Image: Brijesh Patel
February 04 2011
As the Academy Awards are almost on us, I was most fortunate to spend an absolutely delightful afternoon in the company of Luise Rainer, a woman who won two Best Actress Oscars, and not just that, but two Best Actress Oscars in consecutive years, and not just that, but two Best Actress Oscars back-to-back in the 1930s, in 1937 and again in 1938. This makes her… yes… 101 years old.
I adore meeting old people, especially when they are like Ms Rainer who, in addition to living a long life, has also led a highly interesting one. Among her friends were Toscanini and Georges Balanchine. She also knew, but did not seem to care overly for, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – we both appeared to agree that while his early novels such as The First Circle and Cancer Ward are brilliant, the later stuff including August 1914 and November 1916 could have been better.
However the pièce de résistance came when, running through her list of friends, she casually mentioned Albert Einstein. I think my jaw must have slackened noticeably. She called her nurse – she lives in a flat but has a little trouble getting around – and asked her to bring the photograph of her with Einstein. The photograph duly appeared of a younger Ms Rainer next to a man who was indisputably Einstein, with the distinctive “afro” hairstyle and, best all, a pair of shorts on his legs.
I would like to see any of the Academy Award-winning actresses of recent years – even if they have only won just one Oscar – manage to come up with anything half as impressive as a holiday snap with the most famous scientist since Da Vinci, and some first-hand insights into the mind of the greatest Russian novelist of the last century.