Actress Luise Rainer, first back-to-back Oscar winner, dies at 104

AP file photoIn this July 29

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 TV'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.”

Rainer gained Hollywood immortality by becoming the first person to win acting Oscars in consecutive years, taking best actress prizes for the 1936 film “The Great Ziegfeld” and “The Good Earth” in 1937. Only four other actors have won back-to-back Oscars: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jason Robards and Tom Hanks.

The two 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 and suffered through a brief, unhappy marriage to playwright Clifford Odets.

Years later, Rainer recalled how she had just had a fight with Odets when she got word that she had won her second Oscar. In those days, winners were announced hours before the ceremony began.

“I hadn't even dreamed of getting another Academy Award, and there I was unhappy in my private life and miserable,” she told The Associated Press in 1999. “I remember Odets drove me three times around the Biltmore, where the Oscars were given out, because I was so full of tears.”

Rainer she spent most of her later life in England, with occasional film and TV appearances.

Rainer was born Jan. 12, 1910, in Austria, according to the reference book “Who's Who,” although some sources give her birthplace as Duesseldorf, Germany. After her divorce from Odets, she married publisher Robert Knittel, who died in 1989. She's survived by her daughter and two granddaughters.

QUICK TAKES

Christine Cavanaugh, who voiced the prized pig of 1995's “Babe,” died Dec. 22 at age 51. The cause of death is unknown for the actress, who also voiced Chuckie on “Rugrats.” … Canadian model Sonni Pacheco has filed for divorce from “Hurt Locker” star Jeremy Renner after 10 months, and has demanded that he return her passport.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

South Korean rapper Psy is 37. … Actor Val Kilmer (“Top Gun”) is 55. … Actress Bebe Neuwirth (“Madam Secretary”) is 56. … Actor Ben Kingsley (“Sexy Beast”) is 71. … Guitarist Andy Summers of The Police is 72. … Actor Anthony Hopkins (“Silence of the Lambs”) is 77. — Staff, wire report

Got scoops or Bay Area celebrity gossip? Email scoop@sfexaminer.com.

Just Posted

SF approves plans for a car-free Market Street

San Francisco will soon kick cars off one of its busiest thoroughfares… Continue reading

Fire burning after explosion at energy facility in Contra Costa County

I-80 closed in both directions between state Highway 4 and Carquinez Bridge

Dueling behavioral health plans headed for March 2020 ballot as city leaders spar over reform plans

Update 5:10 p.m.: Mayor London Breed filed paperwork Tuesday that would place… Continue reading

Deal reached over shutdown of long-term mental health beds

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and public health leaders have agreed to… Continue reading

10,000 e-scooters? Not so fast — SF slashes fleet sizes before launch

A plan for 4,000 e-scooters to hit San Francisco streets Tuesday has… Continue reading

Most Read