|Born||in Düsseldorf, Germany|
|Died||in Belgravia, London, England, UK (pneumonia)|
The Viennese Teardrop|
The New Garbo
|Height||5' 4" (1.63 m)|
Mini Bio (2)
Luise Rainer, the first thespian to win back-to-back Oscars, was born on January 12, 1910 in Dusseldorf, Germany, into a prosperous Jewish family. Her parents were Emilie (Königsberger) and Heinrich Rainer, a businessman. She took to the stage, and plied her craft on the boards in Germany. As a young actress, she was discovered by the legendary theater director Max Reinhardt and became part of his company in Vienna, Austria. "I was supposed to be very gifted, and he heard about me. He wanted me to be part of his theater," Rainer recounted in a 1997 interview. She joined Reinhardt's theatrical company in Vienna and spent years developing as an actress under his tutelage. As part of Reinhardt's company, Rainer became a popular stage actress in Berlin and Vienna in the early 1930s. Rainer was a natural talent for Reinhardt's type of staging, which required an impressionistic acting style.
Rainer, who made her screen debut as a teenager and appeared in three other German-language films in the early '30s, terminated her European career when the Austrian Adolf Hitler consolidated his power in Germany. With his vicious anti-Semitism bringing about the Draconian Nuremberg Laws severely curtailing the rights of Germany's Jews, and efforts to expand that regime into the Sudetenland and Austria, Hitler and his Nazi government was proving a looming threat to European Jewry. Rainer had been spotted by a talent scout, who offered her a seven-year contract with the American studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The 25-year-old Rainer took the deal and emigrated to the United States.
She made her American debut in the movie Escapade (1935), replacing Myrna Loy, who was originally slated for the part. It was her luck to have William Powell as her co-star in her first Hollywood film, as he mentored her, teaching her how to act in front of the camera. Powell, whom Rainer remembers as "a dear man" and "a very fine person," lobbied M.G.M. boss Louis B. Mayer, reportedly telling him, "You've got to star this girl or I'll look like an idiot.'"
During the making of "Escapade," Rainer met, and fell in love with, the left-wing playwright Clifford Odets, then at the height of his fame. They were married in 1937. It was not a happy union. M.G.M. cast Rainer in support of Powell in the title role of the The Great Ziegfeld (1936), its spectacular bio-epic featuring musical numbers that recreated his "Follies" shows on Broadway. As Anna Held, Ziegfeld's common-law wife, Rainer excelled in the musical numbers, but it is for her telephone scene that she is most remembered for. "The Great Ziegfeld" was a big hit and went on to win the Academy Award as Best Picture of 1936. Rainer received her first of two successive Best Actress Oscars for playing Held. The award was highly controversial at the time as she was a relative unknown and it was only her first nomination, but also because her role was so short and relatively minor that it better qualified for a supporting nomination. (While 1936 was the first year that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honored supporting players, her studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, listed her as a lead player, then got out its block vote for her.) Compounding the controversy was the fact that Rainer beat out such better known and more respected actresses as Carole Lombard (her sole Oscar nomination) in My Man Godfrey (1936), previous Best Actress winner Norma Shearer (her fifth nomination) in Romeo and Juliet (1936), and Irene Dunne (her second of five unsuccessful nominations) in Theodora Goes Wild (1936). Some of the bitchery was directed toward Louis B. Mayer, whom non-M.G.M. Academy members resented for his ability to manipulate Academy votes. Other critics of her first Oscar win claimed it was the result of voters being unduly impressed with the great budget ($2 million) of "The Great Ziegfeld" rather than great acting. Most observers agree that Rainer won her Oscar as the result of her moving and poignant performance in just one single scene in the picture, the famous telephone scene in which the broken-hearted Held congratulates Ziegfeld over the telephone on his upcoming marriage to Billie Burke while trying to retain her composure and her dignity. During the scene, the camera is entirely focused on Rainer, and she delivers a tour-de-force performance. Seventy years later, it remains one of the most famous scenes in movie history. With another actress playing Held, the scene could have been mawkish, but Rainer brought the pathos of the scene out and onto film. She based her interpretation of the scene on Jean Cocteau's play "La Voix Humaine." "Cocteau's play is just a telephone conversation about a woman who has lost her beloved to another woman," Rainer remembered. "That is the comparison. As it fit into the Ziegfeld story, that's how I wrote it. It's a daily happening, not just in Cocteau." In an interview held 60 years after the film's release, Rainer was dismissive of the performance. "I was never proud of anything," she said. "I just did it like everything else. To do a film - let me explain to you - it's like having a baby. You labor, you labor, you labor, and then you have it. And then it grows up and it grows away from you. But to be proud of giving birth to a baby? Proud? No, every cow can do that."
