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Marlene Dietrich - Did they meet?


Some stories and rumours do exist of possible meetings of those two icons from the silver screen. Often they are hard to believe, because there is still this huge question above all of them: If they met, why was it not a big story in the press? It must have been a sensation. “Garbo and Dietrich, those two rivals did finally meet.”

But nothing like that does exist.In Marlene's legendary interview for Sweden TV in the early 1970s, Marlene Dietrich said that she NEVER met Garbo Below you'll find stories and reports by various personalities… if they are true or not.. make your own decision.

We asked 'Garbo expert' Mark A. Vieira

We asked writer  Vieira (known for many great Hollywood books) and also believes that they met at that Lubitsch Party. But he could not find record if it was 1930 or 1931. He told us that he thinks, that they have met in 1930 or 1931. In 1934 and again 1939. Numerous times. It was in the news and in many other places. Greta did not want to be friends, though.

This is from his book:
There is no record of their Meeting (that LUBITCH PARTY in 1930 or 1931), but in 1931, Dietrich asked an interviewer her films. We are not the slightest bit alike. I do not concentrate on lovemaking on the screen. I am as happy to play the part: “Why do people call me a Greta Garbo? Why do they associate my name eternally with lovemaking? I have met Greta Garbo. I have seen of a charwoman.”

Mark A. Vieira, Greta Garbo - A cinematic Legacy (2005)

A meeting in a nightclub? – 1935

On January 26, 1935 Garbo surprised all of Hollywood, and, by way of wire services, all of America, by showing up at an exclusive nightclub, the Café Trocadero. When she appeared in the foyer at 11:30 p.m., patrons gaped in disbelief. The orchestra stopped playing. It just could not be. But there she was, wearing a tailored suit and a tie, accompanied by French director Marcel Archard, Salka Viertel, Gottfried Reinhardt, and his father, Max Reinhardt.

The club’s owner, Billy Wilkerson, signalled to the conductor to resume playing. The headwaiter rushed over and whispered: “I can give you a table in a corner where no one will see you.” Garbo said that she would prefer to sit at a table adjoining the dance floor with Princess Natalie Paley and Felixe Rollo, a purported Egyptian prince.

Nearby tables in the nightclub were occupied by Hollywood notables such as Ernst Lubitsch, Louis B. Mayer, Lili Damita, Walter Wanger, Fritz Lang, and Marlene Dietrich. “You never saw so many women in severely tailored suits,” wrote Harrison Carroll in the Evening Herald-Express.

Mayer smiled across the room at Garbo. Lubitsch came to her table to say hello. Damita’s date, arriving late, mistook Garbo for Damita and slapped her on the back, saying, “Hello, Toots.” Garbo took it in stride. Wanger asked Garbo for the first dance. “No, not tonight, Walter,” she replied. “This is all new. Let me get used to it first.”

Garbo sipped champagne and talked with her friends while everyone in the club discreetly craned his or her neck to see if she would look at or talk to Dietrich. “The reported snubs between the Swedish actress and Marlene Dietrich were not apparent to this observer, who kept a pretty close watch.  Marlene said afterward that she did nod to Garbo. But she did chide photographers for chasing her rival, ” wrote Carroll.

“That wasn’t nice,” said Dietrich. “Why didn’t you let her enjoy herself for the evening?” “They are trying to renew the old Garbo-Dietrich feud for publicity purposes,” wrote columnist Sidney Skolsky in the Hollywood Citizen-News. Dietrich was not a regular at Viertel’s salon but knew everyone who was. She had the same manager, Harry Edington, as Garbo.

The Scarlet Empress and The Painted Veil had both been box-office disappointments. This nightclub “act,” which got a great deal of press coverage, was in all likelihood an Edington-Viertel brainstorm meant to gild two birds with one story. It worked.

Mark A. Vieira, Greta Garbo - A cinematic Legacy (2005)

Garbo and Dietrich met at Ernst Lubitsch’s ‘Welcome Party for Dietrich’ (1930)

Should it be known as a fact that both actresses met in Hollywood? Should we have no doubt about their encounter and even a little conversation between the two icons?

We get so many questions regarding a possible ‘meeting’ between these two legends, that we thought to point out a very good source that a meeting may happened. Salka Viertel’s autobiography from 1970 and the fantastic German book about GG and Salka by Nicole Nottelmann from 2011.

