M arlene Dietrich was on her farewell tour and she was going to be at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for two weeks, in 1968,” publicist Dale Olson told me. “I received a call from the Ahmanson, and they were worried. They had heard that she would be a terror, that she would be unreasonably demanding, and they wouldn’t be able to work with her. They said they wanted to hire me for the two weeks because they knew I had a good relationship with her, and they wanted me to look after her. I think what they really meant was they wanted me to look after them.
“I said yes.
“When she arrived, I told her what they had said, that they were afraid of her.
“She laughed. ‘They are right,’ she said. ‘They are right to be afraid of me.’ She was laughing as she spoke.
“She said there was one thing she wanted. She had to have an extremely large refrigerator for her dressing room. I said they had one which was large enough for champagne bottles, smoked salmon, and caviar, which doesn’t take up much room, the usual for the dressing room of a star.
“She said, ‘No. That isn’t what I want. I want the largest refrigerator.’
“So I went back with her request. They didn’t understand and weren’t pleased. They wanted to know why she wanted such a large refrigerator. I certainly didn’t know. I wondered if she was going to cook her famous goulash for everyone. She loved to cook for people, and her goulash was delicious, but I didn’t think that was likely. Anyway, she got her huge refrigerator.
“On opening night, I was in the dressing room. When she went out, I couldn’t resist. I was curious about what she had in the refrigerator. I opened the door and looked in.
“She had removed the shelves. It was completely empty.
“She was wonderfully received. After her opening night performance, there was tremendous applause, a standing ovation, and people in the aisles with bouquets of flowers, and single flowers, rushing up to throw their flowers on the stage.
“After absolutely everyone had left the theater, she went out on the stage, all by herself. She had changed from stiletto-heeled shoes to perfectly flat ballerina-type slippers. She began picking up the bouquets. She brought them back to her dressing room. She didn’t stop until she had picked up the last single rose and carried it back to her dressing room. Then, she began carefully arranging them in the refrigerator.
“We hadn’t seen the last of those flowers. The next night, the ushers had them ready for the end of her performance. The flowers were all thrown on the stage. The next night the same. And so on.
“At the end of the two weeks, on the night of the last performance, there they were. The flowers were performing for the last time. They were pretty wilted, but the audience didn’t know. From where they were sitting, the flowers looked fine.
“She was quite a showman.”
© 2011 Charlotte Chandler