I WISH YOU LOVE (Television Special)
Taped: New London Theatre, London (1972) / Broadcast: January 1973
Producer: Alexander H Cohen | Director: Clark Jones | Conductor: Stan Freeman
Lighting Design: Joe Davis | Set Design: Rouben Ter-Arutunian | Costume Design: Jean Louis
A Brentwood Televison Production for CBS / BBC

For her first TV appearance this Saturday, Marlene Dietrich has been paid more, minute for minute, than any other star in television history, something in excess of $250 000. If she had been Cleopatra emerging from a 90-oar barge in the pollution of the Hudson, with 100 eunuchs throwing rose petals in her path, the executives at CBS would not have offered more - or been more excited at meeting her. Still, Dietrich is not happy. Not happy at all.

"They work you to death," she complains, making a mighty scowl in the comfort of her Park Avenue apartment. "CBS is the ruler of us all. It's as if I were a machine, and they just put a nickel in me," she adds, telling a minor horror story of impossible hours before the camera. How does the TV special, which was taped before a London audience and which is a capsule of her long-running act, compare with her regular live performances? "Believe me," she says, "it ain't as good."

A press conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel the day before had not done much to sweeten her mood. "Jesus, where did they get those idiots?" she fumes, referring to the assorted TV writers CBS had flown in, fed and housed for the occasion. "They must have been the dumbest people in America. I have never heard such stupid questions." (The TV critic of the New York Post, for instance, twice broke in to announce that he had just seen a cockroach marching across the floor.) In fairness to the TV writers, it has to be remembered that to Dietrich a stupid question is one that touches on 1) her age, 2) her beauty secrets, 3) her personal life, or 4) just about anything else a reporter might be interested in, including her daughter, the wife of an American toy manufacturer living in London, and her four grandsons.

 Papa. Could she talk a little, then, about Ernest Hemingway, whose picture - with a fond inscription to the "Kraut" - she reverentially puts in all her dressing rooms? "That has all been publicized," she abruptly answers, then relents enough to add: "He knew me better than anybody, and naturally he could say it better than anybody." Naturally. "She is brave, beautiful, loyal, kind and generous," Papa began an eneomium that is now reproduced on one of her record albums.

How about her late good friend Jean Cocteau, the French poet and film maker? "That has all been written about too," she says sourly. "In your voice, we hear the voice of the Lorelei," Cocteau had rhapsodized. "In your look, the Lorelei turns to us." Ah yes. What then, does she think of Charles de Gaulle, still another famous friend? She jumps up and pulls down from one of the bookshelves that line the end of her living room a copy of Marlene Dietrich's ABC - her own special updating of La Rochefoucauld - and begins thumbing through the pages. "That is all in my book. Let's see. 'D' - De Gaulle." Consternation. "It's not here. But it must be here. He wrote me a letter to thank me." A flurry of pages and, with a sigh of relief, she lands on the right spot: "G" for General de Gaulle. "He can do no wrong," reads the entry.

Mention of De Gaulle leads to a talk about World War II, which leads to Dietrich's heroic three years as a front-line entertainer, for which she was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honor. She is, all of a sudden, almost gay, close to voluble. She comments about Women's Lib ( "It's ridiculous. I think a woman wants to be dominated by a man. Men are much cleverer than women. A dominating woman cannot be happy" ). About the film directors she has most enjoyed working with (Josef von Sternberg, Billy Wilder and Orson Welles). About The Blue Angel, the film that sent her to America ( "I thought everything we were doing was awful. They kept a camera pointed on me here." She points to her groin. "I was so young and dumb" ).

Orson Welles' 1958 Touch of Evil in which she has a small part as a Mexican madam, is her favorite among her films. "I think I've never been as good as I was in that little teensy part. I had a line at the end: 'What does it matter what you say about people?' I tell you it was beautiful." Would she ever act in another movie? She shudders. "I don't like to get up in the morning at 5 o'clock. I was not so lucky to be a silent film star who could sleep till noon." More TV? It seems unlikely. She enjoys working in it as little as she enjoys watching it. "It is all right for lonely people," she says. Her own set, a true antique, cannot even receive CBS's New York outlet.

At 70 or thereabouts - she will never say - Dietrich looks 70 or thereabouts, appearing older in person than she does on the stage. She sometimes wears thick glasses; lines radiate from her mouth, and when she sits, something she never does in public, there is a slight bulge around her middle. Still, she is a very good-looking 70, and her magnificently alluring voice is ageless. If she no longer looks like Cocteau's Lorelei, she still sounds like her - or the Lola Lola of The Blue Angel and the Frenchy of Destry Rides Again. That alone may be enough to make her special one of the brighter hours of the TV season.

T I M E Magazine : January 15, 1973