On board the Ile-de-France…

2015 is a notable year for Luise, being the 80th anniversary both of her move to Hollywood and of her first American film, MGM’s Escapade. 1935 was the year which changed everything for her, in love and in life. Today, 9th January, marks 80 years to the day that Luise boarded the luxury passenger ship Ile-de-France at Le Havre in northern France to head for her new life in the USA. Already a star of the stage in Europe she couldn’t have possibly imagined how her decision to take up the offer of a contract at MGM would change the course of her life. Leaving behind her family, and a continent on the brink of war, she travelled alone, except for her Scottish terrier, Johnny.Ile_de_France_06

The journey took a week and whilst on board Luise celebrated her 25th birthday (12th January 1935). But, she was in good company; the Ile-de-France was a grand liner favoured by rich Americans and Europeans making the journey to New York. The ship had a distinguished career as a passenger ship before ferrying troops during the war and, in a bizarre coincidence, it ended it’s life ignominiously with an appearance in the MGM film, The Last Voyage (1960), where it was partly blown up. In 1999 Luise talked about the trip when she appeared on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, recalling her dinner date with fellow passengers, Feodor Chaliapin and Mischa Elman. Word had got around the ship that she would be celebrating a birthday whilst on board and when she arrived for dinner she was met with flowers and a menu dedicated to her – “Birthday luncheon for Luise Rainer”. She could hardly believe it, “I am nothing!” she thought, as the great opera singer and violinist serenaded her with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’.

A look at the passenger list (below) for that crossing confirms the presence of Luise and Chaliapin amongst bankers, diplomats and industrialists. Luise, whose destination is noted as Culver City, the home of MGM, has her passage paid for by the studio. Luise wasn’t the only notable person on board: playwright John Van Druten, car and speedboat racer Kaye Don, entertainer Eddie Cantor were amongst the passengers and there were also Federal Agents aboard, escorting three witnesses in the Lindbergh Baby trial to New York where they were to testify in the murder trial of Bruno Hauptmann. Security was high at departure and upon arrival, with agents guarding the witnesses on board.Luise_Passenger_Manifest_1 Luise_Passenger_Manifest_2This wasn’t the only drama to take place on the ship. In an episode that Luise rarely ever spoke about: before leaving Germany, and perhaps a deciding factor in her decision to go, Luise had lost her fiance, who was killed unexpectedly in a plane crash. Details of this affair are sketchy, but I believe he was a high-ranking official, a Dutchman who courted her with private flights in his two-seater aeroplane. It was he who flew her to London for her screen test for Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms in 1934 and with whom she fell in love for the very first time. In late 1934 he was killed when his plane came down in Africa; a devastated Luise began a short fling with his brother, confused and in mourning, “I had mixed them up in my mind but they were not at all alike,” she said, in an interview in 2000, one of the very few occasions where she discussed her life before Hollywood. Whilst on board she discovered that she was pregnant with her dead lover’s child and realised at once that she couldn’t have this new life and career and the child. “It was a romantic, idiotic thing! I thought that the child would be like him… it was a young foolishness.” She honestly believed that she wouldn’t be long in Hollywood, that they would realise they had made a terrible mistake in bringing her all that way; there is, perhaps, a sense that Luise would’ve kept the child had her expectations been borne out and she’d returned home to Germany. Luise always intimated that it was her decision not to have the child but it’s not difficult to imagine the reaction of her new bosses at MGM upon discovery that their bright new star was pregnant.

Luise Rainer 1935.1

Luise and Johnny pose for the press upon arrival in New York, January 1935.

She arrived in New York on 14th January 1935, met by a barrage of photographers and MGM officials. Luise Rainer had arrived in America, a star was about to be born and film history was about to be made….

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]

Mickey Rooney (1920-2014)

Rooney, Garland, mayer

On Sunday 6th April it was reported that Mickey Rooney, an entertainment legend if ever there was, had died at the age of 93. In an astonishing career than spanned almost his entire life, Rooney performed in all media, starting in the family vaudeville act at 18 months old before appearing in silent films, Hollywood blockbusters, television, radio and on and on….

