Since Luise’s death was announced on Tuesday I’ve been inundated with messages and enquiries and I’m grateful to everyone who has been in touch, especially on social media, where the response has been genuinely heartfelt, and international too. Francesca, Luise’s daughter, posted a tribute on her Twitter page – as always, graceful.
“She was bigger than life and could charm the birds out of the trees. If you saw her, you’d never forget her.” – Francesca Bowyer, Luise’s daughter
In the UK overage was slight; all major newspapers covered the news online and the BBC ranked the story high on their website but, as far as I know, not on television. Most commentators and articles, as expected, concentrated on Luise’s short 4-year film career and her history-making Oscar successes – and, of course, her role as ‘one of the last of the Hollywood greats’, a term that gets bandied around whenever we lose someone old and famous, although in this case, it is deserved. Print media followed suit and there were obituaries in The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph, each with their own take on Luise’s long life – and with their own idiosyncracies and anomalies.
By far the best of these was The Guardian’s piece by Ronald Bergan, which was written with an understanding of the subject, not just in the sphere of Hollywood, but of her place in the 20th Century. It balances facts with opinion and quotes and is respectful and, for the most part, factually accurate. That’s not something I can say about the others; The Times obituary (left) is particularly shoddy, with a number of errors and a lazy style repeating oft-told stories and soundbites but with scant detail. Worst of all, the piece is illustrated with a photograph of someone else – I believe this is singer Lorraine Bridges (who had a small part in Luise’s first MGM film Escapade) – an unforgivable and lazy mistake. The Times obituaries are world-renowned and I’m astonished that this one is so light and uninspiring, for a life that’s is just the opposite. They do have form in this area and only three weeks ago I contacted them to ask if Luise could be added to their database for inclusion in their daily birthday announcement – she has been missed every year and I had hoped to have her included in 2015. [Edit: The Times printed a correction and apology in their next edition, 1st January 2015].
Some of the better and most heartfelt pieces that have been written over the last couple of days are for fans and cinephiles who appear to have appreciated Luise’s great life and work more than the casual observers and fact-finders from the press. I am particularly fond of Scott Feinberg, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, as he recounts his own personal memories of meeting Luise at her home in 2009 (“when she was only 99”), and Claudia Luther, writing in the Los Angeles, gives a thorough overview with many quotes from Luise herself, and some rare photos from the LA Times archives.
It doesn’t seem fitting to remember Luise only through her films, so dissatisfied was she with her time at MGM and her general antipathy towards much of this work, but, it’s the best we’ve got. On Monday 12th January (what would have been her 105th birthday) TCM will be screening seven of her films back-to-back starting with 1936’s Best Picture Oscar winner The Great Ziegfeld and finishing with The Toy Wife (1938). As always their site is a treasure-trove of info and insight, and to top it off they’ll be repeating Robert Osborne’s 2011 TCM Film Festival with Luise. A fitting tribute and one which, I hope, finds a new audience and appreciation for Luise and her work into 2015 and beyond.