The Tempestuous Life Story of Luise Rainer
by Adele Whitely Fletcher, illustrated by Frank Godwin.
TODAY one of the most colorful personalities in Hollywood is Luise Rainer. It’s Luise they talk about as they lie on the sand at Santa Monica, as they lunch in the studio commissaries, and as they gossip between races at Santa Anita. Not that anyone sees much of her. She spends most of her time alone in her little house in a canyon which runs down to the sea. And on those rare occasions when she lunches at the Vendome she scurries like a frightened rabbit, wearing dark blue pajamas and with her black hair tousled because she won’t wear a hat.
I saw Luise Rainer the first time at a luncheon party Frances Marion gave for that eminent symphony conductor, Bernardino Molinari. Luncheon was served in Frances’ lovely garden with the small tables placed around a sunken pool on which floated cool white water lilies. In anticipation of this setting everyone had dressed appropriately. Everyone but Luise. She arrived wearing dark blue pajamas and no hat. She came only because she and Frances, who has a genius for tucking the odd and the hurt and the painfully shy under her wing, are good friends.
“I do not go usually to such big parties like this one is today,” she told me, mixing her words a little, flavoring them with her accent. “I do not go because if there is someone there who affects me a certain way I cannot talk. And when you do not talk people think it isn’t because you cannot but because you will not and so they say you are bad.”
I watched Luise when Mary Pickford sat down beside her on a sofa in the library to tell her how beautiful she counted the work Luise had done in “Escapade.” Praise from Mary being something of praise from a master it is coveted in Hollywood. But Luise only turned a little frantic with her shyness. Her eyes grew wide and dark. And whispering a dozen breathless thank-yous she backed away.
I watched Luise again when a waiter passed the cocktails. She shook her head. And when a famous star, sipping her Martini, asked Luise if she never drank she shook her head a second time, vehemently, and announced “I do not like drunken women!” But there was something about her simple directness which kept her from sounding either rude or bold.
For a time Luise’s studio tried to influence her personal wardrobe. They suggested it would be appreciated if she would wear something besides pajamas and loose coats and if occasionally she could endure a hat. One particular day they grew quite firm about all this. Meekly, so meekly that those who knew Luise should have been warned, she promised. The morning following there was consternation in the Front Office. Luise was walking around the studio streets, and making a very thorough canvass of all of them, wearing a flowing chiffon gown, a floppy picture hat, spike heels, and earrings and pearls.
“They did not think it was so funny!” Luise laughed again telling me about it. “But for me it was funny. And most satisfactory, too, because now they talk and talk no more about how I should wear such clothes and not such other clothes.”
“And,” she said delighted, “I must laugh twice because now some people they must like the way I dress because they copy me. That is how it is when you are yourself. It comes out all right. And besides, never are you uncomfortable because you are you. And you are sure.”
To attempt to change Luise Rainer would be as futile as building a restraining wall on shifting sands. The things she does today aren’t Hollywood born, they aren’t part of any circus of being a star. Even when she was a very little girl it was the same. She never has been one to fit neatly into the conventional pattern. And it’s most unlikely that in any true sense she ever will.
* * * * * *
Little Luise, only four years old, was playing that she was the sunbeam’s shadow. She swayed with it gently, with it she darted across the room and then floated up against the opposite wall. And she moved always with the sunbeam’s eccentric grace. Her mother who sat stitching a pink batiste frock finished the entire hem and still, although she had taken the finest stitches, Luise, not having uttered a single word, was at her game.
“Aren’t you weary?” Emy Rainer asked as she folded up the frock she had been working on and laid it away in her sewing basket. Luise didn’t answer. It wasn’t that she was rude; simply that she was intent upon moving with that frisky sunbeam in its least quiver. Taking Luise by the hand her mother led her to her special chair, a chair about the size of that in which the smallest of the three fairy tale bears would sit.
