Marlene Dietrich's Personal Library

Marlene Dietrich did not have the eyes of a reader; she had the eyes of a seductress. Which served her well in her long Hollywood career. But, as it turns out, she liked books. Through November 24, Henry Sotheran's Fine Books and Prints in London is holding a selling exhibition of thirty of the actress' books.

Screen shot 2012-11-19 at 9.57.43 AM.pngThe list has some of the glamour one would expect: first editions of Cecil Beaton's photography books, an exhibition catalogue from a 1986 Christian Dior show in Paris, and a selection of photography/art books in which Dietrich herself is featured. An inscribed copy of Persona Grata, a collection of photographs and text by Beaton and Kenneth Tynan, stands out. Dietrich has underlined a sentence from the description under her name, "She has sex, but no particular gender." She knew had to add value to a book! In addition to the marginalia, a collection of personal correspondence and ephemera is tucked in. The price is £2,750 (about $4,375).  

And then there is Goethe. Apparently Dietrich was a fan, writing once, "My passion for Goethe, along with the rest of my education, enclosed me in a complete circle full of solid moral values that I have preserved throughout my life." Her "well-read" 1948 Dial Press edition of The Permanent Goethe with numerous pencil markings can be had for £998 (about $1,500). It seems she also enjoyed Voltaire -- her Modern Library edition is here for £298 (about $475).

But the highlight of this exhibition must be Dietrich's paperback copy of Mein Kampf, given to her by her lover, Erich Maria Remarque, in 1939. Says the bookseller, "The couple's essential Germanic background and both of their fierce anti-Nazi feelings makes this copy of Mein Kampf an important association copy." Its price is £6,000 (about $9,500).
According to the bookseller, this collection came by direct family descent from Marlene to her daughter Maria Riva, thence to her grandson Peter Riva. Each book has a letter of provenence signed by Peter Riva as well as a newly designed bookplate (seen above). Andrew McGeachin, managing director at Sotheran's, also adds, "Books from Dietrich's library are difficult to find on the commercial market as the vast majority of her possessions are held at the Filmmuseum in Berlin."