Luise Rainer, a classically trained actress, didn’t “believe in acting” and thought most roles in film were “all kinds of nonsense.” (interview The Telegraph, London. October 22, 2009) Born in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1910 and discovered on the Viennese stage by an American talent scout in the early 1930s, Rainer signed an exclusive 7-year contract with MGM Studios. Louis B. Mayer, head of the studio, thought the actress with her unique look and strange accent could replace mega-star Greta Garbo in the American public’s heart.
As movies became a national obsession, the pubic was interested in every aspect of the industry. (Rainer’s love for her Scottish terrier Johnny was a fact often included in articles about her—for example October, 1935 Photoplay.) Fan magazines included real and invented information supplied by the studio publicity departments about their stars. MGM introduced the unknown Rainer to America with an elaborate, fictional back-story fed to Photoplay and Modern Screen. The German-born Rainer was now Viennese. Her father, a wealthy globetrotting businessman, educated his gifted daughter at a series of elite Swiss and French boarding schools. With the rise of the Nazis, studio executives feared that German actors were kassengift or "box-office poison" so they created new identities for many of their imported European actors and directors. (Studdeutsche de May 17, 2010) The facts about Luise Rainer’s origins are unclear as she rarely spoke about her background.
Rainer’s career in Hollywood was brief—she starred in 8 films, winning back-to-back Academy Awards for best actress by the time she was 28. In January 1937 she married Clifford Odets, “the boy wonder” of the American theater and by June of the following year she filed for divorce. The actress found it difficult to live with the possessive writer who “resented being called Mr. Rainer.” (The Pittsburg Press. June 10, 1938) Rainer soon argued with Mayer, gave up her film career, moved back to Europe and remarried.
Though she complained decades later about her unhappiness living in a Hollywood culture fueled by a drive for money, Rainer’s California life style was as luxurious as any other movie star's. In the 1930s one of the symbols of Hollywood success was buying a Paul R. Williams designed home. Her first large purchase was one of these homes.
Arriving in Los Angeles Rainer began looking for a residence where she could “feel warm and at home inside.” (Dwell. July-August 2006) She found a haven on North Cliffwood in Brentwood Heights purchasing a 1928 Paul R. Williams’ Spanish-Colonial-Revival home. The Brentwood Heights area was a preferred location for established stars including Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, child actress Shirley Temple and Greta Garbo, whose house with blue awnings was near Rainer's.
Built originally for an unknown Williams’ client at the height of the 1920s craze for this type of historic revival style home, Rainer’s 4000 square-foot residence was designed with sophisticated simplicity and details indicative of the Spanish-Colonial-Revival—rough surfaced exterior stucco walls, hand-made red roof tiles, arches and a simple front door hidden from street view by a small porch. Williams’ interior design included high-ceilings and open living spaces, polished red tile floors in the high traffic areas, stair risers set with colorful tiles (image 9), elaborate ceiling details and upper-floor bedrooms opening onto individual balconies for light and fresh air. The landscaped garden provided a secluded, shaded out-door space Rainer used to entertain. (images 14-15)
Initially living alone, Rainer enjoyed the home’s natural setting, the coolness of the open rooms and the light that “gives you a sense of happiness and freedom.” Her home became a retreat from the artificial environment and politics of her studio. During her short, turbulent marriage to playwright Clifford Odets (1937-1940) the couple shared the residence. Luise often hiked the nearby hills to escape Odets, feeling “ chased out of her own home” by the demanding writer. (Margaret Brenman-Gibson. Clifford Odets: American Playwright. 1981) After one month of marriage, she left Odets and took the train to New York.
Rainer and Odets would reconcile many times but in a 2002 interview she said, “Life with another human being is never just easy, especially when both partners are artists… I think he suffered under my fame and his having to share me with the rest of the world.” (Leo Verswijver. Movies Were Always Magical. 2003)
In November 1937 Luise Rainer gave up on Hollywood and her marriage. She put the North Cliffwood home and contents on the market for sale.
A series of classified ads in the Los Angeles Times read: “Paul Williams home located at 543 N. Cliffwood overlooking estates of Joan Crawford, Shirley Temple…COMPLETELY FURNISHED, 10 large rms-4 bedrms-3 ½ baths.”