08 June 2011

Maria Riva's Blind Items Pt. 3

In Marlene Dietrich, Maria Riva wrote of a character nicknamed the "Pirate" (known as "Jo"/"Joe" by others), who courted her mother during the summer of 1939. According to Riva, Dietrich mistook the Pirate for a man when she first laid eyes on the butch beauty sailing her schooner along the French Riviera. In fact, the Pirate was a woman named Marion Barbara "Betty" Carstairs, dubbed "The Queen of Whale Cay," a cheeky reference to a Bahamian isle Carstairs owned and developed. Not only was Carstairs a woman of many monikers; she was also a woman of many hats. As a Standard Oil heiress, speedboat racer, World War I ambulance driver, and former owner of a chauffeur (or should I say chauffeuse?) company, Carstairs was perhaps the first diesel--well, I digress! Although Carstairs likely wasn't what Billy Ocean had in mind when he sang "Caribbean Queen," I would rather see more socialites like her and less like Paris Hilton.

Like Dietrich, Carstairs had a special German doll in her life, only hers was a Steiff--not a Lenci. Called Lord Tod Wadley, he was a foot-tall leather figure who wore Savile Row and hammed it up for the camera like his "friend" Carstairs, to whom he brought good luck during her boat races. Terry Castle wrote an extensive article about Carstairs and Wadley, which you can read here. Speaking of dolls, there is a building on Great Whale Cay called the Dollhouse and also Marlene Pavilion, which Carstairs apparently built for Dietrich and is now in ruins (see it here). Did Dietrich ever visit this island? Riva's book dispelled legends that she did. I wonder what this bio on Carstairs says of Dietrich. Have any of you read it?

As one of Riva's more thinly veiled blind items, the Pirate--who dared to call Dietrich "Babe"--was easy to unmask. In fact, Steven Bach mentioned Carstairs several times in Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend. Steven Bach also identified a "former secretary" of Carstairs who joined Dietrich's entourage, a certain Violla Rubber--a fitting name for a woman who ostensibly was the notorious nanny nicknamed the "Rhinoceros" by Riva (incidentally, Riva had earlier noted this animal's resemblance to Carstairs). According to Riva, Dietrich employed the Pirate's Rhino and installed her in a Beverly Hills Hotel apartment alone with Riva, corresponding to Bach's description of Riva's living arrangements with Rubber. For those who have read Riva's book, you know that the Rhino--"a visually obvious lesbian"--violated the teenaged Riva, who couldn't turn to her mother for consolation because Dietrich was apparently recovering from an abortion (Jimmy Stewart's child, which Bach claimed was Riva's revelation). After Riva's first engagement, the Rhino bolted, leaving Rudi Sieber to discover that she had forged Dietrich's checks.

What shocks me is that if the Rhino was indeed Violla (sometimes spelled "Viola," which would make for an awful pun in Spanish) Rubber, she may have been the same Miss Rubber who worked as Bette Davis' manager in the 1960s, likened to a "gym mistress" by Lionel Larner in Ed Sikov's book, Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis. Allegedly, Davis demanded that Miss Rubber try on a bathing suit she had purchased for Davis' daughter B.D. The Rhino may have also been the same Violla Rubber who gave Diana Barrymore a break and knew her intimately, inheriting $10,000 from Barrymore after her demise. Furthermore, the Rhino may have been the Broadway producer Viola (with one "l") Rubber, who was nominated for two Tony Awards in 1962 for the Tennessee Williams play, "The Night of the Iguana."

Thoughts? Comments? By the way, I will save the Cavalier blind item for the next post in this "series" because this entry thoroughly distracted me.

To read my guesses about Maria Riva's other blind items, click here!


  1. What a wonderful, interesting post! Thanks so much for sharing.


  2. Thanks, missladiva!

    More about Violla Rubber: a photograph of her may be in the March 9, 1965 issue of Look magazine, based on the description here. I will email eBay sellers to inquire.

  3. One of the eBay sellers confirmed that Viola (one "l") Rubber is on p. 22 of that issue of Look.

  4. Amazing Joseph. I can't wait til your next post.

  5. Thanks, umaneo! Let me know whether you wondered about any people in Maria's book. One of the next people I have in mind is that Australian guy who supposedly had the gall to write in Dietrich's diary. Also, the actress with adopted children who tried to console Dietrich during the 1933 earthquake.

