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Family offers mementos from Marlene Dietrich
By Eric C. Rodenberg

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A personal and somewhat risqué letter written by Ernest Hemingway to actress Marlene Dietrich in 1955 is expected to headline an online auction in which the film star’s grandchildren are selling family heirlooms.

The celebrated novelist met Dietrich aboard a French ocean liner in 1934, and while they reportedly never consummated their relationship, the pair wrote romantically to each other for more than 30 years.

In the two-page letter, written from his estate in Cuba, on letterhead he made up with the property’s name Finca Vigia (“Lookout House”), Hemingway addresses the German movie star “Dearest Kraut” and signs off: “I love you as always.”

Dietrich was writing Hemingway for advice on starting a new career in Las Vegas, after her movie success began to wane. Despite making the stupendous sum of $30,000 a week at the Sahara Hotel, Dietrich confessed she felt lost on stage without a script.

“Throughout her life she always kept in contact with the most amazing people,” her grandson, J. David Riva, told AntiqueWeek. “She was either writing, or on the phone … I remember phone bills later on – in the 1970s and 1980s – running between $3,000 and $5,000 a month.

“Marlene had absolutely no ego. I think there was a lot of self doubt. She was telling Hemingway that ’I can’t really sing, I can’t dance, I don’t have any particular characters, what can I do?’ ”

Hemingway seemingly was a better novelist than director: “If I were staging, it would probably have something novel, like having you shot onto the stage, drunk, from a self propelled minnenwerfer,” he wrote, using a German word for mortar. “As you landed on the stage, drunk and naked, I would advance from the rear, or your rear, wearing evening clothes and I would hurriedly strip off my evening clothes to cover you ….”

Hemingway signed the typewritten letter “Papa.” At the time he was in Cuba supervising and assisting with the filming of the movie adaptation of his novel The Old Man and the Sea.

In the letter, Hemingway makes a reference to their long – but, perhaps unfulfilling – friendship.

“I love you very much and I never wanted to get mixed up in any business with you and I wrote you when this thing was first brought up,” he writes. “Neither of us has enough whore blood for that.”

At one point in his note, Hemingway asks that she destroy the letter. “Cut this paragraph out of this letter and burn it if you want to keep the rest of the letter in case you thought of it funny.

“I rely on you as a Kraut officer and gentleman to do this,” he adds. Evidently, the German-born star declined to do so.

A close friend of Hemingway’s, A.E. Hotchner revealed in his book Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir that the author’s relationship with Dietrich wasn’t physical because the timing was never right. He reportedly told Hotchner that he and Dietrich were “victims of unsynchronized passion.”

The letter and several of the movie icon’s personal items will be on sale at the new online auction launch from March 19 to April 6.

A pre-auction estimate for the letter is $35,000-$50,000.

The bulk of Dietrich’s estate was purchased by the city of Berlin for a reported 8 million Deutsche Marks. More than 3,000 textile items from the 1920 to the ’90s, including 30 film and 40 show costumes, 50 handbags, and 150 pairs of gloves from the most exquisite designers in the world, were contained in the purchase, which was used to establish a film museum.

Also part of the sale were 15,000 photographs from 1904 to 1992, 2,500 sound records from the 1930s to 1980s, and about 300,000 pages of written documents from movie stars and directors, all culled from five warehouses throughout Europe and the United States.

The items at auction when the sale began March 19 were primarily items that were given to her three grandsons.

“For us, the memory of our grandmother has always been powerful and enduring, and while we have enjoyed having these mementos, we felt it was time to let them go to people that would appreciate them more,” Riva said.

The diverse collection of Dietrich’s include her most intimate and personal keepsakes, ranging from cigarette lighters and compacts to love letters and photographs.

“If you want to eat your soft-boiled egg from an egg cup from Marlene’s table, now’s your chance,” Riva said.

One of the major items is a blue and black double-breasted tuxedo with silk lapels worn during her Las Vegas shows. Another “pick of the 250 lots” includes a gold “Stork Club” powder compact with a 1940s insignia of New York City’s nightclub “The Stork Club” on the lid, with mirror. The gold compact was a gift given to the owner’s most celebrated patrons, including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart and, of course, Dietrich who was photographed at the club throughout the 1940s.


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