No lexicographer has yet succeeded in exactly defining the word ‘glamour’. It just cropped up one day, but nobody can explain it or trace its etymology. I’ve often been asked about the meaning of this word and have always had to ‘throw up my hands’.

The greatest ‘glamour girl’ was Mae West. Then came Carole Lombard. And then Dietrich. At any rate according to Paramount’s view. MGM, of course, also had its glamour girls in Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford… At that time there were no ‘sex symbols’. In my opinion this notion first came into being with Marilyn Monroe. Sex was then taboo. ‘We must do all that only and exclusively with the eyes,’ Mae West explained to me one day. And we all stuck to this. There was no scene in which we undressed or appeared semi-nude, nothing improper. I must confess I prefer that method to what you see on the screen nowadays. I don’t like it, and I’m sure the public shares my dislike.

Today sex is tremendously important. It’s the only thing that has something to offer people. Everybody is so frustrated that the pursuit of pleasure has become a veritable sickness. That’s why ‘shrinks’ are so popular; many people pay horrendously exorbitant sums to their shrinks’ for their life-supporting therapy (all the better for the ‘shrinks’ when they can become rich that way!). Despite that, I feel sorry for people who need such a deceptive form of assistance.

The word glamour means something indefinite, something inaccessible to normal women – an unreal paradise, desirable but basically out of reach.

I find that all pretty stupid. Of course, we’re beautiful in the photos and also in life; but we were never as extraordinary as the image that was drawn of us. We clung to this image because the studio demanded that we do so. But none of us enjoyed it. To us it was a routine job, and we just did it well. If the Harlows, the Crawfords, the Lombards had been asked for their opinion, I’m sure they would have said the same.

Marilyn Monroe was an authentic ‘sex symbol’, because not only was she ‘sexy’ by nature but she also liked being one – and she showed it. And she came at a time when the censorship to which we all had to submit (cheerfully, I would say) no longer existed. The skirts rose to the hips, panties became visible and the eye of the public was riveted on them. The performance no longer counted.

The directors of the thirties respected us and didn’t demand that we show our ‘derrière’. They attached no importance to it. We had to do without ‘tricks’ of this kind. And what we did we did very well. We stimulated the imagination of the public all over the world; we awakened dreams and filled the movie houses.

But we also played serious roles in which the notion of being ‘fatale’ simply never came up. The films with Garbo and with me have made history. When today’s young people come to see us decked out in boots and fancy robes and behold our so-called ‘hot’ love scenes, they become enthusiastic and love us. Perhaps because of something else…..

Source: Marlene Dietrich – My Life (1989)