Luise Rainer (1910-2014)
Joan Crawford, The Bride Wore Red, 1935.
Story One, circa 1937: Rainer withdrew from The Girl from Trieste when - after the sudden death of MGM’s production genius Irving Thalberg - LB Mayer took over and insisted playwright Ference Molnár’s heroine be no longer a hooker but a dark Cinderella !
Story Two, circa 1976 in the New York Times: “I thought I was going to direct Luise Rainer in Molnár’s intimate case history of a young girl who is forced to take to the streets,” said director Dorothy Arzner. “I was out scouting locations when I got the news that Miss Rainer had been suspended for marrying a Communist [playwright Clifford Odets] and that Joan would replace her in the movie.”
Impressed with the way in Hollywood’s first woman director made Rosalind Russell a star in Craig’s Wife. LB then spieled Arzner into an MGM contract in the hope that she could alter Joan Crawford’s unpopular image. “Joan had been a hey-hey girl and the public didn’t seem to want that anymore.” LB re-named the movie and Arzner realised “it would be synthetic, but Mayer knelt down, with those phony tears in his eyes, and said : We’ll be eternally grateful to the woman who brings Crawford back. I never liked that man; he wasn’t honest and he didn’t keep his promises. He used to duck out the back door of his office when he saw me coming.” Film flopped and Crawford was labelled box-office poison.
- Rose Stradner, The Last Gangster, 1936. OK, title role goes to Edward G Robinson. Like who else? But who should be his wife? Rainer was top choice. (Perfect!). Then, MGM tried to borrow Anna Sten from Grand National. Finally, the Austrian Stradner (refusing to be re-named Ann Marlow for movies) made the first of her three only Hollywood movies. Well, she had wed the latest Metro writer-producer-director-genius, Joseph L Mankiewicz. His “it’s going to be a bumpy night” scene in his All About Eve was based on “a very despondent and unhappy” Rose.
- Annabella, Bridal Suite, 1938. Some movies get put on hold for a lengthy period. This honeymoon caper nearly rolled in 1936 with Luise.
- Maureen O’Sullivan, Port of Seven Seas, 1937. MGM bought the classic Marcel Pagnol Marseille trilogy for Rainer to play Fanny. She fell ill and O’Sullivan took over. But as Madelon, not Fanny because Metro fretted about from audiences. Fanny was slang for bottom in the US – and for vagina in the UK. No longder an issue in 1960 when Leslie Caron was Fanny.
- Margaret Sullivan, Three Comrades, 1938. Rainer was the girl among the three German soldiers (comrades not yet a suspicious word in Hollywood) until Sullavan took over… in F Scott Fitzgerald’s sole screeenwriting credit.
- Rita Hayworth, The Lady In Question, 1941. Luise was considered but Rita’s sleek pin-ups made her a more valuable property - even when on trial for murder in the remake of the French Gribouille. LB Mayer had kept his promise when the first actress to win two consecutive Oscars quit MGM. “Luise, we’ve made you and we’re going to kill you.” She rasped: “I was already a star on the stage before I came here... You’re now 60 and I’m 20. When I’m 40, the age of a successful actress, you will be dead and I will live.” Close. Mayer died when she was 47
- Martha Scott, They Dare Not Love, 1940. The Hollywood Reporter gossiped abut Columbia negotiating with Rainer when it actually borrowed Scott from (future Tarzan producer) Sol Lesser.
- Gene Tierney, The Shanghai Gesture, 1942. She as lucky to lose the lead – and this bashing from New York Times critic Bosley Crowther. “It is so utterly and lavishly pretentious, so persistently opaque and so very badly acted in every leading role but one that its single redeeming feature is that it finally becomes laughable.”
- Ingrid Bergman, For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1943. The winner (from Annabella, Paulette Goddard, Susan Hayward, Vivien Leigh, Barbara Stanwyck) was the new girl in town.
- Katharine Hepburn, Dragon Seed, 1943. Insulting! Pearl Buck’s book had a point - exposing Japanese atrocities in China. MGM made it a farce, with the unlikeliest-looking Chinese family ever spawned by Hollywood. Ttaped eyelids for Hepburn, Huston, Aline MacMahon, Akim Tamiroff… Greer Garson and Hedy Lamarr failed their Eurasian tests for Hepburn’s Jade Tan. The German-born Rainer, of course, famously won the first ever second (consecutive) Oscar in 1938 for playing the Chinese O-Lan in a far better MGM version of a previous Pearl Buck book, The Good Earth.
- Helen Walker, Nightmare Alley, 1947. Ya cain’t always get wot ya wanna… In handwritten note dated February 1947, head Fox Darryl Zanuck suggested Rainer, Constance Bennett or even Marlene Dietrich as Lilith… amid all the degradation, adultery, alcoholism, murder, larceny, spiritualism, high-stakes cons, and child abuse (listed New York Sun critic Gary Giddins in 2005) set against the Depression scrim of anarchy, racism, desperation, and top-down corruption. Not many laughs, then.
- Joan Fontaine, Ivanhoe, 1951. When first planned in the mid-30s, MGM aimed to squeeze too many contract stars into unlikely roles in Sir Walter Scott’s 12th Century, Robin Hoodish tale of chivalrous knights, warring Saxons, Normans, Christians and Jews. Such as Rainer as Ivanhoe’s childhood sweetheart, the prim and proper (not to say cold and distant) Saxon heiress, Lady Rowena.
- Audrey McDonald La Dolce Vita, Italy-France, 1960. Luise hadn’t filmed for 15 years when Italian maestro Federico Fellini begged in 1958: “I need your poetic face.” She thought his script “pure nonsense.” He loved her re-writes - “but you must fuck Mastroianni.” Instead, Kâ€¡roly Makk persuaded her back, 55 years after her last Hollywood film, in Hungary’s The Gambler, 1997, at an ageless 87.
- Katharine Hepburn, Love Affair, 1993. Producer and star Warren Beatty used all his famous wooing techniques on talking two ladies out of retirement to play his Aunt Ginny. Rainer was first reserve in case Kate refused a final screen role. Beatty seduced Hepburn, by finding her the perfect LA house and dermatologist. That’s how La Hepburn uttered the F Word for the first time in her 51 screen roles.
“By picking the fight with Louis B Mayer that ended her career in Hollywood she was protecting her art, not surrendering it. And of course she wasn’t prepared to baste the turkeys which Mayer started sending her way. A very good lesson, and a hard one to follow. Thumbing her nose in the way that she did tells you quite how strong she was. She was deadly serious about acting. she didn’t think much of Clark Gable, she adored William Powell and Paul Muni and John Gilbert.” - actor friend, Patrick Kennedy, The Guardian, January 2015; they met when she as 99. He was 33.