Luise Rainer’s film career at MGM came to an end in 1939 with the release of her last picture, Dramatic School. She quickly made the transition to back to the stage, appearing in London and on tour in the USA. Although her star had dimmed since the heady days of her double-Oscar triumph only five years before she was still able to lend her name to support a cause. One of her more obscure appearances was in this one-off evening of entertainment for the National Variety Artists.
The National Variety Artists (NVA) started life in 1916 (as the National Vaudeville Artists) when Edward K. Albee set up the organisation as a union offering vaudeville artistes work security and benefits. Throughout the 1920s the organisation thrived but the decline of vaudeville itself saw a change of name and a move towards a more fraternal, supportive association. Whilst continuing their work to encourage and promote vaudeville and variety acts they also held regular charity benefit performances to raise funds for their own members and for public causes.
In 1941 the NVA celebrated their Silver Jubilee (25 years) with a benefit performance at the Manhattan Center Theatre in New York. The list of those who took part includes many acts from the heyday of vaudeville alongside actors and singers of the 1940s. Luise Rainer appeared on the bill, although the programme offers no insight into her contribution it is likely she performed the telephone scene from The Great Ziegfeld (1936) which by now had become her ‘party piece’ and to which she was inextricably linked.
Big Brother Benny Roberts and his NVA Associates opened the show with the overture, followed by Billy Gould, Director of Amusements to introduce: Frankie and Joan (‘Future Vaudeville Stars’), The Harmony Kids, Miss Eva Shirley (‘Mistress of Song’), His Honor Lou Dolgoff, James Mooney presenting ‘The Thirteen Stiffs’ from Arsenic and Old Lace.
Others stars who appeared: Belle Baker, Buck and Bubbles, Balzer Sisters, George M. Cohan, Una May Carlysle, Duncan and Dodd, Harland Dixon, Lew Dolgoff, Benny Fields, Mitzi Green, Willie Howard, Joe Howard, “Juliet”, Charley King, Dell O’Dell, Olsen & Johnson, Mack Murray, Molly Picon, Rags Ragland, Ray & Davis, Martha Raye, Carl Rosini, Don Tanner, Georgie Tapps and Don Alfonso Zelaya.