Luise Rainer, back-to-back Oscar winner, dead at 104

Story highlights

  • Luise Rainer was first actress to win back-to-back Oscars
  • Performer left MGM because she was unhappy with roles
  • She had long and rich life in Europe, made another movie in 1997

(CNN)Luise Rainer, who won back-to-back Oscars in the 1930s for "The Great Ziegfeld" and "The Good Earth" only to quit Hollywood at the height of her fame, has died.

She was 104.
Rainer's death was first reported by her daughter, Francesca Knittel Bowyer, on Twitter.
    "Mummy had the fragility of an orchid, the energy of a hummingbird, the tenacity of a hunter. She could change calm waters into a raging storm with a look and the lift of a finger," Bowyer told CNN in an email. "My heart is a hole without her, but that hole will definitely be filled with incredible memories, sweet, salty and funny. I want her memory to linger with those who knew her and be given to those who did not."
    Rainer, who was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1910, was a well-known European actress when she was brought to America by MGM in 1935 in the belief she could be the next Greta Garbo. She immediately came through on their investment with her star turn in 1936's "The Great Ziegfeld," winning a best actress Oscar.
    She repeated the achievement with 1937's "The Good Earth," based on Pearl S. Buck's novel, in which she played O-Lan, the wife of protagonist Wang Lung. With that prize, she became the first actress to win consecutive best actress Academy Awards -- a feat not equaled until Katharine Hepburn pulled off the trick for 1967's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and 1968's "The Lion in Winter."
    To date, they are the only actresses to have done so. Both Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks have done so in the best actor category, and Jason Robards won two straight supporting actor Oscars.
    But unlike Hepburn, who enjoyed a long career in movies despite the vagaries of fame, Rainer's life as a Hollywood star was short-lived -- by her own choice.
    She had frequent battles with MGM boss Louis B. Mayer and didn't like the roles she was offered.
    "All kinds of nonsense," she told the UK's Telegraph news site