Part one of two
On May 17, 1904 Jean Gabin was born in Paris. He was the youngest son and grew up with art. His father was the owner of a revue café and was an operetta comedian, so it was a world of art that Gabin was born into.
Marlene Dietrich, born on December 27, 1901 in Schöneberg (nowadays a district of Berlin), grew up quite differently: As the daughter of a Prussian family, she learned that life as an artist was not appropriate to her social rank. Nevertheless, her mother supported her plans to become an actress. Her father died when Marlene was a young girl.
Two screen myths
How did Marlene Dietrich and Jean Gabin, such entirely different people, fall in love? In 1930, Marlene left Germany to pursue a career as a Hollywood actress. When the Nazis seized power in 1933, she did not return to Germany and announced that she would not make any more films in Germany, despite numerous film offers from Joseph Goebbels himself.
At that time Jean Gabin was a successful French actor – by the 1930s he had become a screen myth. Marlene Dietrich had a similar fate in America.
In his films, Gabin represented the exploited worker, whereas Marlene Dietrich embodied the «femme fatale».
Love at second sight
In the summer of 1938, one year before the outbreak of the Second World War, the decisive event occurred: Marlene and Jean met in Paris. It is difficult to talk about “love at first sight“ between Marlene and Jean – without a doubt, however, it can be said that the two got along well as early as 1938. After the first meeting with Jean, Marlene spent her holiday in Antibes. It was the last vacation for Marlene and her entourage, which remained largely untouched by the approaching Second World War.
Although World War II began in 1939, nothing changed between Marlene and Gabin at first – until German troops occupied France in 1941: Resisting collaboration with the German occupiers, Gabin was forced to emigrate to Hollywood. There he met other emigrated French artists such as Charles Boyer or Jean-Pierre Aumont. He also found Marlene again here and this time it appears as though it was love at first sight – even if only at the second attempt.
Common cause with the Vichy regime?
In Hollywood, Marlene helped Jean learn English. The FBI suspected that there was a secret code behind the language exercises and that the two were in fact making common cause with the Vichy regime. After two films in Hollywood, Gabin realised that he could not adapt to the American way of life and he could not let things go by in France: He decided to enlist as a marine in the Free French Naval Forces.
In January 1944, it was time to say goodbye: Marlene accompanied Gabin to Norfolk, where Gabin reported for duty on the tanker “Elorn“. Marlene did not know if she would ever see her lover again. As a parting gift, Gabin gave Marlene a Cartier gold chain. The engraving on the chain read: Flail to angel.
At that time, German submarines were known to mainly attack and sink tankers like the Elorn due to their tactical importance for the enemy…