Luise, Clifford and a Rocket to the Moon

Luise with Clifford Odets, wedding day 1937

Luise Rainer, Clifford Odets and Johnny, on their wedding day (1937)

It was exactly 78 years ago today (8th January) that Luise married the playwright Clifford Odets in a small affair at their home in Brentwood Hills, LA. In attendance, besides the bride and groom, were film director Lewis Milestone (who had recently completed the film of The General Died at Dawn, with Odets first screenplay) and his wife Lee, alongside Luise’s Scottish terrier, Johnny, her only companion on the trip from Germany to the US.

Luise had met the left-wing playwright just over a year earlier while dining in the Brown Derby restaurant on Vine Street, a popular hang-out for the Hollywood crowd. She was accompanied by songwriters E. Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen and although she didn’t speak to Odets, their eyes met (as they do in tales such as this). They were both intrigued and the chance to get to know one another better came only a few weeks later when they both attended a party at the home of writer Dorothy Parker. Here they were introduced, and became inseparable. As Luise put it,

“Except for Ginger Rogers, most guests were unknown to me. On the far side of the room, surrounded by people who seemed to lap up his words, stood Clifford Odets. Over the crowd I felt him looking at me. I left early; I had to be up at six o’clock in the morning to get to the studio by seven a.m… a few days later while on location I was called to the telephone. It was a man’s voice: Clifford Odets. “Can one ever see you alone?” he asked. Two evenings later he collected me and took me out for dinner. We went to a restaurant at the end of the long Santa Monica pier. Afterwards we went for a walk along the beach. To my horror it was littered with lifeless fish. Something in the water had poisoned them. I trembled, Clifford Odets took me back to my house. That night started for me the wildest, the most compelling and frenetic, the most tragic relationship. It changed the flight and rhythm of my life.”

The relationship was set to be a tempestuous one; speaking in 1999 Luise described the love between them as “fulfilling, terrible, tearing…. complete.” It’s difficult to see how the marriage could have ever worked; their workloads were hardly conducive to a relaxed social and home-life, especially considering Odets’ was required to be in New York with the Group Theatre whilst Luise was holed up filming in California. There’s no doubt that her disillusionment with Hollywood and her desperation to leave MGM were fuelled by the difficulties in her marriage (and vice versa), but, by all accounts they were both headstrong individuals, trying to sacrifice too much of themselves to make the other happy. Only two months after their wedding Luise won her first Luise with Clifford and Johnny (Jan 1937)Academy Award and Odets showed his displeasure in the concept of such trinkets. He did attend with her (unlike a year later when he refused to go) but the press were less than keen on his apparent lack of enthusiasm, and his choice of plain suit. Odets was further enraged to see his name printed as ‘Mr. Luise Rainer’ in the morning news. Less than two years later he would start an affair with the actress Frances Farmer, and the divorce with Luise was finalised in 1940, long after the marriage had truthfully ended.

Signs were there early…. the newlyweds honeymooned in Mexico but Odets’ strict writing regime excluded such enjoyments as the ‘wedding night’. Odets had started work on a new play and set aside his usual time to work on the script in their room at the Rosarito Hotel. As this was the January off-peak season the hotel was near empty and Luise was banished to spend the evening alone. Walking along the beachfront she came upon members of a touring circus passing through the town for the night, and this is how she spent the evening, in the company of some midgets and acrobats. A wedding night to be remembered, if not perhaps for the traditional reasons. The work is most likely to have been The Silent Partner, or a new film project (see the comments section for details from Beth Phillips, very gratefully received).

