The Romance of Luise Rainer
by Leonard Wallace
[This article first appeared in Film Weekly (UK) magazine, 1st November 1935]
The first complete introduction to Hollywood’s latest “discovery,” whose provocative debut in “Escapade” will now be the talk of the film world
THE story of Luise Rainer is at once a romance and a tale of shrewd vision, the kind of vision which enables a successful gambler to see a possibility in an outsider and back it triumphantly to the limit.
It might not be too fanciful to say that Luise owes her Hollywood debut to W. S. Van Dyke, who made such a superlatively fine team out of William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man. If he had not exhibited this partnership so brilliantly, there would not have arisen the feeling that, when next the couple played together, it had to be in something absolutely “right” for them.
Certainly, his conviction had something to do with the fact that Myrna did not partner William Powell in Escapade, as had been planned; and it was because Powell was at the last minute left without a lady to love that Luise Rainer got her chance. On such inconsequential chains of circumstances do screen careers hang.
After it had been decided that the part of the companion-help was not really suitable for Myrna Loy, M.G.M. spent some hours of anxiety until, by one of those flashes of inspiration that occasionally come to Hollywood casting officials, someone suggested Miss Rainer, who at that time was contentedly working in a Viennese theatre.
You may wonder how a few men in an office in California should have come to choose an actress entirely unknown to film-goers and several thousand miles away, when, among the hundreds of beautiful and talented girls at their immediate command, there must have been at least a score of Continentally born young ladies who could have played the part competently.
Chance in Ten Thousand
If you feel this way, you will be able to appreciate just how slender was the chance that took Miss Rainer to Hollywood, and just how magnificently impudent was the casting gamble that led to the selection of the one actress who was “right” fo the part, and was able to play it, not competently, but superlatively well.
Maybe you are puzzled as to how her name came up at that conference. The answer is the kind of thing about which all struggling artists dream, but which, in real life, happens only to on in ten thousand. Luise had been seen, while playing in Austria, in Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” by Garbo’s favourite director, Clarence Brown; and her unusual beauty, talent and charm had been one of his favourite travellers’ tales on his return to the film city.
Other Americans, too, among them Bob Ritchie, Jeanette Macdonald’s manager, had sung the praises of Luise, whom they had seen in various continental cities; and so her name was known in Hollywood, where, because a likely “bet” is never ignored in that canny city, it had been filed away for future reference.
The “future” became present when the Escapade casting problem arose; and so the call went across two continents and an ocean, and shortly afterwards Luise Rainer was being introduced to a film camera for the first time in her life.
When you see Escapade you will be able to judgejust how swiftly and intelligently she has adapted herself to a medium of expression which was entirely strange to her. Her performance suggests for her a screen future of the most exciting and incalculable possibilities; and her producers very evidently feel this way about her, for they have treated this first screen performance in a manner which is completely contrary to their general policy.
M.G.M. have made a great number of stars, and they have always employed the building-up method in doing so. Their usual practice is to put the newcomer through a long period of training in subordinate roles, rewarding her with stardom only when she has proved her worth and box office appeal.
Not so with Luise Rainer. She has been given “featured” status in the billing of Escapade;and every communication to the Press regarding her speaks of her as a player who is a certain bet for “official” stardom. Very few players indeed have received such an entusiastic reception in Hollywood; but then, very few have made such an original and striking debut.
It is not remarkable that, having got to Hollywood, Miss Rainer scored a success – at least, not so remarkable as the fact that she got to Hollywood at all – for she was a well-known actress in Vienna before she was invited to make films. Furthermore, she had been a star in her own right for some time, and had worked under Reinhardt for three years.
During this time she had played in many of the most popular German plays, and a great deal of her time was spent bringing Shakespeare to Continental audiences. Her career, in fact, had been one of steady advancement from the day when, at the age of sixteen, she took her first audition.
This was a fateful day for Luise, as she had learnt not long before that he father’s business was in a poor way, and that the family resources were fast dwindling. She had decided, therefore, to get a job, but fearing objections from her parents, she had given the excuse that she was going to Dusseldorf to visit her grandmother.
Instead, she presented herself at the Dumont Theatre, and secured an audition. She learnt her lines in half an hour and found herself, a schoolgirl in short skirts and plaits, alone on a stage confronting a shadowy but none the less terrifying audience.
The scene she had been given depicted the suffering of a woman who had been cast off by her lover. She had no conception of the emotional nature of the part, but sheer stage fright made her burst wildly and excitably into speech; and a few moments later, while she was trying to collect her wits and recollect what she had been saying, she heard someone congratulating her and offering her a contract.
From that moment she made steady progress, acquiring technique and developing her personality; striving to become a famous actress, and never guessing what was to happen to her career because a film director was to see her act and months after, in Hollywood remember.
What was it about Luise Rainer which awakened Clarence Brown’s enthusiasm, and has since captivated all those who have seen Escapade? She is not, in any conventional sense of the word, beautiful, but her mobile features, liquid eyes and carelessly tangled hair form a combination that expresses a highly individual charm. You may yield readily to the spell of her personality, but you will find yourself unable to hit upon its secret.
Like the charm of Bergner, the appeal of Luise Rainer is elusive; you cannot classify it. It has a touch of utter simplicity, a childlike quality and a hint of gaminerie. Yet on those occasions when the large, dark eyes lose their sparkle, and become filled with a wistful seriousness, you have an entirely different person, ripe for the portrayal of pathos or tragedy.
Her moods are as evanescent and as infinitely variable as Bergner’s; and perhaps this baffling elusiveness, than which there is nothing more provocative or fascinating, is the true essence of her charm.
At the moment, while her producers are making ambitious plans for her future, and the critics are writing tributes to her, Luise is spending her time quietly, and sometimes tomboyishly, enjoying Hollywood. Her simplicity of outlook and her freedom from affectation have made her popular in the film city, for she is, apparently, as highly individual and different in real life as she is on the screen.
A new star was never “born” under better astrological influences.