Luise Rainer is always pulling surprises on Hollywood. Now she has pulled the biggest surprise of them all.
Luise Rainer has fooled them again. The actress who has had the cinema town by the ear, upsetting one tradition after another, this time has surprised them all with her marriage, which, forecast for failure, is still in the honeymoon stage a year after the ceremonies.
Like everything else that she undertakes, Miss Rainer’s marriage is based upon sincerity. The actress has been famous for being whimsical, and acting on the spur of the moment, but this is rarely the case when she has something serious at stake.
She did not “jump into her marriage.” There was a long courtship in Hollywood before Odets had to go to New York. Then followed a separation, which those who have any doubts about their sentiments welcome because of the question it will settle.
It solved the question for Miss Rainer, because she made several flights to New York, to be with “the object of her affections.”
All of these trips were made without consulting the studio, and then, Luise, suddenly called back for work in The Good Earth, decided that the transcontinental romance wouldn’t do any longer. And so they were married.
All was quiet in the Rainer-Odets manse, until Luise was working in Big City at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. Then rumour about marital difficulties began to circulate.
Luise was heartsick about them, and Odets threw a man out of his office who asked if “he and Luise were about to separate.”
“I know how it started,” Miss Rainer told a friend one day. “Our marriage is probably not as Hollywood would want it, but it is our way of doing things.
“I love Clifford enough to allow him to be free for his work. For me he has the same feeling.
“It is important for me that Big City be a good picture, and so each night I go to bed at nine o’clock in order to be up at six in the morning.
“Do you think I can say to Cliff, ‘You must not go out because I am working’? No! I asked him to go places without me. But I knew where he was all the time.”
Fortunately, Hollywood was forced to see its error. The wiseacres, who could not understand two people in Hollywood trusting one another, had to swallow their own remarks almost as they made them.
While Luise was still making Big City, Odets had to go to New York to see about the production of two of his new plays. This looked like trouble in the family.
Until the day after Big City was finished. Then, on the first ‘plane that roared out of Hollywood for New York was Luise Rainer.
She and Odets had a gay reunion in New York. They chose as their headquarters, Odets’ apartment in Greenwich Village. After several weeks, Luise grew restless about the picture, and went to Hollywood to see how it was going along.
Odets took the precaution that she would not be gone long. The night before she was to fly to Hollywood, he took all her clothes and hid them.
“Now you’ve got to hurry back!” he said triumphantly, as he drove her to the airport in “the only dress she had to her name.”
Back at the studio, Luise conferred with Director Frank Borzage and Norman Krasna. The picture was run for her in a projection room, and the same afternoon she was on her way to New York, where she spent several weeks, “second honeymooning.”
Marriage for Luise Rainer has been beneficial not only to her personal happiness, but to her career also. Naturally painfully shy and sensitive, Luise was one of the loneliest souls in Hollywood for more than a year after her arrival.
Confused and lonely, she avoided society, withdrawing more closely within her own small circle of friends.
Marrying Odets brought her out among people, and she no longer was a stranger in a strange country.
“I think it is good for an American to wed a European,” she declared. “Always there is something one of the persons knows that the other does not. There’s never dullness or stagnation and boredom.”
Though Luise and Odets keep their careers separate, she not infrequently discusses her roles with him. She acts more through instinct than by technical tricks, and in this respect, Odets can be of great help to her.
The success of their marriage has surprised the film colony. But then. Luise Rainer’s entire Hollywood career has been one of surprises.
Each new role has been startlingly different. But her first characterisation, in Escapade, was for the studio co-workers, the most amazing of them all.
Because none knew her artistry, even the workers at M.-G.-M. were scarcely conscious of her as an actress. All they knew was the wind-tanned Viennese who clattered about in slacks and beach shoes with a Scottie dog.
With the making of Escapade, they saw a woman transformed. A twinkling, spritely creature, who could act!
Luise will always be grateful to William Powell for the encouragement he gave her during that film. For she had never before appeared on the screen. Bill taught her camera angles, gave her countless pointers on technique. 1
“He had a funny way of half laughing at me all the time,” declares Luise. “But it was very good for me.”
One of Luise’s greatest problems during the picture was the forest she had to wear. You may be sure that Mr. Powell got in some teasing on that score.
From the coy, facetious girl she played in Escapade, she was assigned the difficult task of bringing to the screen the glamorous, tragic Anna Held in The Great Ziegfeld. Again, Luise had William Powell for her leading man, and Robert Z. Leonard, who made Escapade, as director.
By this time Luise had become well acquainted with camera technique, and was less inclined to be discouraged about her work.
Director Leonard was impressed with the critical attitude the actress had toward her efforts.
“You have to convince her a thing is five times as good as it is, in order to have her believe she has done even passingly well,” he declared. “Luise is one of the most sensitive actresses with whom I have ever worked, and I believe it is the secret of her rare ability to portray human emotion.”
When cast in The Good Earth, Luise lost both her accustomed screen lover and director. For, as the drab, down-trodden O-Lan, she played opposite Paul Muni, and was directed by Sidney Franklin.
Overnight she was transformed from a glittering theatrical figure to a weary, Chinese peasant who walked with head downcast and with sad, dull eyes.
During the eight months of “shooting” on that picture, Luise was in a general state of mental repression.
“And I couldn’t get over the feeling of soil clinging to me.”
Luise explained her feeling during production of the film by saying: “From the time I know I am to play a new part, I am that person I play. Luise Rainer is forgotten entirely. It is very natural that I felt unhappy and untidy most of the time during The Good Earth, because I was in hot fields most of the time, and in heavy, untidy costumes. And I was a sad Chinese woman all the day through, until the picture was over.”
Luise has been pleased over the diversity of her screen roles.
“It is just what I have wished for,” says she. “When I first came to Hollywood, friends would say, ‘Ah, be careful in Hollywood! If you are not a type, they soon make it of you.’
“Yet here each film has been entirely different from the other. There has been a chance to be many kinds of people.
“In my new picture, The Emperor’s Candlesticks, I am just the opposite of what I was in The Good Earth. They decided to make me glamorous. And it is good, too. It would be too bad for people to think Luise Rainer was actually as she appeared in the Chinese story.”
In Hollywood, Luise Rainer established a unique record for herself. For the second picture in which she appeared won her the Academy Award, over an impressive list of competitors.
The Good Earth was too late in release to be considered in the voting, but it is safe to say it will appear in next year’s poll.
Naturally, Luise is highly pleased over the honour which has been given her, but a bit doubtful, too. For she thinks there are such varied types of characterisation on the screen, that they cannot be judged fairly from one standpoint. And in all sincerity declared:
“There were many wonderful performances in 1936, and while I am more grateful than I can say, I think that there were other very deserving candidates who could have won it.”
1 Luise had appeared in three films in Europe prior to making her Hollywood debut. These were routinely excised from her CV to bolster the legend that MGM had ‘discovered’ a new film star. William Powell was supportive of Luise and she always regarded him as such, but her previous experience on film probably makes this anecdote untrue.
This article is of interest as a ‘puff piece’, painting a picture of harmony and enlightenment in both her relationship with Clifford Odets and with MGM. Although it is early in both relationships, the framing of her marriage as the great love story of the decade belies the turmoil that was already taking place in the marriage. The anecdote about Odets hiding Luise’s clothes, presented here as a teasing jape, seems like borderline spousal abuse.