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Film Legend Marlene Dietrich Dies At 90

May 6, 1992

PARIS (AP) _ Marlene Dietrich, the Berlin-born film legend with the husky voice, smoldering eyes and classic legs, died today at her home in Paris, her grandson said. She was 90.

Pierre Riva, who made the announcement to French journalists, gave no details on the cause of death. He noted that she died on the eve of the 45th Cannes Film Festival, the premier event of France’s film industry. Dietrich was featured on the official poster this year.

Dietrich’s attorney, Jacques Kam, said in a telephone interview she died simply of ″old age.″

He said relatives and close friends were with her at the end. Dietrich is survived by her daughter, Maria Riva, and four grandsons. Funeral plans were not immediately available.

Dietrich was an enigmatic blend of public glamour queen and private woman with bold intelligence.

During World War II, she defied Adolf Hitler’s call to return home to Germany, performing instead for U.S. troops in Berlin. The action earned her a U.S. medal, but hostility in Germany.

Dietrich captivated film, theater and nightclub audiences for more than four decades with roles as diverse as the cool, continental temptress Lola- Lola in ″The Blue Angel,″ and the hot-tempered Wild West saloon queen, Frenchy, in ″Destry Rides Again.″

″I played whores,″ Dietrich once remarked with legendary candor. ″I never played any recommendable character.″

Dietrich’s career as a night-club singer ended in 1975 when she broke her leg in Australia, and she made her last film in 1978. In recent years, she lived as a recluse in her fashionable, Right Bank apartment behind the Champs Elysees. She was rarely seen in public, choosing to come and go through the building’s basement garage.

Jimmy Stewart, Dietrich’s costar in ″Destry Rides Again,″ described her today as ″a complete movie actress. She amazed the cameraman because she knew so much about the lighting.″

Janet Leigh, who starred with Dietrich in ″Touch of Evil″ in 1958 called her ″an absolute star ... She knew her face, she knew her body, she knew how to say a word that would best contour her face. She was absolutely savvy about that.″

Dietrich arrived in Hollywood in the 1930s at a time when the film capital was importing a number of exotic actresses, and she outlasted most of them.

Blessed with fine features set off by high cheekbones, Miss Dietrich reached the height of her film career in the 30s and 40s with ″Shanghai Express,″ ″Morocco,″ ″The Blond Venus,″ ″Angel″ and ″The Flame of New Orleans.″

Off camera, Miss Dietrich set fashion trends with casually elegant pant outfits and outlandish hats. She kept gossip columnists busy by socializing with artists and writers as well as her directors and leading men.

Her close friend Ernest Hemingway christened her ″the Kraut.″ She epitomized the Hemingway heroine - tough, uncompromising and romantic.

Marlene Dietrich was born Maria Magdalene von Losch in Berlin on Dec. 27, 1901, according to the Berlin registry.

Other versions said she was born in 1902 and 1904.

The daughter of a prominent German family, young Marlene attended school in Berlin and Weimar, where she showed unusual musical promise. She planned to be a concert violinist until she developed a tumor on a nerve in her left wrist at 17.

Her passion for the arts remained, however, and she turned to the stage, winning a bit part in ″The Taming of the Shrew.″ While playing as an extra in a Berlin film studio, she met her husband, Rudolph Seiber, an assistant director.

They were married in 1925, and had one child, Maria Riva. The birth of a grandson in 1948 earned Dietrich the affectionate title, ″The World’s Most Glamorous Grandmother″ - which she intensely disliked.

Despite Dietrich’s well-publicized love affairs and the fact that they lived apart, she remained married to Seiber until his death in 1976.

Her acting break came in 1930, when the young Viennese director, Josef von Sternberg, convinced her to take the lead in his film ″The Blue Angel.″ Her performance as the sultry, cabaret temptress Lola-Lola launched the Dietrich legend and helped make ″The Blue Angel″ a film classic.

Hollywood took note, and a contract with Paramount Pictures followed.

On the eve of World War II, Dietrich took U.S. citizenship. Rejecting Hitler’s call to come home, she eventually played for American troops in Berlin, entertaining them with her shapely legs and famous songs.

Reports published in 1977 said Dietrich did more for the allies than boost morale, however, - she recorded songs containing coded messages for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services spy teams.

The U.S. War Department awarded her the Medal of Freedom in 1947, and France presented her with the Legion of Honor.

″I felt myself responsible for the war which Hitler had caused and I wanted to help bring it to a close as soon as possible,″ she wrote in her memoirs, ″Marlene Dietrich, My Life,″ published in Germany in 1979.

Dietrich’s war activities tarnished her reputation in Germany. When she returned to West Germany in 1960, she found many Germans still remembered her in a U.S. military uniform.

Her homecoming was marred by bomb threats, picket signs reading ″Marlene Go Home″ and editorials calling her a ″traitor.″ Despite a highly acclaimed performance with 11 curtain calls, Dietrich swore she would never return.

In 1953, Dietrich made a smash debut as a nightclub singer in Las Vegas. Taking her act to London’s Cafe de Paris, she created a sensation with her plunging necklines and seductive poses.