Cliff’s version of the relationship is perhaps best seen in his 1938 play  Rocket to the Moon, which was staged by the Group Theatre in New York. It concerns Ben Stark, a successful dentist, struggling to deal with the breakdown of his empty, loveless marriage, his fidelity being tested by the arrival of the young, comely Cleo with whom he has fallen in love (or is he just smitten?). It’s interesting to see the development of the play alongside Odets’ faltering relationship with Luise, and the theme of fighting for love against all odds resonates throughout. Luise has said that she would read some of his manuscript and make edits and suggestions, whether they were requested or not. She was especially keen that the female characters spoke and acted more realistically and often added her own handwritten notes to her husband’s work. The play doesn’t have the rabble-rousing of his earlier more political works and is one of Odets’ most personal pieces. Although it is rarely staged, in 2011 Luise attended the opening night of a major new production of the play at the National Theatre in London, 73 years after missing the premiere in New York. For those in London, the BFI will be hosting a very rare screening of John Jacobs’ 1986 Luise with Clifford in the MGM studio restaurant 1937 [scan]television production starring John Malkovich and Judy Davis on 27th January 2015.

For a detailed insight into Luise and Clifford’s relationship you must read Margaret Brenman-Gibson’s authoritative biography Clifford Odets – American Playwright, which contains interviews with Luise and excerpts from their correspondence during the marriage. There is a particularly moving section detailing their attempts to have a child and Luise’s subsequent abortion when realising that the marriage was over, mistakenly believing Odets was uninterested in starting a family. It is both the best biography of Odets and also of Luise, at that time.

[Edited to add details submitted by Beth in the comments below]

Luise Rainer: A personal remembrance

Candid - 1970sI first met Luise Rainer in 1998, only a few weeks after I’d seen her on the Oscars telecast, one of a unique group of previous winners invited back and put on display like bits of memorabilia to celebrate Oscars 70th. “Are you Luise Rainer?” I asked, already knowing the answer; even at 88 she looked like someone. “Yes…..” she replied, warily, cowering a little, “…who are you?”, with her German drawl intact, a sparkle behind the eyes, and a faint glimpse of pride at being recognised. Luise was never one for fame but I always sensed she did, occasionally, succumb to its entrapments. “Oh, it’s so great to meet you,” I blethered. “I’m a fan, I love your films,” I lied. My first meeting with the lady who would change my life, and I lied to her. You see, until that Oscars ceremony I had never heard of Luise Rainer. When she appeared on my television screen, bracketed by archive footage of her two Oscar wins, I was presented with a real head-scratcher. A film fan for years, how could I not know who this was? I was immediately curious but unprepared for her to take over my life.


At home, 1990s.

I’ve always been a curious soul. In 1998 there was little if nothing written about Luise online. There was a listing on IMDb of a handful of films I’d never seen, but no Wikipedia page and no detailed biography. I think without this lack of information I would’ve moved on, happy to have met her. But her story was so incredible I couldn’t let it lie. From the outset I’ve been interested in telling that story first and foremost, with a secondary interest in the films she made. It seems strange to become a follower of someone without ever seeing any of their work, but that’s the way it happened with Luise. The obsession (and I use that word carefully) grew, I started researching, buying items from eBay, 1930s film magazines, interviews, books on similar subjects, and, of course, I had to track down the films. I gradually got to know Luise via this material; the trivia, the soundbites, the stories of her rise and fall were pored over and I was hooked. I found myself completely enraptured, as if spending 16 years reading an unputdownable novel, with every turn of the page discovering something new, opening another door to another corridor leading to another room in the labyrinth of Luise’s life.

I’m not a spiritual person and neither do I believe in fate, however, that day and that sequence of events set in motion a peculiar course, unplanned but full of serendipity and opportunity. At that time I was working in the area of Sloane Square (from 1997 to 2001) and happened upon Luise numerous times in the months and years following our first meeting. I’d often see her from the top of the 137 bus and I’d have to restrain myself from shouting out, “Look! That’s a bona fide movie star right there, in amongst us!” It seemed random and crazy to just bump into her on the way home from work, but that’s the way it happened, time and time again. This randomness took a peculiar turn when I left that job and moved to the National Theatre on the South Bank in 2001. I remember seeing her running to catch a bus on Sloane Street (she would’ve been 91 years old by now) in the weeks before I moved jobs, and I do recall marking this as possibly the last time I’d see her. But how wrong I was; I’d only been in the new job a few weeks when she called, I answered the telephone and we met again. That’s just a coincidence, right?


