Luise Rainer has died at the grand age of 104. She was the first actor ever to win two Oscars back to back, and will forever be remembered for her talents. Her family reported that she died in her London home on Tuesday after suffering from pneumonia.
Rainer won Oscars for her roles in The Great Zeigfeld and The Good Earth. They were back to back and she became the first ever actor to accomplish this. Since then, a small number of celebrities have walked away with consecutive Academy Awards; Katherine Hepburn, Tom Hanks, Spencer Tracy and Jason Robards. She often said that winning the two Oscars back to back was the worst thing to happen to her.
The German actress was born in 1910, but it was during the mid-1930s that MGM finally spotted her. They had seen her in Austrian and German films, and offered her a role in Escapade in 1935 opposite William Powell. She continued her working relationship with Powell the next year when she appeared in The Great Ziegfeld. Another important note about this role that won her a Best Actress Oscar was that it was a relatively small role, compared to the types of roles that win actresses Oscars now. The scene that helped was where she congratulates her ex-husband for his new marriage, and she earned the nickname The Viennese Teardrop.
MGM continued to use Rainer in their films during the 1930s, but after The Great Waltz in 1938 she broke her contract. She moved from Los Angeles to New York and went to live with her husband at the time, Clifford Odets. The two divorced in 1940, and she went on to marry again.
Her only daughter confirmed that Rainer had died at the age of 104. This daughter was from her second marriage to Robert Knittel, a wealthy publisher, in 1945. Their marriage ended with his death in 1989, and she never married again.
Rainer had given up on Hollywood completely during the 1940s after Hostages, a drama based on the Second World War. However, she found herself coaxed out of early retirement in 1965 for Combat!: Finest Hour.
During her break from the film, she decided to take to the stage. A Kiss for Cinderella was her debut on Broadway in 1942, but closed after just 48 performances. As this was during the Second World War, she did spend time working for the home war effort and appeared at a number of war bond rallies. She even managed to travel with the Army Special Service to Italy and North Africa, helping to build the morale of soldiers and offering books. This socializing experience helped her to build new confidence and allowed her to experience things that others could only dream about experiencing. She realized that acting had been unfulfilling for her.
While she did small television roles before Combat!: Finest Hour, she lived in England and Switzerland with her family. She then made a small comeback in The Gambler in 1997, which was based on the story of Fyodor Dostoevsky, for which she played the matriarch of a Russian aristocratic family.
Her daughter said in a statement that her mother was “bigger than life” and was excellent at charming people. It is with sorrow that she has had to report that Rainer died at the age of 104 from pneumonia.
By Alexandria Ingham
Photo by Thomas Schmidt