Luise Rainer, First Back-to-Back Oscar Winner, Dies at 104

by Jackie Willis 3:16 AM PST, December 30, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

Luise Rainer, the actress best known for her roles in The Good Earth (1937) and The Great Ziegfeld (1936), passed away in her London home on Tuesday. She was 104.

The German-born actress' daughter Francesca Knittel-Bowyer tells The Associated Press that her mother died of pneumonia. "She was bigger than life and can charm the birds out of the trees," she told AP following her mother's passing. "If you saw her, you'd never forget her.”

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Born Jan. 12, 1910, Rainer was acting in Germany before she was discovered by a talent scout from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and sent to Hollywood. Her first U.S. film was Escapade (1935), but it would be her next roles that would really put her on the map.

Rainer became the first actor to ever win two consecutive Academy Awards. She won for her roles as Anna Held in The Great Ziegfeld and O-Lan in The Good Earth. The only four other actors to win back-to-back Oscars are Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jason Robards and Tom Hanks.

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In a 1999 interview with AP, Rainer said that she didn't think her wins were good for her acting career. "When I got two Oscars, they thought, 'Oh, they can throw me into anything,'" she said.

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Rainer went on to have a guest appearance on The Love Boat in 1984 (in addition to numerous other films in the 1930s and 40s) and starred alongside Michael Gambon and Dominic West in her last movie, the 1997 drama The Gambler. She spent most her life residing in London.