“I want you to rest until I come back,” she said. “I’m going down to the kitchen to see about dinner, to see about the strudel.” Luise’s eyes, which even then were as ageless as eternity, grew wide and serious. And on her head her hair, black as a storm cloud, was baby soft and fine.
A DOZEN things detained Emy Rainer. The goose the butcher had sent didn’t please her. A friend called on the telephone. There was the salad dressing to be made, something she always prepared herself. She went hurriedly from one thing to another and then she remembered little Luise waiting upstairs. She flew up the stairs. Luise might have grown restless and wandered into the street. You never could tell what Luise might do. She was a strange child. “The Black One” her father called her because it was so evident even then that her important life was something she shared with no-one, something she lived inside herself.
However, Emy Rainer found Luise in the little chair where she had left her. The sunbeam no longer was there to tempt her to play. Long since it had disappeared and shadows were deep in the corner. “You poor liebchen,” Emy Rainer said, gathering Luise into her arms. “Sitting here all this time! Didn’t you get lonely? Aren’t you very tired?” Luise shook her head. “It was nice,” she said.
And often it was like that. There were, through the years in which Luise Rainer grew up, many times when she was left to sit alone and very still for many hours.
Understandable enough if on that particular day her mother searched her eyes for a long time for some hint of the fantasies which had been absorbing her. For any mother knowing her child is more at home in the world of her imagination than she is with reality must long to make some small place for herself in that secret world.
There were times when Heinz Rainer, successful merchant who had returned to Europe to set up a business after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States, insisted Luise was stupid. Her mother didn’t believe this, however. And it’s doubtful really that Heinz Rainer believed it himself. Luise was different, yes.
And those who are different and don’t fit into the pattern shaped by the majority must appear stupid at times.
Always, you see, even when Luise Rainer was little more than a baby she had a special passionate quality. Whatever held her at all became intensely important to her. And always she was possessed to give back to people the images and feelings which people and things gave to her. It was, of course, this quality that made her an actress and brought her the fame she knew first on the stage and the screen in Europe and which she now knows here. And it also was this quality which for a while threatened to bring her life down about her head in a miserable shambles. An abnormal imagination and a passionate intensity often ruin those who possess these things before they can learn the great need they know to hold them in check with the reins of self-discipline.
Emy Rainer had a cashmere shawl with the colors of many flowers caught in its gay Viennese pattern. Growing older Luise found that shawl one of the most beautiful things in the world. She used to sit for hours with it in her slender hands.
And always when she turned it about so she might see the way the starry daisies lay beside the red of the roses and the iris flowers worked in purple floss a strange excitement would go shaking within her.
“Colors so beautiful,”she told me, talking of this part of her life, “I thought I should be everywhere. I wanted to reproduce them over and over. The cream furniture my poor mother had bought for my room and of which she was so proud, saying always ‘Now that you are growing up, Luise, it is suitable you should have such a room!’ I came to hate very much. To me it was stupid as the color of milk.”
The colors in that shawl became an obsession with her. She saved every pfennig of her allowance and one by one she bought tubes of oil tempera of vermilion, ultramarine, chrome, magenta and emerald. She hoarded these colors as she collected them, one every week or so, When she had them all she was jubilant.
“You mustn’t come in,” she called to her mother from her room. “Not even on a little crack must you open the door. I have a surprise!”
She worked diligently. It didn’t matter when her head ached from the turpentine and the paint and her back grew sore from all her bending. In the furniture in her room she would repeat the beauty that was stitched in her mother’s shawl. It hung before her little fireplace to dictate her palette. Only it so happened that the colors which came oozing out of her tubes never were quite the same colors in the shawl and often, because she was unskilled in using them, they smeared.
“WHEN my room was done,” she told me, “you had to squint your eyes to look in. As you do when you look towards the sun when it is strong. And if you should look for long your eyes they would burn and then all the colors – how they would dance together!”