Before his death he was one of the last surviving silent film actors, and his career was already in full swing when he transferred his skills to talking pictures and features. By the end of the 1930s Rooney was the biggest box office draw in America and was, along with Deanna Durbin, one of the world’s highest paid stars. In 1939 (also with Durbin) he was awarded the first of his two honorary Academy Awards, “For their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement.” He was a Best Actor nominee four times between 1940 and 1980 and received his second honorary award in 1983, “In recognition of his 50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances.” His 92 year career of continuous work in showbusiness must surely be a record that will remain unbeaten.

Rooney’s career in 1930s Hollywood was the antithesis of Luise’s. His wholesome family oriented entertainment was exactly the fare that Louis B. Mayer was aiming for. While Luise struggled to convince the studio head to produce adaptations of classic and contemporary literature (The Good Earth, Out of Africa, A Doll’s House) Mayer concentrated on the money-spinners, and hit on a winning formula with Rooney as ‘Andy Hardy’ in a series of 15 films spanning almost 20 years. He proved his dramatic chops with a breakthrough role in Captains Courageous (1937) opposite Spencer Tracy (who won the Best Actor Oscar) and proved his versatility even further with a series of successful musical comedies opposite his great friend Judy Garland (picture above, with Mayer).

With the passing in the last twelve months of Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple, and now Rooney, Luise Rainer is the only Oscar recipient from the 1930s, in any category, still living.

It is inconceivable that Luise and Mickey never met during their time at MGM, however, I have not been able to find any photographs or record of this. They did, however, share the stage at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles on 23rd March 2003 when fellow nonagenarian Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland introduced ‘Oscar’s Family Album’. It was a truly historic occasion. Watch the clip below:


No Sacrifice Is Too Great For Love


I’ve just added this article to the site, fully transcribed from a 1939 edition of Movie Mirror magazine. It is an insightful piece, written by Sonia Lee, and featuring candid extracts from an interview with Luise where she talks about her relationship with Clifford Odets, their separation and eventual reconciliation. It is one of the last interviews she gave as an MGM contract star:

The private life of Luise Rainer has been singularly her own.
     Luise Rainer, the actress, has been widely publicized. But the warm, mercurial Rainer, the woman, has remained a mystery. The crisp announcements of her marriage to Clifford Odets, the playwright; later her surprise separation from him, and more recently her dramatic reconciliation, have been the only intrinsically personal items recorded about her.
     No one, until now,  has been permitted a glimpse into her heart, into her personality, into her character. Yet the key to the things she does is in the things she is!
     To some extent, this reticence has been in the interest of the fable that Luise Rainer was a shy, frightened, lonely, isolation-seeking girl – wholly absorbed in the roles she played; too preoccupied with the business of being an actress to have time to be a woman.
     She has remained hidden, a mystery-personality, holding inviolate the secret processes of her thoughts, her emotions, her beliefs. As a result, she has been misunderstood, branded “difficult,” because no one has taken the time to search for the hidden Rainer and to disclose her completely. The conjectures, the fables, the myths about her are not by half as interesting as the truth!
     It was shortly before her departure on a six months’ absence from Hollywood that we talked at length in her studio dressing room. “Dramatic School,” her final picture until next May, was in its closing scenes. She was keenly anticipating her release from studio routine, and her reunion with Clifford Odets, to whom she had been so unexpectedly reconciled during her flying trip to New York the week before.
     Rainer is vital, emotional, human as she speaks of the past and considers her future. her incredible black eyes, which dominate her elfin face, are witness to the sincerity of her words.
     By virtue of her super-charged intensity, which she tries to mask,she has the rare ability to dominate her immediate environment – whether it be a colossal set or a roomful of people. And yet, she isn’t drowned in her own emotions. She is objective and ruthlessly honest with herself. Which is a strange, even a bewildering quality in a woman.
     She has a passionate desire to live fully., completely – and permits neither temporary disillusion nor grave hurts to distort her horizons or limit her vision.
     First and vitally, Luise Rainer is a romantic. Achievement alone is not enough for her. She must have love in her life – vivid emotion to give point and purpose to her ambitions.
     “The real genius of woman,” Luise points out, “is in her ability to love fully, completely and unselfishly.”[……continued]

