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27 June 2011

Throwing Shade: Homophobia In Riva's Dietrich Bio? Pt. 1

First and foremost, this blog entry represents my participation in the Garbo Laughs Queer/LGBTQ Blogathan. I look forward to continuing my exploration of queer/LGBTQ topics and encourage others to do the same. In this blog entry, I will give you some definitions of terms I'll use and then explore whether Maria Riva's biography, Marlene Dietrich, contains examples of homophobia.

With that said, I encourage you to use “throwing shade,” “homophobia,” “homosexuals,” “homosexuality,” and any other terms in the comments section. For the sake of mutual understanding, I only ask that you clarify what these terms mean in your comments if they differ from my definitions. Here's an example of why it's important to understand how people use terms in different ways. In May, a mother in Los Angeles calls her son in Melbourne to ask him, “When are you going to visit me?” The son says, “Some time during the summer.” June, July, and August pass, and the son has not even mentioned visiting his mother, infuriating her. At the end of September, the mother calls her son to confront him, “Why did you say you were going to visit me in summer if you never had any intention of doing so?” Taken aback, the son says, “What? It's not even summer yet!” Then, the son—who has been living in Melbourne for decades—realizes why his mother is confronting him and reminds her, “Oh, mom! We misunderstood each other! Summer in the Southern Hemisphere doesn't begin until December!” If the mother and the son had simply understood each other's different uses of terms, no hurt feelings would have resulted—at least, not because of the terms.

Now, here's how I'm using the following terms:

Throwing shade
- to criticize, demean, or insult; to diss or derogate (from here).

Homophobia – Throwing shade at homosexuals' homosexuality.

Homosexuals – People who express romantic and/or sexual attraction toward or practice romantic and/or sexual acts with others of the same sex or gender (adapted from here).

Homosexuality
– Expressing romantic and/or sexual attraction toward or practicing romantic and/or sexual acts with others of the same sex or gender.

MARIA RIVA'S BIOGRAPHY

In his March 5 1993 Entertainment Weekly (EW) review of Maria Riva's Marlene Dietrich, George Hodgman stated the following: “The catalog of lovers is interminable, moving across gender lines and back again. Riva is obviously uncomfortable with her mother's bisexual tendencies and her large gay following. The case that she builds against her mother for trying to encourage homosexuality in the young girl by leaving her with a lesbian nanny is shoddy and homophobic.” Due perhaps to word limits, Hodgman did not supply examples of how Riva expressed her discomfort, and he omitted an important detail: Riva wrote that the lesbian nanny had raped her. If I accept Riva's admission of rape as truth, I would posit that Riva's speculation regarding why her mother chose a lesbian nanny was not homophobic; rather, the homophobia in Riva's case rests in how she characterized her lesbian nanny: “Strangely, I never really blamed that woman. She frightened me, disgusted me, harmed me, but 'blame'? Why? Lock an alcoholic into a liquor store and he helps himself—who's to blame? The one who takes what is made available or the one who put him there? Even an innocent parent would not have put a young girl into an unsupervised, wholly private environment with such a visually obvious lesbian.” Not only did Riva compare lesbianism to an addiction, she also asserted that a blatant lesbian shouldn't be a girl's primary caretaker, thus throwing shade at “obvious” lesbians as sexual predators with an appetite for female children. By the way, a 2010 study showed that ZERO percent of its adolescent participants had reported sexual abuse by a lesbian mother or other lesbian caretaker. While this study was flawed in its nonrandom, non-diverse, and small sample, its findings suggest that the experience that Riva suffered was a singular exception. Unless, of course, the sample was composed of only lipstick lesbians.

If you want to explore Hodgman's observation that Riva was “obviously uncomfortable with her mother's bisexual tendencies and her large gay following,” please consider addressing it in the comments section because I won't investigate it at this time. Instead, I will explore whether there were any other instances of homophobia in Riva's book by examining her descriptions of homosexuals. Keep in mind that I will continue listing people in future blog entries--this is only the beginning!

Banton & Dietrich on Angel set
Travis Banton (see this blog entry for another photo of him with Dietrich) – I don't know whether Banton was homosexual, but some sources report that he was. Riva did not overtly mention his sexuality in her book; in fact, she recalled that she “liked him. No matter what time of day, and that could mean anywhere from six a.m. To two a.m., Travis looked like one of his sketches—elegant, with a kind of razzmatazz.” Riva also praised Banton for treating his staff kindly and crediting him for introducing her to American cuisine, with no hints of homophobia.

