Dietrich was not an actor, of this her daughter is quite adamant, but she was a star of stage and screen in the classic sense. Which is why, one suspects, the reader learns far more about the preparation of Dietrich’s costumes than anyone but a film historian might ever want to know. Still, Riva presents a compelling picture of a deeply flawed individual who maintained an illusion of perfection with extraordinary success.
It is not uncommon to discover that celebrities possess feet of clay, but in Deitrich’s case the gap between image and reality was extreme. If only a portion of Riva’s charges are substantiated, the human community has reason to hang its head in shame. For in a larger sense, this work stands witness to the degree that we hold those whom we celebrate to a less demanding standard than we require of ourselves or our neighbors.
Riva’s account invites wonder as to how anyone could remember such detail without volumes of transcription. In consequence, the consistent use of quotation marks to indicate direct testimony may be somewhat suspect. Still we are left with what is arguably the definitive biography of one of the few individuals in this century to achieve instant recognition around the world.