This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Luise Rainer, who died Dec. 30, 13 days shy of her 105th birthday, was the first person to win multiple acting Oscars — earning best actress in back-to-back years for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937) — and one of the last ties to 1930s Hollywood.
In 1935, an MGM talent scout on the hunt for the next Garbo discovered the German-born Austrian, who had established herself as a stage actress under the tutelage of the great Max Reinhardt and in a few European films. He brought the 25-year-old back to the studio lot in Culver City, and she became a huge star, befriended Albert Einstein and married Clifford Odets. But just four years after arriving in Hollywood and frustrated at the quality (or lack thereof) of the roles being offered her after her two Oscars, she broke her contract with Louis B. Mayer and returned to Europe, effectively ending her career and earning her the distinction of being the first victim of “the Oscar curse.”
After divorcing Odets in 1940, she remarried and had a daughter. When I met her at her apartment in London in 2009 (back when she was only 99), she said she had lived a charmed life but expressed some regret about ending her career so early: “Later on I felt very sad not to have managed to give out much, much more in my life, which was given to me in the cradle.”