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Interview With Maria Riva

Aired December 30, 2003 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: Marlene Dietrich, one of the biggest, sexiest stars of all time and one of the most mysterious.

MARLENE DIETRICH: You know I love you. I always have and I always will.


KING: To millions around the world, a goddess, a symbol of unattainable glamour. Tonight, in a rare interview, her daughter, Maria Riva, speaks out. It's Marlene Dietrich as you've never known here, with her daughter here for the hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

What a great pleasure to have Maria Riva with us tonight. She's the daughter of the mysterious, sexual and glamorous, the late Marlene Dietrich. Maria says that, "At age 3, I knew quite definitely I did not have a mother. I belonged to a queen." Meaning?

MARIA RIVA, MARLENE DIETRICH'S DAUGHTER : That's right. Well, we were all in service to the queen, you know?

KING: All being...

RIVA: There's a royal court.

KING: And who was in the court?

RIVA: Well, my father was the major domo. I was the lady-in- waiting. And all the lovers were the lovers and the courtiers.

KING: You knew the whole scene?

RIVA: Oh, yes. Most of my mother's lovers were my best friends, eventually.

KING: I'll get into all that. Who was your father?

RIVA: My father was Rudolph Sieber, a very intelligent -- and I think the best friend that my mother ever had.

KING: And he remained friendly with her through all of...

RIVA: Oh, yes.

KING: ... her dalliances?

RIVA: He was her adviser. He was the one who kept her out of Germany when he knew that she should not return to Germany early in '33, long -- '32 already. And he was always the one she turned to.

KING: You're the only child?

RIVA: Uh-huh!


KING: What was special about her?

RIVA: Oh, I think what was special about her was that she didn't fawn. She didn't want to be a motion picture star. She thought that most actors were gypsies. She came from an aristocratic background in Germany and used that background to sort of pull back from the profession. For her, she became a movie star because von Sternberg, the great genius, discovered her in Germany.

KING: The director.

RIVA: And...

KING: "The Blue Angel" he put her in, right?

RIVA: Yes. Yes.

KING: I remember that.

RIVA: Which was an incredible film. Without Dietrich it's an incredible film. And you think that it was made in 1930. And when you see it now...

KING: Then remade it, right? Remade later? Curd Jurgens (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

RIVA: Yes. Which was awful, I think. Anyway, but it had a brilliance to it in the sound. When you think that in 1930, it was still silent times. It was just going into sound. And the way he used sound was incredible. When you see that film, you really don't need Dietrich to make it a classic.


RIVA: But with Dietrich, it's that much better.

KING: You call her Dietrich, right?

RIVA: Yes.

KING: You said that you were her biographer more than her -- meaning?

RIVA: Yes. I waited until I could pull myself away from -- I didn't want to do a "Mommy Dearest." I liked the fact that I knew her better than anyone else simply because, No. 1, if you have to survive a great power, you have to know that power very well. And you must know what is good about them and what is not so good about them.

KING: Did you grow up in Los Angeles?

RIVA: I grew up in hotels in Paris and hotels in Austria and hotels in all -- in London and in rented mansions in Hollywood. My mother, whenever she did a film, the studio rented the house with the gold knives and forks -- actually gold knives and forks -- and the lawns that stretched forever.

KING: She never owned a house?

RIVA: No, never, because she never wanted to be a movie star. She only...

KING: What did she want to be?

RIVA: I think that she lost track of what she wanted to be when it became that she -- when you become an icon, you sort of forget what you wanted to be in the past. I think she just wanted to take orders. You have to understand -- and it's always difficult -- when I go on book tours, it's always difficult to explain to normal people what an abnormal household is like. It's very difficult for them to understand. She was German, and not only German but Prussian German, and you take orders. And von Sternberg was her mentor, and he created what we know as Marlene Dietrich.

KING: We were told to do this, we do it.

RIVA: We were told to do it, and we do it. And...


KING: Did she also give orders pretty good?

RIVA: ... I always thought of her as a soldier.

KING: Did she give orders pretty good?

RIVA: Oh, yes. Very autocratical. And you jumped...

KING: Did she love you a lot?

RIVA: That's a very difficult question and a very good one. It's also another question that is difficult to explain. My mother loved me to a point where one could easily say that she was in love with me. And that's a great difference...

KING: That sounds...

RIVA: ... from a parent...

KING: ... romantic.

RIVA: Yes.

KING: Meaning what?

RIVA: The moment I was conceived, my mother stopped having any relationships with my father. My family always jokes that I'm the immaculate conception.

KING: You mean never had a relationship...

