The property of a lady

luise-rainer-catalog

It was announced yesterday that Julien’s of Beverly Hills will be holding an auction of property from Luise’s estate on 1st October with a vast array of items for sale from her London apartment. The sale is one in a long line of ‘celebrity’ auctions held by the house who have previously handled the estates of Greta Garbo, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, amongst others.

The items included in Luise’s sale are mostly unconnected to her short film career. There are some pieces of memorabilia, awards and photographs but on the whole the estate is of interest for her antiques and art. She was a collector of both and amassed a varied collection of European furniture, jewellery and artworks. Of particular interest to me are her own pieces, often collage work but watercolours and sketches are also included. Luise studied art at the Camden Institute in London in the late 1950s and early 1960s but she rarely exhibited; this auction and the accompanying catalogue gives us a rare chance to see a range of her work. The sale also includes pieces by many other artists, notably sculpture by Geog Kolbe and Felix Weihs de Weldon, and paintings and sketches by Domenico Gnoli, Robin Hazlewood, Emma Sergeant, Johann Fischbach and Jan van Kessel as well as numerous unsigned and unattributed works, religious scenes and more. The portrait of Luise by Dimitri Berea, painted for the cover of France Illustration (below) is on offer with an estimate of a very reasonable $6000.FullSizeRender (18)

For film fans there is little of interest, although there are a selection of photos by George Hurrell and Clarence Bull, plus her George Eastman medal, awarded in 1982. Luise kept very little of her film memorabilia so it isn’t surprising not to see it here. In the late 1990s she gifted her archive of correspondence to the Howard Gottlieb Centre at Boston University which explains the lack of personal items although there are a few significant objects included, not least a collection of Clifford Odets’ plays signed and dedicated to Luise, and some personal photographs from their holiday with Einstein at his house on Long Island. There are also some personal items of clothing, which always make me feel a little queasy, including the cape she wore when she accepted her second Academy Award. Her Oscars, I should point out, are not included – the Academy famously brought in an agreement in 1950 that any Oscar sold should be offered back to them for a nominal sum of $1 in order to preserve the integrity of the award. Oscars have come up for auction however, and those won before 1950 are not covered by the agreement (although that hasn’t stopped the Academy fighting to have them removed), so Luise’s could be sold, theoretically, but I believe that Francesca (Luise’s daughter) is likely to want to hang onto them, and rightly so.

On the whole the property on offer shows Luise’s love for fine art and good taste. There is much to be gleaned from her collection and the items she and Robert purchased over the years. It is interesting (and not unexpected) to see that she kept almost nothing from her Hollywood years and the bulk of this property comes from her post-film career when she had returned to Europe. I hope that they find good homes for these belongings, especially the artworks and personal items which will always carry a quantum of Luise with them. Unfortunately almost everything is out of my range but I’ll be following the auction with great interest on the day, and maybe my itchy fingers will do some clicking…..

“omg luise rainer”

I’ve been quiet. Since Luise’s death at the end of last year I’ve done very little in the way of updates and I’m sad to admit I questioned whether to continue with the site, the blog and the Twitter feed. I didn’t expect that, I thought I’d always be in thrall to Luise, but, understandably (?) I felt lost. Looking over the collection (the hifalutin part of me would prefer ‘archive’) and after talking to friends I realised that now, more than ever, it’s important to keep researching and continue letting the world know about Luise. So I will.

Something happened this week that hasn’t happened since Luise died too: my regular Twitter search for her name went crazy. Suddenly hundreds of people were Tweeting about her in the most unexpected context. On 28th July Justin Bieber posted this photo on his Shots timeline. I was mystified, but not as much as his fans who posted and retweeted the image with an almost universal question: “Who?”

bieber

Bieber tagged the photo simply, “omg luise rainer” (un-capitalization, his own). It was taken at Luise’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6302 Hollywood Boulevard, placed there as one of the original intake of stars in February 1960. Quite what Justin means by this post is a mystery… is he a fan? Or is sarcasm intended here? Either way, even if only a few fans Google her name, find her films, read about her life, it’ll be worthwhile. All publicity is good publicity, right?

