For Sale: A Love Icon's Sexy World

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Men cluster to me like moths around a flame, and if their wings burn I know I'm not to blame.

--Marlene Dietrich

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Here is the headboard of Marlene Dietrich's bed, the altar at which so many worshiped. The pale apricot silk cover is watermarked and stained. A spritz of champagne, perhaps, or a flood of hot tears recorded forever on the elegant upholstery.

The bidding will start at $200.

Here is the midnight blue Christian Dior robe into which the diva of desire repaired between trysts. Best offer over $50. And please give your attention to this effusive letter from Ernest Hemingway addressed in the author's own flowery hand to "My dearest Kraut"--$3,000.

Nearly 20 years after Dietrich left her penthouse at 993 Park Ave. in New York City, the clothes and furnishings from apartment 12E will go on public display Tuesday at Sotheby's in Beverly Hills in anticipation of its Nov. 1 estate auction.

"This is an extraordinary collection from a quite extraordinary woman," says Sotheby's Laura Maslon. "And it seems like every other piece was a gift from one or another of her famous lovers."

Before she took to her bed permanently at 80, Dietrich was almost as famous for her sexual conquests as she was for her acting and singing. The immortal screen goddess was a bisexual beauty who went to great pains to look fabulous at any time of day or night. She was known for having slept with such legends as Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf, Kirk Douglas, Adlai Stevenson and even John F. Kennedy--whom Dietrich claimed to have bedded when she was 62 and he was 46.

"There was a time in her life when she might be 'entertaining' Sinatra for breakfast, Edward R. Murrow for lunch, and Yul Brynner that night," recalls Dietrich's grandson, Peter Riva, 47. "She really was quite adept at doing many things at once. But as a child, all I knew was that she had special relationships and special friends and when one of them dropped by, well, we knew it was time to leave."

David Riva, 36, the youngest of Dietrich's four grandsons, recalls his "Massie" as a flamboyant playmate and expert cook who never failed to honor her bedmates with a dish of her famous scrambled eggs.

Although the boys' mother--and Dietrich's only child--Maria Riva is recuperating from a heart attack at her home in Switzerland, it was her decision to divide Dietrich's belongings between Sotheby's and the city of Berlin's German Film Archives Foundation, which in 1993 acquired thousands of Dietrich's papers, props and personal belongings.

What is left to auction spans most of Dietrich's colorful career. In his preface to the auction catalog, Werner Sudendorf, curator of the Berlin collection, calls the white-hot blond "an icon of the 20th century, a legend of femininity"--evidence of which is found throughout the auction listing.

From Chanel sweaters to a Balenciaga mink beret to psychedelic Pucci dresses, Dietrich's love of couture is well documented. But so is her affection for classic men's fashion--the trademark tuxedo, the morning coat with white tails and gold-tipped cane, the tweedy suits and silk mufflers (one of them a gift from Noel Coward).

In 1992, when Dietrich died in Paris at 90, her New York home was her only official residence. She bought it in 1959 and lived there during her triumphant post-screen incarnation as a live performer. Dietrich's penthouse "lair," according to Maria, was the only real estate her mother ever owned.

To the grandsons, who often visited, it was a magical place filled with smoked mirrors, elegant French furniture and always "the aroma of something wonderful cooking in the kitchen," says Peter Riva. "She was a fabulous cook, but the very best thing she ever made were her jelly-filled doughnuts. Ahhhh, I taste them again as if I were standing in her kitchen just yesterday."

Even with her "special guests" rushing in and out of the apartment at all hours, Dietrich is remembered by her grandsons as the near-perfect grandmother, as "a woman who loved to cuddle us." But even as little boys, they knew that granny's bedroom was off-limits. It was her inner sanctum, a beautiful silk palace with fur throws on the bed and the heady scent of perfume and passion always in the air.

In Maria Riva's biography of her mother, "Marlene Dietrich" (Knopf, 1993), she marvels at how every lover played a role in her mother's life of romance. In the 1950s, though still very much involved with a famous Frenchman, Dietrich fell in love with Yul Brynner. "For four years, their secret affair blazed, flickered, smoldered, simmered, then flamed anew. [Between his matinee and evening shows of 'The King and I,' Brynner would rush to Dietrich's penthouse.] After Yul had left, she would call me to come over," recalls Maria. "She so loved to show off her disheveled bed."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday October 30, 1997 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 3 View Desk 2 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction Marlene Dietrich--In the Oct. 24 Life & Style, a story about Marlene Dietrich used the phrase, "Men cluster to me like moths around a flame, and if their wings burn I know I'm not to blame," which Dietrich often used as a motto. The phrase is from the song "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)" written by lyricist Sammy Lerner.
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