Luise Rainer


Actor
Luise Rainer

About

Also Known As
The Viennese Teardrop
Birth Place
Düsseldorf, , DE
Born
January 12, 1910
Died
December 30, 2014

Biography

Like many compatriots in the pre-war central European arts community, Luise Rainer escaped the fascist clouds gathering over Europe to become one of the leading lights of Hollywood's German expatriate community, and the first actor of any origin to win two Academy Awards back-to-back. An up-and-coming star in Germany upon the Nazi party's rise to power in 1933, she emigrated soon after, ...

Photos & Videos

The Good Earth - Lobby Cards
The Good Earth - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
The Great Waltz (1938) - Publicity Still

Family & Companions

Clifford Odets
Husband
Writer, director. Married January 8, 1937; separated in 1939; divorced May 14, 1940.
Robert Knittel
Husband
Publisher. Second husband; married in 1945 until his death in 1989.

Notes

Rainer has had two solo exhibitions of her paintings in London.

Reportedly, she turned down an offer from Federico Fellini to appear in "La Dolce Vita" (1960) because she refused to go to bed on-screen with Marcello Mastroianni. She failed to land the role of Marie Curie (Greer Garson got the part) and lost the female lead in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943) to Ingrid Bergman and, after moving to NYC and doing some theater there, rejected Tennessee Williams' invitation to appear in "The Glass Menagerie".

Biography

Like many compatriots in the pre-war central European arts community, Luise Rainer escaped the fascist clouds gathering over Europe to become one of the leading lights of Hollywood's German expatriate community, and the first actor of any origin to win two Academy Awards back-to-back. An up-and-coming star in Germany upon the Nazi party's rise to power in 1933, she emigrated soon after, signing on with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and making her Hollywood debut in "Escapade" (1936). She soon had landed her first Oscar for her performance in "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936) and won it again the following year for her role in "The Good Earth" (1937). She made nearly as much buzz challenging the reign of the studio moguls, clashing with boss Louie B. Mayer until he made an example of her. Though Rainer's decline would be cavalierly chalked up to an "Oscar curse," Mayer - and by some estimates the actor's own Old School expressionistic acting style - subsequently denied her choice parts and prestige projects, prompting her to quit Hollywood after only seven years in the movie business. She would try her hand at the stage, including some star turns on Broadway, but would mostly be seen thereafter in odd TV projects in the U.S. and U.K. and, much later, in the European film "The Gambler" (1997). A classic thespian import of Old World style, Rainer's legacy would necessarily carry a cautionary example of how the bygone studio system would slap down even one of its most luminous stars. She died in London on December 30, 2014, at the remarkable age of 104.

She was born in Düsseldorf, Germany on Jan. 12, 1910, the daughter of Emmy Luise and Heinrich Rainer, a wealthy import/export merchant and a citizen of the United States. Hearing the call of the stage early, she left home at age 16 to study at theatrical pioneer Max Reinhardt's Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna, Austria. She acted in a raft of Reinhardt's productions, including Shakespearean works and George Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan." She made her screen debut in the short film "Ja, der Himmel über Wien" (1930), and appearing in her first feature two years later in the musical comedy "Sehnsucht 202" (1932). Rainer did two more German-language films, but the assumption of power by Hitler's overtly anti-Semitic Nazi party in Germany spurred her and other Europeans of Jewish ancestry, including Reinhardt and later Rainer's father, to immigrate to America. Wooed by Hollywood's prestige studio, MGM, Rainer signed a seven-year contract. The studio put her on familiar turf, casting her in the Vienna-set farce "Escapade" (1935) opposite one of its biggest stars, William Powell. She dazzled critics and impressed Powell enough that he insisted she be cast in his next film, a grandiose biopic of New York stage producer extraordinaire Florence Ziegfeld, "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936). It was only a small role, playing Ziegfeld's ex-wife, but Rainer's scene congratulating Ziegfeld on his imminent remarriage showed such bittersweet intensity that it helped her cinch the Best Actress Oscar the next year.

