Another Goddess I Have Known–Marlene Dietrich

One of 21 Hirschfeld drawings of Marlene. © The Al Hirschfeld Foundation.

Another Goddess I have known is the famous 20th century movie star, Marlene Dietrich. This post has to do with how Alexander King and I met her.

After  Alex and I had gone through the lowest of low downs,  things were looking up for us.  That was when he had a life-threatening kidney stone attack. The doctor said he needed an immediate emergency operation; but my husband was reluctant.  The night we were having dinner with the Hirschfelds. I was hoping Al, his caricaturist friend, would talk some sense into him as soon as he heard the urologist’s prognosis, But all during dinner Alex hadn’t mentioned it once.

The four of us had just gone upstairs to the living room when unexpectedly the door-bell rang.  Dolly scampered back down to see who it was. We heard  a low voice and Dolly’s explosive, “Liebchen!” German chatter coming up the steps and then turning into the room, who should make an entrance but the ultimate glamorous  movie-star–Marlene Dietrich.

She was instantly recognizable, of course, even in her incognito nurse’s get–up.  She said she had just finished feeding  her four energetic grandsons up the block

As she nestled seductively down into the capacious, curved couch right next to my Austrian spouse, her white nurse’s uniform didn’t look quite so puritanical. The skirt was tight enough to hike up  to the middle of her thigh.  I also noticed despite her  practical flat-heeled shoes, she nevertheless crossed her famous legs to maximum sexual advantage– I noticed my 50 year old husband noticed too.

Now, dropping  her familial well-practiced role of  “devoted grandma,” she dragged her large purse near enough to search for cigarettes. (Later I learned some know-it-all wag had remarked that Marlene’s trademark alligator bag was known to be a subliminal warning that in its leathery belly might be found a few grisly leftovers from former lovers with—or upon–whom she’d dined)

After rummaging about in this seemingly bottomless pit until she had everyone’s complete attention, she pulled out a thin gold cigarette case.  Then with a delicate finesse, she removed a cigarette from its gleaming interior, tapped it on the initialed lid, raised it to her lips, and then reaching again into her bag, let it dangle there—just the way she did when she played “Frenchy” in the movies!

Now there was not an upstanding man anywhere in the world, let alone in the Hirschfeld’s living room, who would not be quick to pick up on a cue like that.  Alex, however, being closest, zipped out his Zippo and did the deed. Or that is, he tried to.  As luck would have it, at this that very moment his plebian Zippo gave out.

“Here, try this.”  With the cigarette still bobbing from the corner of her mouth, she took her own lighter out of her breast pocket and handed it to Alex.  (It must have felt warm as mother’s milk)  It was a very elegant, conspicuously expensive, gold-ribbed lighter that we eventually learned had to be fed miniature gas bottles of fuel that were imported from France.

She held her cupped hands around my husband’s for a rather unnecessarily long time I thought.  Then inhaling deeply, she tilted back her head, and turned a languid gaze in my direction.  Her words, however, were addressed to my husband.

“Tell me,”  she said, “what sign is she. “

Alex looked blank.

“Aries,” I said.

“Oh, ants in the pants Aries.” She turned back to him.  “You must get tired of tripping over the furniture she keeps moving around.”

I did! I did!  I mean who knew unless you tried it, if it might not look better “there” than “here.”  However the “ants in the pants” part, forget it.  Despite the discrepancy in our ages, (I was 20 when met) and the fact that in the beginning of our being together, I’d occasionally go out of town for brief singing gigs,  Alex King was much too experienced a husband to allow his fourth (and final) wife the kind of boredom, or insecurity, that leads to sexual fooling around.

Besides my wizard’s white magic was working.  A surprisingly successful indoctrination was taking place.  I was beginning to enjoy getting into this good-woman image he was so carefully crafting for me.  Marlene’s  slightly Iago-ish implication about my playing around spoke more of her experience than mine.

Next it was Alex’s turn to be scrutinized.  “And you,” she said, regarding him with those fabulously, famously hooded, eyes, “let me guess.  I think you’re…” she blew a fragrantly, flagrantly summoning wisp of smoke in his direction, “you’re a”—again she paused, this time clearly for effect, “a Scorpio!”

“Yes!” I squeaked, ecstatic.  She smiled a lovely wise, warm smile, and looked at me.  “A scorpion won’t sting you, you know, if you hold it in the open palm of your hand.   Scorpios, however, can often be their own worst enemies.”

Didn’t I know!  My man, born under the sign of the Scorpion, seemed all too often on the edge of self-destruction.  Even this very minute, wasn’t his shadow telling him not to have the operation that I was convinced was the only thing that would save his life?   Now I was afraid he wouldn’t get around to telling Al and Dolly about our visit to the doctor at all!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>