Monday, March 26, 2012

Marlene's Own Unique Take on "Lili Marleen" . . .

Marlene Dietrich did not record any version of the song "Lili Marleen" until the 1960s, coincident with her part in the film Judgment at Nuremberg, but long before that she translated the original German lyrics of the long-lived song into English herself, and performed that version in concert. Below is a scan of her original translation, as she herself typed it out at the end of World War II while on tour in North Africa entertaining Allied troops.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Ah, I see she separated syllables ("Li Li") and conjoined words ("Aworld") the way she sang them. Now, how did your wonderful blog escape my eye? I'll add you to the Last Goddess blogroll right now.

    1. Thanks. Good to see someone younger interested in Marlene Dietrich.

    2. Rudi, I was quite absent-minded when I originally commented on this. I should have asked you: are there any recordings of this version with the last 2 verses? All the performances and recordings that I own or have heard omit them, which changes the outcome of the song's narrative to a more optimistic love story.

  3. Let me correct one detail.

    As I know Dietrich recorded this song long before 60-s and it have been played even in the battlefields (this song among others was manifestation of Dietrich's pacifism, and she was anti-fascist along with Remarque, Brecht and other Germans against Hitler)...

    In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musac project, musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene Dietrich, the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use, recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including Lili Marleen.
    [source: McIntosh, Elizabeth P. (1998). Sisterhood of spies: the women of the OSS, p. 58. Dell., London.]

  4. PS. Yes, there were such "single": 1944 Pressing Of "Lili Marleen" Performed by Marlene Dietrich On Decca 78Rpm

    Original German lyrics from a poem The Song of a Young Sentry by World War I German soldier, Hans Leip *22.9.1893 in Hamburg, †6.6.1983 in Fruthwilen, near Frauenfeld (Thurgau), Switzerland who wrote these verses before going to the Russian front in 1915, combining the name of his girlfriend, Lili (the daughter of a grocer), with that of a friend's girlfriend or by a wave given to Leip, while he was on sentry duty, by a young nurse named "Marleen" as she disappeared into the evening fog.

    His poem was later published in a collection of his poetry in 1937.

    English lyrics were written by Tommie Connor (and not Marlene herself, but it is possible that this paper is tyoed by Marlene, but she wasn't an author).

    First recording was sung by Lale Andersen. The propaganda secretary of the Nationalist-Socialist party, Joseph Goebbels didn't like the song, he wanted a march. Lale Andersen didn't want to sing it and the DJ who was supposed to get it on the charts also gave it two thumbs down.

    Recorded just before the war by Lale Andersen (Eulalia Bunnenberg), the song sold just 700 copies, until German Forces Radio began broadcasting it to the Afrika Korps in 1941.

    After the German occupation of Yugoslavia, a radio station was established in Belgrade and beamed news, and all the propaganda fit to air, to the Africa Corps. Lieutenant Karl-Heinz Reintgen, the director of Radio Belgrade had a friend in the Africa Corps who had liked the tune. He aired Lale Anderson's version for the first time on 18. August 1941. General Feldmarschall Rommel liked the song and asked Radio Belgrade to incorporate the song into their broadcasts, which they did. The song soon became the signature of the broadcast and was played at 9:55 pm, just before sign-off.

    After the song was broadcast there was no holding it back. The Allies listened to it and Lili Marleen became the favourite tune of soldiers on both sides, regardless of language.

    The immense popularity of the German version spawned a hurried English version, supposedly when a British song publisher named J.J. Phillips reprimanded a group of British soldiers for singing the verses - in German. One irate soldier shouted back : "why don't you write us some English words?". Phillips and a British songwriter Tommie Connor soon had an English version in 1944. Anne Shelton's English hit record started the songs popularity with the Allied countries. Vera Lynn sang it over the BBC to the Allied troops. The British Eighth Army adopted the song.

    It was sung in military hospitals and blasted over huge speakers, along with propaganda nuggets, across the frontlines, in both directions.

    Marlene Dietrich featured The Girl under the Lantern in public appearances, on radio and "three long years in North-Africa, Sicily, Italy, in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, in England," as she later recalled.

    An RCA US recording, by an anonymous chorus in June, made it to No. 13 in 1944. It hit the US charts again in 1968... (and so on :) )