Mercedes de Acosta
Mercedes de Acosta – Riva threw ample shade at de Acosta, calling her “a Spanish Dracula,” implying that she wasn't a skilled screenwriter, and stating that her renown derived from her romance with Greta Garbo. Throwing shade at homosexuals wouldn't alone count as homophobia according to my definitions, though. Riva would have to throw shade at their homosexuality, and I don't see anything homophobic in Riva's countless jabs at de Acosta. Rather, Riva seemed to tease de Acosta's purple prose (particularly de Acosta's “highly romantic pseudonyms”) and tedious romantic efforts (“She was so 'smitten,' she was boring!”).

The “boys” (see this blog entry for their possible identities) – Riva referred to them as “comic relief,” “an odd couple,” “their kind,” “scavengers,” and “homosexual cons.” The use of the word “homosexual” was gratuitous, but I don't consider the shade that Riva threw to be homophobic. Riva was describing a particular group of gossipy sycophants who happen to be gay, and she cleverly quoted a gay man, Clifton Webb, as calling the boys “Dietrich's private Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.”

The Pirate (right)
The “Pirate” (see this blog entry for her possibly identity) – Riva buried this woman's looks in shade. Despite describing that the Pirate as “a sexy, flat-chested woman” first mistaken as “a sexy boy,” Riva compared her to a rhinoceros. Poking fun at a person's looks doesn't constitute homophobia, though, and the preceding comments that Riva did make regarding the Pirate's masculinity were not demeaning.

Well, here's where I'll end this blog entry, and I will pick up from where I left off to continue reviewing whether Riva wrote homophobic portrayals of others, including Edith Piaf and Noel Coward.

44 comments:

  1. Strangely, I never really blamed that woman. She frightened me, disgusted me, harmed me, but 'blame'? Why? Lock an alcoholic into a liquor store and he helps himself—who's to blame? The one who takes what is made available or the one who put him there? Even an innocent parent would not have put a young girl into an unsupervised, wholly private environment with such a visually obvious lesbian.

    Personally this is all the evidence I need that Riva's bio is homophobic. But I'm glad you are poring over the details so thoroughly and deciding on a case-by-case basis based on her own words. A marvelous effort and I look forward to the next post! Thank you for your contribution to the blogathon!!

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  2. Caroline, when I first read Riva's bio, that part enraged me, and I too considered the entire book homophobic. That may be what Hodgman's reaction was as well, but he didn't elaborate. Why I wouldn't consider the entire book homophobic now is because Riva didn't seem to express homophobia toward others, but that homophobic statement about the lesbian nanny truly debases all butch lesbians, which angers me because thoughtful research and my mere observations contradict its implications. Based on Riva's logic, had Dietrich left Riva alone in the care of Mercedes de Acosta or Jo Carstairs (two other butch lesbians), she would have been sexually abused--and there is certainly no evidence that either de Acosta or Carstairs abused children in any way, nor should anyone consider these women more prone to sexually abuse girls simply because they're butch lesbians. Only pedophiles are more likely to sexually abuse children (male or female), which seems like an inane comment but given the vile, unwarranted, and unproven reputation that LGBT people have in relation to children, it's a simple truth I have to state.

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  3. I had heard the same concerns about homophobia in Riva's bio but that is the first time I've seen the quote about the nanny, and it was unbelievably offensive. It's so hard to know where someone is coming from with comments like that. Is Riva lashing out with hurtful bigotry to get back at her sexual assault? And if so, does that even excuse what she said? I couldn't possibly begin to decide that.

    Really looking forward to your further discussion of the people Riva mentioned. This is fascinating stuff.

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  4. Stacia, those questions are on my mind, too, and I consider the issue as equivocal as you do. I myself could never know where Maria was coming from when she wrote that because I've never experienced sexual abuse. Some readers of Maria's book, however, may accept her broad, emotion-fueled conclusions drawn from a traumatic personal situation without thoughtfully assessing them, and I want to raise awareness of another perspective founded on research that counters Maria's claim. Sometimes, I acquiesce to the deceptions and misconceptions that I read and watch, regarding books, movies, etc. as mere entertainment (e.g., Kathy Griffin convinced me that Clay Aiken was gay long before he came out); when statements posed as truth embed themselves in my entertainment, though, I must be wary that I'm not idly accepting them as fact.

