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Luise Rainer
Born January 12, 1910 (1910-01-12) (age 100)
Düsseldorf, Germany[1]
Occupation Actress
Years active 1928–1997
Spouse(s) Clifford Odets (1937-1940)
Robert Knittel (1945-1989)

Luise Rainer (born January 12, 1910)[2] is a German film actress, known as The Viennesse Teardrop, she is the first woman to win two Academy Awards, and the first person to win them back to back. She was discovered by MGM talent scouts while acting on stage in Austria and Germany and after appearing in Austrian films.[3]

Her training began in Germany from the age of 16 by leading stage director Max Reinhardt. After a few years, she became recognized as a "distinguished Berlin stage actress", acting with Reinhardt's Vienna theater ensemble. Critics "raved" at her stage and film acting quality, leading MGM to sign her to a three-year contract and bring her to Hollywood in 1935. A number of filmmakers anticipated she might become another Greta Garbo, MGM's leading female star.

Her first American role was in the film Escapade (1935), which was soon followed with a relatively small part in the musical biopic The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Despite her limited appearances in the film, she "so impressed audiences" that she won the Oscar for Best Actress. For her dramatic telephone scene in the film, she was later dubbed "the Viennese teardrop".[4] In her next role, producer Irving Thalberg was convinced, despite the studio's disagreement, that she could play the part of a poor uncomely Chinese peasant in The Good Earth, based on Pearl Buck's novel about hardship in China. The subdued character she played was such a dramatic contrast to her previous, vivacious character, that she won another Academy Award, even with Greta Garbo as one of the nominees.[5]

However, she would later remark that by winning two consecutive Oscars, "nothing worse could have happened to me", as audience expectations from then on would be too high to fulfill. She was then given parts in a string of unimportant movies, leading MGM and Rainer to became disappointed, and she ended her brief 3-year career in films, soon returning to Europe. Adding to her rapid decline, some feel, was the "poor career advice" given her by then husband, playwright Clifford Odets,[6] along with the unexpected death, at age 37, of her producer, Irving Thalberg, whom she greatly admired. Some film historians consider her the "most extreme case of an Oscar victim in Hollywood mythology".[7] She currently lives in London.


Early life and career

The daughter of Heinz Rainer and Emmy (née Koenigsberger), Luise was born in Düsseldorf, Germany[1] and raised in Hamburg, Germany and Vienna, Austria. She once told a reporter: "I was born into a world of destruction. The Vienna of my childhood was one of starvation, poverty and revolution."[8] Her father was a businessman who settled in Europe after spending most of his childhood in America, where he was sent at the age of 6 as an orphan. Her mother came from an upper-class German-Jewish family.[9]:402 A number of leading film references list her birthplace as Vienna, Austria. [10][11][3]

Biographer Margaret Brenman-Gibson writes that Luise was a premature baby, born two months early. She also had two brothers. Rainer describes her father as being "possessive" and "tempestuous," but whose affections and concern centered on her. Luise seemed to him as "eternally absent-minded" and "very different." Rainer remembers his "tyrannical possessiveness," and was saddened to see her mother, "a beautiful pianist, and a woman of warmth and intelligence and deeply in love with her husband, suffering similarly".[9]

Although generally shy at home, she was "immensely athletic" in school, becoming a champion runner and an "intrepid" mountain-climber, notes Brenman-Gibson.[9] In addition to expending her energy in athletics, Rainer stated, "I became an actress only because I had quickly to find some vent for the emotion that inside of me went around and around, never stopping." It was her father's wish that she attend a good finishing school and "marry the right man," she remembers. However, her "rebellious" nature made her appear to be more a "tomboy," while at the same time, "happy to be alone", she feared she was "developing her mother's inferiority complex".[9] At age 16, Rainer decided she wanted to become an actress. Under the pretext of visiting her mother, she traveled to Düsseldorf and registered at the Dumont Theater, being arranged an audition the same day.[12]

She began studying acting with Max Reinhardt, and by the time she was 18, there was already an "army of critics" who felt that she had "unusual" talent for a young actress.[9] She became a "distinguished Berlin stage actress" acting with Reinhardt's Vienna theater ensemble.[6][13] She made her first appearance on the stage at the Dumont Theater in 1928, followed by appearances at various theaters in Jacques Deval's play Mademoiselle, Kingsley's Men in White, George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, Measure for Measure, and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.[2]

She later appeared in several German language films before being discovered in 1934 by MGM talent scout Phil Berg while performing in Six Characters in Search of an Author[12], who felt that she might appeal to the same audience as Greta Garbo, then one of their most successful performers.[14] Initially, Rainer had no interest in a film career, saying in a 1935 interview: "I never wanted to film. I was only for the theater. Then I saw A Farewell to Arms and right away I wanted to film. It was so beautiful."[12]



The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

in The Great Ziegfeld

"I like to dress informally, to wear slacks and old clothes that are comfortable. But at the studio they don't like that. They say I should dress up. Why? For my lover, yes. I would dress up, make myself look nice, do anything. So, too, for my public. But for my producer, NO."