At last Emy Rainer was called in to see the surprise. She was surprised no doubt. She also was horrified. For her daughter’s room of which she had been so proud, finding it as chaste as it befitted a young girl’s room to be, looked now like a madman’s dream.
She brought her hand down hard across Luise’s cheek. And doubtless she wondered what strange and unsuspected traits in Heinz Rainer and herself had fused to become the heritage they had given this ardent, moody child of their’s. Doubtless too, for a few uncertain moments, she envied the mother of the stolid, unimaginative child who lived next door.
It was when Luise was fourteen that a nearby boy’s school gave a gymnastics party. Luise heard the older girls talking about it at the girl’s school she attended. It was the source of the most entrancing conversation in the coat room and during the recreation periods. Plainly it was something too wonderful to be missed.
Luise knew none of the boys at this school. Her older brother was away, studying with his teacher and her other brother was six years younger than she and, of course, of no use at such a time. It was, she admitted to herself, unfortunate that she had not had any proper invitation to this party and that neither of her brothers could take her. But it never occurred to her to stay away.
She counted the days and even the hours until that evening and that hour would arrive. She was aware of nothing else. Obsessed to attend a party as wonderful as the talk of the older girls promised this would be, she lived in a vacuum of waiting.
“I did not speak about it to anyone at all,” she says. “It seemed too wonderful to speak about.”
“But when the night came and the hands of the dining-room clock showed it was eight o’clock then I set out.”
HER clothes didn’t concern her then, either. She wore a skirt and a sweater. She rode her bicycle. And it seemed very fitting to her that her bike would take her to such a wonderful thing as this boys’ gymnasium party. For the bike was wonderful, too. She could remember nothing ever giving her as much pleasure before. Amazing how you could perch up on its leather seat and simply by moving your feet in the pedals go everywhere, see everything.
On that bike Luise had ridden through downtown streets the existance [sic] of which her parents were only vaguely aware, to witness the most amazing street fights between neighborhoood gangs.
In one instance she actually had seen one boy receive a broken nose. Her bike had taken her out beyond the town where it was still when the sun went down, spilling color all over the lower sky.
It had taken her past gardens you would never have been able to see properly at all through the pickets of a fence. And it had crashed her into a vegetable cart and the most interesting conversation with the huckster that she ever had had with anyone.
When the boy at the gymnasium door said she couldn’t bring her bike in, that she must leave it outside, she was furious. For a minute she thought she would turn around and go home. But she couldn’t quite bring herself to do that.
“Stand aside!” she told that boy. Instinctively he obeyed the authority in her voice and in that same second she mounted her bike and rode straight past him into the hall.
Inside another boy came towards her, a nice boy, straight and clean and tall.
“I’m very sorry,” he said, “but we can’t let you have your bike in here. We really can’t.”
“It can do no harm,” she said, gentle as she can be sometimes, “standing here against the wall. You see I can’t stay if I have to leave it outside. It must be where I can watch it. It’s the most wonderful bike in the world.”
“Why?” he asked, “Why is it?”
“It takes me places,” she told him softly, confidentially. For she knew somehow this boy could be counted upon to understand.
He was one of the student officers in that gymnasium. Her bike remained there against the wall. And Luise and that boy danced together then. Her pleated skirt flared out like a plaid pinwheel and her hair which she had brushed smooth before she started, the way her mother like it [sic], was tousled. That was all right, however, and as it should be to go with her eyes for the happiness in them now was unrestrained and that ageless quality more befitting smooth hair had been crowded right our of them.
The other girls preening in their party dresses thought Luise looked a sight in her sweater and skirt and with her untidy hair. They wondered, powdering their noses in the dressing -room, whispering in little groups, what that boy, straight and strong and fair and nineteen years old, could see in her. She danced well, true enough. But still! And Luise watching them wondered, in turn, how they could abide their frilly dresses and their long, tight skirts and she thought they looked silly enough with their stiff curled hair.
