But now, seven years after her death in Paris, the husky-voiced singer and actress is at the centre of a legal battle over copyright. On Wednesday, Germany's federal court is due to decide who owns her famous name and the beautiful face that went with it.
Maria Riva, the singer's only daughter, has been fighting for six years to take possession of this part of her family heritage.Ms Riva has made a career out of being Dietrich's daughter, in the process penning an unflattering biography of the performer in which she was depicted as an ice-cold unloving mother. Those who had seen the movies would have expected nothing less.
Now Ms Riva wants the name, too, and rights over those fading black-and- white images that can still persuade today's nonagenarian males to fall in love with her again. She has spent the past six years prosecuting companies that exploit Dietrich's pictures.
First to offend was the Japanese electronics group Toshiba, which ran an advertising campaign for its photocopiers featuring the sexy silhouette and including the words "blue" and "angel" in the slogan. After a warning from Ms Riva the company withdrew the advert, but that did not prevent her suing for copyright fees.
Ms Riva's biggest enemy, though, is Bernhard Kurz, producer of the musical Marlene and its range of accompanying merchandise.
Mr Kurz had printed postcards and watches carrying pictures of Dietrich, and sold the rights both to the face and the singer's autograph to the Italian car-maker Fiat. The company then brought out a limited-edition car in Dietrich's honour.
Whether the rights to the pictures, name and signature were Mr Kurz's to sell is now for the court to decide.Reuse content