( b. Jan 12, 1910 Düsseldorf, GERMANY - d. Dec 30, 2014 London, ENGLAND ) Female
Luise Rainer left Nazi Germany for Hollywood and soared to fame in the 1930s as the first star to win back-to-back Oscars, then quit films at the peak of her career for occasional stage work and roles as a wife, mother and mountain climber.
Ms. Rainer was a child of middle-class Jews in Düsseldorf and Hamburg during World War I and came of age in a new Germany of depression, starvation and revolution. Under Max Reinhardt's direction, she became a young stage and film star in Vienna and Berlin, performing Pirandello and Shaw. She watched the Reichstag burn in 1933 and heard Hitler on the radio. In 1934 an MGM scout signed her to a contract.
She landed in America, a stranger with a guttural Mittel-European accent that had to be subdued. But two years later, Ms. Rainer won her first Academy Award, as the best actress of 1936, for her portrayal of Anna Held, the actress, singer and scorned common-law wife of the showman Florenz Ziegfeld, in MGM's lavish musical production "The Great Ziegfeld."
A year later, Ms. Rainer won her second best-actress Oscar for the role of O-Lan, the stoical peasant wife in "The Good Earth," with Paul Muni as her husband, Wang Lung. Adapted from the Pearl S. Buck novel and produced by a dying Irving G. Thalberg, the movie called on Ms. Rainer for another dimension, an all-but-mute yet shattering performance that conveyed the suffering and endurance of China's millions.
She seemed to stand on the threshold of greatness. Even her rivals like Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer and Myrna Loy thought so. So did an adoring public. But behind the scenery, Ms. Rainer was deeply unhappy. Her marriage to the volatile playwright Clifford Odets in 1937 was failing, headed for divorce in 1940. (He was absurdly jealous of Albert Einstein, who had been smitten by Ms. Rainer.)
And her career soon went into free fall. She came to regard her Oscars as a curse, raising impossibly high expectations. She made five more pictures for MGM over the next couple of years, but many critics and Ms. Ranier herself called them inferior and a waste of her talents. She said that Louis B. Mayer, the autocratic head of MGM, scoffed at her pleas for serious roles in films of significance.
She walked out on Mr. Mayer, and her contract was torn up. She was not yet 30, and her meteoric career was all but over. She returned to Europe, studied medicine, aided orphaned refugees of the Spanish Civil War, appeared at war bond rallies in the United States and entertained Allied troops in North Africa and Italy during World War II. She also made one wartime film, "Hostages" (1943), for Paramount.
During the next three decades she appeared in a handful of plays on Broadway and in London, and took occasional roles on television. Federico Fellini enticed her into the cast of his Oscar-winning classic "La Dolce Vita" (1960), but she quit before shooting began, objecting to a sex scene with Marcello Mastroianni that was later cut from the script.
She made one more film, playing an Russian dowager with a craving for roulette in a 1997 British production of Dostoyevsky's "Gambler." She also appeared at Academy Awards ceremonies in 1998 and 2003 as Hollywood paid tribute to past Oscar winners.
Source: The New York Times obituary
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