Luise Rainer died December 30, 2014 at the age of 104. Up until very recently, she continued to make appearances and be interviewed, always with smart, interesting recollections of Hollywood’s golden age.
The German-born Rainer once won two consecutive Oscars for Best Actress – for the films “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936) and “The Good Earth” (1937). Only four other actors have accomplished this in the history of the Academy Awards. The four other actors who have won consecutive Oscars are Tom Hanks, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Jason Robards. After that Ms. Rainer’s stardom quickly dissipated, amid battles with her studio and a difficult marriage with playwright Clifford Odets. By the early 1940s, her Hollywood career ended. But she outlived all of her contemporaries.
Her difficult private life and her defiance of the studio system limited Rainer’s stardom. But two Oscar winning performances were in movies that have lived on as classics. Rainer told the AP in a 1999 interview: “After I won two Oscars they figured they could throw me in anything. I was a tool in a big factory. I wanted to do ‘Madame Curie’ but Louis. B. Mayer forbade me. I wanted to do ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ but David O. Selznick took Ingrid Bergman and brought her to Ernest Hemingway. So I just went away. I had a seven-year contract that I broke and went away.”
Rainer turned her back on Hollywood in 1939. She made one film in 1943, and then began appearing occasionally on television at the end of the 1940s and into the early 1950s. After 1954 her acting appearances became sparse. She made one appearance on an episode of TV’s “Combat” in 1965, showed up on “The Love Boat” in 1984, and appeared in a TV movie in 1991. Her last appearance was in the 1997 film “The Gambler,” but she continued to do interviews and make appearances years later.
Luise Rainer never regretted leaving Hollywood, and never regretted becoming a bigger and more glamorous star. She remained proud of the work she did in films, and lived to tell new generations about working in the classic era of American cinema. Living in London for many years, she returned to Hollywood in 2010, at the age of 100, for a TCM festival screening of “The Good Earth,” where Robert Osborne interviewed her.
Luise Rainer’s death was reported as being due to pneumonia. After ending her difficult marriage to Odets, she married publisher Robert Knittel in 1945. They remained married until his death in 1989. She has a daughter by Knittel, and two granddaughters, all of whom survive her.