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  5. Absolutely agree, and I think the real problem is not only Riva's comment being accepted idly (or by those who already believe that gay equals sexual predator) but being accepted by people who aren't aware but take her word for it because of the unique cultural position she holds.

    It certainly seems like Riva goes to great lengths to make sure everything is set in her mind so her mother is to blame, which speaks to a myriad of issues.

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    1. I read Riva's book many years ago. I found it at every turn in the tone of Christina Crawford's "Mommy Dearest"—a vengeful, nasty character assassination. Certainly, mothers and daughters have issues, especially if one is internationally famous and the other lives in the shadow. But Dietrich was generous with her daughter and her grandchildren, buying houses and sending them on lavish vacations, etc. The ONLY reason Riva could make money from her book is BECAUSE of her mother.

      In later years, Riva was interviewed at length about her mother and looked as though she were holding court as the daughter of the Great Dietrich—basking in reflected limelight, her only talent. Quite a revealing and pathetic contrast to her book. I suggest reading "Woman at War, Marlene Dietrich Remembered", edited by her grandson, David Riva. It consists of remembrances by people who knew her, her experiences and associations during WWII. She was awarded medals of honor by every country in Europe, except of course Germany, for her tireless work against the nazis. His book goes a great way in redeeming her character after her daughter's whining little yammer.

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    2. Marilyn, what do you think Maria's change in attitude toward her mother reveals? I don't know Maria's intentions at all, but I could see how her book was meant to cash in on a perceived demand for a Christina Crawford-style book. Later, when Marlene Dietrich the brand had to represent more noble ideals so that it could be used to promote products such as pens and perfumes, Maria had to change her tone. I think that David's book, which I have, as well as his documentary film both helped shape the Marlene Dietrich enterprise for the 21st century, and I wouldn't be surprised if Maria realized this as well.

      If Maria did write her book as a character assassination, it backfired, and reviewers (such as the one I quoted above) as well as readers took issue with Maria's character more than Marlene's. Thus, Maria's change of tone possibly functioned as a sort of damage control--for herself! Christina Crawford will always be regarded as a bitter, jealous daughter and therefore could never carry on her mother's name as a lucrative business. Maria, however, shifted her attitude and now gets applause when she speaks of her mother, as she did at the William J. Donovan Award Dinner.

      Personally, I don't think it would have made sense for Maria to try destroying her mother's image because Marlene had made it the family cash cow throughout her life and made many efforts to help her family continue profiting from her even after her death. To me, Maria merely sullied the image, in keeping with the "literary" trends of the time, and she wiped off the dirt when the image needed to be used for other entrepreneurial ventures. Who knows whether Marlene would have even been opposed to such tactics?

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  6. Great post!
    It seems fair to say that her childhood assault shaped her worldview; it's actually interesting that she blames the mother so much, considering her intensely negative response to the Nanny.
    It's extremely difficult to untangle all of those emotions and motivations, and I commend your research for this great article.

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  7. Strangely, I never really blamed that woman. She frightened me, disgusted me, harmed me, but 'blame'? Why? Lock an alcoholic into a liquor store and he helps himself—who's to blame? The one who takes what is made available or the one who put him there? Even an innocent parent would not have put a young girl into an unsupervised, wholly private environment with such a visually obvious lesbian.

    When I read this part in the book, my jaw literally dropped. Not only did it not sit well with me, it was incredibly offensive - it was as though lesbianism is something 'bad', and a 'social problem' like 'alcoholism' is. That, in my opinion, was something really, really homophobic to say.

    Personally, I read the biography with a pinch of salt (I don't believe she could have remembered detailed dialogues) and the fact that Riva resents her mother for so many things happening in her life (even parts which Dietrich had no control over) tends to lead me to believe that she views things she writes about in her book in a biased manner. And views lesbianism as a bad thing.

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  8. I'm sorry Joseph but I just don't agree with this post at all. I just found it misinformed, bizarre and all over the place! Using Riva who is known for his exploitative and sensationalist writing to sell books on a blog about Dietrich has me rethinking your knowledge on Marlene but of course that is just MY opinion.