Rainer in a 1935 interview.[12]

After doing a few films in Austria, in which "critics raved," she was offered a 3-year contract with MGM and came to Hollywood in 1935 as a hopeful new star.[3] According to biographer Charles Higham, both MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer and story editor Samuel Marx had seen footage of Rainer before she came to Hollywood, and both felt she had the looks, charm, and especially a "certain tender vulnerability" that Mayer admired in female stars.[15]:240 Because of her weak command of English, Mayer assigned actress Constance Collier to train her in correct speech and dramatic modulation, and Rainer's speaking skills improved rapidly.[15]

Upon arriving in Hollywood, Rainer spent eight weeks at the studio without being offered a job.[12] Her first film role in Hollywood was in Escapade (1935), which was a remake of one of her Austrian films.[16] She received the part after Myrna Loy gave up the role.[13] By the time Rainer was cast, half of the film was already shot.[12] During the film's first preview, Rainer ran out of the cinema and later said about the event: "On the screen, I looked so big and full of face, it was awful."[17] Following the film's release, Rainer received a lot of publicity and was often compared to actress Elisabeth Bergner by the press.[12] She was hailed as 'Hollywood's next sensation' and had to do several interviews.[18] From the beginning of her Hollywood career, she stated she did not like the stardom or giving interviews, explaining: "Stars are not important, only what they do as a part of their work is important. Artists need quiet in which to grow. It seems Hollywood does not like to give them this quiet. Stardom is bad because Hollywood makes too much of it, there is too much 'bowing down' before stars. Stardom is weight pressing down over the head — and one must grow upward or not at all."[18]

She was next cast to play the real-life character Anna Held, a small part in the musical biography The Great Ziegfeld. The film reunited her with actor William Powell, with whom she also co-starred in Escapade. Powell was very impressed with Rainer and previously arranged her equal billing for Escapade.[18] He described his impressions of her:

"She is one of the most natural persons I have ever known. Moreover, she is generous, patient and possesses a magnificent sense of humor. She is an extremely sensitive organism and has a great comprehension of human nature. She has judgment and an abiding understanding which make it possible for her to portray human emotion poignantly and truly. Definitely a creative artist, she comprehends life and its significance. Everything she does has been subjected to painstaking analysis. She thinks over every shade of emotion to make it ring true. In Europe she is a great stage star. She deserves to be a star. Unmistakably she had all the qualities."[17]

Higham notes that the film's producer, Irving Thalberg, decided that "only she could play" the part. However, Rainer states that Mayer "did not want me to do the film, and said 'Anna Held is out of it before the film is halfway through. You are a star now and can't do it!'"[8]:13 As Thalberg expected, she nonetheless succeeded in acting the role which required "coquettishness, wide-eyed charm, and vulnerability."[15] Despite her limited appearances in the film, biographer Charles Affron writes that Rainer "so impressed audiences with one highly emotional scene" that she won an Academy Award for Best Actress.[6] In the scene, her character as Anna Held is speaking to her ex-husband Florenz Ziegfeld over the telephone, attempting to congratulate him on his new marriage: "The camera records her agitation; Ziegfeld hears a voice that hovers between false gaiety and despair; when she hangs up she dissolves into tears."[6]

On the evening of the Academy Award ceremonies, Rainer remained at home, not expecting to win any award. When Mayer then learned she won the award, he sent MGM publicity head Howard Strickling racing to her home to get her. When she finally arrived, master of ceremonies George Jessel, during the commotion, made the mistake of introducing Rainer, which Bette Davis had been scheduled to do.[15] She was also awarded the New York Film Critics' Award for the role.

