glorious! But why the planned star on its pinnacle? Like for the top of a Christmas tree! Not propoer for a religious edifice of such importance.
"The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church [a Lutheran church that has become a landmark] will be a triumph of ecclesiastical architecture for centuries to come, even if they do insist on that Christmas ornament!" intoned the lady in navy [Marlene's mother], and that ended the discussion.
...Before the ladies took leave, the daughters of the house were summoned down from their nursery floor to pay their respects, recite a Goethe poem, and...
Riva, pg. 44:
When Rudi [Rudolf Sieber] proposed to Marlene, she accepted him without hesitation... Her mother was not pleased. Josephine had so hoped for a really fine marriage for her beautiful daughter, but runaway postwar inflation had done away with dowries, and arranged liaisons between aristocratic families were now as much a part of the past as the Kaiser. marriag, even to a Czechoslovakian-Austrian Catholic, might be better than leaving Lena to roam free among those "Gypsies." Josophine equated all actors with tribes of shiftless, tambourine-playing thieves. If this man really loved Lena, God give im the strength to curb her wild romantic nature. Josophine resolved to help this stranger whom her daughter had chosen.
Lena wanted to drive to her wedding, at the resplendent Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, in an open, horse-driven carriage...
Riva, pg. 53:
Although they stayed married for over fifty years, sometimes even lived together, their physical relationship stopped the day Marlene knew she was "with child." By the time she gave birth, she had convinced herself that her child was her own creation. Nothing so vulgar as male sperm had anything to do with it. She and she alone had made her child in her own image. The child was hers, by right of immaculate conception.
Riva states that her mother, Marlene Dietrich, adored Goethe. Photo caption on pg. 39:
Lovely Weimar, where the poet Goethe--my mother's most adored god--lived and where her mother sent her to boarding school, hopeing it would tame her, which it didn't.
Riva, pg. 225-227:
When it was time to cut the records, my mother did not take me with her to the recordings. My father conducted me to the Cathedral of the Notre-Dame instead. It was so beautiful!... Once inside, I stood transfixed beneath an enormous window... My father taught me not to turn my back on an altar with its crucifix, and that one had to cursey before kneeling down to pray. I knew from seeing De Mille films, but I had never done it myself. It was all cool and peaceful inside that great vaulted church. My father said I could pray if I wanted to. I remember being embarrassed, I didn't know how one did that correctly inside a church. It seemed sort of phony to do it like in the movies, but I felt like saying something "good," so I decided to thank God for a special day. I hoped it would pass as an acceptable church prayer. We lit a tall candle before a little altar. My father paid for it by putting coins into a slot above a metal box. They made a terrible clanking noise as they slid down the chute, but no one minded. When we came out, the sunshine was bright in our eyes, as though the reflectors had been set up for a scene. I remember being strangely happy that day. My father had made a convert to all churches, if not exactly Catholicism.
We had room service that evening. My mother didn't want to change. She told me of the day's work and how much she had missed me sitting in front of her while she sang. I was glad that she didn't ask what I had done that day. I felt instinctively that she wouldn't like enthusiasm about a church. Notre-Dame as a history lesson would have been all right, but as an emotional experience, that would be disapproved of for sure. My father was not so perceptive.
"Mutti, I took Kater to Notre-Dame today, and she prayed!"
My mother swiveled in her chair toward me, smiling. "You prayed? You are just a child, you cannot know how to pray--seriously!"
She turned back to my father.
"One of the violinists today was terrible, a real amateur! I showed him how, but it was useless. We had to change him and lost valuable time. That would never have happened if you had allowed us to record in Berlin!"
My father's mouth set, a muscle twitched along his jaw. He rang for the waiters to clear the table.
Religion was a taboo subject, to be avoided with my mother. That is, if one believed in anything! Dietrich did not like God. He could make things happen over which she had no control. This frightened her and made Him the enemy. She believed that if one needed a deity, it was a sign of personal weakness.
"That unknown thing that is supposed to float around up there--with angels? What do they all do up there? Get in each other's way? Ridiculous! Of course, the Bible is the best script every written, but you can't really believe it!" She was proud of her logic and consequent disdain toward all religions. But she picked them up when it suited her. In later years, whenever my mother flew, at take-off time out came a little chamois bag from which emerged a gold chain, hung with:
one miraculous medal
one St. Christopher medal
one capricorn insignia
the star of David
--and a rabbit's food
My mother wasn't taking any chances. Maybe something was up there, after all! When the plane landed, she removed the chain from around her neck and put it back into its little bag, never to be used again--until the next flight among the clouds. On earth, Dietrich felt no need for the added protection of her good-luck charms.
From: Stefan Kanfer, Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball, Alfred A. Knopf: New York (2003), page 202:
...the lectures of Carroll Righter. The man who called himself "the Gregarious Aquarius" had risen to the status of Astrologer to the Stars. Among his clients were Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Susan Hayward, and Charlie Chaplin. Dahl was especially impressed; she attended many of "Righter's "zodiac parties," given for his favorites. The fete he gave for her had a Leo theme, complete with lion. The big cat was so drugged he fell into the swimming pool and had to be hauled out, but no one saw this as an embarrassment. Righter was much too important to be mocked. It was common knowledge that he had told Hayward the best time to sign a film contract was exactly 2:47 a.m. She set her her alarm for 2:45 so that she could obey his instructions. Like the others, she agreed with the astrologer's self-appraisal: "They need me here. Just like they need a doctor."
Webpage created 24 June 2005. Last modified 24 June 2005.
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