Rainer would allay any back-biting from Hollywood's bovines over her first Oscar with her performance as O-Lan in M.G.M. producer Irving Thalberg's spectacular adaptation of Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth, the former Boy Wonder's final picture before his untimely death. The role won Rainer her second Best Actress Award. The success of The Good Earth (1937) was rooted in its realism, and its realism was enhanced by Rainer's acting opposite the legendary Paul Muni as her husband. When Thalberg cast Muni in the role of Wang Lung, he had to abandon any thought of casting the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong as O-Lan as the Hays Office would not allow the hint of miscegenation, even between an actual Chinese woman and a Caucuasian actor in yellow-face drag. So, Thalberg gave Rainer the part, and she made O-Lan her own. She refused to wear a heavy makeup, and her elfin look helped her to assay a Chinese woman with results far superior to those of Myrna Loy in her Oriental vamp phase or Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed (1944). In the late '90s, Rainer praised her director, Sidney Franklin, as "wonderful," and explained that she used an acting technique similar to "The Method" being pioneered by her husband's Group Theatre comrades back in New York. "I worked from inside out," she said. "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." The win made Rainer the first two-time Oscar winner in an acting category and the first to win consecutive acting awards (Spencer Tracy, her distaff honoree for Captains Courageous (1937) would follow her as a consecutive acting Oscar winner the next year, and Walter Brennan, Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner for Come and Get It (1936) the year Rainer won her first, would tie them both in 1937 with his win for Kentucky (1938) and trump them with his third win for The Westerner (1940), a record subsequently tied by Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis and surpassed by Katharine Hepburn.)
Rainer's career soon went into free-fall and collapsed, as she became the first notable victim of the "Oscar curse," the phenomenon that has seem many a performer's career take a nose-dive after winning an Academy Award. "For my second and third pictures I won Academy Awards. Nothing worse could have happened to me," Rainer said. A non-conformist, Rainer rejected Hollywood's values of Hollywood. In the late 1990s, she said, "I came from Europe where I was with a wonderful theater group, and I worked. The only thing on my mind was to do good work. I didn't know what an Academy Award was." M.G.M. boss Mayer, the founding force behind the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, had to force her to attend the Awards banquet to receive her Oscar. She rebelled against the studio due to the movies that M.G.M. forced her into after "The Good Earth."
In one case, director Dorothy Arzner had been assigned by M.G.M. producer Joseph M. Mankiewicz (whose wife, Rose Stradner had been Rainer's understudy in the Vienna State Theater) in 1937 to direct Rainer in "The Girl from Trieste," an unproduced Ferenc Molnár play about a prostitute trying to go reform herself who discovers the hypocrisies of the respectable class which she aspires to. After Thalberg's death in 1936, Mayer's lighter aesthetic began to rule the roost at M.G.M. Mayer. Mayer genuinely believed in the goodness of women and motherhood, and put women on a pedestal, and once told screenwriter Frances Marion that he never wanted to see anything produced by M.G.M. that would embarrass his wife and two daughters.
Without the more sophisticated Thalberg at the studio to run interference, Molnar's play was rewritten so that it was no longer about a prostitute, but a slightly bitter Cinderella story with a happy ending. Retitled by Mankiewicz as The Bride Wore Red (1937), Rainer withdrew and was replaced by Joan Crawford. In a 1976 interview in "The New York Times," Arzner claimed that Rainer "had been suspended for marrying a Communist" (Clifford Odets). This is unlikely as M.G.M., like all Hollywood studios, had known or suspected communists on its payroll, most of whose affiliations were known by M.G.M. vice president E.J. Mannix. (Mannix, one of whose functions was responsibility for security at the studio, once said it would have been impossible to fire them all as "the communists" were the studio's best writers!) The studio never took action against alleged communists until an industry-wide agreement to do so was sealed at the Waldorf Conference of 1947, which was held in reaction to the House of Un-American Activities Committee launching a Hollywood witch hunt.
