16 MAY 1992, Page 24

Marlene in a housecoat

Sir: Some 20 years ago — give or take a few years either way — I was asked, in Paris, to


have dinner with Marlene Dietrich in her flat. There were three other guests so far as I remember and I went with two of them, a husband and wife, who were relations of mine and close friends of Miss D.

It was certainly a strange evening. I was then in my late sixties and my hostess was, to say the least, a legend. For me and my generation Miss Dietrich stood for all that was super-sexual, super-super in fact; beau- tiful, brilliant, the personification of glam- our. As the day wore on I grew more and more apprehensive. My suit seemed spotty; my hair badly cut; my figure inadequate. I was to face the quintessential female of the time. I dreaded it.

We arrived to be greeted by this 'femme fatale' dressed in a seedy old house-coat and wearing down-at-heel bedroom slip- pers. The face was lovely but the posture, far from glamorous, was of a busy house- wife deeply involved in preparing the din- ner, which, by the way, was excellent. But, even after liberal doses of champagne, I felt that the great lady was not with us. Her mind was in the kitchen (her maid had gone home) and her preoccupation was, quite clearly, with the exotic dishes we were to eat. She didn't even sit with us but float- ed from kitchen to dining table like some aerial (if aged) cook/waitress totally con- cerned with the 'consummation' rather than the customer. To me it was a revela- tion. I realised quickly that this was a woman whose public image was fairly close to a divinity but whose real self was teth- ered to domesticity — what I believe the Germans see as the `Gemiitlichkeit' of `das Kochen'. I see her now as clearly as I did then, padding along in her shabby pink housecoat, which covered those oh! so famous legs encased in dilapidated mules, and placing before us gastronomic delight after delight.

In the middle of all this the telephone went. Miss D. answered it in a hasty voice — she longed to get back to the kitchen — and then announced to us that a British air- line had just offered her some fabulous sum of money which would involve her simply in showing those legendary legs, thus empha- sising, unparalleled, airborne seat comfort. I could stand it no longer. Summoning up such 'clout' as I thought I possessed, I begged her to forget the vast array of cheeses which were to follow our 'creme brillee' and sit with us, for, said I, she was my heroine, my pin-up. I'd probably never see her again except on film and I longed for real, live speech with this hallowed deity. She eventually agreed and, reluctant- ly at first, slowly shed the housewife stance and became marvellously articulate. She reminisced: she told us tale after tale; she purveyed indiscretion after indicretion. She had become an actress and, despite the out- ward appearance of a world-weary cook- general, the memorable face and voice exulted in yet another performance.

Roger Falk

603 Beatty House, Dolphin Square, London SW I