The following comments on Marlene [Dietrich] were written specially for Life by novelist Ernest Hemingway. Like all his other friends, she calls him “Papa.” He calls her sometimes “Mamma” and sometimes “Kraut.”
She is brave, beautiful, loyal, kind and generous. She is never boring and is as lovely looking in the morning in a GI shirt, pants and combat boots as she is at night on the screen. She has an honesty and a comic and tragic sense of life that never let her be truly happy unless she loves. When she loves she can joke about it; but it is gallows humor.
If she had nothing more than her voice she could break your heart with it. But she has that beautiful body and the timeless loveliness of her face. It makes no difference how she breaks your heart if she is there to mend it.
She cannot be cruel nor unjust but she can be angry and fools bore her and she shows it unless the fool is in bad trouble. Anyone who is in serious enough trouble has her sympathy.
If this makes her sound too perfect, you should know that she can destroy any competing woman without even noticing her. She does it sometimes for fun and then tosses the man back where he belongs. She has a strange, for these times, code that will not let her take a man away from another woman if the woman wants him.
We know each other very well and are very fond of each other. When we meet we tell each other everything that has happened in between times and I don’t think we ever lie to each other unless it is very necessary on a temporary basis.
All the wonderful stories I could tell you about Marlene are not for Life. She would not mind and I would not mind. But many people would. Marlene makes her own rules in this life but the standards of conduct and of decency in human relationships that she imposes on herself are no less strict than the original ten.
That is probably what makes her mysterious: that anyone so beautiful and talented and able to do what she wants should only do what she believes to be absolutely right and to have had the intelligence and the courage to make the rules she follows.
She loves writing and is an intelligent and scrupulous critic and the happiest time I have is when I have written something that I am sure is good and she reads it and likes it. Since she knows about the things I write about which are people, country, life and death and problems of honor and of conduct, I value her opinion more than that of many critics. Since she knows about love, and knows that it is a thing which exists or does not exist, I value her opinion there more than that of the professors. For I think she knows more about love than anyone.
My wife Mary admires Marlene and thinks she is one of the finest women in the world. She knows some fine and wonderful stories too. But she said she would rather put it that way.
I know that everytime I have seen Marlene Dietrich ever, it has done something to my heart and made me happy. If this makes her mysterious then it is a fine mystery. It is a mystery we have known about for a long time.
From “A Tribute to Mamma” by Ernest Hemingway, Life Magazine, August 18, 1952, © 1952 Time Inc. By permission of Life.