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3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,197 ratings  ·  219 reviews
A lush, dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich, from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood—a sweeping story of passion, glamour, ambition, art, and war from the author of Mademoiselle Chanel.

Raised in genteel poverty after the first World War, Mar
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published May 24th 2016 by William Morrow
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C.W. Marlene was a minor character in "Mademoiselle Chanel", when Coco goes to Hollywood. But Marlene ended up on the editing room floor during revisions…moreMarlene was a minor character in "Mademoiselle Chanel", when Coco goes to Hollywood. But Marlene ended up on the editing room floor during revisions (it was one scene); however, I loved portraying her and thought she'd make an excellent lead character. And my editor agreed! She was fabulous to write. Truly, one of my favorite characters thus far - gusty, unconventional and brave.(less)

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3.91  · 
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 ·  1,197 ratings  ·  219 reviews

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Marlene by C.W. Gortner is a 2016 William Morrow publication.

I will admit up front that I did not realize this was a work of fiction, at first. I was a little disappointed since I was hoping for a traditional biography, but it was my own fault for not reading the synopsis carefully.

I had not experienced this type of biographical fiction until recently, but I found it to be an intriguing way of telling a person’s life story.

This one, though, was not a factual as I would have liked, with some
Angela M
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars if I could , but rounded up to 4 .

I can't say that I've ever seen any of her movies , but that didn't diminish at all my interest in reading this biographical novel of Marlene Dietrich. I do remember seeing clips, seeing how beautiful she was and hearing that sultry voice . The first person narration gives this novel an almost genuine autobiographical feel. Yet, when I read a fictionalized account of a famous person, I always have that question lurking in my mind - how does the author
Diane S ☔
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
When I was a young girl, my sister and I spent many weekends with my maternal grandparents. As the only grandchildren they spoiled is with a great deal, of attention and love. On Saturday evening we watched old movies, my grandfather loved the golden days of Hollywood and as a German, loved Marlene Dietrich. He always said she was a hell of a women who had lived nine lives.

The book starts when Marlene is a school girl in Berlin, living with her younger sister Liesel and her mother. Her grandmoth
Kate Quinn
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've been a fan of C.W. Gortner's books long before I met and befriended him at a conference, and Marlene Dietrich is perhaps my favorite of his heroines. She comes to life on the page: a swearing smoking bisexual goddess of sin. From her early days as schoolgirl violinist to her sashay through the Berlin cabarets of the 30s all the way to her meteoric rise through golden age Hollywood, she fascinates: honest enough to say she doesn't really have much in the way of acting talent; determined enou ...more
Mar 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Beware - this book does not cover Marlene Dietrich's entire life. She was born in 1901 and died in 1992. The book starts with her school years. It abruptly ends after the Second World War. It just stops! I was so surprised, I went back and checked if I had downloaded the whole book! Is there a follow up planned? I do think readers should be warned. You are left hanging without clear information, for example of her sister's fate. After the war Marlene searched for her sister. She was thought to b ...more
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
I won this book through Goodreads giveaway and thank you very much!

But very much a so-so read. A lot of 'tell vs. show,' and dialogue that often says too much. People don't often speak the obvious, not to close friends, family members, etc. Anyhow, when I read the dialogue aloud, it sounded artificial in places, so...

As for the novel itself, it purports to take the major events of Marlene Dietrich's life and expand on them. I'd rather read a biography, and I think - when I entered the contest -
Jul 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Marlene Dietrich wasn't an icon for me until I saw her in Destry Rides Again, and then I wanted to see all her movies. I knew that she first had success in Weimar Germany. My concept of Weimar Germany is based on The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr Norris/Goodbye to Berlin, a short story collection by Christopher Isherwood which is best known for its musical adaptation, Cabaret. I imagined Marlene Dietrich within that environment which was so unconventional and so free. This was the Marlene Dietr ...more
Meg - A Bookish Affair
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Prior to reading this book, I basically knew that Marlene Dietrich was an Old Hollywood star (with absolutely stunning bone structure) who was originally from Germany - not much at all. In this book, C.W. Gortner breathes life into this woman and shows why she is still so well remembered by so many. She is a fascinating person and it easy to see why she makes such a great subject for this historical fiction.