    If this article was meant as satire then please forgive me. It's so easy to be misinterpreted in blog comment so forgive me if I read it as satire when the post wasn't meant that way. I feel like a tourist in Germany who only understands Bulgarian.
    Page

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    1. This has been bothering me for a year. Page, who are you talking about when you say "Riva who is known for his exploitative and sensationalist writing to sell books"? Riva is not a he, it's Marlene's female daughter. And Maria Riva is not known for writing exploitative books just to sell them, she's only written one book, her memoirs about her mother.

      That book is considered the gold standard in Marlene research -- why would you even BEGIN to say that Joseph using that book would make you "rethink his knowledge of Marlene?"

      That you created a new hidden profile just to say this makes me really wonder what you are up to. And did you accidentally sign your real name to this?

      I'm completely serious when I say that this comment has bugged me since the moment I saw it nearly a year ago.

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    2. To tell you the truth, I totally forgot about this. Who is Page anyway? Obviously a pot-stirrer, but I think this person only made one appearance with this name. I would have expected more button-pushing from someone who took the time to put my name in their screen name--especially because I don't moderate comments unless they are blatant spam.

      Now that I reread the comments in this thread, I feel quite disappointed in myself for not committing to posting more about this topic. I had planned on writing about how Riva documented her mother's homophobia as well. I also meant to write about Steven Bach's catty jabs at Riva's body, which came to my mind because I always found it an odd paradox how gay men (me included) can deify certain women and treat others with thinly veiled misogynistic disdain. Think Andy Cohen on the Bravo network.

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    3. Marlene was homophobic? That's too sad! :(

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    4. Marcus, what did you read here that made you think that Marlene was homophobic?

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    5. Sorry, I don't speak english so well, but when you said: "I had planned on writing about how Riva documented her mother's homophobia as well." I understood that Marlene was homophobic according to her daughter...

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    6. Marcus, I think your English is great, and you understood exactly what I was saying. It's true that Maria attributed words and beliefs to her mother that could be considered homophobic, depending on how you define homophobia. Let me point out that much of this content in Maria's book is not sourced, nor is it documented elsewhere. Maria described how Marlene had believed she might get AIDS from opening fan mail because her fans were gay. Maria also quoted her mother as saying that the Prince in Snow White "look[ed] queer." Another quote that Maria attributed to Marlene comes to mind, in which Marlene had discussed how William Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward surrounded themselves with boys, while Ernest Hemingway--in contrast--was a "real man." Yet another--Maria quoted Marlene as saying that "American heiresses go for pansies" when referring to the relationship between Barbara Hutton and Cary Grant. If you read or re-read Maria's book, you'll come across other examples, but you must always bear in mind that Maria's book is a gospel like the ones by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John about Jesus and therefore isn't necessarily true.

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    7. wow! wow! I can not imagine Marlene saying these things, it may be said in a tone of mockery. The story about get AIDS from opening fan mail is very heavy! Thanks for the information. :)

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    8. Again, this is all Maria's testimony, so I would take it with a grain of salt. I see plenty of ignorance among gay and bisexual men nowadays about HIV and AIDS despite all the information and treatments out there, which irks me more than the alleged ideas of Marlene, an elderly woman during the '80s and early '90s who probably only knew about HIV/AIDS from the fear-mongering press.

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  9. Stacia, you raise a point about using one's cultural position to influence people's perception of the truth that Maria Riva exemplified in her book regarding Marlene Dietrich. One instance that comes to mind from Riva's book: Marlene Dietrich would insist that Riva not send her anything for her birthday but then told her friends that Riva forgot her birthday. For anyone who doesn't believe Riva, here's an example we can see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears: at about 13:30 of this interview, Dietrich said that she had "stayed with the army four years" and had only made films before the outbreak of the war and after, which was untrue yet unquestioned by the interviewers (Dietrich did made films and wasn't with the army for 4 years, although she was involved in various highly commendable army-related efforts such as the Hollywood Canteen and USO tours). Who's to say why the interviewers didn't question Dietrich, but one possible answer could be that her culture salience gave her authority few were willing to confront.

    David, I also find interesting the blame Riva placed on her mother (there's a televised documentary, by the way, in which Riva reiterated this blame--called No Angel). There is a similar situation in my family that I have no right to discuss in detail, but it reflects this concept: casting the blame on the mother and not on the sexual abuser.

    Cara, you felt just as I did--and captured my exact emotional reaction in your words! What I will say is that Riva's book was published almost 20 years ago, so she may have changed her mind about the matter.