Nicole Nottelmann, 2011 - Aufbau Verlag

The Welcome Party
It was in late April or early May 1930 when the great director Ernst Lubitsch gave a welcome party for a new arising star from Germany, Miss Marlene Dietrich. She had just arrived a few days earlier after her enormous success as Lola Lola in THE BLUE ANGEL. Dietrich had a Hollywood contract in her pocket and her new studio Paramount wanted to create a kind of new Garbo who was the leading star of  Hollywood.

There were selected guests on Lubitsch's party- mostly German speaking celebrities- who should be introduced to Marlene who didn't have a name yet in Hollywood. Among those guests was Salka Viertel who had been admiring Garbo for a longer time already. She had seen her before on a Party given by Emil Jannings but didn't dare to approach Garbo who was surrounded by a bunch of fans.

Greta sat next to Marlene on a couch
But this time Salka was lucky. Her friend Jacques Feyder, another great director, took her over to a couch where Greta sat next to Marlene having some small talk. Monsieur Feyder introduced Salka to Greta who was obviously delighted and wanted to move to the side to enable a seat for Salka.

Marlene, however, didn't like the interruption and kept her seat on the small coach. Greta took the chance and went outside on the patio with Salka where they had a very long conversation together which was the beginning of their lifelong friendship until Salka died in 1978.

Why didn’t Salka confirm that it was Marlene?
In 1969 Salka Viertel wrote her famous autobiography DAS UNBELEHRBARE HERZ (THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS) and she was such a fine lady that she didn't even mention Marlene's name in relation to Garbo, her beloved friend, on that Lubitsch Party.

Salka just wrote „a German actress“ and did without another famous name because she was no gossip at all. But all intimate friends did know who that German actress was.

Salka Viertel had become Garbo's best friend. Their was a big understanding, harmony, respect, friendship and adoration between the two women. So Salka’s book is a reliable source that Garbo and Dietrich had met personally? And that they even had talked together?

We asked 'Garbo expert' Mark A. Vieira
We asked writer Vieira (known for many great Hollywood books) and also believes that they met at that Lubitsch Party. But he could not find record if it was 1930 or 1931.
He told us that he thinks, that they have met in 1930 or 1931. In 1934 and again 1939. Numerous times. It was in the news and in many other places. Greta did not want to be friends, though.

This is from his book:
There is no record of their Meeting (that LUBITCH PARTY in 1930 or 1931), but in 1931, Dietrich asked an interviewer: “Why do people call me a Greta Garbo? Why do they associate my name eternally with lovemaking? I have met Greta Garbo. I have seen her films. We are not the slightest bit alike. I do not concentrate on lovemaking on the screen. I am as happy to play the part of a charwoman.”

Salka Viertel’s autobiographieDas unbelehrbare Herz (Germany 1970)
Nicole Nottelmann’s Greta Garbo and Salka Viertel: Ich liebe dich. Für immer. (Germany 2011)
Mark A. Vieira, Greta Garbo - A cinematic Legacy (2005)

While Garbo visited Gilbert? (mid 1930s)

In the John Gilbert biography of her father, Dark Star, Leatrice Fountain related a story about a visit Garbo made to Tower Road – with a jealous Marlene Dietrich steaming at the front door while Jack and Greta talked in her car. Marlene thought that Garbo begged him to come back to her and a shocked and hurted Dietrich left the house and the situation.

John Gilbert

This encounter, Fountain admits, was unconfirmed and had been erroneously added to the manuscript by a collaborator. Gilbert's daughter now believes it to be nothing more than “a romantic fabrication.”

On the The Joyless Street set? (1925)

The classic German Pabst film, A joyless Street, was filmed in Berlin during February–March 1925. There was for decades this rumour that Marlene Dietrich played a minor role in this film. A dark-haired woman waiting in the butcher shop line was and still is often mistaken for Marlene.

Marlene as she looked around Joyless Street.

Garbo in Berlin

Actually it was Hertha von Walther. She had a much larger role in the original uncut version of the film.


In Hollywood via Emil Jannings? (early 1930s)

German actor Emil Jannings was riding high on the success of The Blue Angel, even though Dietrich had supposedly stolen it from him, he wanted Garbo to meet Dietrich. Perhaps he thought that Garbo might bring Dietrich down a couple of notches. If he indeed suggested that they meet, the introduction most likely took place at the home of Ernst Lubitsch, who also lived in Santa Monica.

