The longest lived Oscar winner who made cinema history by winning back-to-back Oscars as best actress for the 1936 musical “The Great Ziegfeld” and the 1937 drama “The Good Earth” has died at age 104.
Rainer began acting in Germany at age 16, and trained by Austria’s leading stage director, Max Reinhardt. Within a few years, she had become a distinguished Berlin stage actress with Reinhardt’s Vienna theater ensemble. Critics “raved” about her acting quality. After years of acting on stage and in films in Austria and Germany, she was discovered by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scouts, who signed her to a three-year contract in Hollywood in 1935.
In 1936 she was given a supporting part in the musical biography, “The Great Ziegfeld,” where, despite limited appearances, her emotion-filled acting quality so impressed audiences that she was awarded an Oscar as Best Actress. For her next role, producer Irving Thalberg, convinced of her talent, cast her to play the part of a poor homely Chinese farm wife in 1937’s “The Good Earth”, based on Pearl Buck’s novel about hardship in China. The subdued character role was such a dramatic contrast to her previous, vivacious character, that she was again given an Academy Award for Best Actress.
In later years, Rainer came to regard her Oscars as a curse, as audience expectations from then on would be too high to fulfill. She made five more films for MGM over the next couple of years, but many critics and Ms. Rainer herself called them inferior and a waste of her talents.
Luise Rainer died on Tuesday Dec. 30, 2014 due to pneumonia, according to the New York Times. In addition to her daughter Francesca, she is survived by two granddaughters and two great-grandchildren.
Little known facts and Trivia per Variety and IMDB
Rainer arrived in the U.S. in January 1935 and immediately enrolled in Louis B. Mayer’s famous finishing school for ingenues. “She will further perfect her English before being spotted in a picture,” Variety assured readers in the Jan. 29, 1935, edition.
Her first U.S. movie,“Escapade,” a light romantic yarn opposite William Powell in a role meant for Myrna Loy, performed well at the B.O. MGM gave her the Greta Garbo treatment, billing the movie as “introducing the fascinating Luise Rainer.” An ad in the July 5, 1935, edition declared: “Overnight fame for this girl. Be first to tell your friends about her!”
Rainer and playwright Clifford Odets honeymooned in Ensenada, Mexico, after being married by an L.A. Superior Court judge at her Brentwood home in January 1937.
On Oscar night in March 1938, Rainer was at home when she learned around 8:30 p.m. that she’d won best actress for “The Good Earth.” According to Variety’s day-after report, Rainer “rather hurriedly dressed in a long-sleeved pink crepe gown. She did not bother with makeup or pause to more than comb her hair” before lighting out for the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A. She would later celebrate her win by buying a new “phaeton” (aka convertible) car.
By the time Rainer gave birth to her only child, daughter Francesca, in June 1946, Variety described her as “retired.” But she continued to do theater, radio and TV roles while living in London and Switzerland with her husband, publishing honcho Robert Knittel.
A non-conformist to the MGM star-system, she used to parade around Hollywood untidily dressed, usually with no make-up and wearing pants. Her non-conformist style of behavior cost Ms. Rainer her contract with MGM in the late ’30s.
She was also the first actor/actress to win two Academy Awards. The following year, 1938, Spencer Tracy , Bette Davis and Walter Brennan also became double Oscar winners.
Federico Fellini offered her a part in his 1960 film La Dolce Vita (1960), and a scene was written specifically for her. She was not happy with the character, however, and asked for rewrites to be done. Ultimately Fellini abandoned the idea due to these demands, much to her chagrin.
When the Academy decided to bring back past Oscar winners in 1997 and 2002 for their Oscar Family Album, despite frail health, Ms. Rainer happily agreed to travel from London to Hollywood to attend both ceremonies. She remarked “If I don’t show up they’ll think I’m dead!” both times.
One of two German actresses to win the Oscar; the other being Simone Signoret.
The first (and so far the only) multiple Oscar winning actor or actress to reach the age of 100.