Actress, Film producer
|Growing up with Henny Porten
Albeit playfully, she first fashioned her own identity, stylizing herself into a new being, in 1912 and 1913. On the covers of her school notebooks she contracted her first names – Marie Magdalene – into "Marlene", at the time a rather unusual unique name, indeed. Outwardly, Marlene Dietrich's childhood took a quite normal upper-middle-class course. Through her step-father Eduard von Losch, she encountered relatives who were staunchly conservative earls and princesses. They left their mark on Marlene Dietrich's values. She took violin lessons, performed at school events and participated in evenings of music at home. She was infatuated by her elegant Aunt Vally and by her occasional young male acquaintances at the skating rink. And she confided her hopes and doubts, flirtations and yearnings to her diary.
As an adolescent, she experienced the First World War primarily as a personal drama. She longed for her step father, wounded for the first time in September 1914 and sent to a military hospital in Brunswick. She compensated for his absence with revengeful taunts in the schoolyard: "Hiddekk" (An exclamation resulting from the first letters of the words in German meaning: 'Foremost the English must be beat’) After her step father's death, her mother moved with the two daughters to relatives in Dessau. Trips to Berlin were increasingly regarded as enjoyable interludes in an entertaining metropolis. Over the Christmas holidays in 1916/17, Marlene Dietrich attended theater and ballet performances at Berlin's Schiller Theater, the Grosses Schauspielhaus and the Wintergarten, but also a screening of a film at the Union-Theater on the Kurfürstendamm. In spring 1917, the family of three moved back to Berlin. An entry in her diary on April 13, 1917 reveals that the sixteen-year-old's moods fluctuated between private concerns, school and the impact of the war; "I don't have a crush on anyone right now, but maybe I'll meet Georg Tarnowski through Heinz Gottwaldt. My violin lessons are very difficult, I have to practice like mad. (...) Yesterday a picture of Uncle Max arrived. Dear, dear Uncle Max. We never really spent time together, but now that he's dead, I realize how dear he was. (...) I don't think the war will ever stop. Now against America, too! Well, I'd better stop writing and wait till I can write something more interesting, like about the new love I'm waiting for."
From autumn 1917, the object of her adoration was the German movie star, actress Henny Porten. In wartime kitchen dramas, Porten played women whose lives were harsh, often misused by men who appeared noble but were in fact morally base. Henny Porten was considered the personification of all romantic torment inflicted by men on women. Her indignation at the humiliation she experienced was always genuine. With a lofty gesture she expelled the sinners from her paradise. She suffered without complaining, silently, breathing hard, her chest trembling, hands wringing. At moments of extreme despair she threw herself on the ottoman. Marlene Dietrich was elated to be able to worship Henny Porten. She sent home-made cream cakes to the actress' box at the theater, visited her at her home, serenaded her on her birthday, and gave her cards of the star that she had painted in herself. But for Marlene, the greatest joy was yet to come. "My mother was quick to note my great passion, and so one day, for a Porten film premiere, she took the large box next to Henny's for the whole family. Without having expected it, this day turned out to be an exhilarating triumph for me. Namely, some months before, I had made a gobelin cushion for Henny and sent it to her. And what did I suddenly see on the screen? Where did Henny Porten let herself fall when she passionately swooned? Right onto my cushion! I pinched my mother's arm and trumpeted out into the Mozart Hall: 'Mother, look! She has fallen on my cushion.' What bliss!"