Oscar night 1938, an historic win (and loss)…

ImageToday is March 10th and it was exactly 76 years ago on this day that Academy Awards history was made when Luise Rainer picked up her second Oscar as Best Actress. She became the first performer to win two Oscars in consecutive years and beat her recent co-star Spencer Tracy to the accolade by one year (he won in 1938 for Captain’s Courageous and repeated the trick in 1939 for Boys Town).

I’ve written (in this post) about Luise’s eventful evening before arriving at the Biltmore Hotel for the ceremony, where she made her historic double triumph. The award this year was for her role as O-Lan in The Good Earth, and when seen alongside her previous award-winning role as Anna Held in The Great Ziegfeld one can’t help marvel at the transformation. The two could not be further apart, both in character and in style. Much has been written about whether Luise was deserving of either of her awards, but in just those two parts she shows a range that many actresses spend a whole career striving for. Although her first Oscar has been attributed to the melodramatic ‘telephone scene’ in The Great Ziegfeld, the part is so much more playful than this, with two musical numbers performed by Luise and some wonderful charming and comedic moments. O-Lan, on the other hand, is a consistently dramatic part, almost silent throughout, played with real intensity and nobility.

Luise’s fellow nominees in the category that year were Irene Dunne (for The Awful Truth), Janet Gaynor (A Star Is Born), Greta Garbo (Camille) and Barbara Stanwyck (Stella Dallas). This is a stellar line-up of talent and Luise’s achievement has been somewhat overshadowed by those who didn’t win. Both Stanwyck and Garbo never won an Oscar (they were both nominated multiple times and were both given honorary awards later) and this, as well as Luise’s short-lived career, has led some commentators to suggest the Academy chose poorly. But the awards should be seen in context and without hindsight; Luise had already been awarded the Best Actress trophy by the New York Film Critics Circle two months earlier and all contemporary reviews for the film, and particularly her performance, were raves. Even now, when yellowface is almost a thing entirely alien to cinemagoers, I think her performance still stands up, certainly when compared to some of her fellow Caucasian cast members.

So it was then that this 28 year old German actress, in only her third English-language film, playing a Chinese farmer, made film history. It is the part that best represents Luise’s own aesthetic and artistic drive, and the film that stands out as the defining moment in a fleeting and unfulfilled career in film.


It occurred to me, while writing this post, that Luise Rainer may be the only surviving witness to one of the most curious and baffling mysteries in Academy Awards history…

It was also on this day, at the same Oscars ceremony that another piece of Academy Awards history was made… the only theft of an Oscar during the show.

This was the 10th Oscars event and was staged in the Biltmore Bowl at the Biltmore Hotel. The setting was more akin to a banquet than the extravagant show that’s laid on today. In the running for Best Supporting Actress this year were Alice Brady, Andrea Leeds, Anne Shirley, Claire Trevor and Dame May Whitty. Brady, who had been huge star in silent films and on the stage had made the successful transition to the talkies in 1933 when she made her film comeback in MGM’s When Ladies Meet. For the next few years she appeared in 15 more films at various studios. It was for her role as the matriarch of the O’Leary family in In Old Chicago that she received her second Oscar nomination (she’d been nominated the year before for My Man Godfrey) and her first and only win.

What happened next no-one really knows: Brady was not in attendance at the banquet (due to a broken ankle) but a gentleman got up to accept the award on her behalf. Who the chap was, no-one knows… but he claimed the prize and went on his way. His identity and the whereabouts of Brady’s Academy Award has remained a mystery ever since. The Academy did replace it with a second version which was presented to Brady later, but she had little time to enjoy it. She died just over a year later, of cancer, shortly before her 47th birthday.