Site updates for January 2015

I’ve been updating the site over the past few weeks, and intended to re-publish with a release of new material on Luise’s birthday. That day has come, but, with the news of her death on 30th December I’ve been busy responding to queries and have already submitted some updates rather than have the workload get on top of me. So, the monthly updates for January are as follows:

The galleries have been redesigned; you may be able to tell that the site isn’t higEscapade 19h-spec when it comes to slideshows and whatnot. That’s because I have no website knowledge other than what I’ve learnt whilst putting this site together. So, I like to keep it simple. With this in mind I’ve re-styled the galleries as simple webpages with photos tabled and noted. On each page you can open up each picture for a larger but manageable version. I hope the simplicity makes the galleries easier to navigate than before. A plus is that the collection now shows up in a Google image search, which it hadn’t done previously. I’ve also tried to separate the gallery into useful sub-sections, so you can find all of the images relating to Luise’s Oscar appearances together, a collection of Press images from random events together, and stills from each film neatly packaged on one page, for example. Some of the formatting looks a bit skew-whiff but I’ll work on that as I go along.

I am particularly excited about the new gallery for 1935’s Escapade. I was lucky enough to purchase a number of stills from the film recently and these have been put on-line for the first time; as a researcher I know I haven’t seen many of these Picturegoer Dec 1938before, and without the actual film available to view these are the next best thing. They include photos of Luise and her co-stars William Powell, Mady Christians, Virginia Bruce, Henry Travers, Frank Morgan and Mathilde Comont.

There are also new additions to the ‘Magazines’ section of the site (now renamed as ‘Archive’): the earliest article from a British film magazine in my collection is The Romance of Luise Rainer by Leonard Wallace (from Film Weekly, 1935). I’ve also recently added this review of The Great Ziegfeld from the same magazine in 1937, and this interesting character piece on Luise and Clifford Odets, “Living the Part” with Luise by Jack Chandler, taken from a 1938 edition of Picturegoer. The archive section has also been updated with links to a couple of obituaries and recent articles of interest that have appeared online.

I will continue to work through my personal collection of material and add updates to the site as and when I get the chance. I hope that there is enough interesting material to keep readers entertained and educated.

On board the Ile-de-France…

2015 is a notable year for Luise, being the 80th anniversary both of her move to Hollywood and of her first American film, MGM’s Escapade. 1935 was the year which changed everything for her, in love and in life. Today, 9th January, marks 80 years to the day that Luise boarded the luxury passenger ship Ile-de-France at Le Havre in northern France to head for her new life in the USA. Already a star of the stage in Europe she couldn’t have possibly imagined how her decision to take up the offer of a contract at MGM would change the course of her life. Leaving behind her family, and a continent on the brink of war, she travelled alone, except for her Scottish terrier, Johnny.Ile_de_France_06

The journey took a week and whilst on board Luise celebrated her 25th birthday (12th January 1935). But, she was in good company; the Ile-de-France was a grand liner favoured by rich Americans and Europeans making the journey to New York. The ship had a distinguished career as a passenger ship before ferrying troops during the war and, in a bizarre coincidence, it ended it’s life ignominiously with an appearance in the MGM film, The Last Voyage (1960), where it was partly blown up. In 1999 Luise talked about the trip when she appeared on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, recalling her dinner date with fellow passengers, Feodor Chaliapin and Mischa Elman. Word had got around the ship that she would be celebrating a birthday whilst on board and when she arrived for dinner she was met with flowers and a menu dedicated to her – “Birthday luncheon for Luise Rainer”. She could hardly believe it, “I am nothing!” she thought, as the great opera singer and violinist serenaded her with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’.

