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.

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.

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.

Rainer – the Rebel

This article, by Ida Zeitlin, first appeared in the July 1937 issue of Modern Screen magazine. Only two years into her MGM contract at the time, Luise already expresses her disillusionment with her career in Hollywood and the emptiness of the life as an MGM ‘starlet’. At this point she had already won her first Academy Award (for The Great Ziegfeld) and she had finished filming on The Good Earth (for which she would win her second). She talks, somewhat disingenuously, of politics, or rather her apolitical stance, although her marriage to Clifford Odets, her appearances at events protesting against the Sino-Japanese war, and her later work with Ernest Hemingway, Eleanor Roosevelt and the ‘war effort’ suggest that the onset of the Second World War, especially the incarceration of her father in a Czech prison camp, altered her view of a woman’s role in politics. It’s a fascinating article, not least due to Luise’s candid assessment of her life as a movie star, published in a popular screen magazine. One can readily see just what the bosses at MGM must’ve thought of their wayward star.

I SAT waiting in a publicity office something less than two years ago when a small dynamo in slacks and short-sleeved blouse blew in, dropped into a chair and began talking. I had never seen her before. I didn’t know whether she was an actress, visitor or scribbler. I did know – anyone would know the moment she entered a room – that here was an arresting personality.

   The dynamic effect was produced not by sound and fury, but a quicksilver vitality. Expression played over her vivid face like light and shadow over a stream – as changefully, as unconsciously, as agreeable to watch. Dark eyes under the windblown bob flashed and softened by turns. Her warmly tinted skin had a translucent quality. And though she was obviously a foreigner, her speech flowed vigorous and free. Never waiting to fumble for language that was always graphic, if not always grammatical. Through sheer color and glow she took and held your attention.
   “That’s Luise Rainer, a European actress,” I was told when she left.
   “What? No mystery? No glamor? No airs and graces?”
   “She’s different.”
   I’d heard that often enough to be skeptical. Yet I’d seen for myself that her appearance and manner were different. You couldn’t type her. You wouldn’t classify her. You couldn’t say she was a second this-one or that-one or any other Hollywood star. She was like no one you’d ever seen but herself. And for any self-consciousness or effort, however subtle, to make an impression, she might have been merely the stenographer next door.
   As the piquant little companion of “Escapade,” I saw her capture the public’s imagination as she had captured mine. For her tender, tempestuous portrayal of Anna Held, she won the Academy Award. Who would have played O-Lan if Rainer hadn’t appeared on the scene I have no notion. It was Mr. Thalberg who chose her. Had he lived to see the finished performance, to see the child of “Escapade” submerge her youth and charm to become the stolid, deep-souled Chinese woman, he would have been content with his choice.
   As she moved from triumph to triumph, Hollywood talked about her as Hollywood does. She didn’t like interviews; therefore she was doing a Garbo. She preferred long walks with her dog to lunching at the Vendrome; therefore she must be a poseur. Soon after she married Clifford Odets, the playwright, she went alone to New York.LR CLIFFORD ODETS 1
   “Why?” she was asked.
   “Because every time I am free, I make a trip. Mr. Odets is not free. So I go alone.” But the truth was too simple; therefore, “Ha-ha! Rainer’s marriage is on the rocks.”
   After you’ve lived in Hollywood for a while, you don’t believe all the tales you hear. They may or may not be true. Anything for a headline. Suppose you have to retract your statement tomorrow. So much the better. Today’s headline will sell, nd so will tomorrow’s retraction. I couldn’t associate what I’d heard with that unknown girl in the publicity office whose every word and gesture had been spontaneous. Yet Hollywood has been known to crush spontaneity.
   So, although I went to see Miss Rainer with an open mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if Hollywood really had changed her!
   “Please, you must first have your lunch,” she said when I came to her dressing room. “If you try to make an interview at the same time, you will not enjoy your eating. Then I will give you what time you want.” She went to the phone to order food. “Here is Luise Ryner – Ry-ner -” she repeated, and shot me a rueful glance. “I always mispronounce my name. They all say Ray-ner. So when I say Ry-ner, nobody knows who is there. But so long it has been Ryner, it is hard to change.”
   Over coffee and cigarettes – my coffee and cigarettes, since she took neither – and with Johnny, her beloved Scottie, sleeping at her feet, we “made the interview.” She sat in the corner of a couch, laughing, wistful, excited by turns. Not only her lips but her hands and body spoke, and above all, her velvet-soft eyes that changed with every changing shade of feeling. And, though her English was vastly improved, she showed that same fine disregard of dictionary speech I had noted earlier, for the sake of vigorous, unimpaired expression.
   “My rebel-ation,” she said, “was from the beginning to the end that I am what I am. But I cannot think of myself as a rebel because I do not fight to make others do what I wish but only stay myself. And this is not to say I think I am God’s wonder – please understand me well – but only that I cannot do what is for me not right and natural to do. It is far-est from my mind to hurt somebody else. It never came to my head till I heard someone say, ‘This girl is a Frankenstein. She will spoil everything.'”
   Her hands flew to her face, her eyes widened, recalling the shock of that moment. “I thought ‘Am I crazy? Are they crazy? What can I spoil if I am true to myself? This I must be. Sometimes I may be convinced for a moment against myself. but before I know it, my own color comes through. Not that I will not do what for me is wrong. I cannot do it. Every person has inside of himself a judge,” she tapped her forehead, “and for him this inside judge is the best.
   “I will tell you something. What is the most important thing for a child? To have rest and quietness, isn’t it so? I had not this. I had deep difficulties. I had shocks like war and shooting and revolution and inflation, things which every child is afraid of. For days our only safe place from airplane shooting was the cellar. I didn’t dare to go from one room to the other because I was afraid to go alone over the floor. You know, this kind of thing can make you sick for your whole life long or it can make you strong, and this fight made me think and this fight brought me to the bad or good which is in me.
 
