Everyone remembers Marlene Dietrich for her glamorous roles and unflinching style, but the Berlin-born actress was much more than a Hollywood star. “She was happiest serving the Allied troops during World War II,” the legend’s grandson Peter Riva tells exclusively Closer. “She called them ‘my boys’ for the rest of her life, and they responded accordingly.”

Marlene moved to the U.S. in 1930 and, appalled by Germany’s rising fascist regime, became a citizen in 1939. “America took me into her bosom when I no longer had a native country worthy of the name,” said Marlene, who became one of the first celebrities to join the war effort.

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“She was helping the OSS [a wartime precursor to the CIA], trying to get people out of Germany that she knew were in danger,” says Riva, who notes that Marlene was also a tireless fundraiser. “Clark Gable always complained that she raised more money in war bonds than he did, and don’t forget — he was the King of Hollywood.”


Between 1943 and 1946, Marlene made more than 500 personal appearances before Allied troops. “It became a matter of passion and desire,” says Riva. “Danny Thomas used to say to me, ‘Your grandmother always wanted to get us killed. If there was daylight left, we went to entertain guys on the front line. Sometimes we did the whole performance just for 10 guys!’ She understood that if anything she could do to change the course of that war to defeat Hitler, it was worth doing.”

Her bravery and determination won her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “She was never more proud,” says Riva. “I think that is her great legacy.”

— Reporting by Fortune Benatar