The Good Earth (1937)

The Good Earth

Her next film was The Good Earth (1937), where she co-starred with Paul Muni. The role was completely opposite her Anna Held character, where she now portrayed a humble Chinese peasant. For the part, she acted utterly subservient to her husband, perpetually huddled in submission, and barely spoke a word of dialogue during the entire film. The extreme contrast in the role with her last one partly contributed to her winning another Oscar for Best Actress. She became the first actress to win two consecutive Oscars, a feat not matched until Katharine Hepburn's two Oscar wins thirty years later.[6] Film historian Andrew Sarris states that her "comparative muteness was reckoned as an astounding tour de force after her hysterically chattering telephone scene in The Great Ziegfeld".[19]

Rainer later recalled that studio head Louis B. Mayer did not approve of the film being produced or her part in it: "He was horrified at Irving Thalberg's insistence for me to play O-lan, the poor uncomely little Chinese peasant. I myself, with the meager dialogue given to me, feared to be a hilarious bore."[20]:142 Rainer remembers Mayer's comments to Thalberg: "She has to be a dismal-looking slave and grow old; but Luise is a young girl; we just have made her glamorous — what are you doing?"[8]:13 She considers the part as one of the "greatest achievements" in her career, stating that she was allowed to express "realism," even refusing to "wear the rubber mask Chinese look suggested by the make-up department", allowing her to act "genuine, honest, and down-to-earth".[20]

There were a number of serious problems during production, however. George W. Hill, a leading director at the time, was chosen to direct the film, and spent several months in China filming backgrounds and atmospheric scenes of farmlands around the Great Wall and in Peking. Soon after he returned, Hill committed suicide and the film was postponed until Sidney Franklin took over directing.[16]

Then, before the film was completed, the film's producer, Irving Thalberg, died suddenly at the age of 37. He was Louis B. Mayer's "right hand". Rainer commented years later, "His dying was a terrible shock to us. He was young and ever so able. Had it not been that he died, I think I may have stayed much longer in films."[20]

Rainer described winning the two Oscars as the "worst possible thing" to befall her career.[21] The critic James Agate admired Rainer's performance in The Good Earth and described it as "an exquisite rendering", however she was criticised in reviews by Picturegoer. Max Breen was among those critics indignant that Greta Garbo's performance in Camille had been overlooked in favor of Rainer.[14]

Other films

in Dramatic School (1938)

In 1938, she played Johann Strauss's long-suffering wife Poldi in the successful MGM musical biopic The Great Waltz, her last hit.

She made four other films for MGM, The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937), Big City (1937) with Spencer Tracy, The Toy Wife (1938) and Dramatic School (1938), but all were ill-advised and not well received. She refused to be stereotyped or to knuckle under to the studio system and studio head Mayer was unsympathetic to her demands for serious roles. Furthermore, she began to fight for a higher salary and she was reported as being difficult and temperamental.[14] Speaking of Mayer decades later, Rainer recalled, "He said, 'We made you and we are going to destroy you.' Well, he tried his best."[1]

Rainer made her final film appearance for MGM in 1938 and abandoned the film industry. In a 1983 interview, the actress told she went to Louis B. Mayer's office and said to him: "Mr Mayer, I must stop making films. My source has dried up. I work from the inside out, and there is nothing inside to give."[22] Following the conversation she traveled to Europe, where she helped children who were victims of the Spanish Civil War.[22] Nevertheless, she was not released from her contract and by 1940, she was still bound to make one more film for the studio.[23] Disenchanted with Hollywood, where she later said it was impossible to have an intellectual conversation,[1] she moved to New York City in 1940 to live with her husband, playwright Clifford Odets, whom she had married in 1937. Rainer and Odets were divorced three years later. Despite the negativity, Rainer was one of the actresses considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939) but the idea was not well received and she was not given a screen test. In a later interview, Rainer commented on her disappearance of the movie industry by saying:

"I was very young. There were a lot of things I was unprepared for. I was too honest, I talked serious instead of with my eyelashes and Hollywood thought I was cuckoo. I worked in seven big pictures in three years. I have to be inspired to give a good performance. I complained to a studio executive that the source was dried up. The executive told me, 'Why worry about the source. Let the director worry about that.' I didn't run away from anybody in Hollywood. I ran away from myself."[24]

Later life and career

Rainer in an Argentinean magazine

While in Europe, Rainer studied medicine and explained she loved being accepted as "just another student", rather than as the screen actress.[25] She, meanwhile, also returned to the stage and made her first appearance on the at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on May 1, 1939 as Françoise in Jacques Deval's play Behold the Bride and her first London appearance at the Shaftesbury Theatre on May 23, 1939 in the same part. Returning to America she made her first appearance on the New York stage at the Music Box Theatre in May 1942 as Miss Thing in James M. Barrie's A Kiss for Cinderella.[2]

In World War II, she signed a visa affidavit to get Berthold Brecht out of Nazi Germany because she "loved his poetry". In return, he wrote the role of Grusha Vashnadze in his 1944 play The Caucasian Chalk Circle for Rainer. However they had a disagreement and she never played it.[citation needed]