RIVA: No. No. It was her child. She bore her child. And when I was born, I was her child. And I was always referred to, to my face, as a child, which is not very healthy, that I was perfect and that I didn't need to go to school. I never went to school.

KING: Where were you taught?

RIVA: I had governesses that taught me what I wanted to learn. I mean, you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ridiculous. I was at the studio all day. My home was Paramount Studios.

KING: Did you have any 3 and 4-year-old friends?

RIVA: No. You see, if you don't go to school, you don't really know other children. And also, if you don't go to school, you don't realize that you're living a life that's rather peculiar because you have nothing to compare it to.

KING: So at an early age, you knew you were different.

RIVA: No. I thought all children were like that. I thought all children get up at 4:00 o'clock in the morning and go to the studio and do the false eyelashes. It was my job to thin the false eyelashes out. You take one here at a time with tweezers.

KING: All right. Where did you know, Maria, you were different?

RIVA: Well, the first time I knew that I was special, I think, was when we had ransom letters sent to the house. They were going to kidnap me. It was Lindbergh baby times.

KING: The '30s.

RIVA: Yes. And there was a ladder at my bedroom window, and I thought that was very exciting. And my mother got hysterical, of course, which is, of course, quite normal. And the FBI came and this hubbub in the house, and from that moment on, I had bodyguards. And so they were two men that had to follow me around for the rest of my youth.

KING: Now, let's run down. She more concerned with how she looked than how she acted?

RIVA: No. She was more concerned what she thought than how she looked. My mother was...

KING: Meaning? RIVA: ... a very intelligent woman. And Dietrich was a product. I always think -- you know, I always say We had the box of, you know, corn flakes, and we -- that's...

KING: And she knew she was a product?

RIVA: Yes. Definitely. And this product had to be polished. It had to be packaged. It had to be sustained. It had to be fresh.

KING: That's a Madonna-like thing, right?

RIVA: I think Madonna has copied Marlene Dietrich a great deal in her way of thinking and...

KING: You mean, sexual and all that kind of thing and...

RIVA: Also the fact that it's homogeneous. It's very European in its attitude. It's very difficult -- for instance, if you think how clever they were -- "The Blue Angel" was shown after in America she did "Morocco." And so von Sternberg said to her, Why don't you wear white tie and tails for the first time they see you, really see you perform? And for America in the 1930s, for a woman to appear in white tie and tails -- and there's nobody that looks as good in white tail and ties as Marlene Dietrich did. No one. Even Fred Astaire said so.


KING: How good an actress was she?

RIVA: I think she was a very good actress. I think she was a better actress than she was given the time to be.

KING: Because -- because...

RIVA: If you're glamorous and if you have to be the kind of -- what we're talking about, package, you know, it's sort of taking Kellogg's and making it chocolate-covered. Nobody would expect it...

KING: So much focus on how she looked, right?

RIVA: Sure.

KING: Did she work without a mirror?

RIVA: Oh, no. The mirror was used always on the set, next to the camera, because she was checking the light. Now, if my mother was here, she would have checked all these lights first...

KING: She'd know lighting, right?

RIVA: She knew it. She was a brilliant cameraman! Brilliant! And that's why I got so angry at her in her later years because when you are that intelligent and you know your profession that minutely in every respect -- she was a very good director, too -- and then you don't do anything with it and you let it go... KING: Frustrating.

RIVA: You know, for an intelligent human being to negate themselves is a great tragedy.

KING: We are talking with the daughter of Marlene Dietrich. The life and times of Marlene Dietrich is the topic. The guest is Maria Riva. We'll be right back.




DIETRICH: "Dear Katscha (ph), I must see you again. I'm at your feet. I love you more than ever." And do you know who sent this? Your friend, Pasqual!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a liar! Let me see it. He must be mad! Why, he told me that you destroyed his life!

DIETRICH: If I destroyed your life, you couldn't write such a letter, could you!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd wring your neck.

DIETRICH: Kiss me.


KING: We're back with Maria Riva. Is this true, that she demanded that Max Factor sprinkle half an ounce of real gold dust into her wigs to add glitter?

RIVA: No, love. That was...

KING: That was false.

RIVA: ... Paramount publicity -- also the million-dollar insurance on the legs.

KING: False.

RIVA: But -- but...

KING: She's got beautiful legs.

RIVA: Oh, of course. But you know what is interesting? We're talking about the Depression. And when you think...

KING: That's when she hit her height, right, in the '30s?

