Luise Rainer, first actor to win 2 Oscars in a row, dies

By Jill Lawless, AP

LONDON–Luise Rainer, a star of cinema’s golden era who won back-to-back Oscars but then walked away from a glittering Hollywood career, has died. She was 104.

Rainer, whose roles ranged from the 1930s German stage to television’s ��The Love Boat,�� died Tuesday at her home in London from pneumonia, said her only daughter, Francesca Knittel-Bowyer.

The big-eyed, apple-cheeked Rainer gained Hollywood immortality by becoming the first person to win an acting Academy Award in consecutive years, taking the best actress prize for ��The Great Ziegfeld�� in 1936 in and ��The Good Earth�� in 1937.

It’s a feat since achieved by only four other actors.

Those trophies marked the peak of Rainer’s career, which declined so rapidly that many considered her an early victim of ��the curse of the Oscars.�� She fought with her studio over control of her career, fled Hollywood for New York and suffered through a brief, unhappy marriage to the playwright Clifford Odets. By the early 1940s, her stardom had essentially ended.

Rainer herself described the double victory as the worst thing that could have happened to her.

Rainer was born Jan. 12, 1910 �X in Vienna, Austria, according to her entry in the reference book ��Who’s Who,�� although some sources give her birthplace as Dusseldorf, Germany. She began her acting career as a teenager under innovative Austrian director Max Reinhardt and appeared in several German films.

In the mid-1930s she was discovered by a talent scout from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer �X on the lookout for new European beauties to rival Greta Garbo �X and whisked to Hollywood. Her first U.S. film was the largely forgotten ��Escapade�� (1935), but her next roles made her a star.

Rainer may well have sobbed herself to her first Oscar, playing actress Anna Held, wife of impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, in ��The Great Ziegfeld.�� The film featured a classic telephone scene during which, Anna, tears running down her face, congratulates her now ex-husband on his marriage to another actress. Her next Oscar was for playing a virtuous Chinese peasant in the screen adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s epic novel ��The Good Earth.��

Suddenly Rainer �X now nicknamed the ��Viennese Teardrop�� �X was famous, her beauty and emotional intensity winning many fans. But stardom, she later said, did not bring happiness.

Years later, Rainer recalled how she had just had a fight with her husband, American playwright Clifford Odets, when she got word that she had won her second Oscar. In those days, winners were announced hours before the ceremony began.