Alice Brady accepts her Academy Award (version 2!) shortly before her untimely death.

Luise Rainer’s unknown Oscar dresses…

ImageDoing the rounds now for a week or so, this fantastic infographic shows the dresses worn by all the winners of the Best Actress Oscar since Janet Gaynor in 1929 (except those who didn’t attend the awards ceremony). Produced by Mediarun Digital, it has now been updated with the Armani Privé worn by Cate Blanchett on Sunday night. Many of the designers of the earlier dresses remain unknown, however, Shrimpton Couture have improved on the original with a fantastic run-down of the dresses, accompanied by photos of the actresses at the Oscars, filling in a few of those ‘unknown’ blanks too.

Luise is included twice, of course, and since the artwork appeared I’ve been asked several times if I know who the designers of Luise’s dresses were. unfortunately I don’t, but I do a little background to both outfits.

ImageLuise won her first Oscar on 4th March 1937 (it’s the 77th anniversary as I write this post). Only two months before, she had married the playwright Clifford Odets at her home on Cliffwood Avenue in Los Angeles. His wedding gift to his new wife was a floor length white ermine coat, and it is this, I believe, that Luise was wearing when she collected her first Academy Award.

ImageThe following year was a little more unconventional. Luise and Clifford had been apart for some time, he working in New York while she was filming The Toy Wife in California. On the day of the Oscar ceremony (10th March 1938) Luise drove Clifford to San Francisco for a day of sight-seeing and to spend time together away from both their work. Although Luise was nominated for her part in The Good Earth she didn’t intend to attend the Academy Awards and she didn’t expect to win. On their way back to Los Angeles they stopped in Santa Barbara from where Luise made a call home; she was astonished to find that the press had been calling all afternoon and not only was she favourite to take home her second Oscar, she was also expected to be there to do so. Odets, who always considered the giving of awards a vulgar affair (and was especially jealous if Luise received high praise), suggested they skip the whole thing, but Luise knew she could not. They raced back to what Luise has since described as a “weird nightmare of an evening”. She was upset and miserable and didn’t want Clifford to accompany her. “Why, if he thought it was so ‘nothing’, should he share this triumph with me!” But he insisted and so, wearing her jeans and sneakers, she quickly chose the nicest (and most convenient) dress in her wardrobe – it was in fact a nightgown.

Luise did attend, after a blazing row and the need to walk around the Biltmore Hotel several times in the rain as she was in tears. She made history and, in her nightgown, she looked stunning. But she recalled, “I made my thank-you speech. I smiled for the countless cameras and reporters. Here I was at dizzying heights, admired and envied: I was as low as I had ever been in my life. I did what I had to do mechanically, I hardly realised I had got the award.”

Oscars 2014 – Jennifer Lawrence vs Luise Rainer

So tonight we’ll see the 86th gathering of the lauded and beloved of Hollywood (with a few concessions to to the film world outside of that hallowed clique) at the Academy Awards. Although now just as interesting for the spectacle as the actual awards, the biggest night in the film calendar has, ironically, become one of the greatest pieces of theatre – from the traipse along the red carpet, to the after-show party, tonight is all about showing off.

It was ever so; back in 1937, when Luise Rainer won her first Academy Award, the ‘ceremony’ was only eight years old and took place at the Biltmore Hotel where a banquet was held while the awards were presented by George Jessel. By this time the Oscars were already considered the highest mark of achievement in the film world. But not for everyone. When Luise Rainer was first nominated for an Oscar she confessed to never having heard of it and didn’t understand the significance. This disinterest was only stoked by her new husband, the playwright Clifford Odets, who felt that the studios were artistically worthless and the handing out of awards a vulgarity. Luise agreed, in part, and the two were both craving the artistic ‘legitimacy’ of the stage. Odets was particularly enraged at his wife’s burgeoning stardom, especially the possibility that her achievements may outshine his own; when the press referred to him as ‘Mr. Rainer’ he was enraged, and they appeared to enjoy putting him in his place, taunting him for accepting “capitalist gold” for his “communist ideas”. But Luise agreed with Clifford; she too found herself stifled in the ‘circus’ at MGM, and within two years she had walked out of her contract but by then her marriage had irretrievably broken down. She won her second Academy Award in 1938 and says that, “for my second and third pictures I won Academy Awards. Nothing worse could have happened to me.” With his, and her subsequent abandonment of her career, she became the first victim of the ‘Oscar curse’, but Luise says that, “the real curse is that once you have an Oscar they think you can do anything.”