RIVA: Yes. And when you think that in the Depression, when people were starving, Paramount issued that she put 14-karat gold dust in her hair to make it gleam -- because nobody could understand that it was von Sternberg who did the back lighting that made the hair glimmer like it did. There's something paradoxical...

KING: How about...

RIVA: ... there, you know?

KING: The make-up person said she kissed so hard, she needed a new coat of lipstick after every kiss?


KING: Also untrue. All this is, like, manufactured...

RIVA: Of course. Of course.

KING: Did she go along with the manufacturing of this?

RIVA: No, she hated it. She hated all of Hollywood. She hated...

KING: Didn't like Hollywood.

RIVA: No. The fame, the phoniness, the terrible in-fighting. And it's a tragedy, you know, to be very, very famous in Hollywood. It's -- it kills many people.

KING: Because?

RIVA: When you always are on show -- in those days, there was no -- there were no bluejeans, no supermarkets, no having babies every two minutes, no being real. And you had to be a movie star 24 hours a day. And you had to dress like a movie star and look like a movie star, but not like a movie star that you would think, but how the fans saw you in their imagination. So you have to be more.

KING: It was make-believe.

RIVA: Yes. Of course.

KING: You said she was one of the most brilliant schizophrenics, that she could be anything at any moment at any time.

RIVA: Yes.

KING: On and off screen.

RIVA: Yes. But more off screen than on because on screen, she wasn't given much of a...

KING: But she could go right into the role, though, right?

RIVA: Oh, yes. You see, she was every man's dream because if you...

KING: She was a fantasy.

RIVA: If you like a woman that is soft and gentle and cooks for you and makes chicken broth and beef tea and has your slippers ready when you walk in the front door and is there for you 100 percent, she could be it. If you wanted a brilliant person who was, like with Hemingway, she would say, No, I don't like that sentence because, you see, if you take that sentence and you put it here, I think it will have more impact in the paragraph. She was that. When Jose Iturbi played Chopin and she said to him, Well, you know that trill that you did on the second movement, you did that better last night. Why? Didn't you feel enough impetus for that? I mean, he loved her. He adored her! Every single man that she ever had, she could be exactly what he dreamed of.

KING: Take me back to earlier. She's born near Berlin, right?

RIVA: Yes. She was born in Cherneberg (ph), which is an outskirt of Berlin.

KING: Who discovered her? How was she...

RIVA: Von Sternberg. But...

KING: How did she find her?

RIVA: Because he saw her in a revue, "Das Lied in der Luft (ph)," which was a rather risque -- you know, Berlin was very advanced and very sophisticated in the 1929.

KING: Cabaret.

RIVA: Yes. Oh, wonderful! And there was a wonderful song between two women, which was a suggestive song of lesbians, and with tongue-in-cheek humor, which is very Berlin humor. Berlin humor is very similar to Brooklynese humor. It has a kind of a...

KING: A bite.

RIVA: ... a bite to it, you know? And so he saw her. And they had already cast a woman for Lola in "The Blue Angel" at Ufa (ph), the German studio. And he said, No, I want her. And she came in for a test. She must have been at that time 29 -- 27 -- 27, yes.

KING: So she was playing cabarets. Was she married yet?

RIVA: Oh, yes.

KING: Yes.

RIVA: Yes. She was married, and I was there already, so it must have been -- yes...

KING: You were there at the beginning of her fame?

RIVA: Oh, sure.

KING: Yes.

RIVA: I was there when they did the costume for "The Blue Angel," when we were looking for it.

KING: Was that a hit right way?

RIVA: Yes, it was a tremendous success in Europe. But they held it because all Paramount wanted was a rival Garbo. See, in those days, when you were going from silent...

KING: Garbo was who, MGM?

RIVA: MGM, right? That was the big rival. And Garbo had this beautiful face and also had this mystery because in America, anybody who isn't American is mysterious.

KING: Especially if they don't want to talk.

RIVA: That's right. Or if they have an accent...

KING: Yes.

RIVA: ... or if they have...

KING: I want to be alone!

RIVA: ... a lovely, still face, you know? So they got Dietrich, and they saw a similarity between these two European women, who also had a certain masculinity, a certain independence. And they thought, Oh, here we have somebody. But if we show Dietrich first, as this, really, whore in this nightclub, with the garter belt and the legs, that's not going to be like Garbo, who is mysterious and quiet. So they showed "Morocco" first and then they released "The Blue Angel."

KING: Her biological father died earlier, right?


KING: She was young?

RIVA: No, no. Her biological...

KING: Yes.

RIVA: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. He was killed in the First World War.

KING: Yes. And she -- her mother remarried, right?

