Actress Luise Rainer, 1930s back-to-back Oscar winner, dies

Tue Dec 30, 2014 10:44am EST
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By Will Dunham

(Reuters) - Luise Rainer, the German-born actress who made cinema history by winning back-to-back Oscars as best actress for the 1936 musical "The Great Ziegfeld" and the 1937 drama "The Good Earth" during a brief, stormy Hollywood career, died on Tuesday at age 104.

Rainer, a former star of the Vienna stage who had been the oldest living actor to have won an Academy Award, died of pneumonia in London, her daughter said.

"She was an extraordinary woman who will undoubtedly leave an indelible print on the industry," her daughter Francesca Bowyer told Reuters. "She was a legend, she was my legend."

Rainer enjoyed a meteoric rise in Hollywood followed by an equally dramatic fall after she clashed with imperious Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss Louis B. Mayer over his iron-fisted control over her career.

After being assigned a succession of parts she did not like and being denied ones she wanted, Rainer contentiously parted ways with MGM, leaving Hollywood in 1938. She returned only briefly in 1943 to make a film for rival studio Paramount.

In a 1999 interview with the New York Times, Rainer recalled Mayer's parting threat: "We made you and we can kill you." She said she retorted: "Mr. Mayer, you didn't make me. God made me."

Rainer had an unhappy three-year marriage to playwright Clifford Odets, ending in 1940. When she became friends with Albert Einstein, Odets was said to have become so jealous that he used scissors to shred a photograph of the scientist.

Rainer wed British publishing executive Robert Knittel in 1945 and lived with him in London and Switzerland until his death in 1989. She lived alone in London afterward, with her two Oscars on a bookshelf in her study.   Continued...