Even before her win, however, MGM production chief Irving Thalberg had set the stage for her next project, an ambitious adaptation of Pearl Buck's Chinese saga "The Good Earth" (1937). Thalberg had cast Paul Muni in the male lead, which complicated his hope to give the female lead to Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong, since the censorial Hays Office would not condone onscreen "miscegenation," the odious taboo America then assigned to interracial relationships. Over studio head Mayer's objections - he wanted to hone Rainer as another exotic glamour queen, a la Garbo and Dietrich - Rainer took the part. Her turn as the steadfast farmer's wife would win her a second Oscar, but "The Good Earth" would prove Thalberg's last production before his untimely death and his absence would portend poorly for her career. Mayer assumed MGM's production stewardship, and he and Rainer soon were at loggerheads. Mayer's pathological veneration of women led him to disproportionately lighten MGM's fare and gloss over any complexity in female characters. He altered one script wholesale by changing Rainer's character, a prostitute, into a virtuous young lady, the resulting film "The Bride Wore Red" (1937) which eventually starred Joan Crawford instead. Rainer's 1937 marriage to playwright Clifford Odets, a leftist and iconoclastic founder of the Group Theater, did not thrill the conservative Mayer either. And Rainer, ever unimpressed with Hollywood's pomp and circumstance, only attended the 1938 Oscar ceremony after Mayer ordered her to go.

As the relationship soured, she found herself snubbed for roles she actually wanted. She reteamed with Powell in "The Emperor's Candlesticks" (1937), played the wife of cabbie Spencer Tracy in "Big City" (1937), essayed a sister immersed in a love triangle opposite Melvyn Douglas in "The Toy Wife" (1938), and headed an ensemble in the anemic inside-acting yarn "Dramatic School" (1938). Her last true feature hit would be "The Great Waltz" (1938), in which she played the beleaguered wife of composer Johann Strauss. After that, however, her unwillingness to accept parts being offered her led Mayer to release her from her contract. Rainer moved to New York City with Odets - though the marriage deteriorated and ended in 1940 - and returned to the stage, starring in plays in the U.K. and making her Broadway debut in "A Kiss for Cinderella" in 1942.

Rainer returned to Hollywood briefly to make "Hostages" (1943) for Paramount, the taut tale of a group of Czech citizens jailed by German occupation forces until someone confesses to the murder of a German officer. Like many movie stars during WWII, she lent her celebrity to war-bond drives and entertaining U.S. troops, making tour stops as far afield as North Africa and Italy after Allied forces had secured them. But thereafter she would essentially leave show business and the U.S. behind by marrying English publishing executive Robert Knittel in 1945 and moving to England. It would not be until 1949 that she would make another movie, the BBC telefilm "By Candlelight." She took to the stage again in 1950, starring in a brief revival of Ibsen's "The Lady from the Sea" on Broadway. She would crop up during the 1950s in featured one-off performances in early U.S. television anthology shows, such as "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars" (CBS, 1951-59), "Lux Video Theatre" (CBS/NBC 1950-59) and "Suspense" (CBS, 1949-1954), but for the most part retired to her and Knittel's homes in London and Switzerland.

Privately, Rainer tried her hand at painting and was lured back before the cameras only rarely in ensuing decades, playing a countess in an episode of "Combat!" (ABC, 1962-67) in 1965 and making an improbable guest-shot on "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986) in 1984. In 1997, she returned to the big screen in a UK/Hungarian/Dutch adaptation of Dostoyevsky's "The Gambler," drawing raves for her scenes as an aristocratic matriarch invigorated by her discovery of the roulette table. Ensconced in a luxury apartment in London after Knittel's 1989 death, Rainer made an appearance at the 75th anniversary Academy Awards broadcast in 2003 for a tribute to past winners. In 2012, she was profiled in Entertainment Weekly in a story entitled "The Oldest Oscar Winner Speaks," in which the 102-year-old legend granted a brief interview, discussing her colorful life and brief tenure as a reigning star of Hollywood's Golden Age. Luise Rainer died in London of pneumonia at the age of 104 on December 30, 2014.

