My Mother the MONSTER; Highly Sexed Yet Aloof, Marlene Dietrich's Flawless Flamboyance Was Spellbinding. but, as Her Daughter Reveals in This Unflinching Expose, Her Glacial Beauty Hid a Very Ugly Truth ...BOOK OF THE WEEK MARLENE DIETRICH: THE LIFE BY MARIA RIVA (Pegasus Books [Euro]30)

Daily Mail (London), September 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

My Mother the MONSTER; Highly Sexed Yet Aloof, Marlene Dietrich's Flawless Flamboyance Was Spellbinding. but, as Her Daughter Reveals in This Unflinching Expose, Her Glacial Beauty Hid a Very Ugly Truth ...BOOK OF THE WEEK MARLENE DIETRICH: THE LIFE BY MARIA RIVA (Pegasus Books [Euro]30)


Byline: ROGER LEWIS

MARIA RIVA, the only child of Marlene Dietrich, describes the all-consuming monstrousness required to be a great star in this overwhelmingly brilliant and unflinching memoir, re-released 25 years after her mother's death.

Maria's mother went out of her way to suppress any feelings of common humanity and kindness. Dietrich was never spontaneously warm. She never laughed. Glacial stares were more her speciality.

'My mother was like royalty. When she spoke, people listened. When she moved, people watched.' She never once stood in a queue, 'not even passport control', and was 'always amazed', when seeing normal people in crowded places such as airports or hotel lobbies, at how ugly they were.

Dietrich was a terrible egotist, who 'rarely talked with anyone. That would have required a certain interest in another's opinion'.

Her daughter is, nevertheless, still commendably able to appreciate the unique artistry, the legend of Marlene that remains: 'The shimmering look, the incredible body, the hypnotic gaze from beneath those famous hooded lids,' in films such as The Blue Angel, Shanghai Express and The Devil Is A Woman.

Riva is right to describe the effect as a 'manufactured flamboyance' -- the beads and sequins, egret feathers, silk stockings, white chiffon and full-length ermine coats. Dietrich's hair would be backlit, to give it a halo. None who heard it forgot the world-weary, lisping Teutonic voice, 'so sad, so full of yearning'.

In her films and, latterly, concerts, she embodied an erotic languor, a moody exasperation. Often dressed up in a top hat, white tie, tails and trousers, 'Dietrich achieved the look of hybrid sexuality long before it became acceptable'.

TODAY she remains a stalwart of the female impersonators and transvestites, when they drawl: 'Falling in love again, what am I to do?' in a German accent.

She was born in 1901 in Berlin, the daughter of a Prussian officer, Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, killed on the Eastern Front in World War I. Her mother Josephine was, says Riva, 'a cold woman, set in her ways, given to commands, dictums'.

Marlene was to be little different temperamentally, though she was more artistic. She went to the Max Reinhardt Acting Academy, determined to become 'a famous actress of the theatre'. She flashed her long legs in plays and cabarets, and particularly enjoyed the elaborate costumes -- a fantasy world to be contrasted with the prevailing poverty and inflation of the Weimar Republic.

Marlene took walk-on roles in films, and though her mother deemed everyone working in showbusiness 'shiftless, tambourine-playing thieves', the 22-year-old actress married assistant director Rudolf Sieber in 1923. Rudi took an immediate back seat, condoning his wife's innumerable affairs, collecting the love letters she received -- a cuckold and manager.

Though they never divorced, he was eventually exiled to a chicken ranch in the San Fernando Valley. His long-term secret companion, Tamara Matul, was compelled to undergo abortions 'to ensure no scandal sullied the purity of my mother's marriage'. When Tamara attempted suicide, Dietrich 'blamed the victim for what she herself had manipulated'.

In the Berlin studios Marlene met Josef von Sternberg, her chief mentor who directed her in several films, starting with The Blue Angel. …

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My Mother the MONSTER; Highly Sexed Yet Aloof, Marlene Dietrich's Flawless Flamboyance Was Spellbinding. but, as Her Daughter Reveals in This Unflinching Expose, Her Glacial Beauty Hid a Very Ugly Truth ...BOOK OF THE WEEK MARLENE DIETRICH: THE LIFE BY MARIA RIVA (Pegasus Books [Euro]30)
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