    Page, I like your screen name! I have one criticism of your comment: you didn't tell me how what I wrote was "misinformed, bizarre and all over the place" or how Riva's book was "exploitative and sensationalist." I defined what the terms in my blog entry meant in order to apply them consistently to the content of the blog entry, and--as I stated--I welcome others' vocabulary as long as they state somehow the meaning of their words. For example, some people may not consider an action homophobic unless it's violent, and I can swallow that concept if people inform us that they are using this definition and apply their definition consistently. By the way, Maria Riva is a woman, not a man, and I consider her work an information-rich resource on Dietrich due to its use of diary entries and correspondences. If you disagree with me, I welcome you to continue commenting on this blog because I enjoy reading others' opinions. I merely ask that you explain your opinions because I for one don't know how you construed this little blog entry as a satire.

    By the way, it's more likely that the German tourist would be in Bulgaria only understanding German. That I've seen up and down the Black Sea coast.;)

    June 28, 2011 8:07 AM

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  10. By the way, there is a long "cast" of gay and lesbian people in Riva's book, and I will get to them! Thanks to those of you who have alerted me via email of specific examples. Also, I plan on discussing whether words that Riva attributed to Dietrich were homophobic, but please continue commenting here if you have more to add or want to share divergent views.

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  11. I agree that Riva might have probably mellowed. In fact, she doesn't sound too resentful in later interviews, after, and even in 'Her Own Song'.

    About the book, I had a rather lengthy discussion about it with two other Dietrich fans and I must say, you and I are not the only people thinking that. While I appreciate the details... Riva's tendency to paint Dietrich as 'The Evil Queen' (for it felt like that for a large part of the book) was something which made me question certain point of views.

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  12. Cara, I can't argue that Maria created a particular view of Dietrich in her book. Had I chosen her book as the first Dietrich biography I read (which was when I was in high school), I would have never developed an interest in Dietrich. The racist behavior and comments that Maria attributed to Dietrich used to incense me, although I came to realize that Dietrich could sometimes be a backward and ignorant woman in her personal life after watching the Schell documentary (particularly, her comment about the size of women's brains in comparison to men's). Nowadays, I can look at that side of Dietrich with a sense of humor because that aspect of Dietrich reminds me so much of my ignorant aunts who ask if I'm gay because a girl rejected me and who refer to Asians as "Orientals."

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    1. Joseph,
      The part about oriental being offensive is largely only true in the west. It is an American idea to be offended by it. If you go to Southeast Asia they feel the same way if you call them Asian. To them Asians are Indian, Pakistani, Afghani and some western Chinese. Although this attitude is quickly changing now with the influx of western TV and its obsession with political correctness. I found this out the hard way when I visited Japan, China and the Philippines 3 years ago. My friends in the Philippines used to grimace visibly if I said they were Asian.

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    2. Well, Pilipinos aren't Asian; they're Pacific Islander.;) More to my original point, I would be surprised if any person from the vast continent of Asia who spoke fluent English didn't protest if I called them "Oriental." It's an antiquated term! I myself cringe whenever I hear people use the word "homosexual"--another antiquated word that harks back to when being gay was a clinical issue, as far as I'm concerned. I wouldn't be offended, though, because--for all I know--those people may know a gay person who self-identifies as homosexual. All I can do is tell them what term works for me. Now, if they're using malicious terms (e.g., "faggot"), that's another story altogether!

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    3. Just talked to some Pinoy friends of mine and they say they still prefer Orient to Pacific Islander. That Pacific Islander is an American use. Not theirs. And they speak English quite fluently btw. It was often Lingua Franca in a country of over 100 languages. (It was odd that I actually ended up being an interpreter in their own country when we traveled) My point is just because it is PC in the USA doesn't mean it is offensive in the land of their origin. I spent 3 months in the UK in 2001 and "African-American" is so ingrained as the only pc accepted word that it was hard not to use it. They laugh at us there for saying it. I had a friend that worked about 5 years in South Africa and they constantly brought it up. As if the US could own part of a race. That we have hyphenated Americans. In the end, it isn't what you say nearly as much as how you say it. But to each his own. Maybe it is because most countries have more pressing concerns that getting offended, angry, argumentative over such labels. As my Pinay ex used to tell me about so many concerns I had, it is a 1st world problem.