Over the years she has learned to embrace the Oscars and what they mean to her; one of her original statuettes has been replaced by the Academy (it simply ‘died of fatigue and keeled over’ – she had been using it as a door-stop for many years). The Oscars now stand on her bookcase, proudly.

jennifer LawrenceAs the first performer to win in consecutive years, Luise assured her place in the history books, but she also holds a number of other Oscar records. At the age of 104 can claim several longevity records: she is now the oldest Oscar winner who ever lived and she has had her awards longer than any else (77 years). She is also  the only surviving winner from the 1930s (Mickey Rooney was awarded an honorary juvenile award in 1939, but was not in competition). We need to jump forward almost ten years, to 1947, to find the next earliest surviving winner: Olivia de Havilland. These records may never be beaten, however, one achievement may be about to fall. When Luise won her second Oscar she was 28 years old, making her the youngest two-time winner in the history of the Academy Awards. The closest anyone has come to beating this record was in 1992 when a 29 year old Jodie Foster claimed her second Oscar, for The Silence of the Lambs (after 1989’s win for The Accused). Tonight, Jennifer Lawrence (23) is in the running for her third Oscar if she takes the prize Luise’s 77 year old record will have fallen (Lawrence will also join Luise and Katharine Hepburn as the only actresses to win in consecutive years).

Here at luiserainer.net we’re conflicted about the news, but let’s see what happens on the night…

Rainer – the Rebel

This article, by Ida Zeitlin, first appeared in the July 1937 issue of Modern Screen magazine. Only two years into her MGM contract at the time, Luise already expresses her disillusionment with her career in Hollywood and the emptiness of the life as an MGM ‘starlet’. At this point she had already won her first Academy Award (for The Great Ziegfeld) and she had finished filming on The Good Earth (for which she would win her second). She talks, somewhat disingenuously, of politics, or rather her apolitical stance, although her marriage to Clifford Odets, her appearances at events protesting against the Sino-Japanese war, and her later work with Ernest Hemingway, Eleanor Roosevelt and the ‘war effort’ suggest that the onset of the Second World War, especially the incarceration of her father in a Czech prison camp, altered her view of a woman’s role in politics. It’s a fascinating article, not least due to Luise’s candid assessment of her life as a movie star, published in a popular screen magazine. One can readily see just what the bosses at MGM must’ve thought of their wayward star.

I SAT waiting in a publicity office something less than two years ago when a small dynamo in slacks and short-sleeved blouse blew in, dropped into a chair and began talking. I had never seen her before. I didn’t know whether she was an actress, visitor or scribbler. I did know – anyone would know the moment she entered a room – that here was an arresting personality.