The book is told from the perspective of Marlene. I absolutely loved being able to real
Frank Phillips
DNF.... not because it was not a good book, because it was and the writing was fantastic, but simply because of the subject matter. I thought I would be fascinated by this amazing lady but not enough to put this book ahead of some other books I've been waiting to read during the summer. Because I love this author, and he is a personal friend of mine, I will go back and read this book once I'm caught up with my highly anticipated thrillers and no doubt absolutely love it! At that point a review w ...more
May 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: old-movies, fiction
Marlene Dietrich. Even her name seemed to perfectly typify her. And she went through a number of stages--the upper class girl / violinist turned rowdy German cabaret singer in the 20s:

To the tuxedo tragedienne, in the series of dramatically lit, set pieces in the 1930s:

Crusader against Nazism in the 40s, renouncing Hitler's offer and entertaining troops on the front lines. And 50s/60s--her comeback with a number of great films (A Foreign Affair, Witness for the Prosecution, Judgment at Nurember
The Lit Bitch
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first thing that comes to mind as I read this book is…..what’s fact and what’s fiction? This book is marketed as a historical fiction novel but I had a hard time separating what was fact and what was fiction. Part of me doesn’t mind this sort of structure as the book didn’t read like a biography or memoir but at the same time it was hard for me to know how much of the story was fictional versus factual.

However I guess an argument could be made that this book is so well written and researched
Pam Jenoff
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Have you read any of Gortner's fabulous biographic novels? Start with this amazing (just out in paperback) story of Marlene Dietrich and glimpse the little-told story of her life behind the spotlight, from Weimar Germany to Hollywood and back again. Fascinating!
Sally Koslow
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Marlene Dietrich knew everyone, and slept with half of them. A comprehensive account of Dietrich's life from her school years through her forties told in a first-person voice. Vivid descriptions of Weimar Germany's decadence and despair, "the blue angel"'s open bi-sexuality and remarkable experiences, particularly during WWII, and insights into Germany's everyday anti-Semitism and how patriotic citizens looked the other way as Hitler came to power.
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads FirstReads in exchange for an honest review.

This was my first book by C.W. Gortner, and I really enjoyed his writing style. I didn't have a lot of background information on the main character, aside from recognizing her name as one of the famous women of old Hollywood. I don't think I've ever seen one of her films, but I did know she spend a lot of time touring in the USO during World War II. I had also heard rumors that she was bisexual and ha
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have been a fan of C.W. Gortner's meticulous historical fiction since reading "The Queen's Vow" a few years ago. With this book, Gortner has left the world of the Spanish royal family and entered war-torn Germany for a look at one of Hollywood's most glamorous leading ladies.

We start with a very young Marlene Dietrich, attending private school and taking violin lessons ... and discovering her sexual orientation is not quite what she expected it to be. Throughout the book, Dietrich's relationsh
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once again, C.W. Gortner has taken a fascinating woman, actress, Marlene Dietrich, and made her likable and welcoming. It is difficult to flesh out aspects of Dietrich's life when she was so guarded, gave false stories of her life, and was such a recluse later in life. Perhaps it was the Germanic tone in the dialogue scenes I'm not sure except the more I read, Marlene, the more interested in the person I became. I don't know anything about her life or film career except her later years. I am gla ...more
Laura Lee
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Gortner is an excellent writer. He's very good at capturing strong women, which Marlene Dietrich definitely was.
I think the book was well researched. I came across several scenes or incidents that I had read about previously. I am big on Old Hollywood.
Gortner brought Marlene alive, who was not always a very nice person, far from perfect. She has been portrayed by some as something of an Earth Mother, cooking for everyone, taking care of everyone, natural and down to earth. But I think the auth
Christoph Fischer
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was lucky enough to meet the author at several events and talks at the Oxford Historical Novelist Society. Inspired by his passion for inspired writing and for his book's subject I purchased "Marlene" and got it signed.
The book (hardcover) is a real treasure, with a stunning cover and high quality paper. What I thought would be a biography proved to be a highly engaging first person narrative novel in which Marlene (Maria Magdalene) bares all from childhood to the end of the war.
The prose flow
Mar 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a thoroughly engrossing historical depiction of the life and career of Marlene Dietrich. Although it is fiction, it is told convincingly in a first person autobiographical style. The events I presume are largely factual, however the personalities, details and dialogue are creative writing. Knowing little about MD in advance, I feel that the author provides a believable portrayal of this larger than life star along with her foibles and motivations. It is an easy well written read although ...more
Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In C.W. Gortner's hands, Marlene Dietrich is as fascinating in print as she was on screen. The first-person narrative begins when Marlene is 12 and smitten with her female French teacher. Following the 1st World War, she tries to please her strict, domineering mother by studying to be a violinist, but truly finds herself in Weimar-era Berlin's famous cabarets, making a splash in her tuxedos, having affairs with men and women alike, and becoming the legend we know today. We see her inner struggle ...more
Martin Turnbull
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I’m a fan of Gortner’s novels, especially his 20th century biographical novels, and this one didn’t disappoint. Marlene Dietrich was like no other movie star of her time – and “her time” stretched for decades. Although this book doesn’t cover her entire life, Gortner did include the most interesting part and gives us an insight into an otherwise enigmatic persona.
Mr Puddy
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-fiction
" Different people bring out different aspects of one personality " Quote by Trevor Dunn probably explains what I feel about Marlene Dietrich in C.W. Gortner's version. Myself, I'm not a fan of actor/actress life but I do believed C.W. Gortner can delivery his best. He did not disappointed me at all. I has learned life from the character I have never paid attention to...the author let me see the other views of the good German towards the World War II. which I have never thought about it. Marlene ...more
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this tribute to an actress I knew very little about. A hero to our troops during World War Two and a woman who worked hard and kept her principles when it mattered most. Thanks C.W. Gortner for a fascinating and entertaining read.
Tristan Robin Blakeman
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anybody interested in film history, USO history, Marlene Dietrich
Recommended to Tristan Robin by: Marie Z. Johansen
I've read two other biographies of Marlene Dietrich, and though this is a first-person novelization of her life from late adolescence through her middle-age cabaret career, it sticks very closely to the facts that have been stated in more scholarly works. And it's much more entertaining to read! In fact, I read it overnight...and it's not a short book!