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    4. In these us-and-them discussions, a person can't speak for their entire group; they can only speak for themselves. That's my underlying point. I was being tongue-in-cheek with the "Pilipino" and "Pacific Islander" comment, having been scolded in the past by an overzealous college activist who really only represented his own views. Nevertheless, that your friends prefer "Oriental" to "Pacific Islander" or "Asian" surprises me and changes my long-standing perception of that term. Thus, if I ever met them, I'd respectfully call them "Oriental" if that's what they so desired. Hell, if they said they preferred "gook" to "Asian" or "Pacific Islander," I'd use that term just for them, too.

      Going back to the example of my aunt, with which you took issue, guess what? She is American and uses that term "Oriental" in the U.S., where it is as outdated as the term "Negro" and can offend people. Her use of "Oriental" in public places embarrasses those of us with her as much as she would be embarrassed if we started farting and spitting. Certainly, you and I seem to agree about the bigger idea, which I had already expressed--that it's the intent behind one's words that matters most. I know my aunt doesn't use "Oriental" to judge or hurt anyone, but those within earshot of her to whom the term applies may not realize this and justifiably feel hurt.

      On another note, your concerns are not all politically correct dialectics. The U.S. has lots of serious socioeconomic and cultural problems that go beyond mere words and that have impacted many, including me, profoundly. Americans aren't the only ones who don't understand other cultures' perspectives. Other cultures really don't get Americans either! At the end of the day, we're all fortunate if we can manage to understand ourselves and ourselves alone!

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  13. Yes, the Dietrich in Maria's book reminds me of many of my elders too. Upbringing and different eras have probably made a difference in her personal views - the woman was born at the turn of the 20th Century, it would surprise me greatly if she didn't hold any sort of mindset or prejudices which many people from that era had.

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  14. If you read the transcript from Maria's interview with Larry King, you will see that she said that her mother was practically in love with her. I think that this was a reason of her homophobia or better to say an answer to question why she mixed homophobia and child abuse. She was scared of the way her mother loved her, and saw in her (subconsciously) sexual predator, although Marlene never abuse her. Marlene constant love affairs,open for eyes of her daughter, need for control and maybe too intensive (in hovering manner) love start to bother her daughter and when Maria found out that her mother is also bisexual, it just start to be too much. We must understand that Maria was child surrounded by world of adults who obviously didn't try enough to hide some things from her or at least explain them, so she was forced to make assumptions of her own. It's interesting but I see in her statement so much childlike feelings, just like she preserve same prejudices she have in time rape happened. It's important to say that I don't try to put the blame on Marlene or to exonerate Maria obvious homophobia, but just try to understand how this state of mind happened...

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    1. I missed this comment last year, and it's too bad because you may never return to this thread to continue this conversation!

      You're right about the childlike manner in which Maria described the rape. I interpreted this as Maria's adolescent perspective, not as her feelings about the rape in hindsight. At times, Maria's book reminds me of a bildungsroman because we read about how she felt when she experienced certain events (e.g., her juvenile joy for American food and pets), and we can observe a development in her thoughts and attitudes. Maria can be a ham in the way she presents herself, too. Occasionally, she depicts herself in such a stylized manner that she reminds me of Dietrich's virginal Sophia Fredericka in The Scarlet Empress. Although my memory fails me at the moment, I know there's a line in Maria's book that echoes Dietrich's "What is a lover?" It probably was about douching, I'm sure.

      Truthfully, I can't say I stand confidently behind my interpretation of Maria's rape experience as a depiction of her feelings at that time because Maria's book is rife with hindsight--especially about Tami. Perhaps she's expressing fossilized feelings in her passage about her rape? Perhaps she's only recounting how she felt when she was raped? It's impossible for me to determine that distinction in Maria's text.

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  15. I'm late to the party as usual, but I wanted to say this is a very interesting article. When I originally read the passage in question, I stopped, went back, re-read it three times just to be sure she had actually compared butch lesbianism to alcoholism. It was pretty shocking to read!

    I was really intrigued by the entire situation and wondered if she always found people like De Costa "creepy" or if that was hindsight, given her later experience. There is certainly a thread of lesbian resentment throughout the book. Evidenced in the way she "throws shade" on all of her mother's female lovers and on her mother as well.

