LUISE RAINER


Click for large image
Luise Rainer was born in 1910 in Dusseldorf, Germany. She became a stage actress in her teens, and she appeared in three German movies, but when Hitler came to power Rainer, who was Jewish, wisely recognized his evil early on, and came to the U.S. in 1935, where she was signed by MGM, the number one studio. Studio head Irving Thalberg was so taken with her talent that he cast her in the lead in Escapade, opposite one of MGM's biggest stars, William Powell. Her follow-up movie was The Great Ziegfeld, again with Powell, and she had the basically minor role of Powell's first wife, Anna Held. But she had one key heartbreaking scene where she talks on the phone to Powell, and the camera is on her the entire scene, and her acting is so memorable that everyone was talking about that as they left the movie. The motion picture Academy had just added the "Best Supporting" categories, and Rainer should have, and would have won that Award, but for unknown reasons MGM used their clout to get Rainer nominated for Best Actress instead, and she won. The following year Thalberg put Rainer in the lead of The Good Earth, his dream project, based on Pearl Buck's best seller about poor farmers in China. Of course, the movie should have starred Anna May Wong, but the studio could not have a non-Asian play love scenes with a real-life Asian (!), and since there was no Asian male star to play opposite her, Wong was out, and Rainer got the lead role of O-Lan. For her husband. Wang Lung, Thalberg acquired Paul Muni from Warners, and Muni had won the Best Actor Oscar the year before, thus pairing both winners from the previous year. Both lead actors, but especially Rainer, used almost no "yellow face" make-up, something that had not been done in similar productions to that time. The movie was first-rate, and Rainer won her second consecutive Best Actress Oscar (Muni did not win, and it may well have been partly because he was NOT an MGM contract actor, and they likely used their clout against him, as they had helped Rainer the year before, and instead MGM helped Spencer Tracy, who WAS under contract to them, to win instead). MGM rushed double winner Rainer into FIVE additional movies in 1937 and 1938, and even though she starred opposite the best MGM stars, including Powell and Tracy, none of the movies were very good or very successful. With World War II beginning, Rainer had her family in Europe to worry about, and given the lackluster state of her film career, she did not mind abandoning MGM, and she returned to the stage, making one more movie in 1943 for Paramount. In 1945, when the war ended she married a rich English publisher, and she has lived in retirement ever since, making a very few film and TV appearances, including showing up for two Oscar tributes to past winners, in 1998 and 2003. She was the oldest living Oscar winner until she passed away in 2014 at the age of 104. WAS there an "Oscar jinx" that hurt Rainer's career? I think so, but only in the sense that winning a Best Acting Oscar hurts lots of great actors like F. Murray Abraham or Geoffrey Rush. After that, they can no longer easily take supporting roles, or lead roles in minor movies that might best suit their talents, and instead often get pushed into big budget movies in starring roles that DON'T suit them. More important, right after her second Oscar, Rainer had the terrible double whammy of losing her mentor Irving Thalberg, who died during the filming of The Good Earth, and she also married tortured soul Clifford Odets, and I would bet those two events harmed her career far more than any "jinx"! Incidentally, Odets also had an affair with Frances Farmer while married to Rainer which greatly added to HER rapid decline, so Odets may have the unusual distinction of helping end the careers of two of the finest actresses ever, and at the same time!
view gallery of sold items featuring Luise Rainer