Marlene Dietrich and how 2 photographs came about

Andrew Davidhazy
Imaging and Photo Technology
School of Photo Arts and Sciences / RIT

Once upon a time in the winter of 1961 a reporter friend of mine and I, feeling that our school's students and staff needed to get a more complete view of life, decided to bring some "culture" to our school, the Boston Latin School, by written and visual articles to be published in the school's literary (and general!) magazine called "The Reporter".

We decided to interview prominent artists performing at one of Boston's more important theaters. It so happened that one day Marlene Dietrich performed along with her troupe of Spanish dancers. We thought this would be "perfect".

After the performance (which we did not attend because we could not afford it (!) we went to the backstage entrance (a pretty dingy place!) and asked the guard there if he would make out presence known to Ms. Dietrich and relay a message from this duo from Boston Latin School who asked to spend a few minutes with her for an interview. The guard dutifully went and disappeared into the bowels of the theater and returned shortly thereafter with bad news. She said she was too busy to see us.

We were, of course, crest-fallen but not totally discouraged. It was like we almost expected to be turned down. Then we decided that we could not let this opportunity pass and decided to gamble on a positive outcome. We pooled out money and went across the street to a flower shop and spent $30 on a dozen long stem roses and returned to the guard. We asked him to return to Ms. Dietrich with the flowers and reiterate our request. He returned a few moments later and said: Ms. Dietrich will see you.

Success!! Great!! She was still on stage and wrapping up things there when I met her. I had a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 Mamiya twin lens reflex with probably Kodacolor film and a Braun handle-mount electronic flash. I took one photograph of her with it. No back up, no 2nd shot. What was I thinking?! Anyway, that is the photograph that you can see here.

Then she and my fellow reporter went on to her dressing room and she spent a good 45 minutes chatting with him. In the meantime I went to photograph members of the troupe of dancers in their dressing room.

Then ... story continues below photograph.

Once the interview was over we spent a few more minutes with the dancers and other members of the cast and finally we went to leave by the backstage door through which we had arrived.

As we got there I noticed Ms. Dietrich on the phone sitting on a rickety crate and apparently talking to her daughter (not sure). She looked so out of place and character yet totally in command of the space she occupied.

I did not want to make a fuss about photographing her then but made two quick exposures with my "back up" 35 mmm camera which was a Leica IIIg equipped with a 50 mm f/2 Summitar lens. I believe (guess I could look it up!) film was Tri-X. Don't remember much more about settings, etc. 2 "grab" shots so to speak is what I made.

Once the article was prepared and we were ready to assemble the magazine I decided that the black and white environmental photograph was a more interesting representation of the actress and performer than the color photograph. This was OK but nowhere as interesting as the B&W photograph in my opinion.

Anyway, being the co-editor of the magazine, my decision "stuck" and what you see is the result of the collaboration between Ms. Dietrich, Gunnars and myself.

Perseverance, ingenuity and creativity all combined to make this interview and photographs possible. Fond memories to boot!