    I don't know if she can be classified as homophobic, though, because her attitudes don't seem to demean homosexuality across the board. She certainly has some antipathy for lesbianism specifically, but my impression is that this view has a lot more to do with her sexual assault than it does with her philosophical views of homosexuality on the whole.

    There is no question that her statement in the book is flat-out wrong and I don't want to excuse that, but just examine/explain it. I think she had a very bad experience which soured her on the entire lot. Personally, I can't speak to what she has gone through as I have never experienced sexual assault so, I don't like to judge her opinion/coping thoughts too harshly.

    Also- if I recall correctly I thought I saw one of her sons comment on here that a portion of the book sales are going to LGBTQ charities? (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!) So, perhaps her opinion on the matter has mellowed as mentioned above? I hope so. I am so sorry for what she experienced, but also very sad that she bundled pedophilia and lesbianism together as if they were one and the same! I do hope she's been able to differentiate the two since the book was published.

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    1. Too bad I never got around to continuing this!

      Liz, I too have considered that Maria's experience of rape colored her views, and I also hope she's changed her attitude over the years. I have a hard time withholding my judgment of that mindset, though, because it relies on a sort of logic that leads to generalizations and ultimately bigotry. If someone were raped by a black man and let that negatively influence their views of black men in general, that would be racist as far as I'm concerned.

      I'm certain you're referring to Peter Riva's comment here, and I hope the foundation comes to fruition. The grandsons have done a lot to clean up Marlene's image after the publication of Maria's book, and I hope they can dispel the bigoted views that Maria attributed to Marlene as well.

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  16. I'm late, too! If you read Riva's description of how Dietrich "made motion picture history" in the "review" scene of The Scarlet Empress, you know how she understood and appreciated the sexual ambiguity Dietrich and Von Sterberg created together onscreen and opened doors –– both artistic and physical –– for many people that followed. You don't grow up with a BIG personality to become a small person. And this reviewer is obviously a small person, unfortunately. That all is an introduction. I just wanted to point out (forgive me if someone already has): The Pirate and The Rhino are two different people. The Rhino enters the narrative as "The Pirate's 200-pound majordomo,"

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  17. Why the hell, there are no new copies of Maria Riva's book about her mother? I searched on Amazon and there are only used copies. That's preposterous. Could someone of you explain to me why that happens? There are many other biographies of Marlene Dietrich that are easily accessible instead...

    The same thing happens with Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner's daughter and her book 'Detour'. There are only used copies of it and there are only new copies of her second book on her mother 'Lana:The Memories, the Myths, the Movies'. I have read that 'Detour' was far more explicit than 'Lana:The Memories, the Myths, the Movies', maybe that's why there are no new copies of it...?
    I suspect that there is a reason why Maria Riva's and Cheryl Crane's books on their mothers are not that easily found. However, that is so disappointing! There is not even a Kindle Edition! Only used copies! What do you think about it...?

    Hmm...sorry to digress.

    Very interesting thread by the way, i enjoyed all your previous comments.



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    1. Do you have something against used copies? I don't mean that question to sound antagonistic; rather, I'm curious because I recall reading another person's comment about the dearth of new copies of books such as Maria's. For those of you who dislike used books, they're unfortunately your only option a lot of the time because many older Dietrich-related books are out of print. At least there's a glut of Maria's book on sites such as eBay, Amazon, or AbeBooks. There were plans for an eBook version of Maria's book, but that never came to fruition. I would recommend that you ask this question at the official Marlene Dietrich Facebook page, which is run by Maria's son Peter Riva, who is an established literary agent and knows the ins and outs of the publishing industry.

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  18. Thanks a lot for answering, Joseph, i really appreciate that.
    Well, yes, i'm not fond of used books, because it is not that easy to buy them. It's like an auction. You don't know the real price of them and you don't know if you finally get to buy the book. It's a bit too much for a used copy...

    Wow, Peter Riva is an established literary agent and there is not yet an eBook version of Maria's book? Why does it take so long? It's all about the money? I guess with used copies, they manage to make more dough, because it's actually an auction and there are hardcore fans of divine Marlene, out there. I won't ask this question to Peter, because i doubt he will give an encouraging reply.
    This blog is definitely more friendly and it it is also user-friendly...

    Sorry if i sounded sassy, but i hope you know what i mean. Of course you don't have to agree!
    Thanks again for replying.






