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Summary

With intimate detail, author Maria Riva reveals the rich life of her mother, Marlene Dietrich, the charismatic star of stage and screen whose career spanned much of the 20th century. Opening with Dietrich's childhood in Schöneberg, Riva's biography introduces us to an energetic, disciplined, and ambitious young actress whose own mother equated show business with a world of vagabonds and thieves.  

Dietrich would quickly rise to stardom on the Berlin stage in the 1920s with her sharp wit and bisexual mystique, and wearing the top hat and tails that revolutionized our concept of beauty and femininity. She comes alive in these pages in all her incarnations: muse, collaborator, bona fide movie star, box-office poison, lover, wife, and mother.   

During World War II, Dietrich would stand up to the Nazis and galvanize American troops, eventually earning the Congressional Medal of Freedom. There were her artistic relationships with Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel, Morocco, Shanghai Express), Colette, Erich Maria Remarque, Noël Coward, and Cole Porter, as well as her heady romances. And in her final years, Dietrich would make herself visibly invisible, devoting herself to the immortality of her legend.

©2017 Maria Riva (P)2020 Tantor

What listeners say about Marlene Dietrich

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Life, legend and Reality

Dietrich's life from her Teutonic beginnings to her lonely, reclusive death is told in unflinching detail by her handmaiden daughter. The story is a study in fame and power and cruelty. Several times I needed to stop and think. Maria Riva is a great writer as she lifts the lid on Dietrich's 90 year legacy.

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Excellent

One of the best biographies of a Hollywood Great I’ve ever listened to. Unflinching and honest about her mother’s flaws yet told with love and appreciation.

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Utterly Fascinating

I wasn’t sure given the length but I was completely hooked and couldn’t stop listening. It is a compelling and honest insight into the life and trials of a legend. It is not a “mommie dearest” but an honest account of a loving but flawed relationship and having had the book for years I’m so glad to have finally listened to it. Brilliantly narrated and makes you appreciate the star system even more.

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Fascinating Read

Whether or not you are a fan, this is a fascinating book! Riva writes beautifully and paints a scene so vividly you feel that you are there. Highly recommend!

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  • Tabitha McIntyre
  • 03-10-20

Wow

Very in-depth biography of Ms. Dietrich. Eye opening and heartbreaking to hear how much her daughter endured. So engrossing it was hard to turn off

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  • Knx
  • 15-01-21

A riveting story from beginning to end

Wow. I finished this book a month ago and I still think about it. Maria Riva is a gifted storyteller, and she might be an actual saint. I didn’t know anything about Marlene Dietrich but I felt like o was walking with Maria throughout her life. She paints a picture of pre and post World War Two Europe and Hollywood in a way that I hadn’t heard before. The performance was terrific too, so much so that I’m about to look up more books that Christa Lewis has narrated and get them. Spend a credit on this book. It’s so worth it.

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  • john burke
  • 06-12-20

Wow

I mean wow! This book by Maria Riva is startling in it's length, depth and insights. Beautifully written as well. For such subject matter finding the right narrator is so difficult and Christa Lewis does and AMAZING job.

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  • Person Buying Stuff
  • 15-03-21

Excellent

Maria's book tells multiple stories woven into one: Dietrich's career, surrounding culture and history (notably WW1 & WW2), and Maria's story. The filmography and history is very interesting, but what makes this an excellent book to me is Maria's story. I was particularly compelled by Maria's conveying her complicated experience of her mother as an adult. Maria conveyed so well the struggle of having a complicated (I would say Narcissistic Personality, although to be clear Maria never labeled her mother as such) parent, and the experience of loving, despising, admiring, fearing, hating, and feel great compassion for that complicated parent. Frankly, as someone with a complicated parent, I found Maria's writing especially touching and compelling.

As a reader I really admired Dietrich's many strengths and achievements, hated her cruelty, pitied her shallowness, and felt empathy for Maria, and admired Maria's strengths. Maria's story feels honest. I walk away both admiring and despising Dietrich, the legend. I also got a few history lessons, which were very well written and I'll be likely to remember!

The narrator did a superb job as well. Overall a very good listen.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-08-21

An Amazing Biography

Not only probably the best biography of a Hollywood star but a biography of the 20th century. How things moved, felt and how it all ultimately falls apart. Sad and beautiful. Only someone who lived it could bring this story to life as Maria Riva did and does.

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  • Dr. Bill- Northern NJ-USA
  • 01-06-21

Defied Hitler-Germany and The Nazis

Well worth the 33+ audible hours-Dietrich sucked the oxygen out of a room- she slept with everyone- douched-peed-deprived Maria of a childhood-deprived her grandchildren and great grandchildren of a loving relationship- yet she was a legendary figure who does live on-she paid a very steep price for the litany of her demons!
BTW- It is now 2021 and Maria will be 97yo-she continues to carry the legacy that Marlene left behind- metaphorically Louis Vuitton steamer trunks!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-04-21

What a Character, What a Saintly Patient & Intelligent Daughter

Maria Riva deserves not only a Medal of Honor for surviving her self-absorbed, tornado-of-destruction of a mother, but also should be lauded for her incredible talent as a writer. Throughout the highly-entertaining book, I found myself wanting to jot down some of her beautifully worded prose, to revisit and soak in at a later time.

More than anything, I was impressed with Riva’s keen, razor-sharp sense of humor and appreciation of the absurd - both qualities she clearly inherited from her mother. Riva’s, however, is manifested with humanity and class, without the cruel, downright meanness (and lack of respect and graciousness) of the vapid legend.

Excellent audio performance on this one, as well. The actor really captured the tone and personalities of both mother and daughter. Highly recommended!. Please write more, Ms. Riva!

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  • momof1done
  • 13-01-21

Wow Marlene was a savage!

I love listening to stories of strong women even when their personalities agree with mine. Love the way this one was written as well as the narration being superbly engaging!

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  • Christine
  • 29-10-21

fascinating

This story is brilliant and the narration is compelling. The author captures her mother's complex story with such detail. She describes the golden age of Hollywood and all the associated politics.

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  • Skeeter1
  • 24-08-21

Fascinating and Frustrating

Dietrich’s daughter, Maria Riva, shares her view of her mother’s extraordinary life in vivid detail. I found it compelling and learned a lot about this iconic figure. Overall it held my attention with just a few minor lags. My two issues are (1) although the narrator has a lovely voice, there wasn’t enough variation of accent or tone between characters, which often left me momentarily confused as to who was speaking. (2) I wanted to scream at the people in Dietrich’s life, especially her daughter, as they continually enabled her seriously dysfunctional behavior. Otherwise, a fascinating listen.

1 person found this helpful