Celebrating her 100th year, at the TCM Film Festival in 2010.

Luise was a regular at the theatre and we met a few more times, always professionally. The last time she visited (and the last time I met her) was in the spring of 2011 when she attended the opening night of Clifford Odets’ play Rocket to the Moon. The play has great significance for her, written as it was during the early months of her marriage to Odets and, it’s said to be the play he was working at on their wedding night, when she was banished to spend the evening on a Mexican beach, alone but for a troupe of circus performers. I’d invited her and I was pleased she could make it, even at 101. The year before, to celebrate her 100th, she had charmed an audience of hundreds in the Olivier Theatre when she spent 90 minutes talking about her life and career. All of us who were in the theatre that night knew that we were in the presence of someone who had really lived. Her energy and her resilience leapt from that stage, remarkably lucid and as vivacious as ever. Only a month earlier she had written to the theatre to say that she would be “absolutely unable” to make an appearance due to “failing health” and apologised but must “definitely decline” the invitation. What caused her change of heart I don’t know, but I will forever be grateful that she did. She once said that she grew too old too soon; at MGM she felt that she had aged well beyond her years and then spent the next 80 years getting younger, at least in heart and mind. She followed up this coup de theatre with an even more astonishing appearance at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festivals, defying not only age but exploding Icelandic volcanoes to be there. It’s a perfect example of her refusal to be cowed; like Louis B. Mayer, she dealt with her age and Eyjafjallajökull with flamboyant disinterest.

Luise and I were never close friends. We were acquaintances at best, and sometime correspondents. She was aware of the collection I’d started and of the website in particular. I made it known that I wasn’t just a fan, more a keen amateur detective trying to set the record straight and let everyone know that Luise Rainer wasn’t just a two-time Oscar winner, but an actress of stage and screen, a writer, a painter and even a director. She was also a witness to almost all of the 20th century, one of the last and one of those for whom the phrase “we will never see their like again” is most fitting. She

Luise with one of the loves of her life: Johnny, her Scottish terrier (1936)

Luise with one of the loves of her life: Johnny, her Scottish terrier (1936)

understood, I hope, that I didn’t want a piece of her as a memento, I wanted to make sure she wasn’t forgotten or at least mis-remembered.

Whenever I meet people Luise always comes into the conversation. I have bored many people witless with my tales of her life and times; I’m always enthusiastic but I do get carried away. She has been in my life for 16 years and it’s difficult to describe how I feel now she has gone. I thought about her often, almost daily, in what I hope was not an irrational way. I’ve learnt so much from her, indirectly, and she’s changed the way I think about my own life. Her passion and drive are exemplified by a life fulfilled. She may not have always been in the public eye but what does that matter? For her, living, really living, and loving, were the things to celebrate, not the ephemera.

I am so very grateful for that chance meeting. Now, I will continue to celebrate a life lived, not a life lost.

“…there were many things that I should have done. I feel it today, at nearly 100 years old: God, or whoever it is, gave so much into my cradle and I have not lived up to it.” – Luise Rainer, 2010 (and I must respectfully disagree with her)

Tributes and obituaries

Since Luise’s death was announced on Tuesday I’ve been inundated with messages and enquiries and I’m grateful to everyone who has been in touch, especially on social media, where the response has been genuinely heartfelt, and international too. Francesca, Luise’s daughter, posted a tribute on her Twitter page – as always, graceful.

