DreamWorks will turn Marlene Dietrich’s story into a star vehicle for Gwyneth Paltrow.
The studio has optioned Maria Riva’s memoir “Marlene Dietrich,” and has secured cooperation from Dietrich’s estate. Jess Money will write the script and produce with Paltrow and David Nicksay.
There is no firm timetable on the project, which is just as well because Paltrow has taken a screen sabbatical following the birth of her first child with her husband, Coldplay front man Chris Martin.
Paltrow and her producing partners pitched the project to a DreamWorks contingent that included Steven Spielberg.
She becomes the second actress vying to play Dietrich: Louis Malle once worked with the family to produce a film starring Uma Thurman, but the project halted when Malle passed away. John Guare, who scripted “Atlantic City” for Malle, was to have adapted the project for United Artists.
Dietrich, who come of age in Germany during the carnage-filled waning days of WWI, became a legend on the stage and screen, and in many bedrooms.
“In the cabaret scene in Berlin, girls dated girls as much as men, and nobody wanted to settle down because they were so affected by the horrors of war,” Dietrich’s grandson Peter Riva said. “She would fall in love with a song, with Paris, or a beautiful woman or a powerful man, and she would pour all her passion in that direction for as long as she wanted to.”
Dietrich was the top-paid diva in town and she was first to get gross percentage from Paramount while building her star with such films as the Joseph von Sternberg-directed “The Blue Angel.” But her defining moment — and a likely pivotal point in the biopic — came when her film career grew cold just as WWII was heating up and Hitler wanted the country’s screen queen to come home.
“The Nazis were desperate and offered her everything to return to Germany and become the face for the Third Reich,” Riva said. “By rights, she could have returned because Hollywood had turned on her. But she felt moral indignation for what the Nazis were proposing, and she spent the entire war doing everything she could to fight against them.”
Dietrich openly stumped for war bonds and secretly helped the OSS by making personal recruitment calls to Germans who were persuaded to become turncoat spies. Then, she actually joined the troops near the front lines all over Europe — she arrived in France three days after the invasion of Normandy. She didn’t leave until the Allies reached Berlin. After WWII Dietrich grew bored with the frivolous films being made. She carved out a singing career before taking radical retirement.
“When she realized that age caught up to her at 76, she made sure that she did not undermine her memory by being seen getting old. She stayed in bed for her final 11 years.”
Riva said Paltrow is one of few contemporary actresses who could do justice to his grandmother.
“She has the stillness required in an aristocrat, and the ability to plumb the depths of character without too much emotion, which was Marlene’s trademark,” Riva said. “Like Marlene, she has the kind of body designers love to hang clothes on. And while Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald taught Marlene to maximize her limited vocal range, Gwyneth is a much better singer. She’ll just have to sultry up her voice a bit.”
DreamWorks’ David Beaubaire will shepherd the pic.