RIVA: Yes.

KING: And she lost her virginity, your mother, to a music teacher at an all-girls boarding school when she was 19, right?

RIVA: Uh-huh.

KING: She told you all about it.

RIVA: Yes. A couple of times. That was a sweet, wonderful thing, when my mother started talking to me in Paris. I used to visit her (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at that time, she was bedridden. And she would reminisce, and all these things would come out. And it was wonderful because -- I think I even say it in my book that she used to say, you know, What is it that they call that thing? You know, when you lose it?


KING: When did your book come out?

RIVA: In 1991.

KING: Our guest is Maria Riva, the daughter of the mysterious, sexual, glamorous Marlene Dietrich. We'll come right back.


DIETRICH: Next Wednesday at 5:00 o'clock at the Grand Duchess. You wait for me. If I come, I won't ask any questions. I'll go with you wherever you ask me to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if you don't come?

DIETRICH: Then you must forgive me. Never look for me. Forget that I ever existed. Swear. Promise that you'll do that for me! Please!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I did, it would be a promise I couldn't keep. I don't care who you are or what you are. All I know is...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you. You'll never go out of my life. I'll never let you go.




DIETRICH: You've done all right, haven't you.

JOHN WAYNE: Oh, I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about us, you and me. We're still going to see a lot of each other, same as always.

DIETRICH: Take your hands down, Pitt.

WAYNE: Oh, come on, Hunky (ph)! You got the wrong slant. You got to see this thing the right way.

DIETRICH: For the first time, I do see it the right way.


KING: We're back with Maria Riva. You worked with your mother? RIVA: Oh, yes. I...

KING: In two films.

RIVA: Well...

KING: "Scarlet Empress" and "The Garden of Allah," right?

RIVA: In "The Scarlet Empress," I played her as a child. And I was too tall, so they put me in bed. So that scene is I'm supposed to have a cold. I'm the future empress of Russia and I have a cold, and I have a few lines.


RIVA: I don't want to be a queen, mother! I want to be a coda (ph).


RIVA: That was the beginning of a terrible fight between my mother and von Sternberg because, you know, the law, if there's a child on the set, you have to have tutorial You have to have a teacher. And I had no teachers until that time. I must have been...

KING: Your mother wanted one.

RIVA: And -- no! So suddenly, this English lady comes towards me. I'm sitting in the chair, waiting for the next shot. And she comes to me and she says, Do you know your alphabet? And I look at her, and I say, A, B, C, D, E, F, E, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P. And she says, I beg your pardon? Because all I could do was do it in German. And so she -- my mother bombs toward von Sternberg and said, There is somebody talking to my daughter! The doom voice!


KING: Now, explain this concept of your father had his own affairs. Your mother had her own affairs. They lived together like brother and sister?

RIVA: Very European.

KING: They lived as brother and sister?

RIVA: Uh-huh.

KING: Neither was jealous of the other?


KING: Both kind of forgave this?

RIVA: My sweetest mother was my father's mistress.

KING: Your mother would have relationships with many famous people that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

RIVA: Oh, yes. But they -- she rarely ever instigated it. They came to her. It was the moth to the flame.

KING: Yes. Let's run down some of them, OK? She had a relationship with Yul Brynner, did she not?

RIVA: Oh, yes. That was a very passionate affair. But that was later on, in the '50s and '60s.

KING: Who was early on?

RIVA: John Gilbert. He was a...

KING: The famed...

RIVA: He was a...

KING: ... silent screen star.

RIVA: Yes, he was...

KING: Who had a high voice, right?

RIVA: He didn't, actually, you know. They -- MGM did that -- made that up because they wanted to get rid of him.

KING: Really?

RIVA: Oh, yes. He had a lovely voice.

KING: The story was he had a high-pitched voice and he...

RIVA: No! He had...

KING: ... couldn't...

RIVA: ... a lovely voice. He had a lovely voice. And he had velvet eyes. My mother said, Did you see those eyes? They could kill! They could just kill.

KING: Did your mother love any of these lovers?

RIVA: Yes. When she was with them, she loved them. My mother hated sex and lived in romance.

KING: Break that down for me.

RIVA: I'll break that down for you.

KING: She hated sex?

RIVA: You're a good American man. Yes.

KING: She hated sex?

RIVA: Yes.

KING: But she would perform it a lot with a lot of people.

RIVA: Well, when she had to. She always said, You have to keep them happy.

KING: So -- so this...

RIVA: It was romance.

KING: ... sultry siren...

