Screen siren who died broke and alone
London - She was a Hollywood icon, a bisexual beauty whose style and intoxicating sex appeal endured through the ages.
But Marlene Dietrich was also a cruel woman who did nothing to protect her own daughter from sexual assault by a lesbian nanny, her grandson claimed.
Speaking about an auction of her possessions, grandson David Riva, 53, told The Mail on Sunday: “She was cold and emotionally detached. She wasn’t a conventional granny.”
The German-born star of The Blue Angel and Judgement At Nuremberg was an alcoholic and bulimic who cheated on long-suffering Rudi Sieber throughout their 52-year marriage with both men and women.
Her lovers included John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo and Edith Piaf.
David said: “She slept with anyone she found attractive. 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’s mother Maria, now 89, was Dietrich’s only child. She wrote a biography of her mother in which she revealed the legend would refer to her as ‘The Child’ and never showed her maternal love.
Dietrich hired a lesbian nanny who raped Maria at 13. When Maria confronted Marlene about it later, the diva sneered at her: “Well, you’re over it now, aren’t you? You’re not dead. Deal with it.”
Dietrich was also obsessed with cleanliness: “The first thing she would do in a hotel room, even the Ritz, would be to get on her knees and scrub the bathroom,” David said. David, who was his grandmother’s agent, told how her last years were spent miserably in her Paris flat, drinking and popping pills: “She was one of those alcoholics that doesn’t appear drunk.
“She loved food but was bulimic. That was her solution. Enjoy food and then throw it up, why not?”
One of his earliest memories is of Dietrich using tape behind her ears to give herself a facelift.
“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.
“She hadn’t spent 60 years creating an image for it to be destroyed by photos of her ageing.”
When a paparazzo climbed up to snap a picture through her window she shot at him with a starting pistol she kept under her bed.
But David said his grandmother also had a “quietly heroic” side.
Dietrich enraged Hitler by becoming a US citizen and entertained US troops at the front line with hits like Lili Marlene. She won America’s highest civilian honour, the Medal of Freedom, and disowned her sister when she discovered she ran a cinema catering to guards at the notorious Bergen-Belsen death camp.
David said: “To her, the GIs were ‘her boys’. Her wartime work was what she was most proud of.”
Dietrich died in 1992 aged 90 and in debt (‘she lived large and hadn’t earned money for years’). The German government bought most of her possessions, which are exhibited in a Berlin museum in her honour. Her family are selling the remainder. Items including one of Marlene’s tuxedos, crystal cigarette lighters and a letter from the novelist Ernest Hemingway in which he refers to her as ‘Dearest Kraut’ and fantasizes about cavorting naked on stage with her will be sold at auctionmystuff.com from March 19 to April 6. - Mail On Sunday