By Scott Feinberg
The Hollywood Reporter
I interviewed Luise Rainer in London in 2009, back when she was only 99 years old. Rainer, the first person ever to win two acting Oscars — which happened to come in back-to-back years, for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and for The Good Earth (1937), and just a couple of years before her Hollywood career was over — died Tuesday at 104, less than two weeks shy of her 105th birthday. So this seems as good a time as any to reflect on what she meant to Hollywood and to me.
Rainer, a German-born Austrian, was a true legend, not only one of the last connections to 1930s Hollywood — a real Golden Age of movies — but also a pupil of Max Reinhardt, a wife of Clifford Odets, a competitor of Greta Garbo, a target of Louis B. Mayer, an inspiration to many other great actors who followed (countless numbers of whom auditioned for roles by offering their own take on her celebrated Ziegfeld telephone scene) and a woman who lived so long that relatively few people today even know her name.
I knew Rainer’s name because I became obsessed with classic movies during my high school years and later, while in college, decided to try to write a book that would aim to excite other young people about them, as well. In order to do that effectively, I felt that I would need to speak directly with the key survivors of that era — and, to my delight, many of them agreed to interviews.