LUISE RAINER BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY:
Luise Rainer is a former German actress, who became the first woman ever to win two Academy Awards, as well as the first person to win them consecutively. She was born January 12, 1910 in Düsseldorf, Germany to a well off Jewish family. Her father was a successful business man who settled down in Europe after growing up in America, where he was sent as an orphan at age six. Her mother was raised by an upper class Jewish-German family. Rainer had two brothers, and they, along with her dad, treated her like the center of their lives. However, she realized that while she would be bombarded with adoration, she was living in a man’s world where she would later have to play the typical womanly roles of getting married and making babies. She could sense this control her father had over her mother now.
In her childhood she found particular interest in athletics, as well as the arts. She eventually decided to become an actress as a “vent” for the emotions which she said “went around and around, never stopping.” Her father wished for her to attend a good finishing school and “marry the right man”, she later admitted, but she did not want to develop “her mother’s inferiority complex”, and at age sixteen she chose to begin her journey as an actress, where she was free to experience an abundance of human emotions if only onstage or onscreen.
Her debut came as a fill in for a sick actress for the part of Wendla in Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening” at the Düsseldorfer Schausspielhaus’ School of Stage Art. She continued appearing in various plays and registered at the Dumont Theatre after getting asked to sign a two year contract with them. Rainer’s parents refused to attend her shows, considering her new profession to be vulgar. She was ready to join the Russian-Jewish Habimah players, but her father prohibited her, so instead she joined legendary theater director Max Reinhardt’s touring company. They travelled across Vienna and Berlin, where she gained the admiration of many viewers for her distinguishable acting performances. The actress appeared in a few films before witnessing, on February 27th, 1933, the burning of the Reichstag, which signaled the start of Nazi Germany. Being Jewish, she was forced to flee the country, with her parents soon following. As she was previously spotted by a talent scout and offered a seven year contract at American studio MGM, Rainer signed the contract and immigrated to the United States shortly after.
Upon moving to America she was stationed in a beach house that MGM rented for her, and given English lessons in preparation for a film debut. The studio had been waiting for the perfect role to showcase her talent, and it 1935 it finally came when Myrna Loy dropped out of the female lead for “Escapade”. It was a perfect fit, for it was a remake of the Austrian film “Maskerade” (1934), set in 1900 Vienna. On set, co-star William Powell mentored her and taught her how to act in front of the camera. Following the release of the movie, Rainer garnered much publicity and was hailed as Hollywood’s next huge sensation. Something else that came out of the role was a courtship with playwright Clifford Odets. They fell in love and got married in 1937, but were not very happy during their marriage.
The actress’ second American feature, the musical biography “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), featured her as the real-life character of Anna Held, Ziegfeld’s common law wife. She played the supporting role to recent co-star Powell, and helped turn the picture into a big hit. William Powell enjoyed working with the actress, and thought of her as a beautiful person. He said of his impressions of her: “She is one of the most natural persons I have ever known. Definitely a creative artist, she comprehends life and its significance. She deserves to be a star.” While Rainer had limited appearances in “The Great Zielgfeld”, one emotional scene in particular captured audiences and critics alike, and she consequently won her first Oscar for Best Actress. The film also earned her the name “The Viennese Teardrop”. Producer Irving Thalberg then cast her in “The Good Earth” (1937), his brilliant adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s novel about a freed Chinese slave who is married to a farmer (Paul Muni). Rainer played the humble Chinese peasant, who acted completely subservient to her husband and hardly spoke a word in the picture. The stark contrast between this role and her former helmed her yet another Academy Award win, her second in a row. It was then that she went down in history as the first actress to win two Oscars in succession.
However, The Oscar Curse soon set in. Upon winning twice, Rainer said “nothing worse could have happened to me”, for shortly after her career took a turn for the worse. The death of MGM producer Irving Thalberg in 1936 also contributed to her downfall, for he was adept at finding the best and most suiting scripts for the actress. Mayer’s lighter aesthetics began to take over at the studio, and he believed in placing women on pedestals and once told screenwriter Frances Marion that he never wanted MGM to produce a picture that would bring embarrassment to his wife or daughters. Thus, Rainer’s existing career followed the patterns of female fragility that Mayer tended to paint.
