The Today Programme (2011)
On Wednesday 23rd February 2011 Luise was interviewed for the BBC’s flagship Radio 4 programme Today. The short interview, by Colin Patterson, took place at Luise’s London home and, in the week of the annual Academy Awards ceremony she talked about her own Oscars, her meetings with Brecht and Einstein, amongst others and her memories of Garbo and Hollywood of the 1930s. She also chooses her favourite current actress and praises The King’s Speech, which, as a previous Oscar winner one assumes she voted for in this year’s ballot.
This is a full transcript of the interview as broadcast:
Colin Patterson: Now, how much did you know about the Academy Awards before that year?
Luise Rainer: Nothing! I knew nothing, and it didn’t mean anything to me. One praise of Reinhardt, when I was on stage in Europe meant far more to me. I’d never heard before of this ‘Academy Award’ affair, and it wasn’t the ballyhoo that it is today,it was much, much simpler.
CP: You did go?
LR: I went, and to tell you the truth, I do not even remember the first award. I don’t remember even where exactly it was.
CP: You won again the next year for The Good Earth and you beat Greta Garbo that year.
LR: I admire Garbo, she was the most beautiful thing who I’d ever seen and I still think, of course, today, all the big blonde beautiful girls they want to look in part of it like a Garbo.
CP: Can I ask you, where do you keep your Oscars?
LR: My husband insisted on that, I never wanted to show them but now they are amongst many books in a workroom I have and there they are standing, they’re right here.
CP: I’ll have to have a look before I leave.
LR: Well, I have to see if I let you.
CP: [laughs] I believe one of them is a replacement?
LR: Ja, one of them got what I call ‘battle fatigue’. He suddenly leaned over and so I gave him away.
CP: Who to?
LR: To the man who moved my furniture from Switzerland to here, but anyway, Metro insisted I have my Academy Award and they sent me another one.
CP: So, you won these awards, you made nine films in Hollywood, and then you quit Hollywood. Why?
LR: I felt the work, the films that I was supposed to do were not worth it and I felt I didn’t become an actress to make second-class nonsense.
CP: Goodbye Hollywood!
CP: Did your Oscar wins affect the roles you were being offered?
LR: Because I got the Oscars they felt “Rainer can do anything!” and so they threw films at me that were not worth it, but there were various ones that were very good and that were light, for instance, The Great Waltz and another one called Toy Wife (Frou-Frou), those were the films I liked and then there were other films that I had to do and that I didn’t care for.
CP: Post-Hollywood you still lived an extraordinary life. The names that come up… the Spanish Civil War, you helped rescue children with Ernest Hemingway. How did that happen?
LR: Well, Hemingway came to California and I was very, very much against Franco in Spain, although I was never a politician but I was not really interested in politics except I knew good from bad and what seemed to be good.
CP: You helped Bertolt Brecht escape from Nazi Germany didn’t you?
LR: I gave him an affadavit. He wrote to me, I’d never met him, and he wrote to me for help to come to America and whatever little help I could give I gave him because I admired The Threepenny Opera and that was the most I knew of Brecht at the time but later on, of course, I saw much more and I liked his poetry but I did not admire everything. I think he made too much difference between good and bad because everything in the world is in between that.
CP: I’m fascinated to know how you met Albert Einstein. How did you come upon him?
LR: I met him… there was a physicist in Philadelphia who had become a friend and he invited both my then husband, Clifford Odets, and me on a trip, and we made this trip, went to Princeton and to Einstein and that is how I met Einstein.
CP: And he was a fan of yours wasn’t he?
LR: I don’t know if he was or not, but he was a friend. He became a friend.
CP: What a fantastic person to have met, one of the great minds of the last hundred years.
LR: I met many, many more fantastic people, like Toscanini or even Albert Schweitzer from Africa and there were many, many fascinating people that I was fortunate t meet in my life.
CP: Last year you went back to Hollywood to do a special presentation of The Good Earth. Was that fun?
LR: Yes it was fun and I had to speak to the audience for a long time and also, even here, I was on stage at the Olivier and I spoke a whole hour.
CP: Are there any actors or actresses now that you think are very good?
LR: Yes, I love, erm, Julia Roberts. I think she’s a very good actress and I love her.
CP: The Oscars are coming up. Britain has The King’s Speech.
LR: I saw that. My God it’s marvellous! It’s a wonnn-der-ful film and is a fantastic story. It’s a great, great performance.
CP: Worthy of an Oscar?
LR: I hope it gets the Oscar. Of course it will.
It is a common misconception that Luise ‘helped get Bertolt Brecht out of Nazi Germany’. She did sign an affadavit for him to come to America but he was already in exile in Finland at the time. He left Germany in 1933. He would later writeThe Caucasian Chalk Circle for Luise – click here for the full story.
Luise’s relationship with Einstein is often thought to be more than ‘just friends’. She visited him at his home on Long Island in the summer of 1937, with Clifford Odets. The rumours are that Einstein was besotted and flirted with Luise, so much so that her husband later took a photograph of them together and tore it up in a jealous rage, decapitating the great scientist in the process!
Luise’s trip to Hollywood in 2010 was to take part in the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, where she was interviewed by Robert Osborne. She also refers to the Olivier Theatre in London, where she appeared in February 2010 for an hour and a half to dicuss her life and work with Sir Christopher Frayling.