Maria Riva

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Maria Riva
Maria Riva.JPG
Maria Riva in November 2005 at the presentation of her mother's posthumously published book In Her Own Hand
Born Maria Elisabeth Sieber
(1924-12-13) 13 December 1924 (age 93)
Berlin, Weimar Republic
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress, writer and activist
Years active 1934–present [1]
Spouse(s) Dean Goodman (m. 1943; div. 1944)
William Riva (m. 1947; d. 1999)
Children 4, including J. Michael Riva and Peter Riva
Parent(s) Rudolf Sieber
Marlene Dietrich

Maria Elisabeth Riva (née Sieber; born 13 December 1924) is an American actress, writer and activist. She worked on television at CBS 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 film production assistant Rudolf Sieber (and later Paramount Pictures director of dubbing, Paris, France). In 1930, at age six, she moved with her mother to Los Angeles, California. 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. She was also an extra in the 1936 David O Selznick production, The Garden of Allah.

Acting career[edit]

Maria Riva in 1951

Riva received acting training and during the Second World War entertained Allied troops in Europe for the USO from 1945–46, stationed in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 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.[2]

A brief marriage to Dean Goodman—whom she married in 1943—ended in divorce. Then she married scenic designer William Riva in 1947;[3] 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".[4] Her second son, Peter Riva, president and owner of International Transactions, Inc., is her literary agent.

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.

During her time as a television actress, she used her notoriety for good. Riva often appeared with actor and close-friend Yul Brynner in telethons. By appearing in these telethons she was able to help bring attention to Cerebral palsy at a time when pregnant women would avoid even seeing a child with cerebral palsy for fear that seeing someone with the disorder would cause their own child to suffer the same thing. Riva was able to draw attention to the congenital disorder by interacting with a child who suffered from cerebral palsy onscreen whilst pregnant herself.[5]

Riva semi-retired from acting in the mid-50's, but 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.

In 2018, Riva returned to acting, starring in a short-film entitled 'All Aboard', directed by her grandson J. Michael Riva, Jr. [6]


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.[7]

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. It received warm reviews. [8]

Personal life[edit]

Riva was married to actor Dean Goodman in August of 1943[9]; they ended their marriage in 1944.

In 1947, Riva married scenic designer William Riva on independence day in 1947. They remained happily married for over fifty years until his death in 1999. With Riva, she had four children. Her oldest son, J. Michael Riva, was an Academy Award nominated production designer known for his work on the Iron Man films; he passed away in 2012. Her second son, Peter Riva, is a literary agent and manages the Estate of Marlene Dietrich. Her third son, David, is a producer. Her youngest son, Paul, is a teacher.

As of 2018, Riva leads an active life in California where she spends time with her sons and her grandchildren.[10]

Selected filmography[edit]


  • Riva, Maria (1992). Marlene Dietrich. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38645-0. 
  • Riva, Maria (2001). Marlene Dietrich: Photographs and Memories. Thames & Hudson Ltd. ISBN 0500510717. 
  • Riva, Maria (2017). You Were There Before My Eyes: A Novel. W.W. Norton & Company Ltd. ISBN 1681775077. 


  1. ^ "You Were There before My Eyes ebook". 
  2. ^ "IBDb: The Burning Glass". IBDb. The Broadway League. 2009. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  3. ^ "William Riva, Scenic Designer, 79". The New York Times. 1999-07-13. 
  4. ^ Riva, Maria (1994). Marlene Dietrich. Ballantine Books. p. 598. ISBN 978-0-345-38645-8. 
  5. ^ "Maria Riva | Television Academy Interviews". Retrieved 2018-05-31. 
  6. ^ "All Aboard". 
  7. ^ James, Caryn. "The Dietrich Mystique". Retrieved 2018-05-31. 
  8. ^ "You Were There Before My Eyes". 
  9. ^ "Maria Riva". IMDb. Retrieved 2018-05-31. 
  10. ^ "Pegasus Books". Retrieved 2018-05-31. 

External links[edit]