• Germany's news in English
 
jobs_header_v3

Forgotten German film diva Luise Rainer turns 100

DPA/The Local · 12 Jan 2010, 18:41

Published: 12 Jan 2010 18:41 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

She astonished Albert Einstein, aided Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, and helped Berthold Brecht escape from Nazi Germany to America. Federico Fellini begged her on his knees to come back to the set of “La Dolce Vita,” and she was the first actress to win two consecutive Oscars.

But even so, the now largely unknown star says modestly: “I haven't accomplished anything in life.”

Born in Düsseldorf on January 12, 1910 to a wealthy businessman father and a mother of Jewish heritage, Germany's forgotten film diva would have had a very different life had she listened to her parents. At 16, her father forbid her from becoming an actress. But pretending to visit an aunt, she travelled to Berlin, where she auditioned for Max Reinhardt at Deutsches Theater. However, she became nervous and forgot her lines. He sent her home.

Rainer finally got her first role at the Düsseldorf's Schauspielhaus and eventually she came to work for Max Reinhardt at the Wiener Theater. An American film agent discovered her onstage there and got her to sign with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The Viennese Teardrop

In Hollywood, Luise Rainer shared a house with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer. Her big break came in 1936 with her role in the hit musical “The Great Ziegfeld.” She won an Oscar for her role as Anna Held, the divorced wife of a Broadway producer, making her the first and only German actress to gain this distinction. But the studio covered up her heritage during the Nazi era and marketed her as an Austrian. For her highly emotional film performances, the press nicknamed her “The Viennese Teardrop.”

One year later she won the Oscar again for her role as a Chinese peasant in the film adaptation of Pearl Buck's novel, “The Good Earth” making her the first person to win back-to-back Academy Awards for best acting.

But Rainer's stardom began to fade soon after. She wore trousers in public and went without makeup. Her open defiance of the rules of conduct for stars soon made her unpopular with studio executives. Because her first husband, scriptwriter Clifford Odets, was a known communist, she was believed to be too political as well. She also complained the roles that she was offered weren't challenging enough.

Rainer wasn't even thirty by the time she had turned her back on Hollywood.

“It was always only about money, money, money,” she said. "But I wanted to play good roles. I always wanted to improve, always learn."

After several Jewish relatives from her mother's side of the family were sent to die in concentration camps, Rainer became involved in the fight against Hitler. According to public broadcaster ARD, she helped Albert Einstein bring Jewish refuges to the United States. She also visited Allied troops in Africa. After the war's end, she returned to Europe with her second husband, the English publisher Robert Knittel and their child. She then split her time living in London and Switzerland.

Begged by Fellini

From a career perspective the post-war era was a time of missed opportunity for Rainer. She refused a role in Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie,” which went on to be a huge success on Broadway. In 1959, Federico Fellini wanted her for his film "La Dolce Vita.” But when she found out that she was expected to share a bedroom scene with Marcello Mastroianni, she walked off the set. Fellini followed her to her taxi and begged her to come back.

"Just as my husband and I were about to get in the taxi on our way to the airport, Fellini appeared wearing a gigantic hat, went down on his knees and said, ‘Luisa, Luisa, you're not allowed to leave me.' We went back to England anyway,” Rainer told ARD.

After that, with the exception of a few small television appearances, Luise Rainer all but disappeared from the screen. She devoted herself to her family, travelled extensively, and tried her hand at painting. Only after the death of her second husband in 1989 did she appear before cameras again.

A role in a film adaptation of Dostoevsky's novel, “The Gambler” marked her film comeback at the age of 86. In 2003 she was an honoured guest at the Oscar Awards in Los Angeles. She now lives quietly out of the public eye in London.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit


Your comments about this article

08:54 January 13, 2010 by wood artist
She was indeed great. I find it ironic that Hollywood "cleaned up" her background, making her seem more acceptable by saying she was "Austrian" given Hitler's background. Ah, the ignorance of the American public.

We are left to wonder what else she could have done had things been different.

wa
01:19 January 14, 2010 by Rosenu
Thanks to Turner Classic Movies in U.S. for enabling us to see once again and thoroughly enjoy films with this wondrous star! The pathos, truth, beauty that shines through her acting will always be with us. I just wish she had made more films. Thanks, dear Lady, for your heartfelt gifts to all mankind. May you always be blessed with fine health, joy and love!
17:53 January 14, 2010 by lordwilliams629
Wood artist your comment is very condradictory, see I'm not saying it was right or wrong for hollywood to change her background, at the time when many people hated germans because of the war, I would only have to guess that it was more of a marketing move, right or wrong.

