Excerpt: MARLENE DIETRICH by Maria Riva (Open Road Media)

RivaM-MarleneDietrichORMOpen Road Media recently published Marlene Dietrich, a biography of the eponymous actress, written by her daughter, Maria Riva. To celebrate its release, the publisher has allowed me to share an excerpt. First, though, here’s the official synopsis:

With intimate detail, author Maria Riva reveals the rich life of her mother, Marlene Dietrich, the charismatic star of stage and screen whose career spanned much of the twentieth century. Opening with Dietrich’s childhood in Schöneberg, Riva’s biography introduces us to an energetic, disciplined, and ambitious young actress whose own mother equated show business with a world of vagabonds and thieves.

Dietrich would quickly rise to stardom on the Berlin stage in the 1920s with her sharp wit and bisexual mystique, and wearing the top hat and tails that revolutionized our concept of beauty and femininity. She comes alive in these pages in all her incarnations: muse, collaborator, bona fide movie star, box-office poison, lover, wife, and mother.

During World War II, Dietrich would stand up to the Nazis and galvanize American troops, eventually earning the Congressional Medal of Freedom. There were her artistic relationships with Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel, Morocco, Shanghai Express), Colette, Erich Maria Remarque, Noël Coward, and Cole Porter, as well as her heady romances. And in her final years, Dietrich would make herself visibly invisible, devoting herself to the immortality of her legend.

Capturing this complex and astonishing woman, Maria Riva’s insightful profile of her mother has the depth, range, and resonance of a novel, and takes us on a journey through Europe and old Hollywood during an era that is gone but not forgotten.

The excerpt, which starts after the break, covers how the actress decided on her stage name.

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Gore Vidal’s “Narratives of Empire” Series

Vidal-NarrativesOfEmpire

Has anyone read these? The series, Narratives of Empire is also sometimes known as The Chronicles of America. I’m really interested in reading them (American history and fiction = bound to attract my attention). Most of all, I’m interested in reading WASHINGTON, D.C. (mentioned in Mark Leibovich’s This Town, which I finished last night). Here’s the synopsis:

“History is gossip,” says a protagonist in Washington, D.C., “but the trick is determining which gossip is history.”

It is a trick that Gore Vidal has mastered in his ongoing chronicle of that circus of opportunism and hypocrisy called American politics and which he plays with renewed vigour in this expose of the nation’s capital.

Young Clay Overbury, Senator Burden Day’s assistant, has both a modest background and immense ambitions. Extremely handsome, oozing charm and seemingly dedicated to the Senator’s cause, he is also duplicitous, conniving, and disloyal. But Enid Canford doesn’t think so: she marries him, so providing the Sanford newspaper dynasty with a direct line to the Senator. Her father Blaise, at first loathing his son-in-law, later learns to love him – for all the wrong reasons.

So begins this tale of lust and ambition set in the Republic’s high noon. From the late 1930s to Jo McCarthy’s reign of terror, Gore Vidal charts the seamy, sleazy side of Washington. Mixing sober history with nakedly Gothic melodrama, he provides an intoxicating cocktail of blackmail, betrayal, sexual ambivalence, lunacy and conspiracy – or, in a word, politics.

The novels are apparently all connected, but I’m not sure how essential it is to read them all, or to read them in order. The seventh book, THE GOLDEN AGE, does feature characters from WASHINGTON D.C. and HOLLYWOOD, though.