“She was bigger than life and could charm the birds out of the trees. If you saw her, you’d never forget her.” – Francesca Bowyer, Luise’s daughter

In the UK overage was slight; all major newspapers covered the news online and the BBC ranked the story high on their website but, as far as I know, not on television. Most commentators and articles, as expected, concentrated on Luise’s short 4-year film career and her history-making Oscar successes – and, of course, her role as ‘one of the last of the Hollywood greats’, a term that gets bandied around whenever we lose someone old and famous, although in this case, it is deserved. Print media followed suit and there were obituaries in The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph, each with their own take on Luise’s long life – and with their own idiosyncracies and anomalies.

FullSizeRender (16)By far the best of these was The Guardian’s piece by Ronald Bergan, which was written with an understanding of the subject, not just in the sphere of Hollywood, but of her place in the 20th Century. It balances facts with opinion and quotes and is respectful and, for the most part, factually accurate. That’s not something I can say about the others; The Times obituary (left) is particularly shoddy, with a number of errors and a lazy style repeating oft-told stories and soundbites but with scant detail. Worst of all, the piece is illustrated with a photograph of someone else – I believe this is singer Lorraine Bridges (who had a small part in Luise’s first MGM film Escapade) – an unforgivable and lazy mistake. The Times obituaries are world-renowned and I’m astonished that this one is so light and uninspiring, for a life that’s is just the opposite. They do have form in this area and only three weeks ago I contacted them to ask if Luise could be added to their database for inclusion in their daily birthday announcement – she has been missed every year and I had hoped to have her included in 2015. [Edit: The Times printed a correction and apology in their next edition, 1st January 2015].

Some of the better and most heartfelt pieces that have been written over the last couple of days are for fans and cinephiles who appear to have appreciated Luise’s great life and work more than the casual observers and fact-finders from the press. I am particularly fond of Scott Feinberg, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, as he recounts his own personal memories of meeting Luise at her home in 2009 (“when she was only 99”), and Claudia Luther, writing in the Los Angeles, gives a thorough overview with many quotes from Luise herself, and some rare photos from the LA Times archives.

It doesn’t seem fitting to remember Luise only through her films, so dissatisfied was she with her time at MGM and her general antipathy towards much of this work, but, it’s the best we’ve got. On Monday 12th January (what would have been her 105th birthday) TCM will be screening seven of her films back-to-back starting with 1936’s Best Picture Oscar winner The Great Ziegfeld and finishing with The Toy Wife (1938). As always their site is a treasure-trove of info and insight, and to top it off they’ll be repeating Robert Osborne’s 2011 TCM Film Festival with Luise. A fitting tribute and one which, I hope, finds a new audience and appreciation for Luise and her work into 2015 and beyond.

Ford Times, 1946

Magazine Ford Times Feb 1946I’ve been a little quiet with updates since the trip to New York in November, but in the meantime I have been making some cosmetic changes to the site and updating the galleries with a host of new material that has never been published online before. I’ll be publishing most of this in the next few weeks in time for Luise’s 105th birthday on 12th January.

One of the great things about putting together an archive of Luise’s life and work is that, although she left MGM in 1939 she didn’t stop working. There’s a wealth of information and material out there relating to her post-MGM years, much of which is unknown and I’m slowly piecing together these ‘missing years’. Even after collecting and researching for over 15 years I am still discovering new material, fascinating side-stories and associations.

A recent find was this 1946 issue of Ford Times magazine, a copy of which was sentscan0008 to all employees of the Ford Motor Company. This edition belonged to Mr. S. E. Schaeffler of Toppenish, WA and bears the original handwritten address and postage stamp. Luise graces the front cover and although there is no accompanying article inside, this is an image I have not seen previously; the photo credit, which could be insignificant, also tantalises with a mention of a Detroit theatre engagement – currently I know of only one such appearance in Luise’s career, for a tour performance of Maxwell Anderson’s Joan of Lorraine, however I have that dated to 1947, so some more investigation is required to clarify what production and where Luise was appearing at this time. It’s also interesting to note that, for the first time in my research, Luise is named as ‘Mrs. Robert Knittel’ an indication of her husband’s own status (and a nod to the male readership of this particular magazine, no doubt).

