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Blue Angel Hardcover – 16 Jun 1997

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
No "Angel" 16 April 2004
By EA Solinas - Published on
Format: Paperback
Donald Spoto tends to write pleasant, sometimes very insightful biographies that tend to look at different aspects of the stars they focus on. "Blue Angel," however, is not up to par. While his biography of actress Marlene Dietrich is well-written, he seems too disconnected from his subject.
Marlene Dietrich was a dominant sex symbol alongside the distant Greta Garbo. Her big break came with Josef von Sternberg, a German director who found the struggling actress and made her his muse, lover and inspiration. Dietrich kept spreading her wings in Hollywood, and in the 1940s she entertained Allied troops for her adopted country.
Spoto does a pretty good job of covering Dietrich's many-faceted life. Hausfrau and actress, Berlin cabaret and Hollywood, he checks it all out and describes it with a fair amount of detail. And despite the varied nature of Dietrich's love life, he at least tries to keep his tone professional and detached. (Even when describing Dietrich placing a bouquet of violets in a rather, um, intimate place)
What's Spoto's biggest problem? He seems to have no idea what made Dietrich tick. When describing the real Dietrich -- the woman behind the image -- he seems genuinely befuddled by her real personality, and spends too much time speculating on her motivations. However, he sheds a great deal of light on Dietrich's mystique, and how it was created by von Sternberg.
Donald Spoto's "Blue Angel" sheds some light on the not-so-angelic Marlene Dietrich, but his lack of insight into Dietrich's mind makes it a somewhat frustrating read.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Yeah, well 31 Aug. 2001
By Lambchops N. Sweaters - Published on
Format: Paperback
An enjoyable and informative read, though at times presented too romantically and subjectively. A fine job of portraying Dietrich from many angles, fleshing her out (though the author is irritatingly fond of the word "plump")... Spoto seems to approach his subject with celestial reverence, as though trying to conceal his own crush behind historical voyeurism (the discussion of debauched 1920s Berlin is particularly gratifying). Sometimes he speculates too much on possible motivations instead of simply offering facts, but he also makes good use of others' reminiscences of Dietrich to back up some of his insightful conjectures. Enjoyable but not riveting.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Gives the Devil Her Due 21 Aug. 2010
By Samuel Leiter - Published on
Format: Paperback
According to his acknowledgments, Donald Spoto finished this book in January 1991. Five months later, his subject, Marlene Dietrich, died. This leaves the book with an unfinished goal, the biography of a great celebrity from birth to death. Dietrich was 90 when she died, and by that time an alcoholic recluse, but the circumstances of her passing would have brought this book the closure it lacks. Moreover, Spoto did not personally interview the star, so he had to rely on extensive research into published and unpublished sources, as well as interviews with those who knew La Dietrich, yet the overall result is a well-written, compact survey of her artistic career, with enough description of her personal triumphs and tragedies to satisfy most fans' interest. Dietrich's life and career are the stuff that biographers' dreams are made of; she started life as a well-brought up middle-class German girl born at the turn of the century; became a stage performer in the decadent Berlin of the Weimar Republic's 1920s; made the transition into silent and then sound films; had the good fortune to be the Trilby to the Svengali of genius cinematographer/director, Josef von Sternberg; found success as Hollywood's highest paid star of the 1930s, with a carefully crafted beauty that overrode concerns about her somewhat limited--but nonetheless memorably expressive-- singing and acting talents; became an icon of USO entertainers on the front lines of World War II, and let her native Germany know just what she thought of it; had a vast array of male and female lovers, including many of Hollywood's leading players; gained fame for her sense of style, both in glamorous female garments and striking male ensembles; resurrected her career in middle and old age by appearing as an ageless glamour girl in countless performances of a one-woman show she gave around the world; and then, unable to let the world see how age was robbing her of her vaunted beauty, chose to live out her life in a Paris apartment, slowly drinking herself to death.

Despite being something of an enigma, her personality comes across quite vividly in this biography, and Spoto should be commended for presenting both her admirable qualities--relentless professionalism, maternal affection for those she loved, remarkable courage, and ability to craft an unforgettable artistic persona--and her less admirable ones--sexual profligacy, erratic temperament, astonishing egotism, and so on. This is not a work of hagiography, and the reader comes away both admiring Marlene Dietrich and despising her.

Although Spoto's book covers many of Dietrich's numerous affairs, it is now clear that there were many others he overlooked (including Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck). Perhaps some later writer has covered these; I'm looking forward to reading Maria Riva's biography of her mother, which is about three times as long as Spoto's volume. An advantage of reading the book in 2010 is that one can easily see many of the performances being described by simply going to YouTube. Doing so allows you to compare your critical reaction to some of Dietrich's filmic song renditions with those of Spoto. Occasionally, he overstates his case, and to me, at least, the performances do not match his assessments of them. Still, I was totally engrossed by the book, and, even though it's been almost 20 years since it was published, readers should still find it worth their time.
I can't think of any other performer who went from being a major movie star to then have another career where she can arguably b 17 Dec. 2014
By ACE - Published on
Format: Paperback
The problem I have with the book, is the lack of sympathy of rapport with the subject. Viewed objectively Marlene Dietrich was an Extraordinary woman. She was friends with notables such as Hemmingway, Gielgud, Coward, Welles, Cocteau etc. She was the lover of countless famous men and women among them Cooper, Douglas, Wayne, Todd, Fisher, she made her own life. I can't think of any other performer who went from being a major movie star to then have another career where she can arguably be counted as the greatest Chanteuse of her time. All these years later it is easy to forget how important she was at the time. The author presents her stage career as somehow not that major. But she was! She made German language versions of "Blowing in the Wind' and "Where Have all the Flowers Gone" that were revolutionary at the time, She narrated a documentary about Hitler call "The Black Fox". She rejected Nazi Germany at a time when her American career was floundering, and then with breathtaking bravery and courage toured the world entertaining the Allied forces in conditions of extreme hardship. She carried on working into her 70's- I saw her in 19 and she was superb AND still Gorgeous to look upon. Very few books have captured this truly amazing woman-perhaps the most interesting of her time. This book fails to do it. When I finished it I wondered why he had written it, he did not seem to be particularly interested in his subject, The Amazing and Legendary Marlene Dietrich.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
marlene dietrich 30 Mar. 2014
By Murray Sherman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The binding for Marlene Dietrich was not that pictured in your advertisement,but rather any titally black cover with a kind of lathertte and rather poor stiff binding. I never got to open the book.
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