A look at the passenger list (below) for that crossing confirms the presence of Luise and Chaliapin amongst bankers, diplomats and industrialists. Luise, whose destination is noted as Culver City, the home of MGM, has her passage paid for by the studio. Luise wasn’t the only notable person on board: playwright John Van Druten, car and speedboat racer Kaye Don, entertainer Eddie Cantor were amongst the passengers and there were also Federal Agents aboard, escorting three witnesses in the Lindbergh Baby trial to New York where they were to testify in the murder trial of Bruno Hauptmann. Security was high at departure and upon arrival, with agents guarding the witnesses on board.Luise_Passenger_Manifest_1 Luise_Passenger_Manifest_2This wasn’t the only drama to take place on the ship. In an episode that Luise rarely ever spoke about: before leaving Germany, and perhaps a deciding factor in her decision to go, Luise had lost her fiance, who was killed unexpectedly in a plane crash. Details of this affair are sketchy, but I believe he was a high-ranking official, a Dutchman who courted her with private flights in his two-seater aeroplane. It was he who flew her to London for her screen test for Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms in 1934 and with whom she fell in love for the very first time. In late 1934 he was killed when his plane came down in Africa; a devastated Luise began a short fling with his brother, confused and in mourning, “I had mixed them up in my mind but they were not at all alike,” she said, in an interview in 2000, one of the very few occasions where she discussed her life before Hollywood. Whilst on board she discovered that she was pregnant with her dead lover’s child and realised at once that she couldn’t have this new life and career and the child. “It was a romantic, idiotic thing! I thought that the child would be like him… it was a young foolishness.” She honestly believed that she wouldn’t be long in Hollywood, that they would realise they had made a terrible mistake in bringing her all that way; there is, perhaps, a sense that Luise would’ve kept the child had her expectations been borne out and she’d returned home to Germany. Luise always intimated that it was her decision not to have the child but it’s not difficult to imagine the reaction of her new bosses at MGM upon discovery that their bright new star was pregnant.

Luise Rainer 1935.1

Luise and Johnny pose for the press upon arrival in New York, January 1935.

She arrived in New York on 14th January 1935, met by a barrage of photographers and MGM officials. Luise Rainer had arrived in America, a star was about to be born and film history was about to be made….

Luise, Clifford and a Rocket to the Moon

Luise with Clifford Odets, wedding day 1937

Luise Rainer, Clifford Odets and Johnny, on their wedding day (1937)

It was exactly 78 years ago today (8th January) that Luise married the playwright Clifford Odets in a small affair at their home in Brentwood Hills, LA. In attendance, besides the bride and groom, were film director Lewis Milestone (who had recently completed the film of The General Died at Dawn, with Odets first screenplay) and his wife Lee, alongside Luise’s Scottish terrier, Johnny, her only companion on the trip from Germany to the US.

Luise had met the left-wing playwright just over a year earlier while dining in the Brown Derby restaurant on Vine Street, a popular hang-out for the Hollywood crowd. She was accompanied by songwriters E. Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen and although she didn’t speak to Odets, their eyes met (as they do in tales such as this). They were both intrigued and the chance to get to know one another better came only a few weeks later when they both attended a party at the home of writer Dorothy Parker. Here they were introduced, and became inseparable. As Luise put it,

“Except for Ginger Rogers, most guests were unknown to me. On the far side of the room, surrounded by people who seemed to lap up his words, stood Clifford Odets. Over the crowd I felt him looking at me. I left early; I had to be up at six o’clock in the morning to get to the studio by seven a.m… a few days later while on location I was called to the telephone. It was a man’s voice: Clifford Odets. “Can one ever see you alone?” he asked. Two evenings later he collected me and took me out for dinner. We went to a restaurant at the end of the long Santa Monica pier. Afterwards we went for a walk along the beach. To my horror it was littered with lifeless fish. Something in the water had poisoned them. I trembled, Clifford Odets took me back to my house. That night started for me the wildest, the most compelling and frenetic, the most tragic relationship. It changed the flight and rhythm of my life.”

The relationship was set to be a tempestuous one; speaking in 1999 Luise described the love between them as “fulfilling, terrible, tearing…. complete.” It’s difficult to see how the marriage could have ever worked; their workloads were hardly conducive to a relaxed social and home-life, especially considering Odets’ was required to be in New York with the Group Theatre whilst Luise was holed up filming in California. There’s no doubt that her disillusionment with Hollywood and her desperation to leave MGM were fuelled by the difficulties in her marriage (and vice versa), but, by all accounts they were both headstrong individuals, trying to sacrifice too much of themselves to make the other happy. Only two months after their wedding Luise won her first Luise with Clifford and Johnny (Jan 1937)Academy Award and Odets showed his displeasure in the concept of such trinkets. He did attend with her (unlike a year later when he refused to go) but the press were less than keen on his apparent lack of enthusiasm, and his choice of plain suit. Odets was further enraged to see his name printed as ‘Mr. Luise Rainer’ in the morning news. Less than two years later he would start an affair with the actress Frances Farmer, and the divorce with Luise was finalised in 1940, long after the marriage had truthfully ended.

