21 February 2016

Dita Parlo

Lovely Dita Parlo (1906-1971) was a star of German and French films of the late 1920s and 1930s, who also worked in Hollywood. She inspired both Dita Von Teese and Madonna, the latter used her name and character from L'Atalante (1934) for her Sex book and Erotica album.

Dita Parlo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4591/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Badekow, Berlin.

Dita Parlo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4591/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Angelo Photos.

Dita Parlo
French postcard by Editions O.P., Paris, no. 46. Photo: Star.

Dita Parlo
French postcard. Photo: Star. Publicity still for La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937).

Ufa Drama School

Dita Parlo was born as Gerda Olga Justina Kornstädt in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin in Poland) in 1906 (some sources say 1908). Her father was a forest ranger.

Dita was initially trained as a ballet dancer. Subsequently she studied acting at the Babelsberg film school in Berlin. There she was discovered for the screen by producer Erich Pommer and she was signed to a contract with the Ufa studio.

She made her first film appearance as the wife of soldier Lars Hanson in the silent war drama Heimkehr/Homecoming (Joe May, 1928). After her film debut, Dita Parlo quickly rose to stardom.

Her early Ufa films include Geheimnisse des Orients/Secrets of the Orient (Alexandre Volkoff, 1928) with Nicolas Koline and Iván Petrovich, Die Dame mit der Maske/The Lady with the Mask (Wilhelm Thiele, 1928), and Ungarische Rhapsodie/Hungarian Rhapsody (Hanns Schwarz, 1928), with Willy Fritsch.

In Manolescu - Der König der Hochstapler/Manolescu (Victor Tourjansky, 1929), she appeared opposite the legendary Russian film star Ivan Mozzhukhin.

Dita Parlo
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 5469.

Dita Parlo
Belgian postcard by S.A. Chocolat & Cacao, Kivou, Vilvo(o)rde. Photo: Ufa.

Willy Fritsch and Dita Parlo in Ungarische Rhapsodie
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 104/3. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Ungarische Rhapsodie/Hungarian Rhapsody (Hanns Schwarz, 1928) with Willy Fritsch.

Dita Parlo
Polish postcard by Polonia, Krakow, no. 882. Photo: Ufa

Dita Parlo
Polish postcard by Polonia, Krakow, no. 1641. Photo: Ufa.


Dita Parlo appeared in the first sound film of the Ufa, Melodie des Herzens/Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) opposite Willy Fritsch.

In France she also became popular, and appeared in Au bonheur des dames/For the Happiness of Women (Julien Duvivier, 1930), an adaptation of Emile Zola's 1883 novel of the same name.

In 1931 she tried her luck in Hollywood. She often appeared in German-speaking versions of American films and she played parts in the minor films Honor of the Family (Lloyd Bacon, 1931) with Bebe Daniels, and the comedy anthology Mr. Broadway (Johnnie Walker, 1933). The sketch with Parlo in the latter film was taken from an uncompleted film by Edgar G. Ulmer, titled Love's Interlude. This film was begun in 1932 at Peerless Productions.

After two years in Hollywood and no success, Dita Parlo moved to Paris. She married a Frenchman, and would make only French films for the rest of her career.

Later she was scheduled to appear in the proposed Orson Welles production of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for RKO Radio Pictures. However, that project did not come to pass, and Welles began work on Citizen Kane.

Dita Parlo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3627/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Suse Byk, Berlin.

Dita Parlo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5594/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Paramount. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Dita Parlo
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5381, 1930-1931. Photo: E. Bieber, Berlin.

Gustav Diessl and Dita Parlo in Menschen hinter Gittern (1930)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5792/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for Menschen hinter Gittern (Pál Fejös, 1930) with Gustav Diessl. This was the German language version of The Big House (1930). Pál Fejös or Paul Fejos was a Hungarian-born, multi-lingual director, who worked at MGM at the time. He was assigned to direct both German- and French-language 'parallel versions' of The Big House, using different actors but the same costumes and sets at MGM.

Dita Parlo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6248/1, 1931-1932. Photo: MGM.


Dita Parlo starred as a provincial bride aboard a canal barge in the beautiful L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934) She and her ship captain Jean (Jean Dasté) struggle through marriage as they travel on the their barge L'Atalante along with the captain's first mate, Le père Jules (Michel Simon), and a cabin boy. Ben Parker at IMDb: "Finally saw Vigo's L'Atalante, his only feature film, which he reportedly could not complete before his death, and instantly its one of my top favourite movies and easily one of the best pictures ever made. L'Atalante has everything going for it: its sexy, romantic and incredibly funny. Its also immensely genuine"

Three years later Dita Parlo played a peasant opposite Jean Gabin in another masterpiece La grande illusion/The Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937). Donald J. Lamb at IMDb: "It is a wonder to see a film from the 1930's so definite in its view and opinions, yet so touching and revelatory. Jean Renoir's The Grand Illusion is a film of great importance, one that improves with each viewing."

After La grande illusion, Parlo appeared in eight more French films. She featured in the spy film Mademoiselle Docteur/Street of Shadows (G. W. Pabst, 1937). She also co-starred with Erich von Stroheim in the historical drama Ultimatum (Robert Wiene, 1938). It was the final film of Wiene, who had been a leading director of German cinema particularly noted for his work on expressionist films during the silent era. He died shortly before the film's completion, and it was finished by Robert Siodmak.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Dita Parlo was forced to return to Germany because of her nationality. That was the end of her film career. In 1949 she married a priest, Franck Gueutal. During the last thirty years of her life she worked as a writer and appeared in only three films in small parts.

She made her final film appearance as a countess who always wins at gambling in La dame de pique/The Queen of Spades (Léonard Keigel, 1965), based on the story Pikovaya dama by Alexander Pushkin. The countess had previously been given the secret that she can never reveal, and a poor Russian officer (Michel Subor) tries to force her hand with tragic results.

Dita Parlo
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5397/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Paramount.

Dita Parlo
French card by Massilia. Collection: Amit Benyovits.

Dita Parlo
Vintage postcard. Photo: Studio Star.

Dita Parlo
French postcard by Viny, no. 66. Photo: Star.

Dita Parlo
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 104. Photo: Star. Publicity still for La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937).


Dita Parlo died in 1971 in Paris. She was 65.

Parlo left strong impressions on all who caught her work. In 1992, Madonna told she was fascinated by Parlo. Madonna picked her name as an alias while touring and booking into hotels.

Madonna took her name again for the character she created for her legendary Sex book and Erotica album. Its title track commences with the line "My name is Dita, I'll be your mistress tonight... ".

Burlesque performer Dita Von Teese took her first name also in tribute to Dita Parlo.

Musician Steve Adey has a song called Dita Parlo on his studio album The Tower of Silence (2012). The song was written in response to L'Atalante.

Dita Parlo
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 6687. Photo: Verleih Hugo Engel Film.

Trailer for L'Atalante (1934). Source: BFI Trailers (YouTube).

Trailer of La Grande Illusion (1937). Source: Danios12345 (YouTube).

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Operator 99 (Allure), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Filmportal.de, IMDb and Wikipedia.

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