Marlene Dietrich, Secretive Icon of the Silver Screen, Will Get Her Own Smithsonian Show

At the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, the entertainer's legendary life—and looks—will be on view.

Marlene Dietrich in "Morocco"by Eugene Robert. Image Courtesy Deutsche Kinemathek - Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin.

An exhibition dedicated to film legend Marlene Dietrich is slated to open at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on June 16, 2017, running through April 15, 2018. It will be the first major exhibition on the actress to be held in the United States.

Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image” will explore the star’s life through more than 45 objects, including correspondence, film clips, and photographs. Also on view will be photographs of Dietrich taken by Irving Penn.

Dietrich, born in Germany in 1901, was known for pushing boundaries in gender, openly voicing her political views, and consistently reinventing herself. In the 1930 film Morocco, she wore a man’s tie and kissed another woman; both were virtually unseen in mainstream cinema at the time. She became an icon in the LGBTQ community and beyond—a position she still holds in contemporary culture.

Dietrich is widely regarded as the most influential star working in Hollywood during the rise of “talkies,” and became known for challenging traditional gender roles through her fashion choices both on and off-screen.

Marlene Dietrich. Image Courtesy Deutsche Kinemathek – Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin.

As such, the exhibition takes its title from a famous quote by Dietrich: “I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.”

“Dietrich is a study of contrasts in many ways,” Kate C. Lemay, the show’s curator and National Portrait Gallery historian, said in a statement. “She was known for her discipline and dedication to her craft while unapologetically breaking social barriers and embracing female independence.”

The actress gained American citizenship in 1938, and received a Medal of Freedom for entertaining American troops in Europe during World War II. She is known for her humanitarian efforts throughout the war, and remains a symbol of anti-Nazism. Dietrich’s career lasted through the 1980s, until she died in Paris in 1992.

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