So tonight we’ll see the 86th gathering of the lauded and beloved of Hollywood (with a few concessions to to the film world outside of that hallowed clique) at the Academy Awards. Although now just as interesting for the spectacle as the actual awards, the biggest night in the film calendar has, ironically, become one of the greatest pieces of theatre – from the traipse along the red carpet, to the after-show party, tonight is all about showing off.
It was ever so; back in 1937, when Luise Rainer won her first Academy Award, the ‘ceremony’ was only eight years old and took place at the Biltmore Hotel where a banquet was held while the awards were presented by George Jessel. By this time the Oscars were already considered the highest mark of achievement in the film world. But not for everyone. When Luise Rainer was first nominated for an Oscar she confessed to never having heard of it and didn’t understand the significance. This disinterest was only stoked by her new husband, the playwright Clifford Odets, who felt that the studios were artistically worthless and the handing out of awards a vulgarity. Luise agreed, in part, and the two were both craving the artistic ‘legitimacy’ of the stage. Odets was particularly enraged at his wife’s burgeoning stardom, especially the possibility that her achievements may outshine his own; when the press referred to him as ‘Mr. Rainer’ he was enraged, and they appeared to enjoy putting him in his place, taunting him for accepting “capitalist gold” for his “communist ideas”. But Luise agreed with Clifford; she too found herself stifled in the ‘circus’ at MGM, and within two years she had walked out of her contract but by then her marriage had irretrievably broken down. She won her second Academy Award in 1938 and says that, “for my second and third pictures I won Academy Awards. Nothing worse could have happened to me.” With his, and her subsequent abandonment of her career, she became the first victim of the ‘Oscar curse’, but Luise says that, “the real curse is that once you have an Oscar they think you can do anything.”
Over the years she has learned to embrace the Oscars and what they mean to her; one of her original statuettes has been replaced by the Academy (it simply ‘died of fatigue and keeled over’ – she had been using it as a door-stop for many years). The Oscars now stand on her bookcase, proudly.
As the first performer to win in consecutive years, Luise assured her place in the history books, but she also holds a number of other Oscar records. At the age of 104 can claim several longevity records: she is now the oldest Oscar winner who ever lived and she has had her awards longer than any else (77 years). She is also the only surviving winner from the 1930s (Mickey Rooney was awarded an honorary juvenile award in 1939, but was not in competition). We need to jump forward almost ten years, to 1947, to find the next earliest surviving winner: Olivia de Havilland. These records may never be beaten, however, one achievement may be about to fall. When Luise won her second Oscar she was 28 years old, making her the youngest two-time winner in the history of the Academy Awards. The closest anyone has come to beating this record was in 1992 when a 29 year old Jodie Foster claimed her second Oscar, for The Silence of the Lambs (after 1989’s win for The Accused). Tonight, Jennifer Lawrence (23) is in the running for her third Oscar if she takes the prize Luise’s 77 year old record will have fallen (Lawrence will also join Luise and Katharine Hepburn as the only actresses to win in consecutive years).
Here at luiserainer.net we’re conflicted about the news, but let’s see what happens on the night…