FIRST GUEST: C.W. Gortner, best-selling author of Marlene: A Novel of Marlene Dietrich
A German-born actress lived for fame and attention, and took Hollywood by storm in the 1920s and ’30s. C.W. Gortner tells us the story of Marlene Dietrich in his latest novel of historical fiction, a genre that brings history to life.
“History can feel a little dry to people,” Gortner says. So while these are true events, all the little details glue everything together to make it read as a story.
“It is a novel,” Gortner explains. “You’re reading a story that is based on facts and is true to the person’s life, but is a novel so that you can feel the immediacy of the events.”
The events of Marlene describe the life of a woman who challenged almost everything that was expected of her as a woman, as a German, and as an actress. Marlene was a regular part of the Berlin scene where it wasn’t so odd for a woman to wear a man’s tuxedo and a tophat. But in the United States at that time? A woman wearing slacks was unheard of, so when she wore sailor pants instead of a ballgown to a publicity event shortly after arriving in America, you bet she turned some heads.
“My father always said no gentleman ever wore a tuxedo better than Dietrich,” Gortner says of her daring, gender-bending fashion choices. “She was one of the first actresses to be photographed in slacks.”
Despite her masculine wardrobe, she still had to fit a very feminine mold for the silver screen.
“The Hollywood system was ruthless,” Gortner explains. “Marlene had to have a certain look… Hollywood wanted her to lose a lot of weight, and it was always a struggle for her. She wasn’t naturally slim until many years later in her life.”
And what a life it was! Between her professional acting career and her personal life, Marlene Dietrich juggled many responsibilities, something women today are still figuring out how to do.
“Women still today struggle,” says Gortner. “How do you have a fulfilling career professionally and reach your dreams and still be a good parent? All the time women have to face these choices, and we condemn women a lot more than we do men for it.” This didn’t faze Marlene though– she went out and made the money while her husband looked after their daughter at a time when this was far from the norm.
She wasn’t shy about what she wore, being the breadwinner, nor was Marlene Dietrich shy of voicing her own opinion even under the most dire of circumstances. At a time when Germany was under control of the Nazis, she often openly expressed her opposition to their regime. Hitler’s rise to power for Marlene “was horrifying,” and even though she may have been scared to voice her opposition, she could never accept the atrocities that were happening under the Third Reich’s rule.
“As a German-born actress working in Hollywood with family living in Germany she was afraid of speaking out,” Gortner explains. Her fear didn’t stop her from sticking to what she believed, however. She refused an invitation from Hitler to make a film in Germany. Instead, she applied for U.S. citizenship and entertained the allied troops.
“Part of it was she wanted to support the American war effort and stop the Nazis,” says Gortner, “but I also think she wanted to show that not every German was a Nazi.”
Marlene Dietrich was a woman who challenged nearly everything that was expected of her both as a woman and as a German. Her wardrobe, her career, and her political stance all made her who she was, and could not be defined by societal standards. Read more about her life in C.W. Gortner’s new novel Marlene, and learn more at cwgortner.com.
SECOND GUEST: Andrea L. Pino, co-author of We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out, co-founder of End Rape on Campus
Here are some numbers everyone should be aware of: more than 1 in 5 women and 5 % of men are sexually assaulted at college. What’s even more shocking is how many of these cases are either unaddressed, unjustly resolved, or covered up believe it or not.
“What we see,” Pino explains, “is that there’s more of a deterrence for coming forward than there is for actually committing the crime.”
Andrea Pino survived an assault while a college student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unsatisfied with the way her case was handled, Pino filed a federal complaint against the institution, prompting a series of investigations of dozens of colleges regarding the mishandling of such crimes.
When victims’ stories are doubted as much as they are, and victims are questioned relentlessly, there’s not a whole lot of reason for them to even reveal it happened.
“It’s often very rare for survivors to hear [‘we believe you’],” Pino says, which is why that’s the title of her new book. It’s a collection of more than 30 experiences of fellow assault survivors.
Pino’s story is also featured in The Hunting Ground, a documentary now available on Netflix.
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