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Local reader helps film legend Luise Rainer get spot on 'Boulevard of Stars'

Published: 26 Aug 2011 07:20 GMT+02:00

Last September, Paul DH Baylay was walking along Berlin’s version of Hollywood's "Walk of fame" when he thought of a story he had read in The Local a few months earlier.

It had been about Luise Rainer, a now 101-year-old who is the only German actress to ever win an Academy Award.

Much to his surprise, Baylay discovered she didn’t have a spot on the "Boulevard of Stars."

The New Zealand music executive quickly became dismayed.

“I was shocked that someone of that stature wouldn’t be honoured here, and in her own country too,” he told The Local recently. “I knew I had to do something.”

And he did just that. In the following months, Baylay’s almost single-handedly organized a campaign that forced the "Boulevard der Stars" organization to acknowledge it had made an oversight. It is set to award Rainer a star at a special ceremony next month.

After often feeling his quest was going nowhere, the announcement made Baylay feel vindicated.

“It’s something she really deserves,” Baylay said. “I’m really proud I played a part in this.”

A legend of the silver screen

Today Rainer lives by herself in a London apartment. She’s tough and spry, said her daughter Francesca Bowyer.

Because she responds only to letters, The Local couldn’t immediately reach her for comment. And it seems unlikely that she’ll make it to Berlin to see the unveiling of her star in September because of her advanced age.

But Bowyer said she knows her mother is happy about the honour.

“She’s a legend. I wish more people knew about her,” Bowyer told The Local.

Born in Düsseldorf in 1910, she trained with legendary Berlin stage actors before getting her big break in the mid-1930s, when she was signed to a Hollywood film contract.

Her 1936 role in the musical “The Great Ziegfeld” earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. The next year, she won another Oscar for her performance in “The Good Earth.”

But there wasn’t much more film success in store for Rainer. Hollywood bosses refused to give her the serious roles she wanted and instead cast her in films that were soon forgotten.

“It was always only about money, money, money,” she would later tell reporters.

"But I wanted to play good roles. I always wanted to improve, always learn."

After World War II, Rainer returned to Europe where she was largely forgotten by the public and the mainstream press, despite occasional television and film appearances.

When she turned 100, Rainer acknowledged that despite her remarkable accomplishments, she felt her life had been one of missed opportunities.

“I haven't accomplished anything in life,” she said.

Campaigning for a star

Baylay admitted he was no film buff, and until the moment he realized she wasn’t getting her due, he didn’t know much about Luise Rainer.

But he began researching everything he could about her life and career. Then he began a letter-writing campaign.

He wrote to the "Boulevard of Stars" and to the city governments of Berlin and Düsseldorf. He recruited friends and colleagues to write to whichever politicians, boards or media executives they felt could get Rainer her star.

Most didn’t write back. A few responded with dismissive letters.

But before long, Baylay had an army of Germans and foreigners on his side. They bombarded the "Boulevard of Stars" organization with emails and started a campaign on the social network site Facebook.

There were moments, Baylay remembers, that after spending his entire weekend writing letters, he all but gave up hope – especially when the latest crop of stars was announced, which didn’t include Rainer.

But he persevered. And the recent announcement she would get her star washed over him like a wave of relief. Without explaining why it took so long to honour her, the "Boulevard of Stars" recently said the Facebook and email campaign had prompted it to award an extra star this year.

“These fans were definitely also friends of 'Boulevard of Stars' and we did not want to disappoint them,” the organization said in a statement.

Whatever the reason, Baylay is just happy it happened. It is a decision long overdue, he said.

“The campaign was small in the beginning and it grew to something much bigger than I thought it would,” he said. “Now I can go back to a normal life.”

Moises Mendoza

moises.mendoza@thelocal.de

twitter.com/moisesdmendoza

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

20:16 August 26, 2011 by expatriarch
Beyond whether she deserves a spot or not---I am sure she does---; this is yet another example of Germany losing its identity and creativity by constantly duplicating America. At some point, all great people have to move on from simply copying their idol or inspiration, and generate an individual identity.

Although Germany has always had a strong cultural affinity towards the US, it just seems to be getting farther and farther into embarrassing territory. How (I know how) is it that Germany was once the epicenter of film and story telling, and now it has come down to the knock-off "Boulevard of Stars" that is a virtual carbon copy of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Do they think that calling it a Boulevard instead of a "Walk" is somehow going to obscure the shame and embarrassment that is the lazy rip-off of an idea. Ugh, I hate posers! That's what Germany has come to in a far more significant manner than it should be; a nation of posers, a nation of imitating America and acting American.

I just noticed a rather fitting example; not all will see it, but, in the right column there is an add that shows a quite built shirtless dude holding what looks to be a desert eagle handgun at aim and with dog tags around his neck and a combat helmet on with "Build American Muscle" underneath it.

Germany seems ever more empty of its own ideas and creativity! They couldn't have had any other idea than Bronze Stars inlaid in a walkway? That's original!
22:35 August 26, 2011 by Flint
Relax, expat. I've seen more European movies in the last five years than American movies. You launched into a diatribe that has little, if anything, to do with the original article.

BTW, I don't understand how European rock music imitates American or British. Euro Rock simply sucks.
11:16 August 29, 2011 by ironrat
I think shes beatiful
12:10 September 4, 2011 by fleetypie
It's nice that Luise Rainer is being given this recognition at this point in her very long life. 101... what a great age to have reached!!! I will add, as most movie buffs would know, that despite the two Oscar triumphs, Luise Rainer never became a genuine star with the public despite the critical acclaim (which was varied). From what I've read, while Luise considered herself a serious artist and only wanted to make certain types of films, perhaps she was too 'art house' for mass popularity and not wanting to play the Hollywood game only hampered her career further. The American movie going public just weren't interested in her (despite the Oscars, she even beat Garbo!!!) or the studio hype surrounding her, thus her career went into eclipse. I know for a fact that several people who I spoke to in recent years who were avid movie goers in the 30's, didn't or barely even recalled her name. I guess recognition comes in all types of ways.
13:56 September 4, 2011 by CharlieBravo
Regardless of opinion on her acting or legacy - how did the normally ever efficient German's manage to forget her when constructing that Boulevard of Stars thingey? You would think they (they being the German Film Industry) would know the name of their only ever Oscar winner. Looks like somebody didn't do their homework correctly before jumping into the pomp and pageantry of placing stars down the middle of Potsdamer Platz. I think it's understandable when others have forgotten her but the German film industry have no excuse. That is quite a faux-pas by Stadt Berlin and the organizers.
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