scan0005Luise isn’t the only Oscar winner to appear in this issue. There’s a cute pictorial section featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen fooling around in a Ford with his ‘partner’ Charlie McCarthy (left). In 1938 Bergen received a special Oscar at the same ceremony, in the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel, that Luise received her second. His, uniquely, was made out of wood to celebrate “his outstanding comedy creation, Charlie McCarthy”. Also of interest to cinephiles is a section on set with the sound men of Disney studios (below), featuring some great backstage photos of the guys at work creating otherworldly sounds to accompany Disney’s on screen characters. None of the technicians are named but these are some fantastic rare images of them at work.

One of the joys of researching and collecting pieces like this is that you uncover some real gems in the most unlikely places. Whilst film magazines or newspapers are an obvious and unbeatable source of information and interest, Luise turns up in the most unexpected places too…. the cover of a car manufacturer’s in-house magazine is a perfect example.


In praise of Jerry O’s…

jerry oOn my recent visit to New York City I decided to look up a movie memorabilia store that I’d dropped into by chance the last time I was there (some ten years ago). I couldn’t remember the location or even the name so I started with a very generic and random Google search.

The first result was Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store… but the news wasn’t promising – one of the first results I found was this article by Jeremiah Moss for The New Yorker in October 2013 which didn’t bode well. Jerry was thinking of selling up and going online only, but I was heartened to find that his website suggested there might be a chance he was still going strong, or at least going. And so he was. From the outside you’d be forgiven for missing Jerry’s; an unprepossessing doorway of an office block on W. 35th Street bears a small sign, maybe not enough to entice the casual passer-by, but for those in the know this is the gateway to hidden treasures.

Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store is the last of a dying breed; with the onset of the internet and online auction sites like eBay, the opportunity to rummage through boxes and files of film goodies is now few and far between. Flea markets and car boot sales throw up some jewels now and then, but you’re really relying on luck and tenacity to find something truly worthwhile. Jerry’s is all worthwhile. Files and files, boxes and boxes, shelves and shelves of movie and television related memorabilia, stored scattergun and Tetris-like in a number of overflowing rooms, this is a cinephile’s dream.  However obscure you think your cinematic obsession is, Jerry will have something to set your heart racing. I was only interested in Luise (I could’ve easily spent days in there satisfying my curiosity) and the collection of still photos alone was breathtaking.

William Powell and Virginia Bruce in Escapade (1935)

William Powell and Virginia Bruce in Escapade (1935)

It goes without saying I easily blew my entire budget. The highlight for me was the number of stills from Luise’s first MGM picture, Escapade (1935). This is a film that hasn’t been shown on television in living memory (if ever?) and has never been released on home video or DVD, so to see such a vast collection of images was a real thrill; I’ve researched the film and am familiar with the plot but now I can put images to the storyline I’ve built up in my head. This was like seeing the film for the first time, like I’d personally discovered my holy grail. But Jerry had more… and more… and more… the files just kept coming. Each of Luise’s films had their own collection, with some familiar and some not so familiar images. On top of all of this, there were posters and pressbooks, lobby cards and programmes.

Price-wise Jerry is reasonable; more often than not the prices for the stuff I was after were comparable to what I’d pay online. I have nothing against online sites (most of my collection wouldn’t exist without eBay), but being able to handle these pieces, some original MGM stills, programmes, posters is priceless. The added bonus is meeting Jerry himself, a genuine NYCharacter, a genial host and conversationalist, and his friendly and knowledgeable staff with a genuine enthusiasm for the collection (and an understanding of your obsession!). If you are a movie fan of any era and you’re in New York you must drop in to one of the last of its kind – you deserve it and you owe it to yourself (and Jerry).

Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store is an almost unique time capsule; don’t let it go, we’ll regret it when it’s gone.