By Matthew Grimm

Life Events

1926

Left home to pursue acting career at age 16

1928

Joined Max Reinhardt's acting company

1930

Film debut in "Ja der Himmel uber Wien"

1935

Made U.S. film debut in "Escapade," the first of three films made with William Powell; took over part abandoned by Myrna Loy

1936

Won first Academy Award for playing Anna Held in "The Great Ziegfeld"; became the first actress to win an Oscar for portraying a real-life person

1937

Won second Oscar as O-Lan in "The Good Earth"

1938

Left MGM after a series of box office and critical flops; retired from the film industry

1942

Starred on Broadway in revival of "A Kiss for Cinderella"

1943

Made last film for 54 years, "Hostages" (Paramount)

1951

Appeared as a performer on the "Woman Overboard" production of "Faith Baldwin's Theater of Romance" (ABC)

1954

Once again appeared on a televised play, the "Torment" episode of "Suspense" (CBS)

1960

Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

1965

Coaxed out of a 20-year retirement to appear on "Combat!" (ABC)

1983

Made occasional stage appearances during her "retirement" from film acting, including a solo performance of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Enoch Arden" at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall in Los Angeles, CA

1984

Guest starred on the long-running primetime series "The Love Boat" (ABC)

1992

Turned up as perhaps the best witness in TNT's "MGM: When the Lion Roars"

1997

Returned to features with an extended cameo in Karoly Makk's "The Gambler," starring Michael Gambon as Fyodor Dostoyevsky

2010

Celebrated her 100th birthday

Photo Collections

The Good Earth - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from The Good Earth (1937). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Good Earth - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Good Earth (1937), starring Luise Rainer and Paul Muni, and directed by Sidney Franklin.
The Great Waltz (1938) - Publicity Still
Here is a photo taken to help publicize MGM's The Great Waltz (1938), starring Luise Rainer and Fernand Gravet. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Great Ziegfeld, The (1936) - Trying To Lose Weight Flo (William Powell, title character, who would become the legendary impresario) works a scam with a London doorman and beats rival Billings (Frank Morgan) to French singer Anna Held (Luise Rainer, her first scene), in MGM's The Great Ziegfeld, 1936.
Great Waltz, The (1938) - Johann Strauss II And His Immortal Melodies Opening MGM’s schmaltzy story of Strauss and Vienna, Fernand Gravet is introduced in the lead role, tangling with his employer (Sig Rumann), his in-laws to-be (Bert Roach, Greta Meyer) and his finaceè (Luiser Rainer), in The Great Waltz, 1938.
Great Waltz, The (1938) - The Performance Is Not Over! Johann Strauss (Fernand Gravet), in Vienna ca. 1849, leads his waltz orchestra, at the casino run by Donnmayer (Herman Bing), his fianceè (Luise Rainer) and family the only audience until opera stars Schiller (George Houston) and Donner, (Miliza Korjus, the Polish soprano in her only Hollywood film) arrive, in MGM’s The Great Waltz, 1938
Great Waltz, The (1938) - There'll Come A Time Carla Donner (a fictional character, played for MGM by Polish soprano Miliza Korjus) has introduced un-credentialed Johann Strauss II (Fernand Gravet) to Vienna society, the song a Strauss compositoin with an original lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II, in The Great Waltz, 1938.
Good Earth, The (1937) - A Plague Of Locusts Chinese peasants, principals Paul Muni and Luise Rainer featured, battle a locust invasion in their fields (really deceased grasshoppers in southern California) in this famous piece of technical wizardry from MGM's The Good Earth (1937).
Good Earth, The (1937) - Opening, Thalberg Generally seen as historic, the opening titles featuring the almost-sole screen credit ever given to MGM studio chief Irving Thalberg, undertaken by his colleagues to mark his death at age 37, from The Good Earth, 1937, from the Pearl S. Buck novel.
Good Earth, The (1937) - A Tree Will Grow Chinese peasant Wang (Paul Muni) meets and marries O-Lan (Luise Rainer, who won the Best Actress Academy Award), early in MGM's The Good Earth, 1937, from the Pearl S. Buck novel.
Luise Rainer -- (TCM Remembers) 1910-2014 TCM remembers Luise Rainer, the first actress to win back-to-back Academy Awards, who passed away at the age of 104. Please check back for any programming updates.
Dramatic School (1938) - Burning Love Of The Stage Opening scene as Margaret Dumont plays the instructor, students Fluery (Alan Marshall), Simone (Virginia Grey), Nana (Paulette Goddard) and sassy Mado (Lana Turner) all step forward, but it's really about Louise (Luise Rainer), in the MGM semi-ensemble melodrama Dramatic School, 1938.
Dramatic School (1938) - I Never Wear Jewelry The second part of the scene in which it's revealed that spacey Paris acting student Louise (Louise Rainer) has a factory job in her spare time, gabbing with Annette (Marie Blake), then visited by diva Gina (Genevieve Tobin) and her escort Andre (Alan Marshall), in Dramatic School, 1938.
Dramatic School (1938) - Real Love With A Millionaire Before a big audition, students Simone (Virginia Grey) and Mado (Lana Turner) gossiping about Fluery (Anthony Allan) to the alarm of ambitious Nana (Paulette Goddard), who is later counseled by the more philosophical Louise (Luise Rainer), in MGM's Dramatic School, 1938.
Big City (1937) - Promise Him Anything! Anna (Luise Rainer), who is hiding out from immigration during a labor dispute, is visited by cabbie husband Joe (Spencer Tracy) in Big City, 1937, from a script by Dore Schary and Hugo Butler.