But when you talk about the ignorance of americans i'm taken back, when you consider the pure ignorance of the german people at that time. Was it not germans that out of ignorance took 6 million inocent men, women and children and then murderd them. And if i'm not mistaken many germans claimed they new nothing about it, I call that pure ignorance. And then you have the nerve to wonder what else she could have done had things been differnt. I can answer part of that, she could have done alot had she not to deal with a bunch of ignorant germans who condemed her jewish background. So why don't you take a break and put your ignorance in a jar, or are you just to arrogant.
19:59 August 29, 2011 by Jack Kerouac
haha! are you going to answer that clever rebuttal, wood artist? I think he's bested you in intelligent commentary! ;) wow, talk about grapsing at straws...get over your negativity, lordwilliams.
Today's headlines
VW bosses forced to pay back private jet costs

Bosses at troubled German auto giant Volkswagen have been forced to pay the company back millions of euros for flights on its private jets, the Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported Sunday.

Germany arrests Marxist militant 'leader'
Photo: Julian Stratenschulte / DPA / AFP file picture

A radical Marxist suspected of belonging to a left-wing extremist group accused of terrorism by Turkey has been arrested in Germany, judicial sources said on Saturday.

Afghan teen arrested over German murder-rape
Photo: Hendrik Schmidt / DPA / AFP file picture

A teenage Afghan asylum seeker has been arrested on suspicion of the rape and murder of a 19-year-old female student in Germany, police and prosecutors said Saturday.

Nazi POW leaves estate to 'kind' Scottish village
The former German soldier stayed on to work in the Perthshire village for a time after the war. Photo: Andy Buchanan / AFP file picture

A former Nazi prisoner of war has left his entire estate in his will to a small village in Scotland to show his appreciation for the kindness he received there during his captivity.

US tries to block Chinese purchase of Aixtron
Photo: Oliver Berg / DPA / AFP

US President Barack Obama on Friday moved to block a Chinese company's purchase of German semiconductor equipment maker Aixtron by rejecting the inclusion of Aixtron's US business in the deal.

Merkel to chart 2017 election battle at party congress
Photo: Tobias Schwarz / AFP

After Donald Trump's shock victory, Francois Hollande's decision not to seek re-election and populism on the rise, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is next up on the campaign podium to set out her strategy for winning in 2017 polls.

Berlin vs Munich: whose newborn polar bear is cuter?
Berlin's (left) and Munich's (right) newborn bears. Photos: Tierpark Berlin / DPA

Both city zoos welcomed baby polar bears into the world in November, with Berlin zoo its releasing first photos on Friday. But which one is more adorable?

Learn how to speak German like a silver screen icon
Dirty Harry. Photo: DPA

We all agree that there is no other option than to learn irregular German verbs by rote. But when you want a bit of downtime, why not learn from your big screen heroes?

Stolen Dachau 'Work will set you free' gate found: police
The entrance to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Photo: DPA

An iron gate from the former Nazi concentration camp in Germany's Dachau with the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work will set you free") has been found two years after it was stolen, police said Friday.

Mystery flight path artist draws new message in sky
Photo: DPA

A pilot who likes to draw patterns in the sky using his flight path has returned with his greatest artwork yet.

Lifestyle
10 German Christmas cookies you have to bake this winter
Sponsored Article
The key to launching your international career
Lifestyle
Our 10-step guide for doing Christmas just like a German
National
Here's why so many Germans vote for the far-right AfD
National
7 events in Germany that'll make December unforgettable
Lifestyle
7 frosty German sayings to make you a winter wordsmith
National
This is how unequal German society has become
National
Six things you should know about the Lufthansa strike
National
9 ways living in Germany will make you a better person
National
These 10 German Christmas markets cannot be missed
Features
8 German words that unlock amazing secrets in English
Culture
10 German words with simply hilarious literal translations
Lifestyle
7 things Germans do that make foreigners feel awkward
International
Why Donald Trump's grandad was booted out of Germany
National
This is what is really inside your Döner kebab
National
Rejoice! Christmas markets start opening across Germany
Education
These German universities are best at landing you a job
Travel
Why Heidelberg is Germany's most inspiring city
Lifestyle
This soppy German Christmas ad will bring you to tears
National
Here's where Germans speak the best (and worst) English
Culture
10 German books you have to read before you die
Culture
U-Bahn train found filled with autumn foliage in Berlin
Features
Seven German words that unlock amazing secrets about English
Travel
Germany's ten most beautiful towns you've never visited
6,572
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd