Oscar So White

When we look back through the history of the Academy Awards, 2016 will be remembered as the year of the backlash against racial inequality and stereotyping that has been growing for years, even decades. For the second year running there are no non-white actors nominated for an award in an industry where black players are omnipresent on screen but under-represented not only at awards shows but also in mainstream media coverage of the cinema. In this week’s UK Box Office chart three out of the top five films have a black leading actor – Ride Along 2, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Creed – hardly a minority.President Photos, Cheryl Boone Isaacs

The Academy President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (right), has responded to criticism by announcing an overhaul of Academy membership to better represent the diversity of the business. The Academy members are majority white males over the age of 50 and it might seem like an obvious solution to mix this up a little (or a lot). There’s certainly a need for the voters to better reflect the industry and the population as a whole, but this decision seems like a knee-jerk reaction to some high profile outrage from Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett-Smith, amongst others, and from Isaacs’ own ‘heartbreak and frustration’. The idea that ‘more black people will vote for more black people’ seems wrong-footed at best and almost racist in itself, at worst. It worries me that the Academy’s approach will lead to issues of credibility for black nominees whose nominations will be viewed by some as a result of a rule change and box-ticking.

This week the actor (and Academy member) Stephen Furst spelled out his frustration with the new rules, labelling them both sexist and ageist by suggesting that ‘old white men’ wouldn’t use their vote without prejudice. I tend to agree with him and would much rather the Academy concentrated on getting their voting members to actually watch the films – it’s widely known that many don’t view the screening DVDs which are sent to them, and in some cases they even cast votes for films or actors they haven’t watched. This would seem to me to be the crux of the problem. By all means expand and diversify the membership, but those who don’t engage with the process shouldn’t be part of it in the first place, regardless of age, gender or race. Get rid of them and then you can really make an attempt to build a membership representative of the diversity of cinema.

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I fear that the Academy has taken on an unwinnable battle, and one which is not of their making. Whilst there have been a handful of high-profile films with non-white performers this year, I don’t believe there have been sufficient to merit nominations. For me, there were only two surprise omissions: Straight Outta Compton, one of the best films of 2015, unbelievably missed out on a Best Picture nomination which probably has more to do with the age of the voters rather than the race. It also suffers from a great ensemble cast which may have split the voting for one particular actor and it is an awkward, but coincidental, shame that only the (white) writers made it to the nominations sheet. I’d also expected to see Idris Elba receive a nod for Best Actor in Beasts of No Nation, but my opinion here is only based on what I’d read – I haven’t seen the film, and I don’t think many of the voting members had either, hence no nomination. Michael B. Jordan in Creed (he was much, much better in Fruitvale Station, which on the whole is a better film and should’ve been nominated last year) didn’t do enough to convince me it was an Oscar-worthy performance (and neither did Stallone, to be honest), and Samuel L. Jackson was never going to get an Oscar nod for playing Samuel L. Jackson again, no matter how many times he says the ‘n’ word.

The real problem is the lack of diversity in the roles offered to minority actors? Not just black actors but Hispanic, Asian, hell, even Inuit actors… it’s unacceptable that the ‘everyman’ roles still go to Will Smith (and to a lesser extent these days, Denzel Washington) and that award-worthy roles for black actors still tend to be those embedded in Hollywood’s skewed version of ‘black history’ and culture. It’s surprising that more black actors haven’t been nominated given the Academy’s penchant for the oppressed, the struggle and the battle over adversity considering the pigeon-holing that goes on in casting offices.

