Miss Rainer Regrets
by Nanette Kutner
[This article first appeared in Modern Screen magazine (February 1937)]
Few stars would have the courage to speak their minds as Luise does in this analysis of herself and Hollwood.
FRANKLY, Luise Rainer regrets the whole business. She regrets being separated from the man she loves. She regrets the ruthless methods of our reporters, the coldness of our celebrity-chasers, the terrific power of the cutting-room and the down-to-earth logic of American men. She regrets her five-year movie contract. She regrets the impulsiveness that drives her, willy-nilly, into such jams. She regrets having to stay away from the legitimate stage, practically a prisoner, albeit a high-priced one, bound by California’s studios. But most of all – she regrets living in Hollywood.
“Hollywood is dead,” she told me. “Everything about it is dead, even the beautiful hills.”
She pointed to where they rose, green and sandy and hazy purple, pointed straight from the living-room of her Brentwood house that seems to be set down right in the middle of them.
She said, “I look at those hills. I know they are beautiful and I ask myself what is it I don’t like, and the answer is…they are dead. The air surrounding them is heavy, not like mountain air. There is no exhilaration, no sparkle. The people here are like that, too, all impersonal, all cold, with no feeling.
“I often go for walks in the hills. This is not easy because Hollywood people never walk. Walking is such a personal matter, so Hollywood rides…like corpses they ride. By riding they can keep away from life. Walking is too human, too close to the earth, too near other people, the little everyday people…the real ones.
“Do you know that when my friend, Clifford Odets, the playwright, went for a walk here he actually was arrested! It was late at night. A policeman asked him what he was doing and when he said walking, the policeman said, ‘But where is your car?’ And when Odets said he had no car, he was arrested! That’s Hollywood! In no other place in the world could such a thing happen, of this I am sure!
She sighed. And she sat down on the edge of the wide yellow sofa. Her tailored white linen sportscoat was open at the neck, her plaid skirt girlishly short, her uneven black hair awry, with none of that artificial, plastered-down, wave-in-place, polished-ballroom-floor effect.
Her vibrant tones filled the room.
“Rented emptiness,” she said. “Hollywood is like a hotel – houses, apartments, furnished, ready to walk into or walk out of…impersonal, too.”
THE VOICE shook a little. It is a fiery voice, a fitting mouthpiece to her personality, for it takes complete possession of the listener. It absorbs, leaving you breathless, and for a long while afterwards it re-echoes in your ears, making you wonder why it is impossible to pin down the accent, doing it justice on paper. It is an hysterical voice, sometimes reaching a squeal. It is the voice of a temperamental girl, all nerves and warmth and energy and impulse and honest earnestness, a girl whose entire body emphasizes her speech; the black eyes constantly roving, observing everything; the shoulders swaying or being shrugged according to her moods; the hands alive, a rhythmic, dramatic accompaniment.
Like most women who are in love, the object of Luise Rainer’s affections appears obvious because his name is never far from her lips.
Now, her body tense, she clenched the fingers of one small hand.
“I could tell you so much,” she said, and this time it seemed as if she were squeezing the words from her throat. “I have many regrets…like everyone, so many.
“I regret I have to stand for people asking me questions about what is none of their business! There are a lot of subjects I could discuss, subjects that are worth while; instead, they come and they ask me to talk of love! Certainly, love is very important, to me more important than my career, but I do not care to make newspaper stories about it! In Europe this is all so different. There, with an actress, her life is her own.
“Here, I have a vacation. I am tired. I have just finished ‘The Good Earth,’ so I take an airplane East. I want to see New York. I want to go to the theatre. I want to be with my friends. But my whole trip, my little vacation, it is spoiled for me. Why? I regret that the studio tells reporters, so when my airplane lands I cannot even take notice of Clifford Odets who is standing, waiting, after coming all the way out there to Jersey just to meet me. No, I cannot even look at Odets; I don’t dare because I am mobbed by the reporters, like wolves they are; so by myself I jump into a taxi and run away!
LATER, when I visited Odets, the reporters, they walked through the house. Can you imagine! Through the house!” She laughed. “But I fooled them. Do you know what I did? I hid for a whole morning. I lay flat on the floor under a divan. And the reporters, they walked by, and one, he sat down on the divan right over my head. But he did not know that!”
