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Marlene Dietrich was an international superstar – pushing the boundaries of film, art, celebrity and sexuality during Hollywood’s golden age.
But in a recent interview with her grandson, David Riva, it was also revealed that sometimes Dietrich pushed those boundaries too far.
Speaking to the UK’s Mail on Sunday, on the occasion of the auction of her possessions Riva said: “She was cold and emotionally detached. She wasn’t a conventional granny.”
Riva, 53, is the son of Dietrich’s only daughter, actress Maria Riva. In 1992 she caused a stir with a biography of her late mother in which she alleged that Dietrich never showed her maternal love, referring to her simply as “The Child”.
Worse, her grandson claims that Dietrich did nothing to protect her daughter from sexual assault by a lesbian nanny.
According to David, Dietrich hired a lesbian nanny who raped Maria at 13. Later, when Maria found the courage to confront her mother, Dietrich sneered: ‘Well, you’re over it now, aren’t you? You’re not dead. Deal with it.’
Dietrich’s terrible parenting didn’t end there, either.
According to Riva, the German-born diva was fond of parading her many lovers – who are said to include John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo and Edith Piaf – in front of her daughter and “long-suffering” husband Rudi Sieber – who she remained married to for an astonishing 52 years! “
She slept with anyone she found attractive,” David said. “But it wasn’t the physical side of sex that mattered. For her, intimacy was about power.
“One night my mother got a frantic call and raced over. Marlene ushered her to her bedroom. The bed was rumpled and covered in make-up.” 'She’d slept with Yul Brynner, who was acting in The King And I. She just wanted to show off her conquest.’
David also spoke candidly about Dietrich’s alcoholism and bulimia, speaking about her last years spent as a recluse in a Paris flat.
“She was one of those alcoholics that doesn’t appear drunk,” he explained. ‘She loved food but was bulimic. That was her solution. Enjoy food and then throw it up, why not?”
“She didn’t leave her apartment for her last 15 years. She was offered an Oscar if she’d collect it in person but turned it down,” David added.
“She hadn’t spent 60 years creating an image for it to be destroyed by photos of her ageing.”