Books by Maria Riva

Released: Jan. 31, 1993

It seemed unlikely that Steven Bach's masterful Marlene Dietrich (1992) could be bettered, but for sheer intimacy and readability (though not scholarship), Dietrich's daughter has done it here. You can't get closer to the horse's mouth than this. Riva quotes from a treasure trove of first-rate materials, including her mother's many diaries, begun when Dietrich was a child, and a lifelong cache of letters from famous lovers and buddies. How many diaries Riva has is not clear, although she quotes from nearly 80 years' worth (Dietrich, born in 1901, died in Paris in 1992). Riva isn't restrained about her mother's love life or bisexuality—nor was Dietrich closemouthed about her affairs, which were numberless and carried on with the high and mighty: Once, Dietrich returned from a visit with JFK at the White House and waved her panties in the nose of Riva's husband, saying, ``Smell! It is him! The President of the United States! He—was- -wonderful!'' Riva also tells of Dietrich's addiction to suppositories, especially a potent hypnotic she called her ``Fernando Lamas'' (after ``the most boring man in Hollywood''). To go from the belle of Berlin in the 1920's to her final days as a legend crystallized in mystery was no short trip, and Riva pulls no punches about Marlene's alcoholic self-imprisonment in bed: ``Her legs withered. Her hair, chopped short haphazardly in drunken frenzies with cuticle scissors, painted with dyes—iodized pink between dirty white blotches....The teeth...have blackened and cracked. Her left eye, dulled by a cataract she refuses to have treated. Her once translucent skin is parchment. She exudes an odor of booze and human decay.'' Rich period backgrounds and Dietrich's voice throughout support the impassioned honesty of Riva's re-creation. No Mommie Dearest—though reviewers may point their fingers—but grand stuff. (Photographs—217—not seen.) Read full book review >