RIVA: My mother was the eternal -- I started the book -- which is still available in paperback -- I started the book for that reason with her diaries. Her diaries were...

KING: She kept diaries?

RIVA: Oh, yes. And I have her young girl's diaries and they're in the museum in Germany now. And they are a romantic girl of 14 and 13, who dreams of this prince who's going to come and save her from the castle, right? The same tone is in my mother's diaries when she was already in her 70s.

KING: So she was...

RIVA: She was a romantic...

KING: ... a child-like romantic?

RIVA: She was the -- she was the biggest romantic I've ever known.

KING: And sex was the tool the man wanted, so she gave it to them?

RIVA: Yes. Yes. But she gave them much more. She gave them the romance, which I think, basically, every man craves anyway.

KING: Did she live luxuriously?

RIVA: For the image, but not for her. Her favorite clothes were a pair of bluejeans and a bluejean jacket and a blue-and-white checkered man's shirt and a cap.

KING: She didn't hide like Garbo, though, did she?

RIVA: No. You see, the tremendous thing that Dietrich did was that she went and entertained the troops...

KING: I want to get to that, yes.

RIVA: ... and opened up an entire generation to know her. And they adored the ground she walked on because she went right up to the front. And being the only German aristocrat non-Jew, who turned her back on Hitler... KING: Which had to be hard...

RIVA: ... the international fame...

KING: ... to do then, right?

RIVA: Oh, and how.

KING: Were her families supportive -- no, the family was not supportive...

RIVA: Oh, well, we were. My father was the one who first brought it, you know -- but don't forget, we were in Paris in the early '30s, and already the refugees were coming into Paris. And my mother ran one of the best delicatessen stores at the Plaza Athene (ph) that you could ever have because she was feeding everybody who was escaping Germany in the early years.

KING: Did Hitler condemn her?

RIVA: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. First he wanted to send her a medal. Then they sent Ribbentropp to her in the Paris Hotel.

KING: General Ribbentropp.

RIVA: Yes. He came with two SS guards all in black leather. It looked like a Warner Brothers movie, you know?


RIVA: And they walked up the stairs at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Hotel. And I was waiting because I knew they were going in to see my mother and father. And they saluted and they stood there, really, like -- we always called them from central casting.

KING: And she turned them down?

RIVA: Of course.

KING: We'll be right back with Maria Riva. More on Marlene Dietrich after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There she is, lovely Miss Dietrich.

DIETRICH: Hello, boys. I want to say that sharing this entertainment with you today is to me more important than doing the entertaining. I had hardly thought it possible that entertainment of such high caliber could be presented out here in the field. I wish to add my respects and admiration, along with General Clark and Irving Berlin, to the men and women of the 5th Army. If morale is kept as high such as I've seen during my visit here in Italy, I'm certain that we can look forward to a speedy victory. Good-bye, good luck, God speed.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liberated Paris, Marlene Dietrich opens a service men canteen and salutes the service men with a favorite ballad.


KING: Our guest is Maria Riva, the daughter of Marlene Dietrich.

So, she entertained the troops and in defiance -- not only defied Hitler but went and entertained the troops fighting Hitler?

RIVA: Oh, yes. We knew more than the Americans did because we were in Europe in the early '30s so that we had -- refugees were coming in. And all she could -- she couldn't stand being in America making movies. She said I'm making movies, and there's a war going on. And she had one more film to do at MGM which was a horror, Kismet.

She was doing Kismet and she couldn't wait. She was getting the injections, you know to go overseas. And at that time the USO, it was Julie Stein was the head of the USO and made special thing for her to go.

KING: Memory serves me your mother did a Vegas act?

RIVA: Yes.

KING: Burt Bacharach -- Burt Bacharach produced it an accompanied her.

RIVA: That was another story, Larry.

KING: I think I knew that.

RIVA: You know, it was an Noel Coward who had no pianist. He was opening in Vegas and he called her up and he said, honey, what am I going to do I have no pianist. So, she gave him hers and then hers pianist said, you know, I know a young boy who's rather talented. Maybe you could train him and take him. This's how Burt became my mother's accompany.

KING: And Burt said she was an extraordinary nightclub act. Owned the audience from the minute she came on stage, right?

RIVA: Yes. But that she learned that entertaining the boys.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marlene Dietrich, a daughter of the 71st regimen, gives them a shapely salute.


RIVA: When you can hold a field of thousands of young men who are about to face death, and the bombs are going off in the distance, and you can hold them with one accord and one bad piano player at the time they used to send out, you know, those people. And you can hold them, you have a certain confidence that she never had before. This is where she gained it. She had this feeling they were her my boys. She always called them, my boys. And you know, she finagled Patton into allowing her to go and be one of the first to greet the Russians as the Americans and Russians met.