Luise Rainer’s New York

I’ve just returned from a brief visit to New York City and while I was there I couldn’t resist a mini-tour of the places that have figured in Luise’s life and career. Whilst most of her time in the US was spent in California during her MGM contract she did have a couple of apartments on the east coast too, with both of her husbands. She also appeared on stage in New York a number of times over the course of 40 years. Most significantly, it was in New York that she married her second husband, Robert Knittel, in 1945.

FullSizeRender (6)

First stop was #1 University Place in Greenwich Village. This apartment block, overlooking Washington Square Park, housed Luise’s first New York apartment in the late 1930s. She lived here, on and off, with her first husband Clifford Odets. It was an especially important place for both of them as for most of their marriage they were apart. Odets was working in New York with the Group Theatre at the time, whilst Luise was filming in Los Angeles. They exchanged phone calls and letters throughout their tempestuous and fluctuating relationship but it was here that they spent the little time together that they had during those three years.

JFullSizeRender (5)ust around the corner from Greenwich Place is the historic Church of the Ascension, on Fifth Avenue (left). It was here, in July 1945, that Luise married her second husband Robert Knittel. Luise had remained, for the most part, in America during the early 1940s, after leaving MGM in 1939. It’s possible that she remained in the apartment she had with Odets (above) for some of this time, however, by the time of her second FullSizeRender (10)marriage she had moved across town to Beekman Place (right), another grand apartment building in a quiet side street in Midtown East, with a view over the East River. During their long marriage they spent time in New York, Switzerland and London and after their marriage I believe they moved to a townhouse in the nearby Sutton Place area of Manhattan. The exact address isn’t known to me, nor is their later home in Stamford, Connecticut where they lived in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Any more information about these residences or indeed any missing details of Luise, Clifford and Robert’s New York homes is gratefully received; you can leave a comment below if you have anything to add.

FullSizeRender (8)Luise made her Broadway debut in 1942 in a production of J. M. Barrie’s A Kiss For Cinderella, at the Music Box Theatre on W45th Street (left), currently showing the musical Pippin. Her only other appearance in a play on Broadway was in 1950 when she took the role of Ellida in Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea (with a young and unknown Eli Wallach in the cast). This was directed by Sam Wanamaker and ran briefly at the Fulton Theatre on W46th Street. This theatre was demolished in 1982 and the location is now a Marriott Hotel.

These were the only two New York plays that Luise appeared in, despite a number of options to take touring productions to the city. She appeared in a touring production of Maxwell Anderson’s Joan of Lorraine in 1946 and 1947 although it was Ingrid Bergman who debuted the play on Broadway in 1946 (and won the Tony Award). Luise also arranged a contract for Bertolt Brecht to write a new play for her to star in on Broadway, with producer Jules Leventhal’s backing. He wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle for her, but the production was never to see the light of day, with Luise walking out on the project after a disagreement with the playwright.FullSizeRender (9)

There are a couple of other appearances on the New York stage that are worthy of mention: her first ‘performance’ was, in fact, in 1937 when Luise took to the stage in the marathon Ohio Flood Relief Benefit concert, arranged and hosted by Noel Coward, with a cast of hundreds working and performing through the night for an audience of millions on the radio. This took place in the historic and iconic Radio City Music Hall (right) and she performed her (already famous) telephone scene from The Great Ziegfeld. Her next appearance was in October that same year; although not a performance it was just as dramatic – buoyed by the success of her performance as ‘O-lan’ in The Good Earth Luise was highly regarded by the Chinese community and she was invited to address a 22,000 strong crowd at FullSizeRender (7)Madison Square Garden as part of a protest evening against the Japanese invasion of China. Her next New York appearance (as far as I know) was in an odd little variety artistes show, at the Manhattan Centre Theatre in 1941, a year before her ‘official’ Broadway debut in 1942.

After 1950 I can’t find any reference to appearances in New York, although Luise did appear on stage elsewhere, albeit briefly. Her next appearance on the Great White Way is a one-night tribute to the theatrical attorney Arnold Weissburger at the Golden Theatre, also on W45th Street (left).

