Luise Rainer, first ac­tor to win 2 Os­cars in a row, dies

The China Post - - ARTS - BY JILL LAW­LESS

Luise Rainer, a star of cin­ema’s golden era who won back-to-back Os­cars but then walked away from a glit­ter­ing Hol­ly­wood ca­reer, has died. She was 104.

Rainer, whose roles ranged from the 1930s Ger­man stage to tele­vi­sion’s “The Love Boat,” died Tues­day at her home in London from pneu­mo­nia, said her only daugh­ter, Francesca Knit­telBowyer.

The big- eyed, ap­ple- cheeked Rainer gained Hol­ly­wood im­mor­tal­ity by be­com­ing the first per­son to win an act­ing Academy Award in con­sec­u­tive years, tak­ing the best ac­tress prize for “The Great Ziegfeld” in 1936 in and “The Good Earth” in 1937.

It’s a feat since achieved by only four other ac­tors.

Those tro­phies marked the peak of Rainer’s ca­reer, which de­clined so rapidly that many con­sid­ered her an early vic­tim of “the curse of the Os­cars.” She fought with her stu­dio over con­trol of her ca­reer, fled Hol­ly­wood for New York and suf­fered through a brief, un­happy mar­riage to the play­wright Clif­ford Odets. By the early 1940s, her star­dom had es­sen­tially ended.

Rainer her­self de­scribed the dou­ble vic­tory as the worst thing that could have hap­pened to her.

Rainer was born Jan. 12, 1910 — in Vi­enna, Aus­tria, ac­cord­ing to her en­try in the ref­er­ence book “Who’s Who,” although some sources give her birth­place as Dus­sel­dorf, Ger­many. She be­gan her act­ing ca­reer as a teenager un­der in­no­va­tive Aus­trian di­rec­tor Max Rein­hardt and ap­peared in sev­eral Ger­man films.

In the mid-1930s she was dis­cov­ered by a tal­ent scout from Metro-Gold­wyn-Mayer — on the look­out for new Euro­pean beau­ties to ri­val Greta Garbo — and whisked to Hol­ly­wood. Her first U.S. film was the largely for­got­ten “Es­capade” (1935), but her next roles made her a star.

Rainer may well have sobbed her­self to her first Os­car, play­ing ac­tress Anna Held, wife of im­pre­sario Florenz Ziegfeld, in “The Great Ziegfeld.” The film fea­tured a clas­sic tele­phone scene dur­ing which, Anna, tears run­ning down her face, con­grat­u­lates her now ex-hus­band on his mar­riage to another ac­tress. Her next Os­car was for play­ing a vir­tu­ous Chi­nese peas­ant in the screen adap­ta­tion of Pearl S. Buck’s epic novel “The Good Earth.”

Sud­denly Rainer — now nick­named the “Vi­en­nese Teardrop” — was fa­mous, her beauty and emo­tional in­ten­sity win­ning many fans. But star­dom, she later said, did not bring hap­pi­ness.

Years later, Rainer re­called how she had just had a fight with her hus­band, Amer­i­can play­wright Clif­ford Odets, when she got word that she had won her sec­ond Os­car. In those days, win­ners were an­nounced hours be­fore the cer­e­mony be­gan.

Rainer made sev­eral pic­tures in 1938, in­clud­ing “Toy Wife” and “The Great Waltz,” but she chafed un­der the stu­dio sys­tem and clashed with MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, and soon moved to New York with Odets. “I had a sev­enyear con­tract that I broke and went away,” Rainer said in 1999. “I was a ma­chine, prac­ti­cally, a tool in a big, big fac­tory, and I could not do any­thing. I wanted to film ` Madame Curie,’ but Mayer for­bade me. I wanted to do ` For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ but (pro­ducer David O.) Selznick took In­grid Bergman and brought her to (Ernest) Hem­ing­way and I didn’t know Hem­ing­way. “And so I left. I just went away. I fled; yes, I fled.”

Rainer made one more Hol­ly­wood film — “Hostages” in 1943 — but spent most of her later life in Eng­land. She made oc­ca­sional film and tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances, in­clud­ing an episode of “The Love Boat” in 1984.

One of her last film roles was in “The Gam­bler” a 1998 adap­ta­tion of a Fy­o­dor Dos­toyevsky story, in which she ap­peared with Michael Gam­bon and Do­minic West.

Rainer and Odets — au­thor of “Wait­ing for Lefty” and “Awake and Sing!” — mar­ried in 1937 and di­vorced three tem­pes­tu­ous years later. In 1945, she mar­ried pub­lisher Robert Knit­tel, who died in 1989. She’s sur­vived by her daugh­ter with Knit­tel, and two grand­daugh­ters.

Rainer lived for many years in an apart­ment on London’s gen­teel Ea­ton Square. Her en­try in “Who’s Who” listed her recre­ations as “for­merly moun­tain climb­ing, now writ­ing, paint­ing.” Four ac­tors have matched Rainer’s Os­car dou­ble in con­sec­u­tive years: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hep­burn, Ja­son Ro­bards and Tom Hanks.

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