KING: She got Patton to do that?

RIVA: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And Omar Bradley who wouldn't -- the USO had rules, you couldn't -- I was with the USO. You have to have travel orders. You couldn't go to the front just because like you felt like it. Or get a jeep or you know, this was all paper work.

KING: Back to her relationships.

Did she have relationships with many movie stars?

RIVA: Not really. Movie stars rather bored her, she thought they were rather dumb.

KING: Really.

RIVA: Yes.

KING: So, John Gilbert was the exception?

RIVA: John Gilbert was beautiful. You had to be beautiful or you had to be very, intelligent.

KING: Yul Brynner was serious?

RIVA: Yes. Sinatra, of course, but who didn't.

KING: What about Sinatra?

Everyone slept with Frank, right.

RIVA: Oh, sure.

KING: But Frank liked Marlene, didn't he?

RIVA: Yes, he liked her very much. She challenged him. He always felt sort of that he wasn't part of the aristocratic game or that certainly couldn't talk to Hemingway or Erich Maria Remarque or you know, professor Fleming (ph).

KING: She knew all those guys?

RIVA: Sure. She danced with Professor Fleming the inventor of penicillin. And as she was -- that was after the war and adored him because what penicillin did during the war. KING: She had a relationship with him too?

RIVA: No, no. She danced with him, and he was trembling as he dancing with her, you see. And she came off the dance floor and called me up. I think I was in London with my husband (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And she called me and she said, sweet heart, this wonderful man who has found this great medicine that will save young people's lives forever and ever, she trembled when he held me in his arms? Good heavens, such an intelligent man is excited about a movie star?

KING: Now what about her and the Kennedy's?

RIVA: Well, the Kennedy's were wonderful.

KING: First lets start with Joe Kennedy.

Had a relationship with Joe?

RIVA: Yes, with Joe. But you know, for me the Kennedy's are special. I tell you why. Because I was a German child in a German household with no friends and no school friends and all of that. I wasn't sad. I thought this was perfectly all right. But one summer in the South of France, these children arrived. These beautiful, healthy, athletic children, all with perfect teeth. And for me, that was America. For me, that was how American people look. And, there was Rose Mary and there was Kathleen and there was Joe and there was Jack and there was Betty and there was Teddy, always running in his little chubby legs after his brothers and sisters. And for me, they were the perfect American family and I yearned to be part of that family. And they invited me once to come and sit at the table for lunch. And it was so wonderful, to see all these children. And you know, Rose Mary was as we now say, mentally challenged, being polite.

KING: Yes, the daughter?

RIVA: And Rose Mary and I, we both sort of were the fish out of water. We were not the beautiful group, and we became friends. I was very fond of her.

KING: Your mother had a relationship with Joe Kennedy?

RIVA: Oh, yes. But it wasn't a long one. And he was very good to her and she turned to him for advice when war was going to break out. This was Neville Chamberlain time (ph). He said, I'll let you know if your...

KING: Because he was opposed going to the war with...

RIVA: Yes.

KING: What about Jack Kennedy?

RIVA: He was my first crush.

KING: And your mother slept with him, too? RIVA: She announced that she did. I never saw it. I never witnessed it. I only quoted in book that she had announced it which I thought was in very bad taste.

KING: It was supposed to be just some quick sort of thing at the White House?

RIVA: Oh, yes. Apparently. But I can't cannot vouch for it, because I wasn't there. I just quoted what she said to me. Many times, Dietrich...

KING: Lied.

RIVA: Oh, yes, played games. She loved putting her tongue in cheek playing games, sometimes. Sometimes she told people what they thought they wanted to hear.

KING: We'll be right back with more on Maria Riva and more on Marlene Dietrich. Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know who your refer to. I am Captain Pringle and I have with a member of the congress of the United States.

DIETRICH: Good evening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are Erika Von Schluetow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have reason to believe you are consorting with some member of our arm forces.

DIETRICH: You have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's more, we think you are expecting him right now.

DIETRICH: What gives you that idea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The key you dropped.

DIETRICH: Maybe I dropped it for the milkman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She dropped it for the milkman.




KING: What was her relationship with Liz Taylor? RIVA: Oh, Liz she never really knew. She just disliked her because...

KING: Disliked her?

RIVA: Yes. She disliked Liz. She thought she was vulgar, that she had all these affairs that were proclaimed all over the place and she always got married every two minutes. She also, I think -- of course, it was my Michael Wilding, who was one of my mother's lovers, who was then Elizabeth's husband. And...

