Screen Queen: Marlene Dietrich

 

Marlene Dietrich: Queen of Drag

Marlene Dietrich is a woman of many titles. International movie star, cabaret artist extraordinaire, Allied power’s most valuable cheerleader and, of course, gay icon.

No-one pulls off a suit quite like Marlene Dietrich.

Considering she was a familiar face in the famed Weimar drag balls of  pre-war Berlin, Dietrich’s place in the gay community should come as no surprise  Like fellow gay icon Mae West, Dietrich’s career as an entertainer was deeply influenced by the gay cabaret and vaudeville acts that offered her that first chance of stardom. And again, like West, she was influenced by the sexual freedom offered by the gay circles of her time. And while West would use her work to explore themes of sex and male/female sexual relationships, Dietrich would use her career  to explore themes of sexuality as it applies to gender.

Marlene Dietrich, forever the winner of Most glamourous

Much of Dietrich’s career, especially in her early Weimar Berlin days, was an exploration in sexual ambiguity. On Monday morning she’d be dressed in the pinnacle of feminine fashion, and by Monday night she would perform donning a three-piece suit, complete with a top hat and tail. For Dietrich, the idea of gender and identity was something fluid and she enjoyed using the stage to experiment with those notions. She was able to both be a woman, yet dress and strut about like a man, inhabiting both genders at once – creating something completely new in the process. This form of entertainment casts aside any preconceived notions of the gender binary, opening Dietrich to an entirely new world of aesthetics and performance.  Although seen as scandalous at the time, the idea of gender performativity, the idea that is gender is essentially a form of acting and not necessarily the sex you are born, has since become a hot topic in the world of academia. So, like all the greats, Dietrich was simply ahead of her time and for that reason she is a Screen Queen.

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Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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