Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Who knew Marlene read and critiqued Hemingway's drafts?

Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl! One day at the American Library in Paris, I looked through the stacks at books and in the margins found one marked up with comments. It turns out this was a book donated by Marlene Dietrich. Evidently it came from her estate and I found this New Yorker article which gives the history. From the New Yorker: The actress Marlene Dietrich spent the last ten years of her life bedridden, in her apartment on Avenue Montaigne, in Paris, refusing to see old acquaintances and avoiding photographers. In her biography of Dietrich, her only daughter, Maria Riva, wrote that her mother’s legs “withered. Her hair, chopped short haphazardly in drunken frenzies with cuticle scissors, was painted with dyes.” She surrounded herself with a hot plate, telephone, scotch—and books.
She coped with isolation by running up a three-thousand-dollar-a-month phone bill and reading everything from potboilers to the pillars of the Western canon. She consumed poetry, philosophy, novels, biographies, and thrillers—in English, French, and her native tongue, German. When she died, in May, 1992, her grandson Peter Riva was tasked with clearing out nearly two thousand books from her apartment, many of which arrived at the American Library in Paris.
Simon Gallo, the library’s former head of collections, told me recently that only a few hours separated Riva’s initial phone call and the arrival of a truckload of books at the library’s back door. A portion of Dietrich’s collection was given to the Film Museum in Berlin, and some items—such as her personal copies of “Mein Kampf” and first editions of Cecil Beaton—were sold to private collectors. Many books donated to the American Library were simply marked with a bookplate and put into circulation. As of 2006, students could still check out Dietrich’s personal copy of “The Collected Works of Shakespeare.”
Dietrich’s books are full of marginalia. She usually scrawled it in English, and with red ink.
Hemingway and Dietrich met on an ocean liner, in 1934, and conducted a thirty-year, sexually charged correspondence, which ended only with his suicide, in 1961. Hemingway sent drafts of his work for Dietrich to read, including his stories “Across the River and Into the Trees,” “The Good Lion,” and “The Faithful Bull.” He once wrote that the two were “victims of unsynchronized passion.” Though their letters were provocative, and Hemingway once detailed an image of Dietrich “drunk and naked,” their intimacy was, according to her grandson Peter Riva, “cerebral.” Her personal German dictionary has only one underlined word—the term of endearment by which Hemingway addressed her in his letters: “kraut.”
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Fascinating story, Cara. Amazing the connections between people of that era. (Of course, maybe everyone knows about this except me.)

  2. No, Michael, not just you, and you stole what I was going to say: Fascinating, Cara!

  3. Who knew? I had to say it, despite the fact that men in other time zones got here before me. What a sad and fascinating vignette about tortured souls.

  4. I love that I always learn something new from Murder Is Everywhere.

  5. What a sad way to end one's life though, although the isolation was perhaps deliberate? Mind you, I completely understand the books keeping you company.

  6. My oh my. It always amazes me how so often haunted souls seem to find each other in the strangest ways. Hmm, that was not meant as a segue into my saying how much I'm looking to sharing the "stage" with you (and Lisa Alber) tomorrow evening at 7 (Thursday) at Janet Rudolph's Literary Salon in Berkeley!

  7. Great story Cara, as they say in these parts 'Who'd 'ave thought it!!'

  8. My question is why did Marlene Dietrich have personal copies of that dreadful book that shall not be named? And that they were more valuable in that they were her copies?
    I thought she was anti-Nazi.

    It sounds like two tortured souls all right Their endings are both sad.