Luise did return to New York, however, to appear in her one-woman show, based on a recital of the epic poem Enoch Arden. In April 1982, for one night only, Luise performed the piece at a benefit in the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher StreetFullSizeRender (3) (right).

You can find out more about Luise’s theatrical shenanigans, in New York and elsewhere, on the theatre page of the website, and for more information about significant locations in Luise’s life take a look at the Luise Rainer Google map which includes homes, theatres and other venues where Luise has appeared.

Out From My Mother’s Shadow: interview with Francesca Bowyer

FrancescaLast year Luise’s daughter, Francesca, announced that she had written an autobiography, Out From My Mother’s Shadow, about her life with famous parents and the effect this has had on both her and her family.The book hasn’t yet seen the light of day but I am hopeful that we will get to hear Francesca’s fascinating account of her relationship with Luise very soon.

Francesca is an occasional Tweeter (you can follow her @bowyerfrancesca) where she has been very generous in sharing personal photos with her followers. She also has her own website which includes some rare personal family photos and excerpts from an interview she gave for TCM earlier this year. In it she talks briefly about her childhood, her parents and her relationships and she tells the wonderful story of Luise’s third Oscar. It’s well worth a visit:

Francesca is a convivial, generous interviewee; her background in journalism bodes well for a book that, as she says, is not another Mommie Dearest, more a tribute to her mother, who did the best she could with what she thought was best. Let’s hope Out From My Mother’s Shadow finds a publisher soon.

The Great Rainer

The site has been updated today with a new article, taken from the Summer 1937 edition of Film Weekly magazine. The piece was written by film critic Freda Bruce Lockhart and is titled, “The Great Rainer“.Film Weekly Summer 1937 article

This is the first time this article has been made available online and continues my project to transcribe all extant interviews, essays and publicity material about Luise onto the website. In this, Lockhart responds to Luise’s performance in The Good Earth with a host of superlatives, acknowledging that the magazine had previously predicted Luise’s ascendency to greatness. It’s a little self-congratulatory to start with but further reading reveals one of the most insightful and better researched articles of the time.

Lockhart pulls no punches in showering Luise with praise – “if ever I have seen great acting on the screen, this was it” – but delves a little deeper into Luise’s motivations and emotional influences. Once again, the Garbo comparisons are noted, as are Luise’s unconventionality and lack of Hollywood artificiality. There are some interesting insights into her upbringing and view of the world, with a reference to her first fiance, who was killed in a plane crash just before their planned wedding. Also of interest are the stories of Luise’s escapades in Yugoslavia and Mexico – throughout her time in Hollywood Luise became known for her flights of fancy, often disappearing or going about incognito. The contradictions of Luise’s Hollywood lifestyle are highlighted with mentions of friends (Carole Lombard, Peter Lorre et al.) alongside these solitary excursions.

Lockhart is clearly taken with her subject and is the first to note the striking difference between Anna Held and O-lan. She is also prescient in her description of Luise’s career – “it is not going to be easy to find parts for Luise Rainer, because she is versatile in a way quite unfamiliar to the screen…. Hollywood may be at a loss to cast her”.

Read the full article here, on

Luise in Chelsea

Whilst I run an unofficial Twitter account (@luiserainer) for updates and posts about Luise from the past and present, it’s worth following her daughter’s Twitter account for some occasional updates and photos.

Francesca is the only child of Luise and her second husband Robert Knittel and divides her time between the US and London. According to her Twitter bio she is a “Journalist/Writer. Born in New York to actress Luise Rainer and publisher Robert Knittel. Educated in England, France, Italy. Speak five languages.” She also Tweets some fantastic photos of Luise. Follow her at

Today, Luise and Francesca were out and about in Chelsea and stopped off for a coffee on the Kings Road. Luise is looking great, at 104!