Oscar Scandals: Rainer, Luise–Oscar as Curse

The most extreme case of an Oscar victim in Hollywood mythology is still Luise Rainer, whose career prompted gossip columnist Louella Parsons to coin the phrase, “the Oscar as a jinx,” or the Oscar as a curse. Rainer was brought to Hollywood by Irving Thalberg to join MGM’s great roster of female stars, headed by Garbo, Norma Shearer, and Joan Crawford. Rainer’s career took off immediately, and she became the first actress to win two successive Oscars, for The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth.

“Those two Academy Awards were bad for me,” Rainer later observed. Expectations of her were so unrealistically heightened that when her next film failed, “I was treated as if I had never done anything good in my life.” Rainer made only a few films after her second Oscar, and her career terminated abruptly with her last MGM film, Dramatic School, in 1938. “After Academy Awards, you cannot make mistakes,” she complained. “In my day, making films was like working in a factory. You were a piece of machinery with no rights.”

Some say Louis B. Mayer lost interest in Rainer after her MGM sponsor, Irving Thalberg, died. Others put the blame for her premature retirement on the poor choice of roles and bad advice Rainer received from her husband, playwright Clifford Odets. But judging by the quality of her two Oscar performances, Rainer was not a major talent, and the fact that she won two years in a row had to do more with internal studio politics than with great acting skills.