Maria Riva

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Maria Riva
Maria Riva 1951.jpg
Riva in 1951
Maria Elisabeth Sieber

(1924-12-13) 13 December 1924 (age 96)[1][2][3]
  • Actress
  • writer
  • activist
Years active1934–present[4]
Dean Goodman
(m. 1943; div. 1944)

William Riva
(m. 1947; died 1999)
Children4, including J. Michael Riva and Peter Riva

Maria Elisabeth Riva (née Sieber; born 13 December 1924) is a German-born American actress, writer, and activist. She worked on television in the 1950s. She is the daughter of actress Marlene Dietrich, about whom she published a memoir in 1992.


Early life[edit]

Maria Elisabeth Sieber was born in Berlin, the only child of actress Marlene Dietrich and assistant film director Rudolf Sieber (and later Paramount Pictures director of dubbing, Paris, France). In 1930, at age five, she moved with her mother to Los Angeles, California. She spent most of her time at home, on the Paramount Studios lot, and in the company of her mother's friends. In 1934, aged nine, she had a small role in Josef von Sternberg's film The Scarlet Empress, based on the life of Catherine the Great, in which she played Catherine as a child. As no young actress could be found who resembled her mother, she was given the part. In her scenes in the film she was filmed in bed, as she was much older in real life than the character she played. She was also an extra in the 1936 David O. Selznick production, The Garden of Allah.

In order for Dietrich to keep her daughter close to her, Riva was not permitted to attend school; instead she had governesses who saw to her education. Her mother relented in the late 1930s, allowing her to attend Brillantmont International School in Switzerland. During her time at Brillantmont, her roommate was actress Gene Tierney.[5][6][7] During her childhood, she would often join the Kennedy family on vacation along with her mother. Despite the six-year age difference between the two, she became good friends with Rosemary Kennedy, saying of their friendship, "Perhaps being two misfits, we felt comfortable in each other's company".[8]

Acting career[edit]

Herbert Berghof and Riva in an episode of the television series Suspense

At the age of 15, Riva received acting training at the Max Reinhardt Academy and during the Second World War entertained Allied troops in Europe for the USO from 1945–46, stationed in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In the early 1940s, she briefly went by the stage name of 'Maria Manton'. She also acted in theatre and summer stock, including a production of Tea and Sympathy. She appeared at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway in the 1954 production The Burning Glass, opposite Cedric Hardwicke and Walter Matthau.[9]

A brief marriage to Dean Goodman—whom she married in 1943—ended in divorce. Then she married scenic designer William Riva in 1947;[10] they had four sons. With the birth of her first child, J. Michael Riva in 1948, the press dubbed Dietrich "the world's most glamorous grandmother".[11] Her second son, Peter Riva, president and owner of International Transactions, Inc., is her literary agent.

In the early years of television, the major television networks of the time tried to build their own stable of actors in the same fashion as the film studios. In 1951, Riva was signed to CBS as a contract player receiving a salary of $250 per week.[5]

Whilst under contract to CBS, Riva not only acted in television productions, but also appeared in commercials, she appeared in television commercials promoting Alcoa, as well as appearing in print advertisements for Rheingold Beer.[12][13]

During the 1950s, Riva appeared in more than 500 live teleplays for CBS, all broadcast from New York, including The Milton Berle Show, Lux Video Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Your Show of Shows and Studio One. She received Emmy nominations as best actress in both 1952 and 1953.

In a January 1953 issue of Motion Picture Daily, Riva was named as one of 'Television's Best of 1952' alongside fellow television stars such as Sid Caesar, Lucille Ball, Dinah Shore, Kate Smith and more.

In 1962, having retired from acting, Riva moved to Bern, Switzerland with her husband and four sons, dividing her time between a home in New York purchased for her by her mother in 1948, and their home in Switzerland. Riva then devoted much of the 1960s to organizing her mother's one-woman shows.[14] Riva made a cameo appearance as Mrs. Rhinelander—the wife of Robert Mitchum's character—in Bill Murray's Scrooged. In 2001, she was interviewed for Her Own Song, a documentary about her mother. In June 2012, her son Michael died, aged 63, following a stroke.[15]

In 2018, Riva returned to acting, starring in a short-film entitled 'All Aboard', directed by her grandson J. Michael Riva, Jr.[16]


Riva's biography of her mother, Marlene Dietrich, was published in 1992, the year of Dietrich's death. The book was well-received and went on to become a New York Times Best Seller.[17]

In 2001, Riva co-authored a photography book consisting of unseen images of her mother Marlene Dietrich. In 2005, Riva edited a volume of Dietrich's poetry, Nachtgedanken, which was published in Germany and Italy.

