Luise Rainer: 'Oscar Curse' and the Two-Time Best Actress Oscar Winner

Luise Rainer Oscar Curse The Great WaltzLuise Rainer The Great Waltz.

Luise Rainer: Second Best Actress Oscar and the 'Oscar Curse'

[Please see previous post: "Luise Rainer: Oldest Surviving Oscar Winner Turns 103."] The following year, Luise Rainer was back on the Academy Awards' roster, this time for playing a Chinese peasant in Sidney Franklin's blockbuster The Good Earth. Some have since complained that Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong should been cast as the female lead in what turned out to be one of the studio's costliest productions up to that time. I agree that Wong would have been a good choice (though not necessarily from a box office standpoint), but I'm glad that Rainer got to play Paul Muni's long-suffering wife O-Lan. Hers is a beautifully understated performance; one that fully deserved her second Best Actress Oscar. (Image: Luise Rainer in Julien Duvivier's The Great Waltz.)

There is nothing in Luise Rainer's O-Lan that comes across as an ethnic caricature. Also absent are any acting mannerisms that could have reminded audiences of, say, Elisabeth Bergner or the British-born Lilian Harvey, two stars of German-language films whose “cute” (though highly effective) acting style clearly influenced Rainer's. (For the record, the other 1937 Oscar nominees were Irene Dunne for The Awful Truth, Greta Garbo for Camille, Janet Gaynor for A Star Is Born, and Barbara Stanwyck for Stella Dallas. And don't forget that that year Hollywood extras voted for the winners in the acting – and a couple of other – categories.)

'Oscar Curse' nonsense

Luise Rainer picked up her second Oscar on March 10, 1938, thus becoming the first woman to win two consecutive Academy Awards, and the first performer to win two Academy Awards, period.* Before the year was over, however, so was Rainer's Hollywood career. And hence, the beginning of the "Oscar Curse" nonsense. (See also: Luise Rainer discusses the "Oscar Curse.")

There had been trouble at the studio, as Rainer, who had been fighting for higher wages, felt Louis B. Mayer had been offering her subpar material, e.g., Dorothy Arzner's The Bride Wore Red. (Joan Crawford took over the role in the eventual critical and box office disappointment.) Compounding matters, Rainer was unhappy with her husband of one year, playwright Clifford Odets, and sued for divorce in mid-1938. (Held up pending a possible reconciliation, the divorce was finalized in 1940, the year Rainer's MGM contract was allowed to expire.)

Much to Mayer's outrage, Rainer – who had three 1938 releases: The Toy Wife, Dramatic School, and the mammoth The Great Waltz – left for New York and Europe, where she joined Ernest Hemingway in getting aid for child victims of the Spanish Civil War. That same year, Rainer became an American citizen and pledged her support to Democrat president Franklin D. Roosevelt. (See also: Luise Rainer reminisces about Greta Garbo, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway.)

Luise Rainer returns to Hollywood

Luise Rainer would return to Hollywood filmmaking only one more time, for the now largely forgotten (and hard to find) 1943 World War II drama Hostages, directed by Frank Tuttle at Paramount, and featuring Arturo de Córdova, William Bendix, and Paul Lukas. At the time, Rainer told the press: “It's certainly not an Academy Award part, and thank goodness, my bosses don't expect me to win an award with it. […] No, this is something unspectacular, but I hope a step back in the right direction.”

Also at Paramount, Rainer (along with Vera Zorina) was considered for the role of Maria in Sam Wood's film version of Hemingway's Spanish Civil War-set From Whom the Bell Tolls. Ingrid Bergman was eventually cast in the critical and box office hit, that earned Bergman her first Best Actress Oscar nomination.

* In early 1939, both Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy followed suit. Davis' Oscar for William Wyler's period melodrama Jezebel was her second; she had previously won three years earlier for Alfred E. Green's melo Dangerous. Spencer Tracy won his second Best Actor Oscar for playing a tough-talking priest in Norman Taurog's Boys Town; the previous year, Tracy had won for his Portuguese (!) fisherman in Victor Fleming's Captains Courageous.

["Two-Time Best Actress Oscar Winner Luise Rainer 'Oscar Curse'" continues on the next page. See link below.]

Luise Rainer The Great Waltz photo: MGM publicity still.

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