Acting Legend Marlene Dietrich Had One Very Intense Fear

You've heard the word many times, no doubt: phobia. Irrational fear. More exactly, Merriam-Webster defines phobia as "an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation." Maybe you even have a fear that can be classified as a phobia. Some of the most common phobias that people share are, as Australian Broadcasting Corporation News reports, acrophobia (fear of heights), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), and trypanophobia (fear of needles). Very Well Health adds aerophobia (fear of flying), dentophobia (fear of dentists), and ergophobia (fear of work).

There are numerous others, of course. Have you ever heard of bacillophobia? It's a hyper-sensitive fear that is centered around germs and uncleanliness. Perhaps you were unaware, but one of Hollywood's most revered and beloved stars of the golden age actually harbored this particular phobia. Apparently German-born femme fatal Marlene Dietrich, the legendary star of "The Scarlet Empress," had quite a reputation for being morbidly afraid of germs (via AnOther Magazine).

Marlene Dietrich was terrified of germs

In the film "As Good as it Gets," Jack Nicholson's character wore gloves everywhere and used a fresh bar of soap every time he needed to wash his hands. (Nicholson picked up a best actor Oscar for his performance.) Bacillophobia is kind of like that. While it may seem silly, it's a very real thing, and Marlene Dietrich knew this better than most. History A2Z reports that Dietrich was so profoundly afraid of the spread of germs, she earned herself the nickname the "Queen of Ajax" among her Hollywood peers.

The actress also had a particular compulsion to keep her homestead and immediate surroundings extremely tidy and was very uncomfortable if everything around her wasn't clean and organized to a T. According to a book by Maria Riva, Dietrich's daughter (1992's "Marlene Dietrich: The Life"), it wasn't beyond Dietrich's nature to keep an abundance of detergents, antiseptics, and various other cleaning supplies at the ready to disinfect sinks and bathrooms in her immediate vicinity (via Daily Mail U.K.).

How many people have bacillophobia?

Marlene Dietrich certainly wasn't alone in her intense and devout aversion to germs. While some may view it as irrational or unnecessarily obsessive, bacillophobia — sometimes called germaphobia — affects numerous people. Certain experts say that 7.7% of women and 4.6% of men are likely to experience this particular phobia at some point in their life, and those numbers are only representative of the U.S. population (per healthline).

When somebody has bacillophobia, they experience extreme anxiety and often go into a panic if they feel they are too exposed to germs and bacteria, according to MedicineNet. This phenomenon is indicative of phobias as a whole, and being that there is virtually no escape from germs in everyday life, you can probably imagine how daunting and overwhelming it must feel. Luckily, there are a series of treatments available (therapy and/or medication can help) that are used to treat bacillophobia today, most of which weren't available back in Marlene Dietrich's day.