Her four other features for MGM – “The Emperor’s Candlesticks” (1937), “Big City” (1937), “The Toy Wife” (1938), and “Dramatic School” (1938) – were not well received, and the actress consequently walked out of her contract and moved to New York City where her husband, Odets, was residing. “I just had to get away” she declared about Hollywood. To her, the opportunities there seemed “very narrow.” In 1940 she divorced Odets and moved onto stage venues in Europe. She returned to America, went onto Broadway, and made her debut in “A Kiss for Cinderella”, which lasted for forty eight performances. Rainer officially abandoned film after making one last picture, this time for Paramount, the World War II drama “Hostages” (1942). She then aided in the war effort, appearing at war bond rallies, touring North Africa and Italy for the Army Special Service, socializing with soldiers, and supplying troops with books. The experience helped break her out of her typically shy nature, and gave her meaningful memories and newfound life knowledge. She finally felt fulfilled, which acting in movies had not done for her.
On July 12, 1945, Rainer married publisher Robert Knittel, with whom she would spend the rest of his life. The couple lived mainly in Switzerland and England, and had a daughter, Francesca Knittel (now known as Francesca Knittel-Bowyer) in 1946. Rainer essentially gave up acting to be with her family, although she did make some appearances on television in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The actress had one episode stints on “The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre” (1949), “BBC Sunday-Night Theatre” (1950), “Faith Baldwin Romance Theatre” (1951), “Schlitz Playhouse” (1952), “Combat!” (1965), and “The Love Boat” (1984). She played in two episodes of “Lux Video Theatre” (1950-53), as well as two TV movies, “By Candlelight” (1949) and “A Dancer” (1991). Rainer made a small return to German film in 1954 with “Der erste Kuß”, but never made another feature in Germany. In 1960 she almost revisited the American screen for “La Dolce Vita”, but she backed out of her character, Dolores, before filming began. Rumors are that she either refused to do a sexual scene or wanted to oversee her dialogue, and consequently the writer cut out her role all together. At age eighty six the lovely Rainer finally made it back on the big screen for Karoly Makk’s “The Gambler” (1997). She portrayed the ‘Grandmother’ in an aristocratic Russian family. Rainer appeared at both the 1998 and 2003 Academy Award ceremonies, both of which made tributes to past Oscar winners, reckoning “If I don’t show up, they’ll think I’m dead.”
The over one hundred year old actress now resides in a Belgravia apartment, on the same block previously occupied by Vivien Leigh and Emeric Pressburger (who wrote the screenplay for Rainer’s first picture, “Sehnsucht 202” (1932). On January 12, 2010 she celebrated her one hundredth birthday, but she still remains vibrant. In an interview she claimed that she spends her time “writing, walking, wandering, [and] mountain climbing”, and as well she makes various magazine contributions musing over past Hollywood experiences and her extraordinary life. On September 5, 2011, Rainer flew to Berlin to receive a star on the “Boulevard der Stars”. She is still the only German actress to have ever received an Academy Award, and is the oldest Oscar winning actress to still be alive. She has two more stars, on the Walk of Fame, for her work in the motion pictures.
1997 The Gambler
1991 A Dancer
1984 The Love Boat
1954 Der erste Kuß
1952 Schiltz Playhouse
1951 Faith Baldwin Romance Theatre
1950 Lux Video Theatre
1950 BBC Sunday-Night Theatre
1949 By Candlelight
1949 The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre
1938 Dramatic School
1938 The Great Waltz
1938 The Toy Wife
1937 Big City
1937 The Emperor’s Candlesticks
1937 The Good Earth
1936 The Great Ziegfeld
1933 Heut’ kommt’s drauf an
1932 Madame hat Besuch
1932 Sehnsucht 202