It was more likely that Rainer, fussy over her projects and wanting to use her Academy Award prominence to ensure herself better roles, withdrew on her own due to her lack of enthusiasm for the re-formulated product. In the late 1990s, Rainer recalled the satisfaction of being a European stage actress. "One day we were on a big tour," she told an interviewer in the late 1990s. "We did a play by Pirandello, and Reinhardt was in the theater. I shall never forget, it was the greatest compliment I ever got, better than any Academy Award. He came to me, looked at me and said - we were never called by first names - 'Rainer, how did you do this? ' It was so wonderful. 'How did you create this?' I was so startled and happy. That was my Academy Award." Rainer still is dismissive of the Academy Awards. "I can't watch the Oscars," she said recently. "Everybody thanking their mother, their father, their grandparents, their nurse - it's a crazy, horrible." She blames the studio and Mayer for the rapid decline in her career. "What they did with me upset me very much," she said in a 1997 interview. "I was dreaming naturally like anyone to do something very good, but after I got the two Academy Awards the studio thought, it doesn't matter what she gets. They threw all kinds of stuff on me, and I thought, no, I didn't want to be an actress."
Mayer pulled his famous emotional routines when Rainer, whom he wanted to turn into a glamorous star, would demand meatier roles. "He would cry phony tears," she recalled. Mayer had opposed her being cast as O-Lan in "The Good Earth," but Thalberg, who had a connection with M.G.M. capo di tutti capi Nicholas Schenck, the president of M.G.M. corporate parent Loew's, Inc., appealed to Schenck, who overrode Mayer's veto. (Mayer, who was involved in a power struggle with Thalberg before the latter's death, had opposed his filming Pearl Buck's novel. Mayer's reasoning was that American audiences wouldn't patronize movies about American farmers, so what made anyone think they'd flock to see a film about Chinese farmers, especially one with such a big budget, estimated at $2.8 million. (Upon release, the film barely broke even.) Thalberg died during the filming of "The Good Earth" (the only film of his released by M.G.M. whose title credits bore his name, in the form of a posthumous tribute).
Rainer felt lost without her protector. She recalled that Mayer "didn't know what to do with me, and that made me so unhappy. I was on the stage with great artists, and everything was so wonderful. I was in a repertory theater, and every night I played something else." Rainer asked to play Nora in a film of Ibsen's "A Doll's House," or portray Madame Curie, but instead, Mayer - now in complete control of the studio - had her cast in The Toy Wife (1938), a movie she actually wound up liking, as she was charmed by her co-star, the urbane, intellectually and politically enlightened Melvyn Douglas. She recalls Douglas, ultimately a double-Oscar winner like herself, as her favorite leading man. "He was intelligent, and he was interested also in other things than acting."
Her problems with the culture of Hollywood, or the lack thereof, were worsening. The lack of intellectual conversation or concern with ideas by the denizens of the movie colony she was forced to work with was depressing. Hollywood was an unsophisticated place where materialism, such as the stars' preoccupation with clothes, was paramount. As she tells it, "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."
M.G.M. teamed her with fellow Oscar-winner Tracy in Big City (1937), a movie about conflict between rival taxi drivers. The memory of the movie disgusted her. "Supposedly it wasn't a bad film. But I thought it was a bad film!" She was also cast in The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937), re-teaming her with "Ziegfeld" co-star William Powell, a movie she didn't like, as she couldn't understand its story. A detective tale, the script thoroughly confused Rainer, who was expected to soldier on like a good employee. Instead, she resisted.
After appearing in The Great Waltz (1938) and Dramatic School (1938), her career was virtually over by 1938. She never made another film for M.G.M. "I just had to get away," she said about Hollywood. "I couldn't bear this total concentration and interviews on oneself, oneself, oneself. I wanted to learn, and to live, to go all over the world, to learn by seeing things and experiencing things, and Hollywood seemed very narrow." When World War II broke out in Europe, Rainer was joined by her family, as her German-born father was also an American citizen, allowing them all to escape Hitler and the Holocaust. Even before the outbreak of war, Rainer had been very worried about the state of affairs of the world, and she could not abide the escapist trifles that M.G.M. wanted to cast her in. When she protested, Mayer told Rainer that if she defied him, he would blackball her in Hollywood.
