Smithsonian to Mount the First U.S. Exhibit Exploring the Life and Art of Marlene Dietrich


Time to brush up on your classic Hollywood stars: Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will mount the United States’ first-ever exhibition dedicated to Marlene Dietrich, reports. From June 16 through April 15, 2018, the D.C. institution will be home to 45 Dietrich-centric artifacts, including letters, film clips, and photographs. The exhibit, titled “Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image,” was organized in conjunction with the Berlin-based film archive and museum Deutsche Kinemathek, which has a permanent collection devoted to Dietrich.

Dietrich, who died in 1992 at the age of 90, was a German-American citizen; she was born in Berlin and moved to the United States after she got her first big break, in the German film The Blue Angel in 1930. Today, she’s remembered for her smoky, sultry voice and her boundary-pushing embrace of androgyny. In the 1930 film Morocco, she famously kissed another woman while dressed in a man’s tie. As the film historian Karina Longworth notes in her podcast episode on the actress, Dietrich wasn’t just a glamorous, edgy sexpot; she was also a political activist. She entertained American troops in Europe during World War II and, as Longworth explains, was not just a performer but a “propagandist” and “de facto intelligence agent.” (And, Flavorwire might add, one of the baddest bitches of the Jazz Age.)

In 2002, newly published FBI files revealed that then-FBI head J. Edgar Hoover didn’t trust Dietrich, and from 1942 to 1944, worked hard to prove that she was a Nazi spy involved in “anti-American activities.” (She had been an American citizen since 1939.) But in 1944, Dietrich proved the opposite when she became a spy for the U.S., “collecting observations about subversive activities in Europe” while she toured the continent as an entertainer. In 1945, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Don’t believe me? Check out the CIA’s website.

In a statement, exhibit curator Kate C. Lemay said, “Dietrich is a study of contrasts in many ways. She was known for her discipline and dedication to her craft while unapologetically breaking social barriers and embracing female independence.” Amen. See you in Washington this summer?