Trailer

Family

Henry Rainer
Father
Businessman. Ran an import-export firm; American citizen.
Emily Rainer
Mother
Francesca Knittel Bowyer
Daughter
Born c. 1947.

Companions

Clifford Odets
Husband
Writer, director. Married January 8, 1937; separated in 1939; divorced May 14, 1940.
Robert Knittel
Husband
Publisher. Second husband; married in 1945 until his death in 1989.

Bibliography

Notes

Rainer has had two solo exhibitions of her paintings in London.

Reportedly, she turned down an offer from Federico Fellini to appear in "La Dolce Vita" (1960) because she refused to go to bed on-screen with Marcello Mastroianni. She failed to land the role of Marie Curie (Greer Garson got the part) and lost the female lead in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943) to Ingrid Bergman and, after moving to NYC and doing some theater there, rejected Tennessee Williams' invitation to appear in "The Glass Menagerie".

"Hollywood? I felt very alone in Hollywood. I couldn't wait to get out. I hated the films they asked me to make. They put me on a pedastal in Hollywood--and I didn't like being put on a pedestel." --Luise Rainer to LOS ANGELES TIMES, October, 26, 1997

"I'm proud of one thing. I'm proud of having emerged unscathed without liquor or dope after 50 years of mostly not doing my work. I'm healthy and I kept healthy. When I see the dissipation of most actresses who don't work any more, I feel very lucky." --Luise Rainer in LOS ANGELES TIMES, October 26, 1997

About receiving an invitation to a sceening for "The Gambler" and seeing her name at the bottom of the cast list in smaller print than the others: "I'm furious. I've been living in the background, and that's been fine because that's my life; I'm a little fly like everybody else. But I still have a name. I'm supposed to be a very good actress. And now when I do something--and for charity money--and I give interviews and help them a great deal ... I find this invitation an insult." --Rainer in the London TIMES, November 6, 1997