Disturbed by Hollywood's apathy over fascism in Europe and Asia, and by labor unrest and poverty in the U.S., she decided to walk out on her contract. She and Odets returned to New York. They were divorced in 1940. "Hollywood was a very strange place," she remembered. "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." Her frustration with Hollywood was so complete, she abandoned movie acting in the early 1940s, after making the World War II drama Hostages (1943) for Paramount.
She made her Broadway debut in the play "A Kiss for Cinderella," which was staged by Lee Strasberg, which opened at the Music Box Theatre on March 10, 1942 and closed April 18th after 48 performances. Rainer then worked for the war effort during World War II, appearing at war bond rallies. She went on a tour of North Africa and Italy for the Army Special Service, socializing with soldiers to build their morale, and supplying them with books. The experience changed her life, allowing her to get over the shyness she'd had all her life. It also broadened her experience, forcing her to deal with the obvious fact that there were more important things than movie acting, which had proven unfulfilling to her.
Fortunately, Rainer found happiness in a long-lived marriage with the publisher Robert Knittel, a wealthy man whom she married in 1945. The couple had a daughter and made their home mostly in Switzerland and England as Rainer essentially left acting behind, although she did do some television in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. Her retirement from the movies lasted for 53 years, until her brief comeback in The Gambler (1997), a movie based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's eponymous story. In the film, Rainer played the role of the matriarch of an aristocratic Russian family in the 1860s who are in hock due the family members' obsession with gambling.
Rainer now lives in a luxurious flat in Eaton Square in London's Belgravia district, in a building where Vivien Leigh once lived. Blessed with a good memory, she claims she cannot remember the 1937 Academy Awards ceremony, when she won her first Oscar. She says the glamor of the event was out of sync with her life at the time, which was one of great sadness. "I married Clifford Odets. The marriage was for both of us a failure. He wanted me to be his little wife and a great actress at the same time. Somehow I could not live up to all of that."
She has had intriguing offers during her long retirement. Federico Fellini had wanted Rainer for a role in La Dolce Vita (1960), but though she admired the director, she didn't like the script and turned it down. Rainer occasionally plied her craft as an actress on the stage. She made one more stab at Broadway, appearing in a 1950 production of Ibsen's "The Lady from the Sea," which was staged by Sam Wanamaker and Terese Hayden and co-starred Steven Hill, one of the founding members of Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio. The play was a flop, running just 16 performances. "I was living in America and was on the stage there - sporadically. I always lived more than I worked. Which doesn't mean that I do not love my profession and every moment I was in it gave me great satisfaction and happiness."
Rainer has no regrets over not becoming the star she might have been. She outlived all of the legendary stars of her era, which likely is the best revenge for the loss of her career after bidding adieu to a company town she could not abide.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood
Rainer returned to Holywood in the 1998 and 2013 Academy Awards ceremony honoring previous Oscar winners and in 2010 for the TCM Classic Film Festival. She was all smiles for the cameras, but her wounds had not healed. "I hated Hollywood," Rainer said in an interview in 2001. "That's why I turned my back on it." She had wanted to be Madame Currie, "but Mayer forbade me." She wanted to be Maria in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," but Ingrid Bergman was given the role. "People talk about the 30s and 40s as a great time, but it was also the glamour-puss time," Rainer told the Guardian newspaper in 1997. "I was never really that. Louis B. Mayer's motto was, 'Give me a good looker and I'll make her an actress,' which to me was an insult to my profession." Rainer's often repeated account of her last meeting with Mayer is the stuff of Hollywood legend. "Louis B. sent for me and said, 'I understand that you want to leave us?' I said, 'Yes, Mr. Mayer, my source is dried out.'" she said, explaining that she had run out of inspiration. "He looked at me and he said, "What do you need a source for? Don't you have a director?" Rainer explained, "What could I say? He looked me at me for a long time, and then he delivered his you'll-never-work-in-Hollywood-again threat." Rainer managed a dignified reply and left his office. Despite the brevity of her career, Rainer earned a place in movie history as the first of only five actors -- Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Jason Robards and