the-good-earth-paul-muni-luise-rainer-1937It was exactly 79 years ago today that The Good Earth premiered and led to Luise Rainer’s second Oscar win for Best Actress, playing a Chinese woman in yellow face (although she did refuse most of the make-up effects and insisted on the minimum, preferring to ‘act’ – now there’s an idea!) Three years later Hattie McDaniel became the first African American Oscar winner for her role as ‘Mammy’ in Gone With The Wind (1939), sitting at a segregated table during the ceremony. Both were worthy winners but times have changed, maybe not so much as we might think: yellowface performances were still being given Oscars as recently as 1983 when Linda Hunt won for her astonishing turn as Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) and Joseph Fiennes has been cast to play Michael Jackson… although any black actor hoping for that part would have to do it in whiteface make-up anyway.

second motherFor my part I’d like to have seen some representation in this year’s awards season for Regina Casé (actor) and Anna Muylaert (director) for The Second Mother (2015), for Benicio del Toro in Sicario (2015) and DooNa Bae in A Girl at My Door (2014). But what I know, and what Oscars boycotters appear not to, is that the Oscars don’t represent world cinema, they don’t even represent American cinema, they represent Hollywood cinema. If only they weren’t so damn influential we could just let them get on with it.

One day I genuinely hope that there’ll be a bunch of great actors and actresses in the Lead and Supporting categories that aren’t all the same colour, maybe they don’t even all speak the same language, but they all gave great, award-worthy performances. That’s why they will be there, not because their friends stuck a vote in for them, or they’re filling a quota but because they deserve to be.

The property of a lady

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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…..

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.

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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?

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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)

Ford Times, 1946

Magazine Ford Times Feb 1946I’ve been a little quiet with updates since the trip to New York in November, but in the meantime I have been making some cosmetic changes to the site and updating the galleries with a host of new material that has never been published online before. I’ll be publishing most of this in the next few weeks in time for Luise’s 105th birthday on 12th January.

One of the great things about putting together an archive of Luise’s life and work is that, although she left MGM in 1939 she didn’t stop working. There’s a wealth of information and material out there relating to her post-MGM years, much of which is unknown and I’m slowly piecing together these ‘missing years’. Even after collecting and researching for over 15 years I am still discovering new material, fascinating side-stories and associations.

A recent find was this 1946 issue of Ford Times magazine, a copy of which was sentscan0008 to all employees of the Ford Motor Company. This edition belonged to Mr. S. E. Schaeffler of Toppenish, WA and bears the original handwritten address and postage stamp. Luise graces the front cover and although there is no accompanying article inside, this is an image I have not seen previously; the photo credit, which could be insignificant, also tantalises with a mention of a Detroit theatre engagement – currently I know of only one such appearance in Luise’s career, for a tour performance of Maxwell Anderson’s Joan of Lorraine, however I have that dated to 1947, so some more investigation is required to clarify what production and where Luise was appearing at this time. It’s also interesting to note that, for the first time in my research, Luise is named as ‘Mrs. Robert Knittel’ an indication of her husband’s own status (and a nod to the male readership of this particular magazine, no doubt).

scan0005Luise isn’t the only Oscar winner to appear in this issue. There’s a cute pictorial section featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen fooling around in a Ford with his ‘partner’ Charlie McCarthy (left). In 1938 Bergen received a special Oscar at the same ceremony, in the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel, that Luise received her second. His, uniquely, was made out of wood to celebrate “his outstanding comedy creation, Charlie McCarthy”. Also of interest to cinephiles is a section on set with the sound men of Disney studios (below), featuring some great backstage photos of the guys at work creating otherworldly sounds to accompany Disney’s on screen characters. None of the technicians are named but these are some fantastic rare images of them at work.

One of the joys of researching and collecting pieces like this is that you uncover some real gems in the most unlikely places. Whilst film magazines or newspapers are an obvious and unbeatable source of information and interest, Luise turns up in the most unexpected places too…. the cover of a car manufacturer’s in-house magazine is a perfect example.

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Out From My Mother’s Shadow: interview with Francesca Bowyer

FrancescaLast year Luise’s daughter, Francesca, announced that she had written an autobiography, Out From My Mother’s Shadow, about her life with famous parents and the effect this has had on both her and her family.The book hasn’t yet seen the light of day but I am hopeful that we will get to hear Francesca’s fascinating account of her relationship with Luise very soon.