She giggled, then becoming serious as if a sudden thought had popped across her mind she said, “I regret that the American women spoil their men. European men treat women as if they are delicate – helpless, as if they will break. Not so American men. And it is the fault of their women, absolutely. They are too independent. No matter how important a woman may be, no matter how much money she earns she should never, never be independent. Men don’t like it.
“But I talk too much. You noticed how I opened the door for you myself.” Her eyes twinkled. “I regret this is Thursday, the maid’s day out, or I would ask you to lunch.
“But I will ask you, anyway.” And she jumped up from the couch.
When I refused to let her bother she rushed from the room with, “But I know what I can give you,” and returned carrying a huge box.
“Viennese chocolates, they are marvelous.” Once more she was seated on the sofa, this time with the chocolates on a table between us.
“What was I talking about?” she began. “Oh, my regrets. I regret I used to have such a different idea of pictures. In Europe I was really an actress, but really! I played ‘Saint Joan’ over four hundred times. I thought pictures were only for beautiful girls. Then one day I went to ‘A Farewell to Arms.’ After seeing Helen Hayes I realized actresses are now in pictures, and that they could do great things if given the chance. Perhaps, I thought, there would be room for me, too.
“And I came here. And I worked very hard. But I regret they have no feeling for personal art. It is heartbreaking to develop a part and have it go into the hands of strangers when you can do nothing about it. This is not acting! This Hollywood picture business is like a factory or a big machine. My part that I work on so hard is sent through the cutting-room, like a loaf of bread. Those cutters!” Here Miss Rainer fairly moaned. “Did you know they wanted to cut the telephone scene from ‘The Great Ziegfeld?’
“They have no understanding, none whatsoever. Naturally, in ‘The Good Earth’ I did not try to look pretty. I did not even use make-up. I worried about the starvation scenes because I was afraid I would look too healthy. So I found a dentist who knew how to make my teeth appear rotten and black. I was very excited over this wonderful discovery, but the producers, they say ‘No! That is going too far.’
And because I look ugly in ‘The Good Earth’ they now tell me my next picture should be sexy.” She shrugged her shoulders. “So I will be sexy.
“I was fortunate the first evening I was here. I met Garbo, Norma Shearer and Helen Hayes. After that I was not so fortunate.
“I regret the attitude of your celebrity-hunters. In Vienna the public has a warm feeling for its entertainers, but here…two hundred Rainer autographs equals one of Hauptmann. That’s all they care about…headliners…not what a person puts into work. So I don’t go to openings anymore. I cannot stand their coldness.
“As for buying clothes! In Hollywood they make such a competitive business of it that they take away the art. Back home I go look for material, for to me everything that counts in a dress is the material. Then I find a little dressmaker, and she pins the material on me so the dress becomes an individual thing. But here, I walk into a shop, they show me a dress,and they say Constance Bennett just bought it! Again it is all impersonal, a matter of sales. No one cares about your individuality.
“A few weeks ago I was in San Francisco. I passed an antique shop, there, in the window, I saw a piece of material which I loved. For a moment I thought I was home. I said I must have a dress made of that material, and I went into the shop. I asked where they bought the sample. They did not know. They sent for the manager. He said it came from Paris. And I said I must have it. So they ordered it for me. Then, when it came back to Hollywood, I found a little dressmaker, and it all makes me very happy. For once, in America, I shall wear a dress that is mine alone. No shop can tell me someone else has it!
I glanced at my watch for I realized I had stayed too long.
“Must you go?” she asked.
“Yes. I leave tomorrow – for the East.”
“You mean New York?” Her eyes gleamed with quickened interest and excitement.
“Yes, New York.”
“Then, will you do me a favor? Will you deliver a message to a very good friend of mine? Will you tell him that you just saw me and I am well and hope he is the same?
“Here, I will write his name in your notebook, and his number. And you will not say his name to anyone, will you?” She gave me a worried, questioning look.
“I will not tell his name,” I promised solemnly.
Excitedly she scribbled a well-known name and a private telephone number down in my book.
I duly delivered the message. And I hope that that is one action Miss Rainer will not regret.
[This article first appeared in Modern Screen magazine (February 1937)]
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