Riva published her first novel, You Were There Before My Eyes: A Novel, in 2017. The novel is about a woman who leaves her Italian village and enters a new world as an immigrant in Detroit.[18]

In 2017, Riva also published the 25th anniversary edition of the biography of her mother, re-titled Marlene Dietrich: The Life.[19]

Later life[edit]

After her mother's death in 1992, Riva sold the bulk of her estate to the city of Berlin to be housed in the then soon-to-be-opening Deutsche Kinemathek for $5 million. The 'Marlene Dietrich Collection' included 100,000 possessions; diaries, books, costumes, traveling trunks and memorabilia. Riva cited her desire to keep the collection together as reason for selling the collection to the city of Berlin to be maintained and displayed in the Deutsche Kinemathek. Riva's son, Peter, said "We chose Berlin, because they are committed to preserving each piece in the collection, which will be part of a new museum complex with the collection as part of its core."[20]

Personal life[edit]

In early 1943, Riva was briefly engaged to actor Richard Haydn. In August 1943, she married actor Dean Goodman. They divorced in 1944.[citation needed]

In the summer of 1947, while teaching a graduate course in acting and directing at Fordham University, Riva met her second husband. Riva married scenic designer William Riva on Independence day in 1947. They remained happily married for over 50 years until his death in 1999. With him, she had four sons.[21]

Riva maintained friendships with many of her mother's friends and associates, some of the people she maintained friendships with include Brian Aherne, Jean Gabin, Edward R. Murrow, and Yul Brynner with whom she participated in telethons to benefit United Cerebral Palsy during the 1950s.[7]

As of 2019, Riva lives in Los Angeles, California.[22]

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role
1934 The Scarlet Empress Sophia as a Child
1936 The King Steps Out Girl Playing Violin
1936 The Garden of Allah Young Girl Sewing
1988 Scrooged Mrs. Rhinelander

Stage appearances[edit]

Date Title Theatre Notes
13 March 1945 – 9 June 1945 Foolish Notion Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York City Played Flora & Elsie
4 March 1954 – 27 March 1954 The Burning Glass Longacre Theatre, New York City Played Mary Terriford
1956 Tea and Sympathy Various National tour


  • Riva, Maria (1992). Marlene Dietrich. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345386450.
  • Riva, Maria (2001). Marlene Dietrich: Photographs and Memories. Thames & Hudson Ltd. ISBN 0500510717.
  • Dietrich, Marlene (2005). Nachtgedanken. Riva, Maria [Edited by]. ISBN 978-3570008744.
  • Riva, Maria (2017). You Were There Before My Eyes: A Novel. W.W. Norton & Company Ltd. ISBN 978-1681775074.


  1. ^ Riva, Maria (1992). "Marlene Dietrich" – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ "Maria Riva".
  3. ^ "Maria Riva".
  4. ^ Riva, Maria (10 October 2017). "You Were There Before My Eyes". Pegasus Books – via Amazon.
  5. ^ a b "Maria Riva". Television Academy Interviews. 22 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Marlene Dietrich: The Last Goddess: Maria Riva's Blind Items Pt. 1". 18 May 2011.
  7. ^ a b Riva, Maria (20 June 1993). "Marlene Dietrich". New York : Knopf – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ "Rosemary Kennedy Friendship with Marlene Dietrich's Daughter Maria Riva".
  9. ^ "IBDb: The Burning Glass". IBDb. The Broadway League. 2009. Retrieved 26 December 2009.
  10. ^ "William Riva, Scenic Designer, 79". The New York Times. 13 July 1999.
  11. ^ Riva, Maria (1994). Marlene Dietrich. Ballantine Books. p. 598. ISBN 978-0345386458.
  12. ^ "ALCOA Aluminum Foil TV Ad with Marua Riva – Film & Video Stock". eFootage.
  13. ^ "Beer In Ads #2568: My Beer Is Rheingold Says Maria Riva". Brookston Beer Bulletin. 4 March 2018.
  14. ^ "Dietrich Dearest".
  15. ^ "William Riva, Scenic Designer, 79". 13 July 1999 – via
  16. ^ "All Aboard" – via
  17. ^ James, Caryn. "The Dietrich Mystique". Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  18. ^ "You Were There Before My Eyes".
  19. ^ Riva, Maria (2017). Marlene Dietrich: The Life (Kindle ed.). ISBN 978-1681775029.
  20. ^ Reif, Rita (15 September 1993). "Berlin Buys Collection Of Dietrich Memorabilia" – via
  21. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ "Pegasus Books". Retrieved 31 May 2018.

External links[edit]