   SO I am sixteen and I start out and I am full of ideals. Well, I tell you my life hasn’t changed for a dime. In me the same thoughts and ideals live which then lived, and which I have have built up in myself as long as I can think. I had to compromise, yes, and every compromise made me unhappy. But I have not compromised with myself. Only with the outside. The day I compromise with myself – ” she leaned from her corner and a small fist struck her palm – “I guess I have to commit suicide. And this means never. Because,” she said, with a kind of amused grimness, “I do not dream to commit suicide.
   “Maybe,” she continued more quietly, “this sounds high-hatted to say I am strong. I am not high-hatted. How is it possible that your hat grows high if you have your eyes open? Because there is always another thing to reach to and another thing, and when you have reached that, and when you have reached the highest height of an actress, there is always far, far above you an Einstein or a Toscanini. Why I am strong is very simple to explain. Because I know so strong what I want. And what is that? To make out of yourself the best what can be made of yourself in everything, in life as in work. And nobody else can tell you how to do that, isn’t it so?”
   Suddenly she laughed. “It is funny. On the one side, I say I am strong. On the other side I must admit, if you ask me, that it hurts me if people think bad about me. Isn’t it id-yotic? Because everybody cannot think good. I know it. Yet everybody matters to me. Everybody in the whole world can hurt me. It is so easy for me to have an inferiority complex. If I have nine hundred and ninety-nine good notices and one bad one, you can be sure I have the bad one in my pocketbook. The good ones I overfly. (Ed. note:- skim through.) Mr. Odets always laughs about that. ‘Why do you laugh?’ I tell him. ‘You love me. That is why you think everything is good I am doing. This man does not love me. So it must be something bad I am doing.”
   Then her face cleared. “The only thing I don’t read, and what doesn’t bother me is the gossip column. They can write about me what they want to. It doesn’t matter. Once, yes, I did read. One day I saw my test.  Somebody asked me, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘All right.’ Because that person on the screen is to me not me but an actress. Shall I say always she is bad because her name is Luise Rainer? Somebody heard it and wrote, ‘Luise Rainer thinks she is kolossal.’ I laugh because I know I do not think it. They say, ‘She must be thirty.’ I am not hurt, because to be thirty is first not a crime in America, and anyway, this is something I know. I know I am not thirty. But I do not know, am I a good actress.
   “Still, if something hurts me, I can bear it. Even if they would say, well, she’s a rotten actress and if they would throw me out of the whole America, all right, they can do it, and surely I will not like it, but I will still go on being what I am. This is the real something, what is deep within me and what nobody can touch. I mustn’t be an actress. Of course I love to act, but if they don’t let me there million things in life you can do and do good.
   “This, that I am an actress, is something secondary to me. I was never longing for that which they call glamor. For glamor I don’t give a dime. To be a human is so much more important. And that will come through if I make stitches in a cushion;” she seized one and thumped it, “or what my hands find to do,” she cried, flinging it down again.
   You couldn’t have listened and remained unconvinced. These were no airy theories, whisked out at a moment’s notice as a sop to publicity, but a philosophy painfully arrived at, intensely felt, solidly rooted. Nor was her object to convince me . What I believed was up to me. But “whatever you do, you must do it good,” she had cried. So she was “doing good” the job she had undertaken of explaining herself. In fact, she was doing so nobly from my point of view that I couldn’t help wondering about her rumored reluctance to grant interviews. GE Poster 1
   SHE answered that with the same willingness and clarity and candor she had shown throughout. “In my country,” she said, “You work very hard and you don’t get so many rewards. People are now bowling – how do you say? – bowing? I thought always bow-ling! People are not bowing to you all the time. When I came here I was surprised. I didn’t understand what are these interviews.  For publicity, they told me, for advertising. So people will know you. But they will know me through my work, if they like it. I don’t want to make my way through that. I don’t want a success that goes – swish! – up and then down. I want to find for myself what I am in this country, without publicity.
   “That is why, in the beginning, when I was nobody in America, I did not give interviews. Today I allow myself to give a few. Because people have been so kind to like my work. I stand now on my feet her as an actress, and the rest is no more so important. Does it sound proud? It is then only the proudness of an honest shoeman in his shoes.
   “And still I think, if you do the best work you can and spend the other life you have left in not thinking about yourself, but taking new things into yourself, it is more important than any interview. My acting I give to who wants it. The rest I would give to my husband and those few who love me. This is three-quarters of myself, what I give to the fans. They should please leave me the last quarter.” Her voice had turned almost pleading, her face very sweet and serious. Then a little coaxing smile flickered ’round her lips. “And they should please not be angry with me.”
   I asked what the Academy Award had meant to her. She raised her lashes and I caught a hint of mischief in her eyes. “I am very thankful,” she said. “For a couple of weeks I have no more my inferiority complex.”
   “You see,” she said, “the last thing I did was this ugly little woman, O-Lan. Beautiful inside, but ugly outside. Each time I look at myself I think, ‘No man in the world could like you again.’ So the complex becomes always more inferior. Then I was supposed to do this – ‘The Emperor’s Candlesticks,’ my next picture. William Powell got lost in the woods, nobody could find him, so I said, well, if he gets lost in the woods, I make a trip in my car.” Gone was the serious mood of a moment ago. Now she was having fun.
   “So I took my husband and we both went to see a piece of the country and we were very happy, and we saw the redwoods and Carmel and a piece of San Francisco, and we were lying in Santa Barbara on the beach – see, I am all sunburned. Then we came back late in the evening and my maid grabbed me. ‘Miss Rainer, Miss Rainer, you are back. Mr. Mannix called, Mr. Mayer called, Mr. Capra called. They send the police behind you.’ ‘What’s the matter?’ I said. ‘What can happen? They didn’t start the picture yet.’ ‘I don’t know what’s the matter,’ she told me,’but the telephone doesn’t stop.’
   “Then again it rings and a friend of us tells to Mr. Odets, ‘Well, you better look out. The grapevine -‘ is there such a grapevine? – ‘the grapevine says Luise probably gets the Award.’ I say, ‘It’s nonsense.’ Mr. Odets says, ‘Well, darling, what do you want? Do you want to go to this banquette?’ ‘But I cannot go like that. I am burned with the sun. Look, I have a head like a balloon.’
   ” ‘You are beautiful,’ he said. He is my husband, you must excuse him. ‘You look so healthy,’ he said. ‘But I am afraid, I am embarrassed.’ ‘They will think you are high-hatted.’ So we chase down in a taxi. And I was afraid, and I was embarrassed, but deeply thankful, too, so I don’t know how to look. But now when I see my little statue I say, ‘Go away, complex. I don’t give a dime for you.’ Sometimes he goes, sometimes he stays,” she shrugged.
 
