skygiants: Mae West (model lady)
[personal profile] skygiants
I was browsing through the nonfiction available from Open Road Media's free-books-bonanza a few months back, and a book caught my eye immediately and held it -- Marlene Dietrich's ABC: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes.

I immediately did the internet equivalent of grabbing the people I'd been chatting with by the collar in order to shout, "Marlene Dietrich* WROTE A COOKBOOK?!" I don't think I've ever pressed a "Purchase" button so fast.

*early film icon, notorious femme fatale, one of the first women to kiss another woman onscreen

It turns out Marlene Dietrich's ABC isn't exactly a cookbook, although it does contain recipes. Written in 1962, when Dietrich was 61, it's exactly what it says on the tin: an alphabetical index of Things Marlene Dietrich Considers Interesting Or Important. This means that any given page is likely to contain a miscellany of Marlene Dietrich's thoughts on such subjects as Backseat Driving (she's against it), the Beatles (she's for them), Beauty (The Seamy Side), Beef Tea (recipe), and Bergman, Ingmar ("they treat him like a king, and when you are with his disciples you fall right in step"). The book overall is exactly as weird and fascinating as you are likely to imagine from this. Some of the time Dietrich is playing the role of Sophisticated Screen Siren, sometimes she's playing the role of Your Kindly Grandma, and sometimes she just wants to tell you her Feelings About Poetry. Did I need to know that Marlene Dietrich thinks about Atticus Finch as "someone she might have married"? Yes, I ABSOLUTELY DID. (Also, who's going to write me that fanfic for next Yuletide?)

Of course there's all the parts where she gets very kindly and domestically gender-essentialist at you; Dietrich may have been bisexual, but she's certainly not letting any of that show here, and would much rather tell you about how important it is to be a good helpmeet to your husband without henpecking him.

But then, on the flip side of this, there are all the parts where she slides in an offhanded comment that abruptly reminds you that she's a German woman who watched her country become something she didn't recognize, renounced her citizenship, spoke out vocally and consistently against fascism, and performed so tirelessly for the USO during WWII that she ended up on the front lines more than Eisenhower.

The entry for Hate, for example, sandwiched in between entries on Hardware Stores and Hats: "I have known hate from 1933 till 1945. I still have traces of it and I do not waste much energy to erase them. It is hard to live with hate. But if the occasion demands it, one has to harden oneself deliberately."

There are times in this book when I found myself abruptly identifying very much with Marlene Dietrich.
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