   The dynamic effect was produced not by sound and fury, but a quicksilver vitality. Expression played over her vivid face like light and shadow over a stream – as changefully, as unconsciously, as agreeable to watch. Dark eyes under the windblown bob flashed and softened by turns. Her warmly tinted skin had a translucent quality. And though she was obviously a foreigner, her speech flowed vigorous and free. Never waiting to fumble for language that was always graphic, if not always grammatical. Through sheer color and glow she took and held your attention.
   “That’s Luise Rainer, a European actress,” I was told when she left.
   “What? No mystery? No glamor? No airs and graces?”
   “She’s different.”
   I’d heard that often enough to be skeptical. Yet I’d seen for myself that her appearance and manner were different. You couldn’t type her. You wouldn’t classify her. You couldn’t say she was a second this-one or that-one or any other Hollywood star. She was like no one you’d ever seen but herself. And for any self-consciousness or effort, however subtle, to make an impression, she might have been merely the stenographer next door.
   As the piquant little companion of “Escapade,” I saw her capture the public’s imagination as she had captured mine. For her tender, tempestuous portrayal of Anna Held, she won the Academy Award. Who would have played O-Lan if Rainer hadn’t appeared on the scene I have no notion. It was Mr. Thalberg who chose her. Had he lived to see the finished performance, to see the child of “Escapade” submerge her youth and charm to become the stolid, deep-souled Chinese woman, he would have been content with his choice.
   As she moved from triumph to triumph, Hollywood talked about her as Hollywood does. She didn’t like interviews; therefore she was doing a Garbo. She preferred long walks with her dog to lunching at the Vendrome; therefore she must be a poseur. Soon after she married Clifford Odets, the playwright, she went alone to New York.LR CLIFFORD ODETS 1
   “Why?” she was asked.
   “Because every time I am free, I make a trip. Mr. Odets is not free. So I go alone.” But the truth was too simple; therefore, “Ha-ha! Rainer’s marriage is on the rocks.”
   After you’ve lived in Hollywood for a while, you don’t believe all the tales you hear. They may or may not be true. Anything for a headline. Suppose you have to retract your statement tomorrow. So much the better. Today’s headline will sell, nd so will tomorrow’s retraction. I couldn’t associate what I’d heard with that unknown girl in the publicity office whose every word and gesture had been spontaneous. Yet Hollywood has been known to crush spontaneity.
   So, although I went to see Miss Rainer with an open mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if Hollywood really had changed her!
   “Please, you must first have your lunch,” she said when I came to her dressing room. “If you try to make an interview at the same time, you will not enjoy your eating. Then I will give you what time you want.” She went to the phone to order food. “Here is Luise Ryner – Ry-ner -” she repeated, and shot me a rueful glance. “I always mispronounce my name. They all say Ray-ner. So when I say Ry-ner, nobody knows who is there. But so long it has been Ryner, it is hard to change.”
   Over coffee and cigarettes – my coffee and cigarettes, since she took neither – and with Johnny, her beloved Scottie, sleeping at her feet, we “made the interview.” She sat in the corner of a couch, laughing, wistful, excited by turns. Not only her lips but her hands and body spoke, and above all, her velvet-soft eyes that changed with every changing shade of feeling. And, though her English was vastly improved, she showed that same fine disregard of dictionary speech I had noted earlier, for the sake of vigorous, unimpaired expression.
   “My rebel-ation,” she said, “was from the beginning to the end that I am what I am. But I cannot think of myself as a rebel because I do not fight to make others do what I wish but only stay myself. And this is not to say I think I am God’s wonder – please understand me well – but only that I cannot do what is for me not right and natural to do. It is far-est from my mind to hurt somebody else. It never came to my head till I heard someone say, ‘This girl is a Frankenstein. She will spoil everything.'”
   Her hands flew to her face, her eyes widened, recalling the shock of that moment. “I thought ‘Am I crazy? Are they crazy? What can I spoil if I am true to myself? This I must be. Sometimes I may be convinced for a moment against myself. but before I know it, my own color comes through. Not that I will not do what for me is wrong. I cannot do it. Every person has inside of himself a judge,” she tapped her forehead, “and for him this inside judge is the best.
