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Child of Tientsin & Movie Star – Sari Maritza

Posted: August 26th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Reading the new biography of the crime writer Edgar Wallace – Stranger than Fiction: The Life of Edgar Wallace, The Man Who Created King Kong by Neil Clark – I was interested to know that the actress Sari Maritza, about whom Wallace developed a fascination in the early 1930s, was born in Tientsin (Tianjin).


Sari Maritza was born Dora Patricia Detring-Nathan in Tientsin in 1910, the daughter of Walter Nathan, a British Army Major turned wealthy businessman (in the mining business) in the city and his Viennese wife (reportedly of noble blood). She took her stage name from two operettas Sari and Countess Maritza. Leaving China, initially for her education in Europe, she got her start in the movies in 1930 in Germany, Austria and England and then became well known in Hollywood for dancing a tango with Charlie Chaplin at the premiere of City Lights – Chaplin claimed to have discovered her as the new “It Girl”. She was invariably type cast at the European vamp in Dietrich-like roles (indeed Paramount touted her as the “New Dietrich”) and played up her Austrian heritage despite spending most of her later life in Britain. She died in 1987 though her film career did not survive the 1930s.


Her China origins became somewhat exaggerated perhaps by the Hollywood publicists but basically true it seems. She was said to have been raised in a crenelated castle surrounded by a moat and close to the racecourse by the most prominent foreign family in Tientsin. While perhaps gilding the lily crenelated frontages on treaty port properties in Tientsin were fairly common (examples can still be seen standing in modern day Tianjin), though the moat may be a bit of poetic license. It was claimed that the castle was built by her Austrian grandfather, Gustav von Detring, who had been a counsellor to Li Hongzhang and reportedly a “possible rival to Sir Robert Hart” as head of the Chinese Customs. It does seem Hart disliked Detring describing him as “sanguine, and there is no straw in his bricks”. During the Boxer Rebellion von Detring met with the Kaiser in Germany and told him that “the Chinese only understand force”. Von Detring’s success was put down to have persuaded the Chinese to give his company, The Chinese Engineering and Mining Company, its concession – the concession Sari’s father eventually came to run.


Her father himself was said to be one of several famous English brothers including Sir Matthew Nathan, a one-time Governor of Queensland, and Colonel Sir Frederick Nathan, a senior army officer in India.

The family supposedly owned the most sumptuous – indeed “palatial” – property in the fashionable (with foreigners anyway) seaside resort of Peitaiho (Beidaihe) where Sari was noted for her diving skills. Her governess apparently remained in Tientsin when Sari departed for school in Europe.



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3 Comments on “Child of Tientsin & Movie Star – Sari Maritza”

  1. 1 Jan Keough said at 4:06 am on January 18th, 2021:

    Finally some details on her life! What did she do for the 40+ years after making a few films? Did she marry, etc.?

  2. 2 Irene M said at 5:12 pm on August 13th, 2021:

    Sari Maritza’s maternal grandfather, Gustav Detring, was German, not Austrian; his wife, Evelin Bauer, was Austrian. Sari’s mother was Gustav Detring’s fourth daughter, Eveline.

  3. 3 Paul French said at 5:58 pm on August 13th, 2021:

    Irene, Thank you very much for that clarification – much appreciated. Paul

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