Tom Hanks who all followed to win consecutive Oscars. Rainer (pronounced rye-ner) was born January 12, 1910, in Dusseldorf, Germany. Later descriptions of her as the "Viennese teardrop" were encouraged by Mayer, who was Jewish and wanted nothing to do with Hitler's Germany. Rainer's father was a well-to-do businessman and her mother was a pianist. In an echo of the role Mayer would later play in her life, her father dominated the family. Her father was infuriated by his daughter's decision to become an actress. "He said, 'It is a low and vulgar profession," Rainer recalled to Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner in 1998. "I was thrown out of the house at age 16 or 17, and I had to live on apples and eggs!" Luckily, she had enormous talent, which quickly earned her a place on the stage in Germany and then Austria, where she joined the theater company of legendary German stage director Max Reinhardt. By the time she was 25 she had been spotted by an MGM talent scout and soon found herself in America signing a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Rainer studied her English and walked her dog on the beach in Santa Monica. It was on one such walk that she ran into screenwriter Anita Loos, who told her that Myrna Loy was dropping out of "Escapade." Within a short time the role in the 1935 film was Rainer's. It was the break the young actress needed. Rainer's "Escapade" co-star William Powell was so impressed with her that he told Mayer, "You have to star that girl or I look like an idiot." Rainer quickly became part of a Hollywood diadem that included Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Irene Dunne and Janet Gaynor. But she struggled to find roles that were worthy of her talent. In one of Hollywood's more famous stories, Rainer wrote the teary telephone scene for "The Great Ziegfeld" but Mayer found it "dreary" and tried to cut it. It is widely believed that this scene clinched her first Oscar. Mayer also opposed her playing O-Lan, the role in "The Good Earth" that brought Rainer's second Oscar. "He thought it was terrible for a young girl in her 20s to play an old Chinese woman," Rainer said. Instead of the meaty roles she craved, Mayer cast her in movies like 1938's "The Toy Wife," which film critic Leonard Maltin described as an "inconsequential confection." Like her career, Rainer's 1937 marriage to Clifford Odets, whom she first met at the Brown Derby while dinning with George Gershwin and composer Harold Arlen, was also falling apart -- doomed perhaps, from the beginning. Writing in one of her famous diaries, Anais Nin, Rainer's close friend for many years, described how on the morning after the actress married Odets, she ran toward him intending to leap into his arms. "He drew away and let her fall. Odets was frightened of her impetus," Nin wrote. "Thinking about it now," Rainer later reflected, "I realized that this was a symbol of our whole marriage! He was never there when I needed him, or when I longed for closeness." Odets cheated on her and, she related to Vanity Fair, reacted so coldly to the news that she was pregnant that she had an abortion. A nasty fight with Odets ruined the night of her second Oscar win. She was crying so hard that they had to circle the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel several times before she could compose herself to receive her statuette. "I was the most unhappy girl you could imagine," she recalled in the Washington Post in 1982. "The award meant nothing because I considered the acting was just a gift. They made my life so difficult, so glamorous. And I was involved in this tragic, Strindbergian marriage. I couldn't handle it." Rainer divorced Odets in 1940. Once Hollywood and her first marriage were over, Rainer moved to New York City, then back to Europe. She occasionally ventured back into acting. Before "The Gambler," she was pursued by Federico Fellini to take part in "La Dolce Vita" in 1959, which some believe would have revived Rainer's career. But the Rome heat and Fellini's insistence on a sex scene with Marcello Mastroianni soured her on the project. "In the end, I walked out," she said in a 1997 interview for The Times, "I'm a walker-outer." In the early 1980s, Rainer memorized all 900 lines of "Enoch Arden," Tennyson's epic poem, which she performed in Europe and the United States, including at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall. She spent her 90th birthday in 2000 "swimming in the Dead Sea, putting some life into it." Yet she understood what she had lost by walking away from Hollywood. "I've always felt guilty about not having continued work. I should have made 50 or more films," she told the LA Times in 1987. "I feel like that song of Piaf. She dies and goes to heaven and Saint Peter won't let her in. She says, 'Look at my hands,' and St. Peter looks and says, 'Come in.' He will look at me and say, 'You haven't even started. Go back.'".
|Robert Knittel||(12 July 1945 - 15 June 1989) ( his death) ( 1 child)|
|Clifford Odets||(8 January 1937 - 14 May 1940) ( divorced)|