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
Maria Elisabeth Sieber

(1924-12-13) 13 December 1924 (age 94)
ResidenceLos Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActress, writer, activist
Years active1934–present [1]
Dean Goodman
(m. 1943; div. 1944)

William Riva
(m. 1947; died 1999)
Children4, including J. Michael Riva and Peter Riva
Parent(s)Marlene Dietrich
Rudolf Sieber

Maria Elisabeth Riva (née Sieber; born 13 December 1924) is a German-born 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 assistant film director 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

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.[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.

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.

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. In 1956, Riva was offered the role played by Grace Kelly in the film High Society, but turned it down, suggesting to the producers that Kelly would be the better choice. [5]

Riva semi-retired from acting in 1962, then moved to 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 mothers one-woman shows.[6] 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.

In 2018, Riva returned to acting, starring in a short-film entitled 'All Aboard', directed by her grandson J. Michael Riva, Jr. [7]


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.[8]

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. [9]

Personal life[edit]

In early 1943, Riva was briefly engaged to actor Richard Haydn. Following her brief engagement to Haydn, Riva was married to actor Dean Goodman in August of 1943[10]; they ended their marriage in 1944.

In the summer of 1947, while teaching a graduate course in acting and directing at Fordham University, Riva met her husband. 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 him, 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, works in foreign affairs. She has eight grandchildren, all of whom are adults.

As of 2018, Riva leads an active life in Los Angeles, California where she spends time with her sons and her grandchildren.[11]

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 Role Theatre
March 13, 1945 – June 9, 1945 Foolish Notion Elsie, Flora Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York City
March 4, 1954 – March 27, 1954 The Burning Glass Mary Terriford Longacre Theatre, New York City


  • 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. ^
  7. ^ "All Aboard".
  8. ^ James, Caryn. "The Dietrich Mystique". Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  9. ^ "You Were There Before My Eyes".
  10. ^ "Maria Riva". IMDb. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  11. ^ "Pegasus Books". Retrieved 2018-05-31.

External links[edit]