Signs were there early…. the newlyweds honeymooned in Mexico but Odets’ strict writing regime excluded such enjoyments as the ‘wedding night’. Odets had started work on a new play and set aside his usual time to work on the script in their room at the Rosarito Hotel. As this was the January off-peak season the hotel was near empty and Luise was banished to spend the evening alone. Walking along the beachfront she came upon members of a touring circus passing through the town for the night, and this is how she spent the evening, in the company of some midgets and acrobats. A wedding night to be remembered, if not perhaps for the traditional reasons. The work is most likely to have been The Silent Partner, or a new film project (see the comments section for details from Beth Phillips, very gratefully received).

Cliff’s version of the relationship is perhaps best seen in his 1938 play  Rocket to the Moon, which was staged by the Group Theatre in New York. It concerns Ben Stark, a successful dentist, struggling to deal with the breakdown of his empty, loveless marriage, his fidelity being tested by the arrival of the young, comely Cleo with whom he has fallen in love (or is he just smitten?). It’s interesting to see the development of the play alongside Odets’ faltering relationship with Luise, and the theme of fighting for love against all odds resonates throughout. Luise has said that she would read some of his manuscript and make edits and suggestions, whether they were requested or not. She was especially keen that the female characters spoke and acted more realistically and often added her own handwritten notes to her husband’s work. The play doesn’t have the rabble-rousing of his earlier more political works and is one of Odets’ most personal pieces. Although it is rarely staged, in 2011 Luise attended the opening night of a major new production of the play at the National Theatre in London, 73 years after missing the premiere in New York. For those in London, the BFI will be hosting a very rare screening of John Jacobs’ 1986 Luise with Clifford in the MGM studio restaurant 1937 [scan]television production starring John Malkovich and Judy Davis on 27th January 2015.

For a detailed insight into Luise and Clifford’s relationship you must read Margaret Brenman-Gibson’s authoritative biography Clifford Odets – American Playwright, which contains interviews with Luise and excerpts from their correspondence during the marriage. There is a particularly moving section detailing their attempts to have a child and Luise’s subsequent abortion when realising that the marriage was over, mistakenly believing Odets was uninterested in starting a family. It is both the best biography of Odets and also of Luise, at that time.

[Edited to add details submitted by Beth in the comments below]

Luise Rainer: A personal remembrance

Candid - 1970sI first met Luise Rainer in 1998, only a few weeks after I’d seen her on the Oscars telecast, one of a unique group of previous winners invited back and put on display like bits of memorabilia to celebrate Oscars 70th. “Are you Luise Rainer?” I asked, already knowing the answer; even at 88 she looked like someone. “Yes…..” she replied, warily, cowering a little, “…who are you?”, with her German drawl intact, a sparkle behind the eyes, and a faint glimpse of pride at being recognised. Luise was never one for fame but I always sensed she did, occasionally, succumb to its entrapments. “Oh, it’s so great to meet you,” I blethered. “I’m a fan, I love your films,” I lied. My first meeting with the lady who would change my life, and I lied to her. You see, until that Oscars ceremony I had never heard of Luise Rainer. When she appeared on my television screen, bracketed by archive footage of her two Oscar wins, I was presented with a real head-scratcher. A film fan for years, how could I not know who this was? I was immediately curious but unprepared for her to take over my life.

LR12

At home, 1990s.

I’ve always been a curious soul. In 1998 there was little if nothing written about Luise online. There was a listing on IMDb of a handful of films I’d never seen, but no Wikipedia page and no detailed biography. I think without this lack of information I would’ve moved on, happy to have met her. But her story was so incredible I couldn’t let it lie. From the outset I’ve been interested in telling that story first and foremost, with a secondary interest in the films she made. It seems strange to become a follower of someone without ever seeing any of their work, but that’s the way it happened with Luise. The obsession (and I use that word carefully) grew, I started researching, buying items from eBay, 1930s film magazines, interviews, books on similar subjects, and, of course, I had to track down the films. I gradually got to know Luise via this material; the trivia, the soundbites, the stories of her rise and fall were pored over and I was hooked. I found myself completely enraptured, as if spending 16 years reading an unputdownable novel, with every turn of the page discovering something new, opening another door to another corridor leading to another room in the labyrinth of Luise’s life.

