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Luise Rainer, Biography: She Turns 102 and Still a Sprite, Grand Dame

Luise Rainer, who turns 102 this Jan. 2, remains the oldest living Oscar winner and one of the last surviving Hollywood greats of the 1930s. 

Luise Rainer, Hollywood's one and only Viennese Teardrop.
This coming Jan. 12, Luise Rainer will celebrate her 102nd birthday. She reaches another milestone in her life as the oldest surviving Academy Award winner and one of the last surviving actress from Hollywood's golden age.

In what was considered as the most popular
telephone scene in the world, Rainer delivers
a tour de force performance as stage star Anna
Held, in The Great Ziegfeld (1936), a role that
earned her her first Oscar for best actress.
Although she is mostly unknown today among movie watchers, she will be forever remembered as the first actress ever to win back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actress. Dubbed as the Viennese Teardrop, Rainer's Hollywood career was short and she only made eight films along the duration. Nevertheless, she left an image of a headstrong woman who refused to kneel on the studio system. She turned her back on a promising career but that very act made her legendary and unforgotten to this day.

When she signed a contract with MGM, she was poised to become the next queen of the lot, at par with the studio's leading ladies, Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. But that didn't work out well with her. Instead of choosing predictable vehicles that could have cast her on glamorous roles, she picked characters of deeper personality that made impact with the audience.

Solidifying her stature as one of Hollywood's more
 critically acclaimed actresses of her era, she played
as the peasant O-Lan in another Oscar-worthy
 performance in The Good Earth (1937).
Rainer was not the usual actress of her era. She was in league with Hepburn and Garbo, who both displayed personalities that defied Hollywood convention. While Garbo shunned publicity and Hepburn hated convention, Rainer displayed both, which is one reason why she punctually exited Hollywood even before it got rid of her.

At the start of her career, Rainer made it known that she never liked stardom or facing the press people for interview.

"Stars are not important, only what they do as a part of their work is important. Artists need quiet in which to grow. It seems Hollywood does not like to give them this quiet. Stardom is bad because Hollywood makes too much of it, there is too much 'bowing down' before stars. Stardom is weight pressing down over the head — and one must grow upward or not at all,” she said.

Learn more about Luise Ranier, Hollywood's Viennese Teardrop and The Elisabeth Bergner of Light Comedy, in a biography I wrote for her two years ago.

Or, enjoy her interview with Scotsman in time for her 100th birthday.

A tribute to Ms. Rainer 


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