KING: Lover while Elizabeth's husband?

RIVA: No, no. And they sort of traded men after a while. And Michael Todd, whom my mother adored, who then became Liz's husband. So -- and also, I think, just behind the mulberry bushes, she was a little jealous that I admired Elizabeth for what she did later on, many years later, what she did for AIDS.

I think that if you're very famous and you go out on a limb to fight for something you believe in and you use your fame for a purpose other than box office, I think it's wonderful.

KING: Your mother had female lovers?

RIVA: That's also very Berlin and very European.

KING: Was Edith Piaf one of them?

RIVA: Yes.

KING: The famed French songstress.

RIVA: The guttersnipe (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Were these experiments to your mother?

RIVA: No, not at all. Not at all. This is another form of romance which just takes a different physical tract.

KING: So she viewed it as just like you could love a woman, you could love a man?

RIVA: That's right.

KING: Made no big deal about it.

RIVA: Of course, the only -- the only stop that Marlene Dietrich had about affection, I mean, she could be in love with a painting. She could be in love with a dish, like an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that's particularly good. She could be in love with a beautiful country or a scenery of something. She could have as much passion for that as she could have for a person.

That's why, as a child, I learned not to trust her, because if you see someone who is your parent who says they love you, be able to love the same way -- oh, oh, oh. All over the place, you know, you get to that time of thinking, but it was always genuine when it was happening.

KING: I asked earlier if she loved you. Did you love her?

RIVA: No. I don't -- I don't think that I -- I admire her. I have great respect for what she accomplished. I think she's a tragedy. I think...

KING: The tragedy is?

RIVA: The tragedy is that with all that beauty, and with all that intelligence, and with all that craftsmanship, to allow fear and alcohol and drugs to absolutely destroy her, and destroy...

KING: She was into drugs?

RIVA: Yes. Well, the pain drugs. Not the other ones, but they're just as destructive.

KING: How about alcoholism?

RIVA: Oh, alcohol. She was an alcoholic. She escaped from herself. And she fell because of the alcohol. And then, because of the alcohol, the bones were brittle, and broke.

KING: What did she die of?

RIVA: Alcohol poisoning and age.

KING: How old was she?

RIVA: 91.

KING: So she lived to 91? Pretty long way to lick alcohol.

RIVA: But you know, my mother was the type of person that could have lived much longer. She had that energy. Her brain was as clean...

KING: She never lost her (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

RIVA: Never, never. Only when the alcohol took over after a period of time did she then go into these terrible angry, vicious, sardonic moods of the true alcoholic who hates themselves to such a point that they hate the world and in retrospect.

KING: How did you deal with that?

RIVA: I held her hand and waited for her to go into deep sleep, and she did the most incredible things. And when I was writing the book, my publisher, Knopf, was -- were very nervous about those last chapters. And I said, no. I want -- if one person learns not to do this, if one person learns from this ugliness, from this degradation of this beautiful creature, that sits there like a jabberwalker on those filthy pillows. It was terrible. KING: How long did she drink? How many years?

RIVA: Fifteen years.

KING: Fifteen? That's all? She didn't start drinking until her 70s? Became an alcoholic that late?

We'll be back with our remaining moments with Maria Riva, the life and times of the extraordinary Marlene Dietrich. Don't go away.


DIETRICH: You know what I was thinking about just then? All the people who will come to my funeral. That will be quite an occasion.

JAMES STEWART, ACTOR: Do you have a family?

DIETRICH: No. Not even a husband at the moment. But there's my agent, oh, he will be so sad. He had five more years to go at 10 percent. And then there's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Oh, she'll cry the most. She'd give a beautiful performance, and then she'd try to get the part in the picture I was going to make.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the welcome mat is out for Marlene Dietrich, as she arrives in Paris, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and she hasn't changed a bit. The Hollywood star will make a picture in France with Jean Gabin. You see, she really hasn't changed a bit.


KING: Ten years after her death, Marlene Dietrich, Berlin declared her an honorary citizen. The city's legislature bestowed honor on her as the ambassador for a democratic, freedom-loving and humane Germany. The declaration hoped it would symbolize the city of Berlin's reconciliation with her. Did she reconciliate with her city?

RIVA: Yes, when the wall came down. She also was decorated by the French. She has the three Legions d'Honeurs, and Belgians, and she always said, you know, most children get their medals from their father. You will get them from your mother.

They're naming a square after my mother in Paris.

KING: Really?

