Featuring 250 photographs taken from 1905 to 1978, Play the Part: Marlene Dietrich examines the multifaceted evolution of Dietrich’s (1901–1992) public persona. The exhibition features photographs by well-known artists such as Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn, and Edward Steichen as well as photographers with whom Dietrich collaborated repeatedly throughout her life, including the noted Hollywood photographer George Hurrell, Eugene Robert Richee, and William Walling Jr. Rarely seen and previously unpublished images, snapshots, some of the last photos of Marlene Dietrich, and other works complement the formal portraits and studio images that have come to represent Dietrich, illustrating the true complexity of her life. Drawn from the collection of Pierre Passebon, this exhibition marks the first time his noted collection will be shown in the United States. 

Dietrich is best known for her starring roles in films including The Blue Angel (1930), the first feature-length German talkie, and for her long collaboration with the filmmaker Josef von Sternberg. Born in Berlin, she emigrated to the United States in 1930, vocally opposing the rising Nazi regime, and ultimately renounced her German citizenship. She became an active supporter of US troops in World War II, raising funds for refugees, and toured with the USO. For her efforts, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1947. On-screen and off, she challenged the gender and sexual norms of her time, making her a core figure in feminist and queer film history. 

Header image: Film still from Blonde Venus, dir. Josef von Sternberg, 1932. Collection Pierre Passebon
Secondary image: Eugene Robert Richee, Marlene Dietrich, 1933. Collection Pierre Passebon
Dietrich sitting down, gazing at herself in the mirror.
Dietrich in a tuxedo and a top hat with a cigarette in her mouth.

Special Thanks

Exhibition support is generously provided by Marjorie and Jeffrey Rosen.

Exhibitions at ICP are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.