Site updates for January 2015

I’ve been updating the site over the past few weeks, and intended to re-publish with a release of new material on Luise’s birthday. That day has come, but, with the news of her death on 30th December I’ve been busy responding to queries and have already submitted some updates rather than have the workload get on top of me. So, the monthly updates for January are as follows:

The galleries have been redesigned; you may be able to tell that the site isn’t higEscapade 19h-spec when it comes to slideshows and whatnot. That’s because I have no website knowledge other than what I’ve learnt whilst putting this site together. So, I like to keep it simple. With this in mind I’ve re-styled the galleries as simple webpages with photos tabled and noted. On each page you can open up each picture for a larger but manageable version. I hope the simplicity makes the galleries easier to navigate than before. A plus is that the collection now shows up in a Google image search, which it hadn’t done previously. I’ve also tried to separate the gallery into useful sub-sections, so you can find all of the images relating to Luise’s Oscar appearances together, a collection of Press images from random events together, and stills from each film neatly packaged on one page, for example. Some of the formatting looks a bit skew-whiff but I’ll work on that as I go along.

I am particularly excited about the new gallery for 1935’s Escapade. I was lucky enough to purchase a number of stills from the film recently and these have been put on-line for the first time; as a researcher I know I haven’t seen many of these Picturegoer Dec 1938before, and without the actual film available to view these are the next best thing. They include photos of Luise and her co-stars William Powell, Mady Christians, Virginia Bruce, Henry Travers, Frank Morgan and Mathilde Comont.

There are also new additions to the ‘Magazines’ section of the site (now renamed as ‘Archive’): the earliest article from a British film magazine in my collection is The Romance of Luise Rainer by Leonard Wallace (from Film Weekly, 1935). I’ve also recently added this review of The Great Ziegfeld from the same magazine in 1937, and this interesting character piece on Luise and Clifford Odets, “Living the Part” with Luise by Jack Chandler, taken from a 1938 edition of Picturegoer. The archive section has also been updated with links to a couple of obituaries and recent articles of interest that have appeared online.

I will continue to work through my personal collection of material and add updates to the site as and when I get the chance. I hope that there is enough interesting material to keep readers entertained and educated.

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:

 

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.