I’m not a spiritual person and neither do I believe in fate, however, that day and that sequence of events set in motion a peculiar course, unplanned but full of serendipity and opportunity. At that time I was working in the area of Sloane Square (from 1997 to 2001) and happened upon Luise numerous times in the months and years following our first meeting. I’d often see her from the top of the 137 bus and I’d have to restrain myself from shouting out, “Look! That’s a bona fide movie star right there, in amongst us!” It seemed random and crazy to just bump into her on the way home from work, but that’s the way it happened, time and time again. This randomness took a peculiar turn when I left that job and moved to the National Theatre on the South Bank in 2001. I remember seeing her running to catch a bus on Sloane Street (she would’ve been 91 years old by now) in the weeks before I moved jobs, and I do recall marking this as possibly the last time I’d see her. But how wrong I was; I’d only been in the new job a few weeks when she called, I answered the telephone and we met again. That’s just a coincidence, right?

LuiseRainer-TCMFilmFestival2010

Celebrating her 100th year, at the TCM Film Festival in 2010.

Luise was a regular at the theatre and we met a few more times, always professionally. The last time she visited (and the last time I met her) was in the spring of 2011 when she attended the opening night of Clifford Odets’ play Rocket to the Moon. The play has great significance for her, written as it was during the early months of her marriage to Odets and, it’s said to be the play he was working at on their wedding night, when she was banished to spend the evening on a Mexican beach, alone but for a troupe of circus performers. I’d invited her and I was pleased she could make it, even at 101. The year before, to celebrate her 100th, she had charmed an audience of hundreds in the Olivier Theatre when she spent 90 minutes talking about her life and career. All of us who were in the theatre that night knew that we were in the presence of someone who had really lived. Her energy and her resilience leapt from that stage, remarkably lucid and as vivacious as ever. Only a month earlier she had written to the theatre to say that she would be “absolutely unable” to make an appearance due to “failing health” and apologised but must “definitely decline” the invitation. What caused her change of heart I don’t know, but I will forever be grateful that she did. She once said that she grew too old too soon; at MGM she felt that she had aged well beyond her years and then spent the next 80 years getting younger, at least in heart and mind. She followed up this coup de theatre with an even more astonishing appearance at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festivals, defying not only age but exploding Icelandic volcanoes to be there. It’s a perfect example of her refusal to be cowed; like Louis B. Mayer, she dealt with her age and Eyjafjallajökull with flamboyant disinterest.

Luise and I were never close friends. We were acquaintances at best, and sometime correspondents. She was aware of the collection I’d started and of the website in particular. I made it known that I wasn’t just a fan, more a keen amateur detective trying to set the record straight and let everyone know that Luise Rainer wasn’t just a two-time Oscar winner, but an actress of stage and screen, a writer, a painter and even a director. She was also a witness to almost all of the 20th century, one of the last and one of those for whom the phrase “we will never see their like again” is most fitting. She

Luise with one of the loves of her life: Johnny, her Scottish terrier (1936)

Luise with one of the loves of her life: Johnny, her Scottish terrier (1936)

understood, I hope, that I didn’t want a piece of her as a memento, I wanted to make sure she wasn’t forgotten or at least mis-remembered.

Whenever I meet people Luise always comes into the conversation. I have bored many people witless with my tales of her life and times; I’m always enthusiastic but I do get carried away. She has been in my life for 16 years and it’s difficult to describe how I feel now she has gone. I thought about her often, almost daily, in what I hope was not an irrational way. I’ve learnt so much from her, indirectly, and she’s changed the way I think about my own life. Her passion and drive are exemplified by a life fulfilled. She may not have always been in the public eye but what does that matter? For her, living, really living, and loving, were the things to celebrate, not the ephemera.

I am so very grateful for that chance meeting. Now, I will continue to celebrate a life lived, not a life lost.

“…there were many things that I should have done. I feel it today, at nearly 100 years old: God, or whoever it is, gave so much into my cradle and I have not lived up to it.” – Luise Rainer, 2010 (and I must respectfully disagree with her)

In praise of Jerry O’s…

jerry oOn my recent visit to New York City I decided to look up a movie memorabilia store that I’d dropped into by chance the last time I was there (some ten years ago). I couldn’t remember the location or even the name so I started with a very generic and random Google search.