She made one more film appearance in Hostages in 1943 and abandoned film making in 1944 after marrying publisher Robert Knittel. She initially did not plan on returning to the screen, but explained her comeback in 1943 by saying:

"All the professor and the other students cared about was whether I could answer the questions. Not whether I could come to class looking glamorous. But after that brief return to the stage, I began to realize that all the doors which had been opened to me in Europe, and all the work I had been able to accomplish for refugee children, was due to the fact that people knew me from my screen work. I began to feel a sense of responsibuity to a job which I had started and never finished. When I also felt, after that experience at Dennis, that perhaps I did have talent after all, and that my too-sudden stardom was not just a matter of happy accident, I decided to go back."[25]

When Rainer returned to Hollywood, her contract at MGM had already expired and she had no agent.[25] David Rose, head of Paramount Pictures, offered her to star in an English film shot on location, but the war conditions prevented her from accepting the role.[25] Instead, Rose suggested her in 1942 to take a screen test for the lead role in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), but Ingrid Bergman was cast.[10] Rainer eventually settled on a role in the small film Hostages (1943) and told the press about the role: "It's certainly not an Academy Award part, and thank goodness, my bosses don't expect me to win an award with it. [..] No, this is something unspectacular but I hope, a step back in the right direction."[25]

Rainer had become an American citizen in the 1940s, but they had lived in the UK and Switzerland[22] for most of their marriage. He died in 1989.[1] They had one daughter, Francesca Knittel, now known as Francesca Knittel-Bowyer. Rainer lives in Belgrave Square, London, in an apartment in the same building once inhabited by fellow two-time Oscar winner Vivien Leigh.[citation needed]

Federico Fellini enticed her to play the cameo role of the writer Dolores in his 1960 Oscar-winning classic La Dolce Vita, to the point of traveling to the Rome location. She quit the production prior to shooting, either due to an unwanted sex scene, or Rainer's insistence on overseeing her own dialogue.[1] The role was cut from the eventual screenplay.[citation needed]

Rainer made sporadic television and stage appearances following her and her husband's move to Britain, appearing in an episode of the World War II television series Combat! in 1965. She took a dual role in a 1983 episode of The Love Boat. For the latter she received a standing ovation from the crew.[22] She appeared in The Gambler (1997) in a small role, marking her film comeback at the age of 86.[1] She made appearances at the 1998 and 2003 Academy Awards ceremonies as part of special retrospective tributes to past Oscar winners.

On 12 January 2010, Rainer celebrated her centenary in London.[26] Actor Sir Ian McKellen was one of her guests.

Rainer has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6300 Hollywood Boulevard.


Year Film Role Notes
1932 Sehnsucht 202 Kitty
Madame hat Besuch
1933 Heut' kommt's drauf an Marita Costa
1935 Escapade Leopoldine Dur
1936 The Great Ziegfeld Anna Held Academy Award for Best Actress
1937 The Good Earth O-Lan Academy Award for Best Actress
The Emperor's Candlesticks Countess Olga Mironova
Big City Anna Benton
1938 The Toy Wife Gilberte 'Frou Frou' Brigard
The Great Waltz Poldi Vogelhuber
Dramatic School Louise Mauban
1943 Hostages Milada Pressinger
1997 The Gambler Grandmother