Emil Jannings in The Blue Angel, 1930

There is no record of their meeting, but two months later, Dietrich asked an interviewer: “ Why do people call me a Greta Garbo? Why do they associate my name eternally with lovemaking? I have met Greta Garbo. I have seen her films. We are not the slightest bit alike. I do not concentrate on lovemaking on the screen. I am as happy to play the part of a charwoman.”

It is not known if Jannings made the impossible possible and that he made Garbo and Dietrich meet.


In California? (early 1940s)

Just after Marlene finished The Spoilers , Gabin went off to make a bad picture called Moontide, giving Marlene time to rest and recuperate from the rigors of their relationship...

Gabin dodged the nosy next-door neighbor, who appeared each afternoon at four in a floppy straw hat and sunglasses. The neighbor displayed fanatic devotion to the shrubbery separating the properties, creeping along and peering through for a glimpse of grass she suspected was greener than her own. Her lope was vaguely familiar, but horticulture was a previously unsuspected passion of the female Peeping Tom, whom he finally realized was Greta Garbo. 

Gabin and Dietrich

Marlene, never shy about nude swimming and sunbathing, seemed unperturbed by Garbo's spying, but Gabin was. He was jealous. He was jealous of Marlene's work... Gabin went a little insane, too. He beat her. The "though guy" persona was no pose; he used his fist when jealousy proved overwhelming. When she bought lingerie, he wanted to know for whom.

When she went to the grocery for the makings of a pot-au-feu, he was certain it was an alibi for a stew of another sort. Her men friends were potential or past alumni, her women friends might belong to the Sewing circle. Gabin was simply uncontrollably jealous.  She was amazing, puzzling, provocative...  Always seductively perfumed.


In Beverly Hills via Orson Welles? (early 1940s)

When it turned to the end of war, Marlene Dietrich was guest in Orson Welles house and his wife Rita Hayworth in their house in Los Angeles. Dietrich suggested Welles and succeeded to persuade a meeting with Greta Garbo arranged by him.

According to Welles, Marlene wanted only to determine, how the Swede looked after several years absence of the movies and to meet the woman who Mercedes de Acosta, Gilbert and Remarque once loved. Her own affair with the Acosta belonged meanwhile also to the past. Anyhow a party in the house of Clifton Webb in Beverly Hills was given. Welles presented the two women each other, and promptly Dietrich swarmed around Garbo and told her how inspiring she was, called Garbo “goettlich” (divine) and an “unsterbliche” (undying) MUSE.

Orson Welles

Garbo who hated blandishments exactly the same like gatherings of people, brought only a narrow smile out and a short appreciative remark, with which the maintenance should actually be terminated, but Dietrich let itself not be shaken off and increased her flattering nearly in the intolerable. Now Garbo had to endure and still said some absent-minded thanks. Finally Dietrich withdrew herself exhausted. Later in that evening Dietrich said to Welles: "Her feet are not at all as large, as one always says."  But the topic was not yet terminated. With a drink at home MD insisted on the fact that the Garbo, against the rumour, quite put up some make-up:

"She has curved eye lashes. Do you know, how long one needs, to bend around the lashes to get them that way?" Welles did not have notion, but the affair was not further pursued. Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo had nevertheless met once again; there is no reference on the fact that they met at another time.


At a Hollywood tennis match? (early 1940s)

One rumor is that during the 1940s, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn and Thomas Mann were playing tennis in Hollywood.  The son of a wealthy businessman, owned the Brentwood Country Club at one point, and during the 1940's, the family lived in Hollywood.


Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn and Thomas Mann

Gregory (the son) described looking out at the family's tennis court one day and seeing, no lie, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn and Thomas Mann playing tennis. Three of the most beautiful people in the world and a man who wrote about beauty.


In New York via Gus Statiras? (unknown date)

Music dealer and record producer Gus Statiras told this story about Marlene and Garbo.

"One rainy day, Miss Dietrich, attired in a yellow rain hat, coat and boots, stormed into the Liberty Music Shop demanding to see me. I was talking to and waiting on Mrs. Brian Aherne (Mary Aherne) and Miss Greta Garbo, who were seated on the sofa off at the far end of the record counter. At the other end of the counter, near the front entrance, at the top of her voice, Miss Dietrich shouted she wanted to see Mr. Statiras!