  6. Hi Joseph... I have been reading your blog and it`s pretty amazing! I love all what you write about.
    I always thought that the earthquake woman was Joan Crawford, but the date is way too early.
    I have also wondered about The Pirate, and I think there is some footage on "Marlene Dietrich, her own song" or perhaps on "Marlene" that, for a few seconds, shows a woman that fits in some ways Riva`s description. She is notoriously lesbian, and is on the beach- I always thought that this macho-lady would be the Pirate... please tell me about it Joseph.
    Here is my email:
    I treasure your blog like you have no idea... sadly I dont always have time to sit through it... but when I do, I really do it. True story XD

  7. Yes, this blog is amazing indeed, Joseph is very nice and very well-informed (Sorry to embarrass you with flattery, but you deserve the positive comments.)

    Well, Violla seemed pretty bossy, but appearances, sometimes, are deceptive. It's beyond me how exactly Violla dared to violate Maria. Are we sure that it was indeed rape? Didn't Maria encourage Violla in the least? I find it a bit too much a lesbian nanny to rape the child of a celebrity. I don't think she would dare to rape her, i suspect there was a kind of intimacy between Maria and Violla. However, i know that all these are assumptions, i wasn't there to know and crazy stuff happens in this life, very often. It's very bizarre, that's all.

    Maybe i should read Steven Bach's book. I just hoped that i could read Maria's memoirs, first.
    Joseph, what do you think about Donald Spoto's 'Blue Angel:The Life of Marlene Dietrich'? I happen to have a copy of it and i find him a decent writer. I have read ' High Society:Grace Kelly and Hollywood' and i was pleased. I felt that i read something true. However, i would like to know your opinion, if you know something about his book on Marlene.

    1. Thank you again!

      Personally, I don't want to cast doubt on the experience of rape that Maria described in her book. I don't think a person can encourage his/her rape, and I don't think that having a prior (or even subsequent) level of intimacy with one's rapist mitigates or nullifies that experience of rape.

      Now, I will sound like a broken record, but I recommend again that you read both Maria and Bach's books. If you read Maria's book first, it will make Bach's book all the more informative because he clarifies some of the ambiguities in Maria's book.

      Spoto's book at least has a bibliography and some source notes, which makes it better than a lot of other Dietrich bios, but the source notes were not thorough and often reveal that Spoto's "research" simply involved reading past MD bios and easily obtainable articles about her. Bach's book completely upstaged it with its vast list of references (including conversations with Marlene and others who knew her) and incredibly detailed text. I remember Spoto's book best for some of the gossipy content that made it a fun read for me (occasionally sourced), including that Dietrich tried to seduce Carole Lombard by sending flowers and notes to Lombard's Paramount dressing room, that Dietrich tried to "woo young Ann Miller," and that Dietrich had a facelift at the age of 46 and then in 1956.

      The one aspect of Spoto's book that annoys me is his tendency to describe Marlene's thoughts and feelings as if he really knew them. If I recall correctly, none of his sourced content comes from any conversations that he had with Marlene (if she ever bothered to speak to him at all).

    2. And i thank you again, for your clarifying reply! You covered me all the way, once more.
      You are right about rape, i didn't really want to imply that raping is justifiable when there is intimacy between the 'victim' and the rapist. I shouldn't be that careless with words, before.

      You never sound like a broken record. God i want so much to read Maria's book and now i also want to read Bach's, after all the interesting things that you wrote.
      However, now that i have Spoto's book i'm going to read it. After all, your comments were not discouraging. Yes, you were critical, but as long as you don't believe that Spoto is another Darwin Porter, i'm okay about it!

    3. Let me know what you think about Spoto's book if you have already read it!

    4. I just found your message, Joseph. Otherwise i would have answered much sooner, i hope you know that. Well, yes, i read the book! I definitely enjoyed it.What i appreciated the most in this biography is that i felt that Spoto is not a fabulist. It was carefully written and it seemed so. To me that is very important when i read a biography. I can't stand writers like Darwin Porter, or Scotty Bowers. I wonder who can believe these guys, but most of all i wonder how come and such writers get published...
      Anyway, I didn't feel cheated by reading 'Blue Angel', and personally,i didn't mind whenever Spoto tried to guess Marlene's feelings, or thoughts. I didn't feel that he faked the facts, after all. However, i definitely can understand why you got a bit annoyed with this attitude. It's obvious that you know a lot about Marlene and when someone knows so much about someone or something, they are more critical and demanding and that's understandable.
      So do you have any news about the e-book version of Maria Riva's memoirs? No, right..? Grrrrrr....

