Oscar Actors: Social Backgroynd–Rainer, Luise

The daughter of Heinrich and Emilie Rainer, known familiarly as “Heinz” and “Emmy,” Luise Rainer was born on January 12, 1910 in Düsseldorf, Germany and raised in Hamburg and later in Vienna.

Rainer’s family belonged to the Jewish upper-class.  Her father was a businessman who settled in Europe after spending his childhood in Texas, where he was sent as an orphan.  Her father’s wish was that she attend a good finishing school and “marry the right man.”  However, she was only six when she decided to become part of the entertainment world, having been inspired by a circus act.

At age 16, Rainer traveled to Düsseldorf for a prearranged audition at the Dumont Theater, run by the theatre director Louise Dumont. Rainer began studying acting with Max Reinhardt, and within a few years, she became a member of Reinhardt’s Vienna theater ensemble.

Her first stage appearance was at the Dumont Theater in 1928, followed by  appearances in Jacques Deval’s play Mademoiselle, Kingsley’s Men in White, George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, Measure for Measure, and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Spotted by MGM Talent Scout Phil Berg

In 1934, after appearing in some German films, she was seen in the play “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by MGM talent scout Phil Berg, who offered her a three-year contract in Hollywood. He thought she would appeal to the same audience as Swedish-born star Greta Garbo. Initially, Rainer had no interest in films, saying in a 1935 interview: “I never wanted to film. I was only for the theater. Then I saw A Farewell to Arms and right away I wanted to film. It was so beautiful.”

MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer and story editor Samuel Marx had seen footage of Rainer before she came to Hollywood, in 1935, and both felt she had the looks, charm, and tender vulnerability that Mayer admired.  Mayer assigned actress Constance Collier to train her in correct speech and Rainer’s English improved.

Her first film in Hollywood was in Escapade (1935), a remake of one of her Austrian films, co-starring William Powell. The film generated immense publicity for Rainer, who was hailed as “Hollywood’s next sensation.”


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