The first result was Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store… but the news wasn’t promising – one of the first results I found was this article by Jeremiah Moss for The New Yorker in October 2013 which didn’t bode well. Jerry was thinking of selling up and going online only, but I was heartened to find that his website suggested there might be a chance he was still going strong, or at least going. And so he was. From the outside you’d be forgiven for missing Jerry’s; an unprepossessing doorway of an office block on W. 35th Street bears a small sign, maybe not enough to entice the casual passer-by, but for those in the know this is the gateway to hidden treasures.

Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store is the last of a dying breed; with the onset of the internet and online auction sites like eBay, the opportunity to rummage through boxes and files of film goodies is now few and far between. Flea markets and car boot sales throw up some jewels now and then, but you’re really relying on luck and tenacity to find something truly worthwhile. Jerry’s is all worthwhile. Files and files, boxes and boxes, shelves and shelves of movie and television related memorabilia, stored scattergun and Tetris-like in a number of overflowing rooms, this is a cinephile’s dream.  However obscure you think your cinematic obsession is, Jerry will have something to set your heart racing. I was only interested in Luise (I could’ve easily spent days in there satisfying my curiosity) and the collection of still photos alone was breathtaking.

William Powell and Virginia Bruce in Escapade (1935)

William Powell and Virginia Bruce in Escapade (1935)

It goes without saying I easily blew my entire budget. The highlight for me was the number of stills from Luise’s first MGM picture, Escapade (1935). This is a film that hasn’t been shown on television in living memory (if ever?) and has never been released on home video or DVD, so to see such a vast collection of images was a real thrill; I’ve researched the film and am familiar with the plot but now I can put images to the storyline I’ve built up in my head. This was like seeing the film for the first time, like I’d personally discovered my holy grail. But Jerry had more… and more… and more… the files just kept coming. Each of Luise’s films had their own collection, with some familiar and some not so familiar images. On top of all of this, there were posters and pressbooks, lobby cards and programmes.

Price-wise Jerry is reasonable; more often than not the prices for the stuff I was after were comparable to what I’d pay online. I have nothing against online sites (most of my collection wouldn’t exist without eBay), but being able to handle these pieces, some original MGM stills, programmes, posters is priceless. The added bonus is meeting Jerry himself, a genuine NYCharacter, a genial host and conversationalist, and his friendly and knowledgeable staff with a genuine enthusiasm for the collection (and an understanding of your obsession!). If you are a movie fan of any era and you’re in New York you must drop in to one of the last of its kind – you deserve it and you owe it to yourself (and Jerry).

Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store is an almost unique time capsule; don’t let it go, we’ll regret it when it’s gone.

The Great Rainer

The site has been updated today with a new article, taken from the Summer 1937 edition of Film Weekly magazine. The piece was written by film critic Freda Bruce Lockhart and is titled, “The Great Rainer“.Film Weekly Summer 1937 article

This is the first time this article has been made available online and continues my project to transcribe all extant interviews, essays and publicity material about Luise onto the website. In this, Lockhart responds to Luise’s performance in The Good Earth with a host of superlatives, acknowledging that the magazine had previously predicted Luise’s ascendency to greatness. It’s a little self-congratulatory to start with but further reading reveals one of the most insightful and better researched articles of the time.

Lockhart pulls no punches in showering Luise with praise – “if ever I have seen great acting on the screen, this was it” – but delves a little deeper into Luise’s motivations and emotional influences. Once again, the Garbo comparisons are noted, as are Luise’s unconventionality and lack of Hollywood artificiality. There are some interesting insights into her upbringing and view of the world, with a reference to her first fiance, who was killed in a plane crash just before their planned wedding. Also of interest are the stories of Luise’s escapades in Yugoslavia and Mexico – throughout her time in Hollywood Luise became known for her flights of fancy, often disappearing or going about incognito. The contradictions of Luise’s Hollywood lifestyle are highlighted with mentions of friends (Carole Lombard, Peter Lorre et al.) alongside these solitary excursions.

Lockhart is clearly taken with her subject and is the first to note the striking difference between Anna Held and O-lan. She is also prescient in her description of Luise’s career – “it is not going to be easy to find parts for Luise Rainer, because she is versatile in a way quite unfamiliar to the screen…. Hollywood may be at a loss to cast her”.

Read the full article here, on LuiseRainer.net

Luise Rainer: recording artist?

One of the fun facts about Luise (and there are SO many), is that her first Oscar win, in 1937, was the first time any actor had won The Great Ziegfeld CDan Oscar for a musical performance. The feat still isn’t that common and the next time anyone would do so was James Cagney who won for Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1943.