   “I will tell you something. What is the most important thing for a child? To have rest and quietness, isn’t it so? I had not this. I had deep difficulties. I had shocks like war and shooting and revolution and inflation, things which every child is afraid of. For days our only safe place from airplane shooting was the cellar. I didn’t dare to go from one room to the other because I was afraid to go alone over the floor. You know, this kind of thing can make you sick for your whole life long or it can make you strong, and this fight made me think and this fight brought me to the bad or good which is in me.
   SO I am sixteen and I start out and I am full of ideals. Well, I tell you my life hasn’t changed for a dime. In me the same thoughts and ideals live which then lived, and which I have have built up in myself as long as I can think. I had to compromise, yes, and every compromise made me unhappy. But I have not compromised with myself. Only with the outside. The day I compromise with myself – ” she leaned from her corner and a small fist struck her palm – “I guess I have to commit suicide. And this means never. Because,” she said, with a kind of amused grimness, “I do not dream to commit suicide.
   “Maybe,” she continued more quietly, “this sounds high-hatted to say I am strong. I am not high-hatted. How is it possible that your hat grows high if you have your eyes open? Because there is always another thing to reach to and another thing, and when you have reached that, and when you have reached the highest height of an actress, there is always far, far above you an Einstein or a Toscanini. Why I am strong is very simple to explain. Because I know so strong what I want. And what is that? To make out of yourself the best what can be made of yourself in everything, in life as in work. And nobody else can tell you how to do that, isn’t it so?”
   Suddenly she laughed. “It is funny. On the one side, I say I am strong. On the other side I must admit, if you ask me, that it hurts me if people think bad about me. Isn’t it id-yotic? Because everybody cannot think good. I know it. Yet everybody matters to me. Everybody in the whole world can hurt me. It is so easy for me to have an inferiority complex. If I have nine hundred and ninety-nine good notices and one bad one, you can be sure I have the bad one in my pocketbook. The good ones I overfly. (Ed. note:- skim through.) Mr. Odets always laughs about that. ‘Why do you laugh?’ I tell him. ‘You love me. That is why you think everything is good I am doing. This man does not love me. So it must be something bad I am doing.”
   Then her face cleared. “The only thing I don’t read, and what doesn’t bother me is the gossip column. They can write about me what they want to. It doesn’t matter. Once, yes, I did read. One day I saw my test.  Somebody asked me, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘All right.’ Because that person on the screen is to me not me but an actress. Shall I say always she is bad because her name is Luise Rainer? Somebody heard it and wrote, ‘Luise Rainer thinks she is kolossal.’ I laugh because I know I do not think it. They say, ‘She must be thirty.’ I am not hurt, because to be thirty is first not a crime in America, and anyway, this is something I know. I know I am not thirty. But I do not know, am I a good actress.
   “Still, if something hurts me, I can bear it. Even if they would say, well, she’s a rotten actress and if they would throw me out of the whole America, all right, they can do it, and surely I will not like it, but I will still go on being what I am. This is the real something, what is deep within me and what nobody can touch. I mustn’t be an actress. Of course I love to act, but if they don’t let me there million things in life you can do and do good.
   “This, that I am an actress, is something secondary to me. I was never longing for that which they call glamor. For glamor I don’t give a dime. To be a human is so much more important. And that will come through if I make stitches in a cushion;” she seized one and thumped it, “or what my hands find to do,” she cried, flinging it down again.
   You couldn’t have listened and remained unconvinced. These were no airy theories, whisked out at a moment’s notice as a sop to publicity, but a philosophy painfully arrived at, intensely felt, solidly rooted. Nor was her object to convince me . What I believed was up to me. But “whatever you do, you must do it good,” she had cried. So she was “doing good” the job she had undertaken of explaining herself. In fact, she was doing so nobly from my point of view that I couldn’t help wondering about her rumored reluctance to grant interviews. GE Poster 1
   SHE answered that with the same willingness and clarity and candor she had shown throughout. “In my country,” she said, “You work very hard and you don’t get so many rewards. People are now bowling – how do you say? – bowing? I thought always bow-ling! People are not bowing to you all the time. When I came here I was surprised. I didn’t understand what are these interviews.  For publicity, they told me, for advertising. So people will know you. But they will know me through my work, if they like it. I don’t want to make my way through that. I don’t want a success that goes – swish! – up and then down. I want to find for myself what I am in this country, without publicity.
