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Luise Rainer Dead: Two-Time Best Actress Oscar Winner Dies at 104

Luise Rainer TodayLuise Rainer dies at age 104: Rainer was first consecutive Oscar winner, first two-time winner in acting categories and oldest surviving winner (image: MGM star Luise Rainer in the mid-'30s.)

The first consecutive Academy Award winner, the first two-time winner in the acting categories, and, at age 104, the oldest surviving Oscar winner as well, Luise Rainer (Best Actress for The Great Ziegfeld, 1936, and The Good Earth, 1937) died at her London apartment on December 30 – nearly two weeks before her 105th birthday. Below is an article originally posted in January 2014, at the time Rainer turned 104. I'll be sharing more Luise Rainer news later on Tuesday.

January 17, 2014: Inevitably, the Transformers movie's director Michael Bay (who recently had an on-camera “meltdown” after a teleprompter stopped working at the Consumer Electronics Show) and the Transformers movie's star Shia LaBeouf (who was recently accused of plagiarism) were mentioned – or rather, blasted, in current media parlance – at the 2014 Golden Globe awards show, held this past Sunday, January 12, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Left unmentioned, however, was London resident and two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Luise Rainer (The Great Ziegfeld, The Good Earth) – who just happened to turn 104 years old on the day of the Golden Globes ceremony.

Luise Rainer movies

Of course, quite possibly none of the people attending the Golden Globes had ever heard of – let alone seen a movie featuring – Luise Rainer (or the vast majority of her contemporaries). Never mind the fact that those are some of the top people in the movie business. In fact, you'd have been very lucky to find one person present at the 2014 Golden Globes ceremony who could have named one single movie directed by Cecil B. DeMille – in whose honor the Hollywood Foreign Press Association came up with the Cecil B. DeMille Award, which this year went to Woody Allen (by way of Diane Keaton). You'd have been just as lucky to find two people who could have named one single François Truffaut movie – Jacqueline Bisset, the star of Truffaut's Day for Night, and who else? (I'm mentioning Truffaut because his death became the punchline of a “joke” during Keaton's Woody Allen tribute. And no, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind doesn't count.)

Admittedly, Luise Rainer didn't star in many movies, but a couple of them were major productions of the mid'-30s: Robert Z. Leonard's Best Picture Academy Award winner The Great Ziegfeld (1936), in which Rainer plays Anna Held, the first wife of showman Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell); and Sidney Franklin's The Good Earth (1937), with Rainer fully convincing as the Chinese peasant O-Lan, stealing the show from the previous year's Best Actor Oscar winner Paul Muni (The Story of Louis Pasteur).

Rainer won Academy Awards for both films, thus becoming not only the first performer ever to win back-to-back Oscars, but also only the second individual to achieve that feat, following producer Walt Disney. (Disney's animated shorts won a series of Academy Awards in the early '30s.)

As found on the IMDb, here's the full list of Luise Rainer movies. Note: from 1936-1938, she was an MGM star; Hostages was made at Paramount.

  • Max Neufeld's Sehnsucht 202 (“Lonely Hearts 202,” 1932), starring Magda Schneider (Romy Schneider's mother) and Fritz Schulz;
  • Carl Boese's Madame hat Besuch (“Madame Has a Visitor,” 1932), with Attila Hörbiger and Herbert Hübner;
  • Kurt Gerron's Heut' kommt's drauf an (“Today, That Depends,” 1933), with Hans Albers;
  • Robert Z. Leonard's Escapade (1935), with William Powell (Rainer replaced a recalcitrant Myrna Loy);
  • Leonard's The Great Ziegfeld (1936), with William Powell and Myrna Loy;
  • Frank Borzage's Big City (1937), with Spencer Tracy;
  • George Fitzmaurice's The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937), with William Powell, Robert Young, and Maureen O'Sullivan;
  • Sidney Franklin's The Good Earth (1937), with Paul Muni;
  • Robert B. Sinclair's Dramatic School (1938), with Alan Marshal, Paulette Goddard, Lana Turner, Genevieve Tobin;
  • Julien Duvivier's The Great Waltz (1938), with Fernand Gravey, Miliza Korjus;
  • Richard Thorpe's The Toy Wife (1938), with Melvyn Douglas, Robert Young;
  • Frank Tuttle's Hostages (1943), with Arturo de Córdova, William Bendix, Paul Lukas;
  • Károly Makk's The Gambler (1997), with Michael Gambon, Jodhi May, Polly Walker, Dominic West.

The IMDb also lists Luise Rainer in the credits of Erik Ode's 1954 comedy Der erste Kuß (“The First Kiss”), but I couldn't find confirmation that she indeed has a role in that film.

Luise Rainer: Hollywood's filmmaking past irrelevant

Now, back to the 2014 Golden Globes … Surely hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (and/or their writers) – or any of the presenters – could have come up with a good Luise Rainer joke/homage. After all, the Golden Globes are supposed to be a celebration of movies and television, right? Luise Rainer starred in both media. (On TV, she's awesome as Ramon Novarro's wife in the 1965 Combat episode “Finest Hour.”)

And there's even a Luise Rainer-Woody Allen connection of sorts. Here's the link: Rainer and Maureen O'Sullivan were both featured in The Emperor's Candlesticks; O'Sullivan was Mia Farrow's mother; Farrow was Woody Allen's off-screen companion and his leading lady in about a dozen films (Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, Radio Days, Alice, Husbands and Wives among them).

But for the two-time Oscar winner to be remembered, someone connected to the Golden Globes would have needed to be aware of a) Luise Rainer's birthday b) Luise Rainer's movie career c) Luise Rainer's existence d) Hollywood movies made before Jaws, apart from The Godfather, Bonnie and Clyde, The Sound of Music, It's a Wonderful Life, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. Not likely.

See, if you're neither “in” nor tabloid fare, you might as well have never existed. Most of this year's Golden Globe nominees – and some of the winners – will learn that lesson in the years to come.

See also: Full list of “Golden Globes 2014 Winners,” including 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, The Great Beauty, Frozen, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Spike Jonze, Alfonso Cuarón, Jared Leto, Bryan Cranston, Robin Wright, Elisabeth Moss, Bono, and others.

More Luise Rainer articles

Luise Rainer photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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