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.

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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.

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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: http://www.francescaknittelbowyer.com/

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 LuiseRainer.net

Luise Rainer: recording artist?

One of the fun facts about Luise (and there are SO many), is that her first Oscar win, in 1937, was the first time any actor had won The Great Ziegfeld CDan Oscar for a musical performance. The feat still isn’t that common and the next time anyone would do so was James Cagney who won for Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1943.

Luise only made eight films for MGM in the 1930s but she managed to squeeze in quite a few genres in this short time, including two musicals: The Great Ziegfeld and The Great Waltz. In the latter picture Luise didn’t perform any musical numbers (that duty fell to her co-star Miliza Korjus, who was Oscar nominated for her role). But, in MGM’s bloated Ziegfeld bio-epic, Luise performs two numbers (plus a short burst of one in rehearsal). Alongside Luise there are performances by Budd Doyle, Dennis Morgan, Ray Bolger, Virginia Bruce and the legendary Fanny Brice (later to be immortalised on screen in another Oscar winning turn, by Barbra Streisand in 1968’s Funny Girl). These performances have been recorded for posterity and have been available over the years on various formats on The Great Ziegfeld soundtrack, from vinyl LP to CD.

 

Famous Record Series ABut Luise did have her own record out once…. in 1936 the Famous Record Company of New York released what could be considered her one and only single. As part of their ‘Five Great Stars’ series they released this one-sided 78rpm picture disc which features a melodramatic intro by radio announcer Del Sharbutt, followed, not by one of her musical numbers but by the heart-breaking telephone scene which made her name and for which many attribute her Oscar success. It’s a real novelty record, and fascinating to think that you could take this home and relive this scene over and over on your Gramophone. The scene was so famous that Luise reprised it a number of times, on the radio and also ‘in concert’ at charity events.

From a single-sided, 78 year old, 8″ cardboard disc to this: today, I discovered that Luise Rainer is now available on Spotify. It’s marvellous to consider this for a moment, that Luise singing Won’t You Come and Play With Me is now available to stream digitally, in her lifetime. The Great Ziegfeld album includes this, plus her other musical presentation, It’s Delightful To be Married (with spoken interruption from audience members as seen in the film), plus some other dialogue with Fanny Brice and William Powell. The quality is not digital, but I find that makes it all the more enchanting. The other records in the series were Franchot Tone doing the “England, My England” speech from Lives of a Bengal Lancer, John Barrymore’s rendition of Hamlet‘s “to be or not to be”, comedienne Ilka Chase and comedian Joe E. Brown.

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:

 

British Pathé newsreel: Theatrical Garden Party (1939)

Short but very special piece of British Pathé newsreel from a Theatrical Garden Party in 1939. Luise Rainer was in the UK to appear in her West End debut, Behold the Bride, at the Shaftesbury Theatre and she can be seen here, briefly, attending this charity event for The Actors Orphanage Fund.

Also included are Noel Coward, John Watt, Anton Wallbrook, Emlyn Williams, Davey Burnaby, Ivor Novello, Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers.

No Sacrifice Is Too Great For Love

LR CLIFFORD ODETS 1

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.