Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Marilyn and Marlene

Sometime during the night of August 4th to 5th of 1962, America lost one of its most glamorous and radiant stars. In her Los Angeles home on Helena Drive, Norma Jean Baker, a/k/a Marilyn Monroe, passed away under mysterious circumstances at the tender age of 36.

As difficult as it is to believe that it’s been 50 years since her tragic death, it’s even more difficult to believe that were she still with us today, Marilyn Monroe would be 86 years old.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Hollywood Icon’s passing, MAC cosmetics will be launching a make-up collection in October in honor of the luminous star of “Some Like It Hot” and “The Seven-Year Itch.”

Frequently copied, but never equaled, Marilyn’s Look was an alluring synthesis of hyperfemininity (Marilyn) and fragility (Norma Jean).

Her most enduring love affair was with the camera, and it loved her back in a way that no man ever could.

Marilyn Monroe's Look was a collaborative creation with her favorite make-up artist and confidante, Whitey, whose devotion to her image remained beyond the grave. He took many of their make-up secrets with him when he died. A sadly prophetic request, she once asked Whitey to do her make-up if she should die first. He did.

Beyond the voluptuous body and the platinum hair, it was that fabulous face that really made Marilyn……..well, Marilyn. The make-up and application techniques to create that amazing face evolved over time and, eventually, took more than three hours to complete from the initial coat of Vaseline petroleum jelly, to give her face that dewy glow, to the final coat-after-coat of red lipstick followed by Whitey’s and Marilyn’s secret formula lip gloss ---- it remains a secret.

For a wonderful insight on how to recreate the Marilyn Look, make-up artist to the stars, Lisa Eldridge, gives a fascinating tutorial that lasts about 10 minutes (not three hours) and is worth every minute.

25 years before little Norma Jean made her appearance in Los Angeles County Hospital, Maria Magdalena Dietrich von Losch, made hers in Berlin, Germany.

“The Blue Angel,” a 1930 German film, would bring Marlene Dietrich to the attention of Hollywood and the world.

She became one of Hollywood’s most glamorous and enduring movie stars.

Despite the usual highs (box office dynamite) and lows (box office poison), her career spanned more than 50 years.

Born without Marilyn’s natural beauty, but with the same cunning camera instincts, she became an expert on angles, lighting and how to apply make-up to create the shadows and illusions that would become the Dietrich Look.

Although not openly discussed at the time, Marlene’s bisexuality was an essential element of the Dietrich Look.

Famous for her shapely legs, she showed them to great effect when sexy Marlene was called for. And then there was that deep, sultry voice with a heavy dash of accent.

In contrast to the sweetness and fragility of Marilyn’s sex appeal, Marlene’s was edgy and tough.

This was a gal who could clearly get you into trouble; but she was also the gal you wanted in your corner when trouble started.

And then there’s the androgynous allure of her most famous Look. Considered très risqué for its time, it caused quite a stir in Hollywood circles.

But when it came to the way she dressed, Dietrich had a very simple philosophy: "I dress for myself; not for the image, not for the public, not for the fashion, not for men."

It is my favorite Dietrich Look. Only Fred Astaire ever brought so much panache to a top hat and tails.

In 1937, Dietrich became an American citizen and spent most of World War II entertaining American troops in North Africa and Europe.

She was awarded the American Medal of Freedom, reportedly her most cherished award, and the French Legion of Honor.

In the 1950s Dietrich headlined her own cabaret show and took it all over the world.

After a nasty fall on stage, she gave her last live performance in 1974 at the age of 72.

After that, she made a brief guest appearance in a movie and was the subject of a wonderful documentary by the actor Maximilian Schell, which she agreed to do only on condition that she not be photographed.

At 83, no camera angle, lighting or artfully applied make-up could recreate the Dietrich Look, and she knew it.

Schell complied with her wishes and used only that wonderful voice, which alone can stir up images of the Blue Angel.

She spent her final years in seclusion in her apartment on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris. 

Sometime during the night of May 6th to 7th of 1992, Maria Magdalena Dietrich von Losch, a/k/a Marlene Dietrich, died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 90.


  1. Wow. Bless you, M-T, for telling the stories of two remarkable women. Marilyn, still so mesmerizing, so fresh, all these years after her death, thanks to photographs and films. I had not heard about "The Great Marlene" for a long time, and thoroughly enjoyed this review of her career and life. One of her great loves was French actor Jean Gabin, remember? Well done. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  2. I'm so glad you liked this little trip down memory lane. My Father was a huge Gabin fan. The Dietrich-Gabin romance was legendary. Sadkly, they only made one film together, "Martin Roumignac," and, I think, just a cut version was released in the U.S. and was not successful.

    I would love to see the original version, wouldn't you?

    1. I most certainly would. I bet life must have been interesting around these two legends, both independent and strong-willed. Imagine the fights... and reconciliations :-) Veronique

    2. Ooooh, my imagination is running wild, Véronique -- two monstres sacrés going at each other at full throttle (I think that's a nautical term in your honor)!!



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