Francesca is an occasional Tweeter (you can follow her @bowyerfrancesca) where she has been very generous in sharing personal photos with her followers. She also has her own website which includes some rare personal family photos and excerpts from an interview she gave for TCM earlier this year. In it she talks briefly about her childhood, her parents and her relationships and she tells the wonderful story of Luise’s third Oscar. It’s well worth a visit: http://www.francescaknittelbowyer.com/

Francesca is a convivial, generous interviewee; her background in journalism bodes well for a book that, as she says, is not another Mommie Dearest, more a tribute to her mother, who did the best she could with what she thought was best. Let’s hope Out From My Mother’s Shadow finds a publisher soon.

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)

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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:

 

Oscar night 1938, an historic win (and loss)…

ImageToday is March 10th and it was exactly 76 years ago on this day that Academy Awards history was made when Luise Rainer picked up her second Oscar as Best Actress. She became the first performer to win two Oscars in consecutive years and beat her recent co-star Spencer Tracy to the accolade by one year (he won in 1938 for Captain’s Courageous and repeated the trick in 1939 for Boys Town).

I’ve written (in this post) about Luise’s eventful evening before arriving at the Biltmore Hotel for the ceremony, where she made her historic double triumph. The award this year was for her role as O-Lan in The Good Earth, and when seen alongside her previous award-winning role as Anna Held in The Great Ziegfeld one can’t help marvel at the transformation. The two could not be further apart, both in character and in style. Much has been written about whether Luise was deserving of either of her awards, but in just those two parts she shows a range that many actresses spend a whole career striving for. Although her first Oscar has been attributed to the melodramatic ‘telephone scene’ in The Great Ziegfeld, the part is so much more playful than this, with two musical numbers performed by Luise and some wonderful charming and comedic moments. O-Lan, on the other hand, is a consistently dramatic part, almost silent throughout, played with real intensity and nobility.

Luise’s fellow nominees in the category that year were Irene Dunne (for The Awful Truth), Janet Gaynor (A Star Is Born), Greta Garbo (Camille) and Barbara Stanwyck (Stella Dallas). This is a stellar line-up of talent and Luise’s achievement has been somewhat overshadowed by those who didn’t win. Both Stanwyck and Garbo never won an Oscar (they were both nominated multiple times and were both given honorary awards later) and this, as well as Luise’s short-lived career, has led some commentators to suggest the Academy chose poorly. But the awards should be seen in context and without hindsight; Luise had already been awarded the Best Actress trophy by the New York Film Critics Circle two months earlier and all contemporary reviews for the film, and particularly her performance, were raves. Even now, when yellowface is almost a thing entirely alien to cinemagoers, I think her performance still stands up, certainly when compared to some of her fellow Caucasian cast members.

So it was then that this 28 year old German actress, in only her third English-language film, playing a Chinese farmer, made film history. It is the part that best represents Luise’s own aesthetic and artistic drive, and the film that stands out as the defining moment in a fleeting and unfulfilled career in film.

 

It occurred to me, while writing this post, that Luise Rainer may be the only surviving witness to one of the most curious and baffling mysteries in Academy Awards history…

It was also on this day, at the same Oscars ceremony that another piece of Academy Awards history was made… the only theft of an Oscar during the show.

This was the 10th Oscars event and was staged in the Biltmore Bowl at the Biltmore Hotel. The setting was more akin to a banquet than the extravagant show that’s laid on today. In the running for Best Supporting Actress this year were Alice Brady, Andrea Leeds, Anne Shirley, Claire Trevor and Dame May Whitty. Brady, who had been huge star in silent films and on the stage had made the successful transition to the talkies in 1933 when she made her film comeback in MGM’s When Ladies Meet. For the next few years she appeared in 15 more films at various studios. It was for her role as the matriarch of the O’Leary family in In Old Chicago that she received her second Oscar nomination (she’d been nominated the year before for My Man Godfrey) and her first and only win.