When the tower clock chimed ten that boy took Luise home. They walked the long way in the dark pushing her precious bike between them. For she would not leave her bike behind to ride with him in his little car even though he promised solemnly to return for it later.
They talked very little. They didn’t need words to make a bridge which would help them reach each other. They needed nothing beyond that fundamental friendship which lived between them even in the first minute they looked at each other and each had thought jubilantly in their heart “Hello! I’ve been looking for you for a long time!” The way a boy and a girl will sometimes.
Before he said good-night he asked if on the following Sunday he might come to call and she said he very much hoped he would. And while they stood together on the Rainer steps, talking, she didn’t doubt that he would come. But when he was gone and she was in her room undressing, fear settled down over her heart, such fears as lovers always know, feverishly unaware of the fact that the other one is experiencing the same doubts and the same pull in their direction.
“I was so scared,” she says, “that he would think about me and think that I was too young for him to be my beau. And suddenly, too, I turned frightened that in that very moment on his way home he would meet one of those other girls with a long tight skirt and stiff waved hair.”
Luise told her mother and father that she had a young man coming to see her that Sunday. And she remembers feeling cheated because they didn’t seem to know how important and exciting it was but said in calm voices, “So! That is very nice indeed!”
ON Sunday the dinner seemed endless. To Luise. Her younger brother must be served a second time. The serving girl’s feet seemed to be made of lead. Her father must peel his pear just so, run the little fruit knife around under the skin in a precise line. And her mother must pause while she poured the coffee to talk about some stupid woman they knew.The boy wasn’t due for an hour or two but any moment Luise felt the bell would ring and he would be standing there. And she wanted dinner to be over and cleared away and the house just so when he came. She wanted time to brush her hair down smooth because it might be boys like it that way and try a new collar on her dress.
These things done, she waited at the parlor window. She tried to make the fact that he was coming real by picturing how he would look when he came walking down the street. And almost simultaneously she was sure he never would come, that never would she see him approaching the house, that it was to wonderful ever to be true that he would sit across the room from her and they would talk of this and of that. But a few minutes later she saw him turn the corner and she drew back from the curtain. The blood streamed into her face.
And something very gentle came alive in her eyes.
When Emy and Heinz Rainer saw how it was between their fourteen year old Luise and this nineteen year old youth they ceased being so calm about this new friendship. And perhaps they sighed, realizing that, of course, their Luise wouldn’t be like other girls, have a dozen beaus and be casual and simply flirtatious about all of them.
She never had been like other girls, after all, and that in itself seemed to give warning she never would be.
“My mother and my father,” Luise says, “because I was so young, made that boy promise never would he make love to me. And he did not ever do it. I did not tempt him ever, either. For the two years that came afterwards, much of the time we spent together.
“But between us,during those two years that came, was a curious innocence.”
THEN Luise went away. Dear as that boy was to her she had to go. For as she grew older the restlessness that always had been within her grew to be so great she feared it might destroy her. She feared she even might take her own life. With her body and mind her temperament always was approaching maturity and making demands. She could no longer satisfy her deep desire to give back to people the images and feelings which people and things gave her by dancing with a sunbeam. For it had come to be the inner, subconscious things in life that she was obsessed to express. It was almost as if a Thing within her must be released.
She would stand for hours on a busy corner and watch people pass. Doing this she was happy, she didn’t grow tired. Marking a hurt twist in a certain mouth she would wonder what personal pain had caused it. She speculated about a love that could turn some blue eyes soft as a spring sky. She contrasted the difference between those who walked slowly, some from dejection and despair and some because of inner peace.
Much of her time at home she spent alone in her room. Sometimes for days she would barely speak.
That other might think she was acting strangely or avoiding them never occurred to her, she was so absorbed in her own world of fantasy and imagination.
“Where is the Black One?” her father would ask night after night when he came home, “Where is the Black One?”
[This engrossing story of the enchanting Luise Rainer will be continued in the August PHOTOPLAY, out July 10.]