RIVA: Yes.

KING: Paris adopted her, right, in a sense?

RIVA: Yes. Well, she adopted them, you know. KING: Did you see "Blazing Saddles"?

RIVA: Yes.

KING: Madeline Kahn. Brilliant takeoff on your mother.

RIVA: Oh, wonderful.




RIVA: Wonderful.

KING: I'm tired.

RIVA: But then, of course, Carol Channing also did an imitation of my mother, and Carol Channing is a great friend of mine, and I was so happy to see her on your show, and she -- she never spoke to her again after that.

KING: Really?

RIVA: Oh no, no, no. No, no. You didn't make fun of something that my mother spent her entire life creating.

KING: When Madeline Kahn did that scene...


RIVA: Wonderful.

KING: Brilliant. The takeoff.

How do you think she'll be remembered?

RIVA: Well, thanks -- thanks to this wonderful motion pictures that are being shown and the wonderful Ted Turner, whom I adore always, because I always say, if it weren't for him, the younger generation wouldn't know this. Wouldn't know all these actors.

KING: She didn't make 50 movies.

RIVA: No. But -- and she made some very bad ones. I mean, most of them are boring, because it's one wonderful close-up after another. Very few -- I think the greatest thing she ever did was the Orson Welles film, where she's only on the screen for about seven minutes.

KING: Oh, what's that, that murder mystery. Right?

RIVA: Yes.

KING: The sheriff?

RIVA: Yeah.


ORSON WELLES, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: Come on, read my future for me.

DIETRICH: You haven't got any.

WELLES: Huh? What do you mean?

DIETRICH: Your future is all used up.


KING: "Touch of Evil." Charlton Heston.

RIVA: Thank you.

KING: She's only on the screen seven minutes.

RIVA: I think it's not even seven minutes. But you know what happens to actors? When they are very famous and when they've spent their life being what the public expects them to be, put a wig on them, put a fake nose on them, and they suddenly blossom, because they can hide behind the mask. They don't have to be themselves. They don't have to be Dietrich. They don't have to be Welles. They don't have -- I mean, Laurence Olivier did this all the time. He kept putting false noses on his face all the time.

KING: Do you know why she took up drinking late?

RIVA: Well, actually, she started drinking in Vegas. Many more years before she became an alcoholic, but you know, there's stages of alcoholism. You take one drink and it makes you feel good and you take another one, and then you remember it the next -- you know, standing alone on a stage by yourself in front of a huge audience of people who are sitting there saying, OK, prove it. Show me. Takes a lot of guts.

KING: Yeah.

RIVA: And after a while, those guts, if you do it over and over and over again, those guts fail you.

KING: How many children do you have?

RIVA: I have four sons and seven grandchildren.

KING: Did Marlene know your boys?

RIVA: Yes. She knew them casually. She was a little jealous of them.

KING: Why?

RIVA: My mother was always jealous of anyone I loved.

KING: She wanted your total...

RIVA: Oh, yes. I was with her 24 hours a day.

KING: Where were you when she died?

RIVA: I was in New York, and the next day, I was there.

KING: Did you know she was going?

RIVA: I had been there only five days before. And I had come back with my husband, who was very ill and I couldn't really leave him even for that period...

KING: Did she like your husband?

RIVA: Well, after we had been married for 52 years, she sort of accepted him.

KING: Did she know she was dying?

RIVA: No. Death was her mortal enemy.

KING: She didn't want to know if she was?

RIVA: Yes, that's right. And she was frightened of what would happen. It was very interesting. I wrote that in the book, also, because I wanted to bring it out, that suddenly this woman, who really did not believe in the almighty and did not believe in anything and was her own ruler and her own firebrand suddenly thought maybe there in that good Prussian, Victorian era upbringing, thought maybe, maybe once one gets there, maybe there'll be a comeuppance, you know?

KING: Maybe. Do you miss her?

RIVA: I miss her intelligence, I miss that brilliance sarcasm and that wit that sometimes is ugly and you say, oh my God, you don't want to hear it, but it's awfully good. You know?

KING: Thank you, Maria, for a wonderful hour.

RIVA: Thank you, thank you.

KING: Great memories.

RIVA: Thank you.

KING: It ought to be a movie.

Maria Riva, the daughter of Marlene Dietrich. Hope you enjoyed this. I'll be back in a minute.



KING: Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, with Maria Riva. What a story, what a lady. What a daughter. Maria Riva, the daughter of Marlene Dietrich. "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown is next. We'll see you again tomorrow, on another edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Thanks for joining us and good night.


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