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    1. From my experience, I have to "shop around" to find used books at a price and in a condition I can accept. For something such as Maria's book, there are many places to buy it used (without even dealing with auctions, too) and for a great price ($0.99 USD, which is about how much a book would be at many second-hand shops). In fact, the shipping is usually more than the seller's price! I collect movie tie-in books related to Marlene Dietrich, which are almost always used, and trying to get a good deal plus acceptable shipping rates from sellers around the world requires a lot of haggling!

      Peter and Maria are certainly not making any money off used copies, so I can't understand what the delay is with the eBook release--if there are still any plans for it, that is!

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  19. The delay of the eBook is outrageous. From what i gathered, Maria's book is very provocative, so they maybe want to make a milder version of it and they delay? It is very weird that it takes so long. Of course, i understand that the eBook release of Maria's book will probably overshadow all the other biographies that have been written about Marlene, and maybe that's an issue...

    I don't think that Marlene was homophobic. I believe that she cared too much about her image and she didn't want to be labelled just as a lesbian. It also goes the other way round. I think that Marlene would also hate to be labelled as straight.

    Maria Riva was homophobic (i have no idea what she feels about homosexuality, now), but if she was indeed raped by her lesbian nanny, well, her resentment is certainly justifiable!
    I guess lesbianism for Maria was something one-dimensional, at least in her mind, I doubt she ever thought that two gentle and feminine women could ever fall for each other and carry an affair. From her experience, always the one of the two women was the butch, right?

    Do you know if the rumors about Marlene and Rita Hayworth were not completely untrue? I guess you have read about this story, so i won't be graphic about it!
    Someone who had read the book of Maria commented that Riva doesn't mention anything about Rita and her mother, but maybe Marlene didn't really tell everything to her daughter. 'But Maria would have written about it', the same person commented. 'Marlene adored talking to her daughter about her conquests.' I don't know, but i think it's normal even if you share almost everything with someone to keep a few things for yourself.
    I suspect that most of you don't believe this rumor, but on the other hand, do you think that getting raped by you lesbian nanny is something less unbelievable?












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    1. If anything, I would expect the eBook to be more outrageous. Maria's book was censored in lots of ways, some clever (for example, what I refer to as "blind items"), and the announcement on the official Marlene Dietrich website stated that the eBook was supposed to be a scan of Maria's original manuscript (the "author's cut"), which I discussed and cited here. In that post, I noted that there was some conflict with the publisher Random House, and I have noticed that Maria no longer appears on the publisher's roster. I think the Rivas couldn't care less about competing with other Dietrich bios because they don't have a stake in them anyway, and perhaps a conflict with Random House has led to the delay. It wouldn't be the first time we've seen nothing come of an official announcement! The Gwyneth Paltrow biopic, anyone?

      I have a photo of the so-called "Rhino" (Violla Rubber, the lesbian nanny) and she didn't necessarily look butch to me. Dumpy and unattractive, yes, but not butch. There apparently was some sort of relationship between between Maria and Rubber, which Bach noted in his book. In fact, I always recommend that people read Bach and Maria's books together because Bach names the names that Maria withholds and puts a different spin on the same stories that Maria tells.

      As for the Hayworth rumor, I have only seen it on the Internet, and--if you couldn't tell--I am a stickler for citing sources. I don't care whether a story is true as much as I care about identifying the source of the story, and until I get a source for that Hayworth "Mañana" tale, it's fodder for the children on Tumblr, as far as I'm concerned.

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    2. No such relationship between Rita and Dietrich ever happened because Rita was hetrosexual; the only reason people say these thing is because Rita replaced Marlene in Orson Welles magic show and there was a photograph of the two together; as they replaced each other in the show.
      Simon callow 2 out of 3 vol book on Orson Welles; latest edt published 2015/2016

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  20. Do grow up Rita hayworth was hetrosexual who are these people who spread such trash not every actress wanted to have sex with other women; some were hetrosexual, does any one ever read biographies from sane people?

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  21. you should care about whether something is true as it destroys reputations and ruins other peoples live

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  22. Other people have real lives and not make believe lives by bio-porn writers; print only the truth not false facts

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  23. How does one determine the truth, how does one ruin the life of a deceased person, and what exactly is the reputation of a deceased person?

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  24. The book on Barbara Stanwyck by Victoria Wilson at 1000 pages and it only goes up to 1940 vol2 on its way; that is a real biography, dont you think?

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