As I said, I've read other biographies of Marlene (a favorite of mine), so I don't know that this book taught me anything new. From her early stru
Apr 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Like Gortner, I admire Marlene Dietrich for her ability to survive against great odds, and do it with style, panache, and minimal compromises. And where it really counted, she never compromised on her opposition to the Nazi movement. Gortner makes her long-distance admiration for Grete Garbo the bookends of the story, following each other from afar through a couple rough and tumble decades. I think her artistic collaboration with von Sternberg is the heart of the story, and I now find myself mot ...more
May 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gortner writes Marlene’s story in first person; so it’s as if this were an autobiography. I most enjoyed learning of Dietrich’s early life and that she was a violinist. I was somewhat aware of the culture in pre-WWII and the decadence in Germany, but didn’t realize it was quite so hedonistic. I’ve seen a couple of Dietrich’s movies and never thought of her as much of an actress. I think her allure was mainly her mystic and glamour. I grew very weary of detailed telling of her sexual exploits. I ...more
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
When I first started reading this novelization of I wasn't sure that Gortner had the right "voice" for Marlene, my impression being that it was somewhat forced, maybe a bit cold. However, after about 100 pages or so I saw the docu-drama that Maximillian Schell did of Marlene. Dietrich didn't allow him to film her for that, but there is quite a bit of the audio interviews included which she did allow. After seeing the film I was convinced that Gortner actually got MD down pretty well in his chara ...more
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
Gortner has become one of my favorite authors of late because he wrote Mademoiselle Chanel and The Last Queen, both outstanding books. Chanel was one of the best books I read last year. I had no idea I could even fall in love with a book about Coco Chanel. It seemed impossible. Just ask anyone who knows me. It just didn't seem like my thing. But, fall in love with it I did. Then I read The Last queen, about Juana of Castile. I hadn't known much of her life. Gortner's story came alive for me. I v ...more
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am ashamed of myself for not reading Gortner sooner! After reading The Vatican Princess I just had to read Marlene. Having finished Marlene I now have the pleasure of reading Gortner's previous books.

As with The Vatican Princess, Gortner delivers. Aside from having watched Blue Angel with my beloved grandmother many years ago, I didn't know anything about Marlene Dietrich. This novel presents a fascinating woman living during a fascinating time. It took me a bit longer than usual to read Marle
Barbara Davis
May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely adored this book, from the crisp cool prose to the raw emotional insights offered on this amazing American icon. Gortner's strips Dietrich bare, (often literally) giving us a character who is both flawed and fascinating, shocking and shameless, selfish and giving, and who, by novel's end, has finally found the best part of herself. I truly didn't want the book to end.
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Bestselling author C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing, with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies. Raised in Spain and half Spanish by birth, he currently lives in Northern California. His books have been translated in over 20 languages to date.

He welcomes readers and is always available for reader group chats. Please visit him at for more information.
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