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Brown, Mike (22 October 2009). "Actress Luise Rainer on the glamour and grit of Hollywood's golden era". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 October 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Parker, John (1947) Who's Who in the Theatre, 10th revised ed. London: Pitmans; p. 1176
  3. ^ a b c Monush, Barry. Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors, Hal Leonard Corp. (2003) p. 618
  4. ^ "Hilary Swank: The Sequel", Los Angeles Magazine, January, 2002 p. 89
  5. ^ Vieira, Mark A. Hollywood Dreams Made Real, Abrams (2008) p. 218
  6. ^ a b c d e Affron, Charles, and Edelman, Rob. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, St. James Press (1997) pp. 997-999
  7. ^ Lefy, Emanuel. All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, Continuum International Publ. (2003) p. 314
  8. ^ a b c Osborne, Robert A. Academy Awards Illustrated: A Complete History of Hollywood's Academy Awards, ESE California (1969) p. 71
  9. ^ a b c d e Brenman-Gibson, Margaret. Clifford Odets, Applause Books (2002)
  10. ^ a b Turner Classic Movies
  11. ^ International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers - Actors and Actresses, St. James Press (1997) p. 997
  12. ^ a b c d e f g "How Hollywood 'Discovered' Its Latest Foreign Star" by Dan Thomas, Laredo Morning Times, November 17, 1935 p. 13
  13. ^ a b Thomson, David. The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Alfred A. Knopf (2002) p. 708
  14. ^ a b c Shipman, David (1970)The Great Movie Stars, The Golden Years. New York: Bonanza Books LCCN 78-133803; pp. 450-451
  15. ^ a b c d Higham, Charles. Merchant of Dreams: Louis B. Mayer, M.G.M., and the Secret Hollywood, Donald I. Fine, Inc. (1993)
  16. ^ a b Worsley, Sue Dwiggins, and Ziarko, Charles. From Oz to E.T.: Wally Worsley's Half-century in Hollywood, Scarecrow Press (1997) p. 16
  17. ^ a b "Lady Puck Stirs a Tempest in Filmland" by Edith Dietz, The Oakland Tribune, August 25, 1935, p. 32
  18. ^ a b c "Luise Rainer, Quick On English, Doesn't Talk Hollywood Language", La Crosse Tribune, July 12, 1935, p. 2
  19. ^ Sarris, Andrew. You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet: The American Talking Film History and Memory, 1927-1949, Oxford Univ. Press (1998) p. 388
  20. ^ a b c Verswijver, Leo. Movies Were Always Magical, McFarland Publ. (2003)
  21. ^ Morgan, Kim.Curse of the Oscar. Special to MSN Movies (retrieved November 2007)
  22. ^ a b c d "Actress Luise Rainer stilt spunky at 73" by Bob Thomas, Daily Herald, November 13, 1983, p. 40
  23. ^ "Hollywood Gossip" by Jimmy Fidler, The Capital Times, January 5, 1940, p. 2
  24. ^ "Luise Rainer Explains Her Movie Disappearance", Waterloo Daily Courier, March 11, 1951, p. 22
  25. ^ a b c d e "Luise Rainer Resumes Her Film Career" by John Todd, The Port Arthur News, April 18, 1943, p. 21
  26. ^ Walker, Tim (11 January 2010). "Actress Luise Rainer celebrates centenary". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 January 2010. 

External links

Video clips


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

For my second and third pictures I won Academy Awards. Nothing worse could have happened to me.

Luise Rainer (born 12 January 1910) was the first actor to win two Oscars, and is currently the oldest living winner of an Oscar. Born in Germany, she moved to the United States in 1935 and Britain in 1944.


Article in Movie Maker

  • I'll tell you a wonderful story. Coming with all of these ideas that I had, and still have, and still feel because I never change and still believe in the same things. Soon after I was there in Hollywood, for some reason I was at a lun­cheon with Robert Taylor sitting next to me, and I asked him, ‘Now, what are your ideas or what do you want to do,' and his answer was that he wanted to have 10 good suits to wear, elegant suits of all kinds, that was his idea. I practically fell under the table.
  • I had a wonderful director, Sidney Franklin .... I worked from inside out. It's not for me, putting on a face, or putting on makeup, or making masquerade. It has to come from inside out. I knew what I wanted to do and he let me do it. Hollywood was a very strange place. To me, it was like a huge hotel with a huge door, one of those rotunda doors. On one side people went in, heads high, and very soon they came out on the other side, heads hanging.
    • Of her film The Good Earth
  • On Christmas night, I danced with all kinds of fellows with pimples and all kinds of sores. I suddenly felt, ‘What is this being shy? I have to give myself, I just felt I didn't want to be shy, I didn't want to draw away, but give myself, I mean, not physically, but be there. It was a great lesson also for me, this tour through Africa and Italy during the war.
    • Being on Ascension Island in 1944
  • How can you close your eyes and say this has nothing to do with me? I'm not speaking about politics. Politics is a terrible thing. Everyone wants power.
    • Of the bombing of Kosovo

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Luise Rainer
File:Luise Rainer facing
Portrait from September 2, 1937
Born January 12, 1910 (1910-01-12) (age 101)
Düsseldorf, Germany
Years active 1932 - 1997
Spouse Clifford Odets (1937-1940)
Robert Knittel (1945-1989)
Awards NYFCC Award for Best Actress
1936 The Great Ziegfeld
Walk of Fame - Motion Picture
6300 Hollywood Blvd

Luise Rainer (born January 12, 1910) is a two-time Academy Award-winning German movie actress. She was the first person to win two Academy Awards in a row. The first was for her role as Anna Held in The Great Ziegfeld, and the second was for her role as a Chinese farmer in The Good Earth. Out of all the living Academy Award winners, she is the one to have won the award the earliest.

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