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.)
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)