      A bit irrelevant, but now i'm reading a Jean Arthur biography (to be more specific, it is 'Jean Arthur:The Actress Nobody Knew' by John R. Oller'). What a pity Marlene's comments about Jean were clearly derogatory. Lol!
      I found Jean's insecurities rather touching, but i guess that Marlene couldn't stand all this neediness. I disagree, with Marlene, though. Jean Arthur was not ugly!

    5. Thanks for your input! In general, I get annoyed by anyone who presents as fact their musings about someone else's thoughts and feelings. I think speculation should be stated as such.

      Unfortunately, there is no news about Maria's memoirs on eBook.

      Are you referring to what Billy Wilder said of Jean Arthur's insecurities? If Billy's tale is true, poor Jean! She certainly wasn't ugly, but she did look like a field mouse beside Marlene, which lent to their excellent chemistry as each other's foils.

    6. Their chemistry was intriguing, indeed.
      Yes, i suspect we are talking about the same incident, Joseph. Billy Wilder, in one of his interviews said that 'They were in the middle of shooting 'A Foreign Affair', when one midnight, the doorbell rang, and there was Jean Arthur, absolutely frenzied, with eyes bulging, and in back of her was her husband, Frank Ross. I said, 'What is it, Jean?' She said, 'What did you do with my close-up'? I said, 'What close-up?' She said, 'The close-up where i look so beautiful.' I said, 'What do you mean, what did i do with it'? She said, 'You burned it. Marlene told you to burn that close-up. She does not want me to look good.'

      You are referring to this incident right? I think that Jean was intimidated by the fact that Wilder and Marlene were already friends and that they were getting along so fine. Jean was always very insecure and not a social woman, although she was a professional, behind the camera.

      Numerous Arthur's magazine quotes reveal much about her attitude.
      'I'm not an adult. That's my explanation of myself. I can't seem to be able to do the things grown-up people do. I can't go to parties, i haven't any friends. I have no small talk. All the movie star things are painful to me, but what can i do about it all?'
      'We play in pictures...huge sums of money are spent to build up a star's personality. We create an illusion on the screen...but i can't be glamorous like, say, Marlene i try to keep out of the public's eye as much as possible.'

      'We play in

  8. The pirate was Mercedes De Acosta who lost one eye and wore a eye patch which caused her to look like a pirate; she was the one who attacked Maria.

  9. Joseph: What is your guess as to who was the Cavalier? As he was "the only man I ever thought the perfect husband for her", wrote Riva, his ID is of interest. It's NOT Iva S.V. Patcevitch, who was between wives from 1942 to 1963, since, Riva wrote, the Cavalier divorced his wife in the mid 1950s in order to marry MD.
    By Judy from Colorado

    1. Judy, I still think it's Iva Patcevitch, and Maria must have her dates wrong. Francine Du Plessix Gray, the stepdaughter of Alexander Liberman, who was one of Iva's close friends, confirmed in her book Them that Iva started his relationship with Marlene around the time he separated from his wife Nada (his NY Times obit must have got their divorce year wrong?) and that Marlene left Iva for Michael Wilding.

  10. Hmmmm. The NYT obit could be wrong, or maybe there was another wife between his first and last wife not mentioned by the NYT obit, which was surprisingly very brief considering his stature. I found no online info on Patcevitch other than this. In the chapter on the Cavalier, Riva referred to "Pat" on page 628. Maybe Riva cleared up this little mystery in her MD bio reissued this year.
    Judy from Colorado

    1. No, the reissue is unfortunately identical to the original publication. Thanks for pointing out the direct reference to "Pat" in Maria's book. In that case, Maria slipped a bit because this is surely Iva! Steven Bach referred to Iva as "Pat" and also the godfather of at least one of the Riva grandsons. In my own research, I learned that Iva was listed as an executor in Marlene's will. I can only surmise that Maria left him out of most of her book or hid his identity because he was still alive before her book was published.