By People Staff
January 28, 2002 12:00 PM

Photographs and Memories
Compiled by Jean-Jacques Naudet

Like Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, who would have turned 100 on Dec. 27, became more famous for her mystique than her movie oeuvre. Most Americans would be hard-pressed to name any of her films.

This luxurious sled-size volume—scrapbook is too shabby a word—offers sharp, droll captions by Dietrich’s daughter Maria Riva, but it’s hardly a conventional biography. We learn nothing about Dietrich’s husband, Rudolf Sieber, except that he brought his mistress to dinners with his wife. (One longs to be a fly in the soup at those meals.) Dietrich’s own extramarital affairs are unintentionally funny: Reproduced here are heartbroken love letters from Maurice Chevalier, Yul Brynner, screenwriter Mercedes de Acosta (whose grief-stricken notes Dietrich read aloud to her husband) and others. But the book’s text also tells of the hausfrau who scrubbed floors on her knees. Surprising details emerge: Hitler threatened her family when she refused to return to Germany in the late 1930s, and her first name is an amalgam of Maria and Magdalene, perfect for an angelic temptress. This is a high-toned picture book of silvery glamor shots and elaborate costumes (bugle beads, sable and ostrich feathers all get their due). It’s the definitive fan’s bible. (Knopf, $40)

Bottom Line: Gilds the lily Marlene