We remember the life and legacy of actress Luise Rainer who died at age 104 on Dec. 30.
German-Austrian actress Luise Rainer was one of MGM's brightest stars in the 1930s. Rainer came to Hollywood in 1935 after a successful career on the German stage and screen. She became an immediate sensation, winning two back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actress. Just a few years later, Rainer turned her back on Hollywood and for the next 70 years, she led a quiet, unassuming life far away from the spotlight.
|The lovely Luise Rainer appears on the January 1938 cover of screen book.|
|An autographed photograph of Luise Rainer.|
|Luise Rainer is featured in a poster for The Great Ziegfeld (1936).|
|Luise Rainer in The Toy Wife (1938).|
|Luise Rainer as Chinese peasant O-Lan in The Good Earth (1937).|
|Luise Rainer with her Oscar for The Good Earth (1937).|
|A lovely portrait of Luise Rainer.|
Rainer made four more films of diminishing quality before walking away from her MGM contract. Rainer had tired of the shallowness and phoniness of Hollywood, and she was also going through a difficult time in her marriage to playwright Clifford Odets (they would divorce in 1940). Decades later, she remembered her final confrontation with Mayer, who was well-known for using any tactics at his disposal, including physical abuse (he allegedly roughed up Mickey Rooney on more than one occasion) to get recalcitrant actors to behave. "I was called to him (Mayer)," she recalled in an interview with The Scotsman. He said, 'We made you and we're going to kill you.' And I said: 'Mr. Mayer, you did not make me, God made me.'"
Rainer lived a mostly quiet life in the coming decades. She returned to Europe during World War II to study medicine and help refugees and orphans of the Spanish Civil War. in 1945, she married wealthy New York publisher Robert Knittel. They settled in London where they raised their daughter, Francesca. The whole family would travel to the Swiss Alps in the summer to pursue their love of mountain climbing.
Rainer did occasionally dabble in acting. In 1943, she appeared in the wartime drama Hostages (1943) as a woman who is trying to free her father (Oskar Homolka) from the grip of the Gestapo. She guest-starred on the TV series Combat! in 1965 and she also appeared on The Love Boat in 1983. Her last film was The Gambler (1997), where she played the small role of the grandmother in the adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel. Rainer died of pneumonia on Dec. 30 at age 104.
Sources for this article are Rainer's New York Times obituary, an interview with Rainer in The Scotsman and Academy Awards Illustrated: A Complete Guide to Hollywood's Academy Awards (1977 edition) by Robert Osborne.