Miss Dietrich wanted me to introduce her to Miss Garbo! I dashed to Miss Dietrich and told her that would be most difficult, knowing of Miss Garbo's regard for privacy. She then went into an almost tearful speech of how she copied Miss Garbo's eye makeup style and that Miss Garbo was her inspiration, etc.; that I must take her to meet Miss Garbo.

I returned to the other end of the counter where I found the sofa had been abandoned. Miss Garbo and Mrs. Aherne slipped out into the rain through a side door at the far side of the shop. Telling Miss Dietrich that Miss Garbo had left through the side door, she dashed out of the shop into the rain looking up and down Madison Avenue for a glimpse of Miss Garbo."


In Switzerland via Brian Aherne? (1964)

Brian Aherne was an Oscar-nominated English actor of both stage and screen, who found success in Hollywood. During his touring days in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, long before Aherne had befriended Garbo, he was now divorced from Joan Fontaine and married to Eleonore de Liagre. The Ahernes lived in Switzerland, and visited Garbo from time to time.

In July 1964, they took her to supper with Noël Coward, who saw them again a few days later at the Geneva airport: “Brian, Eleonore and Garbo (quivering with neurosis) were on the plane.”   Eleonore once asked Jean Negulesco if he would mind dining with three ladies – the other two being Garbo and Dietrich. Negulesco liked the idea and later recalled:

“G complained about the neighbour living in the apartment over hers. Noise and copper pipes came through her ceiling. Marlene was comparing the rising prices from day to day on fruit and fresh vegetables. Two of the most famous women in the world exchanging banalities and kitchen talk!”


In California at Frank Sinatra's house? (late 1950s)

In the 2003 released Frank Sinatra book, Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs and William Stadiem, they write that Jacobs once catched Dietrich and Garbo in Sinatra's pool, swimming naked and kissing.

Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra Cover
the book

As the right hand of Frank Sinatra from 1953 to 1968, George Jacobs arguably had one of the coolest jobs in the world at the time when Sinatra was the undisputed master of the entertainment universe. Jacobs rose from his humble beginnings in New Orleans to join Sinatra in the mansions of Beverly Hills, the penthouses of Manhattan, the palaces of Europe, the pinnacles of world power. George Jacobs saw it all, did it all.

By far the most exciting thing that happened in the Frank Sinatra house occurred when Mr S wasn't there. He would readily lend his house to anyone, even if he barely knew the object of his largesse. The case in point here was Minna Wallis, sister of producer Hal Wallis. Because of her brother's success, Minna was A-list and someone Mr S, who was a social climber, wanted to cultivate.

"He sent me down to Palm Springs to prepare the house for her and whomever she happened to bring. Boy, was I unprepared when Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo showed up. Both women were in their fifties, and the two superstars couldn't have been more natural, no make-up, no airs, no frills. Garbo had some weird dietary requests, no dairy, no animal protein, just a diet now known as 'vegan'.

I had to make a mad run back to LA, which had everything to keep the ladies happy. When I returned that evening, they couldn't have been happier. They were oblivious of me. I slipped into the house and into my room so as not to spoil their party, though I couldn't resist peeping through the blinds. What mortal could?

I rarely heard Garbo talk, but I did hear her laugh. She was having a wonderful time, giggling, splashing Minna, dunking Marlene under water. They got out of the pool, but didn't dress. They savoured the privacy, the freedom, the night-time desert warmth.

Marlene lit up a cigarette, which she passed to Greta. They each took long drags, intercut with long, pregnant looks at each other. And then a coyote began to howl.

The ladies jumped in fright and retreated into the house, and the best I could do was to serve them yogurt, oatmeal, and organic honey for breakfast. At this point, even before Mr S made the cover of Time a few months hence, I had no doubt that I had the coolest job in the world."

A meeting in a nightclub? – 1941

After the Two-Faced woman premiere fiasco, Garbo went out on the town, patronizing a private nightclub where her rival entertained the gay and lesbian clientele for free. Hedda Hopper reported, “The other night Marlene Dietrich, at the Club Gala, sang her entire repertoire of songs, and who should be there lapping it up but Greta Garbo and Gayelord Hauser?”

Mark A. Vieira, Greta Garbo - A cinematic Legacy (2005)

Did they have an affair?


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