After her performance in Paramount’s film Hostages (1943), Luise did not return to cinema screens for another 54 years, with her scene-stealing role in The Gambler (1997). She did not retire from acting, however, and for the rest of the 1940s and throughout the 1950s she appeared in select theatre and television productions.
Her television debut came in January 1949 in an episode of the American drama series The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre. This was followed in August of that same year with the lead role in Lost Child, an episode of the New York-based television channel WPIX’s Theater Time series written by comic book and science fiction writer Alfred Bester. This thirty-minute mystery featured Luise as the mother of the titular lost child and her attempts to find him. It was directed by Carl Eastman and was broadcast live. No copies of the programme are known to survive.
Producers: Gerald Law, Chick Vincent
Director: Carl Eastman
Writer: Alfred Bester
Cast: Luise Rainer, Vinton Hayworth, Jackson Beck, Julian Noa
The following is a review of the programme by June Bundy, from The Billboard magazine (20 August 1949).
In the hands of a less capable actress than Luise Ranier [sic], WPIX’s psychological drama, Lost Child, would have been a sad affair. The scripting was rough and the pacing uneven. However, by the sheer force of her own artistry, Miss Rainer imparted a third dimensional quality to the teleplay in her stock-written role of a grief-crazed mother who imagines her dead son is still alive.
The drama, which telegraphed its “surprise” ending from the beginning, might have made an effective 10-minute monolog, but it lacked sufficient substance for a half-hour show. The sweet-faced, two-time Academy Award winner spent most of that 30 minutes on the telephone (a la her Anna Held scene in The Great Ziegfeld pic) frantically calling one store after another to locate the supposedly lost child. As a ruse, her husband finally talked her into going down to the station to meet their son and the camera panned to a close up of the the boy’s boxing shorts (imprinted with the word “Goodby”) for a schmaltzy finish.
Star Creates Suspense
Despite unimaginative dialog, the telegenic actress created and sustained a fair amount of suspense via her expressive face and subtle voice-shadings. She was supported by a competent cast. A bewildered cab driver, whose down-to-earth bluntness provided a striking contrast to Miss Rainer’s near hysteria, was particularly outstanding.
Camera work was adequate, tho there were too many views of the set, sans actors, and a belated fade-out froze the cast in awkward attitudes.
At the conclusion of each act, the announcer eagerly asked televiewers if they’d like a regular WPIX dramatic series. If Luise Rainer goes with the package, chances are the answer will be yes.