Luise only made eight films for MGM in the 1930s but she managed to squeeze in quite a few genres in this short time, including two musicals: The Great Ziegfeld and The Great Waltz. In the latter picture Luise didn’t perform any musical numbers (that duty fell to her co-star Miliza Korjus, who was Oscar nominated for her role). But, in MGM’s bloated Ziegfeld bio-epic, Luise performs two numbers (plus a short burst of one in rehearsal). Alongside Luise there are performances by Budd Doyle, Dennis Morgan, Ray Bolger, Virginia Bruce and the legendary Fanny Brice (later to be immortalised on screen in another Oscar winning turn, by Barbra Streisand in 1968’s Funny Girl). These performances have been recorded for posterity and have been available over the years on various formats on The Great Ziegfeld soundtrack, from vinyl LP to CD.

 

Famous Record Series ABut Luise did have her own record out once…. in 1936 the Famous Record Company of New York released what could be considered her one and only single. As part of their ‘Five Great Stars’ series they released this one-sided 78rpm picture disc which features a melodramatic intro by radio announcer Del Sharbutt, followed, not by one of her musical numbers but by the heart-breaking telephone scene which made her name and for which many attribute her Oscar success. It’s a real novelty record, and fascinating to think that you could take this home and relive this scene over and over on your Gramophone. The scene was so famous that Luise reprised it a number of times, on the radio and also ‘in concert’ at charity events.

From a single-sided, 78 year old, 8″ cardboard disc to this: today, I discovered that Luise Rainer is now available on Spotify. It’s marvellous to consider this for a moment, that Luise singing Won’t You Come and Play With Me is now available to stream digitally, in her lifetime. The Great Ziegfeld album includes this, plus her other musical presentation, It’s Delightful To be Married (with spoken interruption from audience members as seen in the film), plus some other dialogue with Fanny Brice and William Powell. The quality is not digital, but I find that makes it all the more enchanting. The other records in the series were Franchot Tone doing the “England, My England” speech from Lives of a Bengal Lancer, John Barrymore’s rendition of Hamlet‘s “to be or not to be”, comedienne Ilka Chase and comedian Joe E. Brown.

Mickey Rooney (1920-2014)

Rooney, Garland, mayer

On Sunday 6th April it was reported that Mickey Rooney, an entertainment legend if ever there was, had died at the age of 93. In an astonishing career than spanned almost his entire life, Rooney performed in all media, starting in the family vaudeville act at 18 months old before appearing in silent films, Hollywood blockbusters, television, radio and on and on….

Before his death he was one of the last surviving silent film actors, and his career was already in full swing when he transferred his skills to talking pictures and features. By the end of the 1930s Rooney was the biggest box office draw in America and was, along with Deanna Durbin, one of the world’s highest paid stars. In 1939 (also with Durbin) he was awarded the first of his two honorary Academy Awards, “For their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement.” He was a Best Actor nominee four times between 1940 and 1980 and received his second honorary award in 1983, “In recognition of his 50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances.” His 92 year career of continuous work in showbusiness must surely be a record that will remain unbeaten.

Rooney’s career in 1930s Hollywood was the antithesis of Luise’s. His wholesome family oriented entertainment was exactly the fare that Louis B. Mayer was aiming for. While Luise struggled to convince the studio head to produce adaptations of classic and contemporary literature (The Good Earth, Out of Africa, A Doll’s House) Mayer concentrated on the money-spinners, and hit on a winning formula with Rooney as ‘Andy Hardy’ in a series of 15 films spanning almost 20 years. He proved his dramatic chops with a breakthrough role in Captains Courageous (1937) opposite Spencer Tracy (who won the Best Actor Oscar) and proved his versatility even further with a series of successful musical comedies opposite his great friend Judy Garland (picture above, with Mayer).

With the passing in the last twelve months of Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple, and now Rooney, Luise Rainer is the only Oscar recipient from the 1930s, in any category, still living.

It is inconceivable that Luise and Mickey never met during their time at MGM, however, I have not been able to find any photographs or record of this. They did, however, share the stage at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles on 23rd March 2003 when fellow nonagenarian Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland introduced ‘Oscar’s Family Album’. It was a truly historic occasion. Watch the clip below: