Lost and Found: A Blackpool Romance

Well, this is a story sure to give hope to all those who, like me, are prone to misplacing things. Things will show up . . . eventually. In my case, it all started with a set of house keys I buried in the sandbox. Then went my retainers, which disappeared into the trash before they could do much straightening. Nowadays, I am constantly fishing for my glasses, rarely in places where I could have sworn to have left them. So, when I learned today that an earring lost by Marlene Dietrich has been unearthed at last, I just had to pass on the good news. My thanks to James Robert Parish, author of The Paramount Pretties (one of my Christmas presents last year) and It’s Good to Be the King, a new Mel Brooks biography, for alerting me to the story. It goes something like this:

Back in 1934, the glamorous Blue Angel descended upon the spa town of Blackpool, England, where she mingled with the vacationing multitude—purely for the sake of publicity, no doubt—at the Pleasure Beach amusement park. As if to prove that she was almost down to earth, Dietrich took a ride on the Big Dipper, the park’s new wooden rollercoaster. That is pretty much what I did when I went there some seventy years later—except that, rain-drenched as I was, I looked about as glamorous as a pair of wet socks. I sure wasn’t wearing anything that I could not afford to lose. Experience had taught me as much.

Ms. Dietrich, on the other hand, couldn’t afford not to look her most fetching as the stepped into the coaster. She probably looked just as smart leaving the park, with just the one, her hat covering the denuded lobe. At any rate, the earring was missing. No mere bauble, it was dear enough to the future star of Golden Earrings—a romance not based on her Blackpool experience—that she later inquired about it in writing, albeit to no avail. Today, said pearl was dug up from the mud, of which there is plenty in Blackpool, a place so vulgar that it makes San Jose look like a haven of cultural refinement. That, at least, was my impression, not having had the thrill of encountering a star of Ms. Dietrich’s calibre (or any calibre, for that matter), however pleasant the company in which I travelled.

No doubt, the folks who run (or ran down) Blackpool are delighted at this find. It is as if Ms. Dietrich were giving an encore performance from the grave, once again lending allure and intrigue to that aptly named dump of a seaside resort. To me, there could not be a more poignant illustration of the decline of Western civilization than the picture presenting itself to the workers who found said piece of jewelry among false teeth, glass eyes, and a wig, objects not claimed to have been lost by the star. According to a spokesperson for Pleasure Beach, the pearl “appears to have withstood the test of time quite well.” The same can certainly not be said of the site of this dig.

One thing Marlene Dietrich never lost—aside from her place in Hollywood history and the items aforementioned—was her German accent. Nor have I, as you can plainly tell by listening to one of my old-time radio podcasts; but in Ms. Dietrich’s case, the accent was both an asset and an impediment, accounting in part for the many ups and more downs of her career before, during, and after the second world war.

Just before the golden era of Hollywood and radio drama was up, the aging actress could once more exploit the exotics of her Teutonic timbre. Having to rethink her media exposure at a time when rollercoaster rides and appearances at popular spots like Blackpool were not enough to keep alive a film career that had very nearly run its course, the aging diva began to take full advantage of the magic of radio to star in two dramatic series of her own. Dietrich and the radio—there’s an idea for a future podcast. Now, where did I leave my iPod?

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