You cannot make the man you love happy if you are not happy yourself

Thanks to Marlene Dietrich’s daughter, Maria Riva, a set of 30 unpublished letters and telegrams exchanged between Ernest Hemingway and her mother were released in 2007 by the Kennedy Library in Boston. Riva, had wanted the letters to be kept under wraps for 15 years after her mother’s death.

The American-German pair first met on the New York-bound liner Île de France in 1934 and went on to enjoy a lifelong friendship. Although their letters to each other were full of feelings for each other, they never became lovers, with Hemingway once calling them ‘victims of un-synchronized passion’. “Those times when I was out of love, the Kraut was deep in some romantic tribulation, and those occasions when Dietrich was on the surface and swimming about with those marvellously seeking eyes, I was submerged”.

In one of her letters, Dietrich addressed Hemingway as “Beloved Papa”, and continued: “I think it is high time to tell you that I think of you constantly. I read your letters over and over and speak of you with a few chosen men. I have moved your photograph to my bedroom and mostly look at it rather helplessly.”

Their letters reveal the insecurities and fears of both, and frequently touch on Hemingway’s lifelong fight against depression. “Toi and moi have lived through about as bad times as ever were,” he wrote in June 1950. “I don’t mean just wars. Wars are spinach. Life in general is the tough part.”

In her memoir Dietrich recalled, sitting in the window sill of her hotel room what he had said, ‘always remember, you cannot make the man you love happy –even if you fulfill all his wishes- if you are not happy yourself’.

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