Luise Rainer’s New York

I’ve just returned from a brief visit to New York City and while I was there I couldn’t resist a mini-tour of the places that have figured in Luise’s life and career. Whilst most of her time in the US was spent in California during her MGM contract she did have a couple of apartments on the east coast too, with both of her husbands. She also appeared on stage in New York a number of times over the course of 40 years. Most significantly, it was in New York that she married her second husband, Robert Knittel, in 1945.

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First stop was #1 University Place in Greenwich Village. This apartment block, overlooking Washington Square Park, housed Luise’s first New York apartment in the late 1930s. She lived here, on and off, with her first husband Clifford Odets. It was an especially important place for both of them as for most of their marriage they were apart. Odets was working in New York with the Group Theatre at the time, whilst Luise was filming in Los Angeles. They exchanged phone calls and letters throughout their tempestuous and fluctuating relationship but it was here that they spent the little time together that they had during those three years.

JFullSizeRender (5)ust around the corner from Greenwich Place is the historic Church of the Ascension, on Fifth Avenue (left). It was here, in July 1945, that Luise married her second husband Robert Knittel. Luise had remained, for the most part, in America during the early 1940s, after leaving MGM in 1939. It’s possible that she remained in the apartment she had with Odets (above) for some of this time, however, by the time of her second FullSizeRender (10)marriage she had moved across town to Beekman Place (right), another grand apartment building in a quiet side street in Midtown East, with a view over the East River. During their long marriage they spent time in New York, Switzerland and London and after their marriage I believe they moved to a townhouse in the nearby Sutton Place area of Manhattan. The exact address isn’t known to me, nor is their later home in Stamford, Connecticut where they lived in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Any more information about these residences or indeed any missing details of Luise, Clifford and Robert’s New York homes is gratefully received; you can leave a comment below if you have anything to add.

FullSizeRender (8)Luise made her Broadway debut in 1942 in a production of J. M. Barrie’s A Kiss For Cinderella, at the Music Box Theatre on W45th Street (left), currently showing the musical Pippin. Her only other appearance in a play on Broadway was in 1950 when she took the role of Ellida in Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea (with a young and unknown Eli Wallach in the cast). This was directed by Sam Wanamaker and ran briefly at the Fulton Theatre on W46th Street. This theatre was demolished in 1982 and the location is now a Marriott Hotel.

These were the only two New York plays that Luise appeared in, despite a number of options to take touring productions to the city. She appeared in a touring production of Maxwell Anderson’s Joan of Lorraine in 1946 and 1947 although it was Ingrid Bergman who debuted the play on Broadway in 1946 (and won the Tony Award). Luise also arranged a contract for Bertolt Brecht to write a new play for her to star in on Broadway, with producer Jules Leventhal’s backing. He wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle for her, but the production was never to see the light of day, with Luise walking out on the project after a disagreement with the playwright.FullSizeRender (9)

There are a couple of other appearances on the New York stage that are worthy of mention: her first ‘performance’ was, in fact, in 1937 when Luise took to the stage in the marathon Ohio Flood Relief Benefit concert, arranged and hosted by Noel Coward, with a cast of hundreds working and performing through the night for an audience of millions on the radio. This took place in the historic and iconic Radio City Music Hall (right) and she performed her (already famous) telephone scene from The Great Ziegfeld. Her next appearance was in October that same year; although not a performance it was just as dramatic – buoyed by the success of her performance as ‘O-lan’ in The Good Earth Luise was highly regarded by the Chinese community and she was invited to address a 22,000 strong crowd at FullSizeRender (7)Madison Square Garden as part of a protest evening against the Japanese invasion of China. Her next New York appearance (as far as I know) was in an odd little variety artistes show, at the Manhattan Centre Theatre in 1941, a year before her ‘official’ Broadway debut in 1942.

After 1950 I can’t find any reference to appearances in New York, although Luise did appear on stage elsewhere, albeit briefly. Her next appearance on the Great White Way is a one-night tribute to the theatrical attorney Arnold Weissburger at the Golden Theatre, also on W45th Street (left).

Luise did return to New York, however, to appear in her one-woman show, based on a recital of the epic poem Enoch Arden. In April 1982, for one night only, Luise performed the piece at a benefit in the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher StreetFullSizeRender (3) (right).

You can find out more about Luise’s theatrical shenanigans, in New York and elsewhere, on the theatre page of the website, and for more information about significant locations in Luise’s life take a look at the Luise Rainer Google map which includes homes, theatres and other venues where Luise has appeared.

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