   “That is why, in the beginning, when I was nobody in America, I did not give interviews. Today I allow myself to give a few. Because people have been so kind to like my work. I stand now on my feet her as an actress, and the rest is no more so important. Does it sound proud? It is then only the proudness of an honest shoeman in his shoes.
   “And still I think, if you do the best work you can and spend the other life you have left in not thinking about yourself, but taking new things into yourself, it is more important than any interview. My acting I give to who wants it. The rest I would give to my husband and those few who love me. This is three-quarters of myself, what I give to the fans. They should please leave me the last quarter.” Her voice had turned almost pleading, her face very sweet and serious. Then a little coaxing smile flickered ’round her lips. “And they should please not be angry with me.”
   I asked what the Academy Award had meant to her. She raised her lashes and I caught a hint of mischief in her eyes. “I am very thankful,” she said. “For a couple of weeks I have no more my inferiority complex.”
   “You see,” she said, “the last thing I did was this ugly little woman, O-Lan. Beautiful inside, but ugly outside. Each time I look at myself I think, ‘No man in the world could like you again.’ So the complex becomes always more inferior. Then I was supposed to do this – ‘The Emperor’s Candlesticks,’ my next picture. William Powell got lost in the woods, nobody could find him, so I said, well, if he gets lost in the woods, I make a trip in my car.” Gone was the serious mood of a moment ago. Now she was having fun.
   “So I took my husband and we both went to see a piece of the country and we were very happy, and we saw the redwoods and Carmel and a piece of San Francisco, and we were lying in Santa Barbara on the beach – see, I am all sunburned. Then we came back late in the evening and my maid grabbed me. ‘Miss Rainer, Miss Rainer, you are back. Mr. Mannix called, Mr. Mayer called, Mr. Capra called. They send the police behind you.’ ‘What’s the matter?’ I said. ‘What can happen? They didn’t start the picture yet.’ ‘I don’t know what’s the matter,’ she told me,’but the telephone doesn’t stop.’
   “Then again it rings and a friend of us tells to Mr. Odets, ‘Well, you better look out. The grapevine -‘ is there such a grapevine? – ‘the grapevine says Luise probably gets the Award.’ I say, ‘It’s nonsense.’ Mr. Odets says, ‘Well, darling, what do you want? Do you want to go to this banquette?’ ‘But I cannot go like that. I am burned with the sun. Look, I have a head like a balloon.’
   ” ‘You are beautiful,’ he said. He is my husband, you must excuse him. ‘You look so healthy,’ he said. ‘But I am afraid, I am embarrassed.’ ‘They will think you are high-hatted.’ So we chase down in a taxi. And I was afraid, and I was embarrassed, but deeply thankful, too, so I don’t know how to look. But now when I see my little statue I say, ‘Go away, complex. I don’t give a dime for you.’ Sometimes he goes, sometimes he stays,” she shrugged.
   I CLOSED my book. “You are finished? Then I must tell you one thing, and I want you to print it, because I come in many funny situations, especially lately, through certain circumstances. It is about politic.” I pricked up my ears, beginning to realize that the “certain circumstances” had to do with her marriage. Because Odets’ plays reveal him as an enlightened and compassionate thinker, in tune with his times, the undiscerning have tagged him radical.
   “I never had anything to do with politic,” said his wife, “and I don’t dare to give any remark on politic because it would be id-y-otic everything I say. But I do not believe in women having to do with politic. This I leave to my husband. I deeply believe that women should shut up in politic and better be womanly. I know that I make with this remark new enemies but I cannot help it.  Maybe I am a rebel in this, too,” she smiled, “that my husband’s happiness means more to me than success. I am only happy if he is happy, and happiness and success – ” her eyes looked off into space – “they haven’t much to do with each other,” she concluded gently.
   My first impression of her innate simplicity, I knew now, was the true one, and her leap to the pinnacle of movie fame has changed her only in this – to intensify her appreciation of the genuine, her hatred of sham.
   I had always thought of her as a gay and charming child, despite her perfect identification with the woman O-lan. Now I began to understand how she had been able to sink herself so completely in the role. I think it was because she understood O-lan with her heart because she shares with her O-lan’s essential grace. “To be human is so much more important,” she had cried. Like O-lan, I think she knows how to be human and to be it “good.”
For more original magazine articles and interviews with Luise Rainer click here.