   I CLOSED my book. “You are finished? Then I must tell you one thing, and I want you to print it, because I come in many funny situations, especially lately, through certain circumstances. It is about politic.” I pricked up my ears, beginning to realize that the “certain circumstances” had to do with her marriage. Because Odets’ plays reveal him as an enlightened and compassionate thinker, in tune with his times, the undiscerning have tagged him radical.
   “I never had anything to do with politic,” said his wife, “and I don’t dare to give any remark on politic because it would be id-y-otic everything I say. But I do not believe in women having to do with politic. This I leave to my husband. I deeply believe that women should shut up in politic and better be womanly. I know that I make with this remark new enemies but I cannot help it.  Maybe I am a rebel in this, too,” she smiled, “that my husband’s happiness means more to me than success. I am only happy if he is happy, and happiness and success – ” her eyes looked off into space – “they haven’t much to do with each other,” she concluded gently.
   My first impression of her innate simplicity, I knew now, was the true one, and her leap to the pinnacle of movie fame has changed her only in this – to intensify her appreciation of the genuine, her hatred of sham.
   I had always thought of her as a gay and charming child, despite her perfect identification with the woman O-lan. Now I began to understand how she had been able to sink herself so completely in the role. I think it was because she understood O-lan with her heart because she shares with her O-lan’s essential grace. “To be human is so much more important,” she had cried. Like O-lan, I think she knows how to be human and to be it “good.”
For more original magazine articles and interviews with Luise Rainer click here.