Luise Rainer, first to win consecutive acting Oscars, dies

Billy Boyd, from left, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis and Elijah Wood arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies" at the Dolby Theatre on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.

LONDON — Luise Rainer, a star of cinema's golden era who won back-to-back Oscars but then walked away from a glittering Hollywood career, has died. She was 104.

Rainer, whose roles ranged from the 1930s German stage to television's "The Love Boat," died Tuesday at her home in London from pneumonia, said her only daughter, Francesca Knittel-Bowyer.

"She was bigger than life and can charm the birds out of the trees," Knittel-Bowyer said. "If you saw her, you'd never forget her."

The big-eyed, apple-cheeked Rainer gained Hollywood immortality by becoming the first person to win an acting Academy Award in consecutive years, taking the best actress prize for "The Great Ziegfeld" in 1936 in and "The Good Earth" in 1937.

It's a feat since achieved by only four other actors.


Those trophies marked the peak of Rainer's career, which declined so rapidly that many considered her an early victim of "the curse of the Oscars." She fought with her studio over control of her career, fled Hollywood for New York and suffered through a brief, unhappy marriage to the playwright Clifford Odets. By the early 1940s, her stardom had essentially ended.

Rainer herself described the double victory as the worst thing that could have happened to her.

"When I got two Oscars, they thought, 'Oh, they can throw me into anything,'" Rainer told The Associated Press in a 1999 interview.

Rainer was born Jan. 12, 1910 — in Vienna, Austria, according to her entry in the reference book "Who's Who," although some sources give her birthplace as Duesseldorf, Germany. She began her acting career as a teenager under innovative Austrian director Max Reinhardt and appeared in several German films.

In the mid-1930s she was discovered by a talent scout from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer — on the lookout for new European beauties to rival Greta Garbo — and whisked to Hollywood. Her first U.S. film was the largely forgotten "Escapade" (1935), but her next roles made her a star.

Rainer lived for many years in an apartment on London's genteel Eaton Square. Her entry in "Who's Who" listed her recreations as "formerly mountain climbing, now writing, painting." Four actors have matched Rainer's Oscar double in consecutive years: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jason Robards and Tom Hanks.

Fairy tale theater

Anna Kendrick, who stars as Cinderella in "Into the Woods," Rob Marshall's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical-theater mash-up of seminal Grimm's tales, thinks she knows why we continue to be, well, spellbound by these stories of witches and wolves, giants and princes.


"They're cautionary tales and they're life lessons," says the actress. "The beautiful thing about them — and the dangerous thing about them — is that they are stories that are supposed to guide you in your decision-making through life.

"And, as we know as adults, a handful of stories can't prepare you for every complicated decision you're going to have to make."

For Kendrick, nominated for a Tony Award when she was all of 12 for her role in "High Society" (the musical version of "The Philadelphia Story"), doing Sondheim was no Sunday in the park. Songs like "A Very Nice Prince" and "On the Steps of the Palace" make demands on their performers that standard musical fare does not.

"Sondheim is sort of a sadistic genius," she says with a laugh. "His music asks so much of you. You cannot sit back and relax into some sleeping melody. ... His music is so alive. It just demands that you give all your presence and all your focus to it."

'Hobbit,' 'Unbroken,' 'Into the Woods' top holiday charts

LOS ANGELES — It was a busy weekend at the post-Christmas box office, but despite strong showings from new openers "Unbroken" and "Into the Woods," it was "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" that marched to the top spot for the second weekend in a row with $40.9 million.

Disney's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Into the Woods," came in second place with $31.1 million, while Universal's fact-based World War II drama "Unbroken" took third with an impressive $30.6 million.

Paramount's crime thriller "The Gambler" opened to a middling $9.1 million from 2,478 locations, while The Weinstein Company's "Big Eyes" floundered in its debut with only $3 million from 1,307 locations.


Sony's "The Interview" also snagged a spot in the top 20, earning $1.8 million across the weekend from 331 theaters.


The top 10 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Rentrak with studio estimates and actuals where available:

1. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," Warner Bros., $40,920,000, 3,875 locations, $10,560 average, $168,021,968, 2 weeks.

2. "Into the Woods," Disney, $31,051,923, 2,440 locations, $12,726 average, $46,141,663, 1 week.

3. "Unbroken," Universal, $30,621,445, 3,131 locations, $9,780 average, $46,055,845, 1 week.

4. "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," Fox, $20,202, 008, 3,914 locations, $5,161 average, $54,732,724, 2 weeks.

5. "Annie," Sony, $16,500,000, 3,197 locations, $5,161 average, $45,735,000, 2 weeks.


6. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1," Lionsgate, $10,063,425, 2,793 locations, $3,603 average, $306,719,406, 6 weeks.

7. "The Gambler," Paramount, $9,127,022, 2,478 locations, $3,683 average, $14,130,191, 1 week.

8. "The Imitation Game," The Weinstein Company, $7,932,292, 747 locations, $10,619 average, $14,633,946, 5 weeks.

9. "Exodus: Gods and Kings," Fox, $6,713,921, 3,002 locations, $2,236 average, $52,482,279, 3 weeks.

10. "Wild," Fox Searchlight, $5,389,214, 1,285 locations, $4,194 average, $16,334,730, 4 weeks.

— Associated Press

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