"I love doing this interview with you because there's a whole generation of young people who think that television started with 'I Love Lucy.' They only see what was put on film. And we, in New York, never had film. It was all live. You did it once and when it was finished, it was gone."
About This Interview
In her two-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, Maria Riva speaks of the power of television, made apparent to her when she and her mother, famed screen star Marlene Dietrich, were once approached by a fan: "I was walking down the street with my mother. And a woman comes up and practically falls on her knees and looks up at my mother as though she were in a church, kind of genuflecting in the middle of Times Square. And then she turned, got up, and looked at me and said, 'Oh Maria! I saw you last night on TV, you were terrific! I loved it! I watched with my husband and my kids. When are you going to do your next Suspense ?' And that's the great difference, and the power of television. The motion picture star is far away. That's why it's known as a star. You look up at that big screen. And you pay homage. Television comes to you." Maria Riva was one of a group of actors who served as a contract player for the CBS network in the early 1950s, appearing on such classic anthology series as Studio One, Lux Video Theatre, and Suspense.
Riva talks about her work in the theater, and how she became an acting teacher at the Max Reinhardt Academy. She describes her early interest in TV, and how she came to make her first appearance in 1951 on the anthology series Sure as Fate. She speaks frankly about the kind of work that was expected from actors on television in the early days of the medium: "There was a saying. You played to Mrs. Glutz in the Bronx. That sounds, you know, rather insulting, to say it. But that's how they thought of it. People who knew nothing about acting, about the profession, so-called, who would now get it for free in their home, they should be glad whatever they got. So you played to a very low standard."
She discusses extensively the experience of appearing on "live" television, and enumerates many memorable mishaps that occurred during broadcast. For CBS' prestige dramatic anthology Studio One, on which she appeared frequently, she describes the kinds of roles she played and the actors and directors that she worked with. She also talks about individual roles on other programs, including appearances she made on NBC following the end of her CBS contract, such as: The Buick-Berle Show; Kukla, Fran, & Ollie; and Hallmark Hall of Fame. She then comments on her decision to quit acting at the height of her career, when TV production moved to the west coast.
Additionally, Riva talks about appearing on a series of cerebral palsy telethons, being a spokesperson for Alcoa—appearing in live commercials, and her second career as a writer. B-roll consisted of several photos from her television career in the 1950s.
Gary Rutkowski conducted the interview in North Hollywoood, CA on March 17, 2009.