What happened next no-one really knows: Brady was not in attendance at the banquet (due to a broken ankle) but a gentleman got up to accept the award on her behalf. Who the chap was, no-one knows… but he claimed the prize and went on his way. His identity and the whereabouts of Brady’s Academy Award has remained a mystery ever since. The Academy did replace it with a second version which was presented to Brady later, but she had little time to enjoy it. She died just over a year later, of cancer, shortly before her 47th birthday.

Alice Brady accepts her Academy Award (version 2!) shortly before her untimely death.

Luise Rainer’s unknown Oscar dresses…

ImageDoing the rounds now for a week or so, this fantastic infographic shows the dresses worn by all the winners of the Best Actress Oscar since Janet Gaynor in 1929 (except those who didn’t attend the awards ceremony). Produced by Mediarun Digital, it has now been updated with the Armani Privé worn by Cate Blanchett on Sunday night. Many of the designers of the earlier dresses remain unknown, however, Shrimpton Couture have improved on the original with a fantastic run-down of the dresses, accompanied by photos of the actresses at the Oscars, filling in a few of those ‘unknown’ blanks too.

Luise is included twice, of course, and since the artwork appeared I’ve been asked several times if I know who the designers of Luise’s dresses were. unfortunately I don’t, but I do a little background to both outfits.

ImageLuise won her first Oscar on 4th March 1937 (it’s the 77th anniversary as I write this post). Only two months before, she had married the playwright Clifford Odets at her home on Cliffwood Avenue in Los Angeles. His wedding gift to his new wife was a floor length white ermine coat, and it is this, I believe, that Luise was wearing when she collected her first Academy Award.

ImageThe following year was a little more unconventional. Luise and Clifford had been apart for some time, he working in New York while she was filming The Toy Wife in California. On the day of the Oscar ceremony (10th March 1938) Luise drove Clifford to San Francisco for a day of sight-seeing and to spend time together away from both their work. Although Luise was nominated for her part in The Good Earth she didn’t intend to attend the Academy Awards and she didn’t expect to win. On their way back to Los Angeles they stopped in Santa Barbara from where Luise made a call home; she was astonished to find that the press had been calling all afternoon and not only was she favourite to take home her second Oscar, she was also expected to be there to do so. Odets, who always considered the giving of awards a vulgar affair (and was especially jealous if Luise received high praise), suggested they skip the whole thing, but Luise knew she could not. They raced back to what Luise has since described as a “weird nightmare of an evening”. She was upset and miserable and didn’t want Clifford to accompany her. “Why, if he thought it was so ‘nothing’, should he share this triumph with me!” But he insisted and so, wearing her jeans and sneakers, she quickly chose the nicest (and most convenient) dress in her wardrobe – it was in fact a nightgown.

Luise did attend, after a blazing row and the need to walk around the Biltmore Hotel several times in the rain as she was in tears. She made history and, in her nightgown, she looked stunning. But she recalled, “I made my thank-you speech. I smiled for the countless cameras and reporters. Here I was at dizzying heights, admired and envied: I was as low as I had ever been in my life. I did what I had to do mechanically, I hardly realised I had got the award.”

Lupita Nyong’o beats out Jennifer Lawrence for the Best Supporting Actress…

ImageSo, as we’re all aware by now, Jennifer Lawrence didn’t collect her second Oscar in a row on Sunday night with the Best Actress in a Supporting Role going to Lupita Nyong’o. It’s certainly a well-deserved award and went to the right person, in my opinion. Lawrence can console herself with achieving the incredible feat of three nominations at age 23.

So, as per the previous post, Luise’s record as the youngest two-time winner still stands and we’ll have to wait until next year to see if she can hold onto it – Jennifer still has a few years to nab it!