Luise Rainer (12 January 1910 – 30 December 2014) was a German-born Austrian and American film actress. She was the first person to win multiple Academy Awards and the first person to win them consecutively. At the time of her death, she was the longest-lived actress ever to have received an Academy Award.
Rainer began acting in Germany at age 16, being 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. A number of filmmakers envisioned she might become another Greta Garbo, MGM’s leading female star at the time.
Her first American film role was in Escapade in 1935. The following year, 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. She was later dubbed “the Viennese teardrop”, for her dramatic telephone scene in the film. For her next role, producer Irving Thalberg was convinced, despite the studio’s disagreement, that she would also be able to play the part of a poor, plain Chinese farm wife in The Good Earth (1937), 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 again won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Yet by winning two consecutive Oscars, she later noted, nothing worse could have happened to her, as audience expectations from then on would be too high to fulfill. After a string of unimportant movie parts, MGM and Rainer became disappointed, leading her to end her brief three-year film career, soon returning to Europe. Adding to her rapid decline, some feel, was the poor career advice given her by then husband, playwright Clifford Odets, along with the unexpected death at age 37 of her producer, Irving Thalberg, whom she greatly admired. Some film historians consider her the “most extreme case of an Oscar victim in Hollywood mythology”. Luise Rainer died on December 30, 2014, in London at the age of 104 from pneumonia. She was two weeks shy of her 105th birthday.
- January, 12, 1910
- Düsseldorf, Germany
- December, 30, 2014
- United Kingdom
- London, England