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Janet Gaynor

Janet Gaynor (October 6, 1906September 14, 1984) was an American actress.

One of the most popular actresses of the silent film era, in 1928 Gaynor became the first winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in the films: Sunrise (1927), Seventh Heaven (1927), and Street Angel (1928). Her career continued with the advent of sound film, and she achieved a notable success in the original version of A Star Is Born (1937). She worked only sporadically after the late 1930s. Severely injured in a 1982 vehicle collision, her injuries contributed to her death two years later.

Early life

Born Laura Augusta Gainor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, her family moved west to San Francisco when she was just a child. When graduated from high school in 1923, Gaynor decided to pursue a career in acting. She then moved to Los Angeles, where she supported herself working in a shoe store, receiving $18 per week. She managed to land unbilled small parts in several feature films and comedy shorts for two years. Finally, in 1926, at the age of 20, she was cast in the lead role in a silent film called The Johnstown Flood, the same year she was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars (with Joan Crawford, Dolores del Rio and others). Her outstanding performance won her the attention of producers, who cast her in a series of films.

Rising career

Within one year, Gaynor was one of Hollywood's leading ladies. Her performances in Seventh Heaven (the first of twelve movies she would make with actor Charles Farrell) and both Sunrise and Street Angel (in 1927, also with Charles Farrell) earned her the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1928. It was the only time in Oscar history that the award was given for multiple roles: it was given on the basis of the actor's total work over the year, and not just for one particular performance. Gaynor was not only the first, but until 1986 (when Marlee Matlin won her Oscar), she was also the youngest actress to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. At the time of their respective wins, Gaynor was 22 years old and Matlin was 21 years old.

Gaynor was one of only a handful of leading ladies who made a successful transition to sound movies over the next decade. And for a number of years, Gaynor was the leading actress of the Fox studios and was treated accordingly with top billing and the choice of prime roles, starring in such films as Delicious, Adorable, and Merely Mary Ann. However, when Darryl F. Zanuck merged his fledgling studio, 20th Century Pictures, with Fox Film Corporation to form Twentieth Century Fox, her status became precarious and even tertiary to that of actresses Loretta Young and Shirley Temple. She managed to terminate her contract with the studio and achieved acclaim in films produced by David O. Selznick in the mid-1930s.

In 1937, she was again nominated for an Academy Award, this time for her role in A Star Is Born. After appearing in The Young in Heart, she left film industry for nearly twenty years, returning one last time in 1957 as Pat Boone's mother in Bernardine.

Later life and death

Gaynor was married to producer Paul Gregory from 24 December 1964 to her death on 14 September 1984. Previous marriages were to MGM costume designer Adrian from 14 August, 1939 to his death on 13 September 1959, and to Jesse Lydell Peck from 11 September 1929 to 7 April 1933. Gaynor had one son with Adrian, Robin Gaynor Adrian, born in 1940.

Gaynor was close friends with actress Mary Martin, with whom she frequently travelled. A Brazilian press report noted that Gaynor and Martin briefly lived with their respective husbands in the state of Goiás in the 1950s and 1960s.

She died in 1984, at the age of 77, due largely to the aftermath of a traffic accident in San Francisco two years earlier. In the accident, a driver named Robert Cato ran a red light at the corner of California Street and Franklin and crashed into her Luxor taxicab. The violent crash killed Mary Martin's manager Ben Washer and injured the other passengers, including Gaynor's husband Paul Gregory, as well as her close, long-time friend, Mary Martin. Gaynor was in serious condition with eleven broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, pelvic fractures, an injured bladder and a damaged kidney. She never fully recovered from the accident and after several operations died of complications.

She was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California next to her second husband Adrian, but her stone reads "Janet Gaynor Gregory" in tribute to her third husband, producer and director Paul Gregory.

Filmography

Features

Year Film Role Other notes
1924 Cupid's Rustler uncredited
Young Ideas uncredited
1925 Dangerous Innocence uncredited
The Burning Trail uncredited
The Teaser uncredited
The Plastic Age uncredited
1926 A Punch in the Nose Bathing Beauty uncredited
The Beautiful Cheat uncredited
The Johnstown Flood Anna Burger
Oh What a Nurse! uncredited
Skinner's Dress Suit uncredited
The Shamrock Handicap Lady Sheila O'Hara
The Galloping Cowboy uncredited
The Man in the Saddle uncredited
The Blue Eagle Rose Kelly
The Midnight Kiss Mildred Hastings
The Return of Peter Grimm Catherine
Lazy Lightning uncredited
The Stolen Ranch uncredited
1927 Two Girls Wanted Marianna Wright
Seventh Heaven Diane Academy Award for Best Actress
Sunrise The Wife - Indre Academy Award for Best Actress
1928 Street Angel Angela Academy Award for Best Actress
4 Devils Marion
1929 Lucky Star Mary Tucker
Happy Days Herself
Christina Christina
Sunny Side Up Mary Carr
1930 High Society Blues Eleanor Divine
1931 The Man Who Came Back Angie Randolph
Daddy Long Legs Judy Abbott
Merely Mary Ann Mary Ann
Delicious Heather Gordon
1932 The First Year Grace Livingston
Tess of the Storm Country Tess Howland
1933 State Fair Margy Frake
Adorable Princess Marie Christine, aka Mitzi
Paddy the Next Best Thing Paddy Adair
1934 Carolina Joanna Tate
The Cardboard City Herself Cameo
Change of Heart Catherine Furness
Servants' Entrance Hedda Nilsson aka Helga Brand
1935 One More Spring Elizabeth Cheney
The Farmer Takes a Wife Molly Larkins
1936 Small Town Girl Katherine 'Kay' Brannan
Ladies in Love Martha Kerenye
1937 A Star Is Born Esther Victoria Blodgett, aka Vicki Lester Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
1938 Three Loves Has Nancy Nancy Briggs
The Young in Heart George-Anne Carleton
1957 Bernardine Mrs. Ruth Wilson

Short Subjects

Year Film Role Other notes
1924 All Wet uncredited
1925 The Haunted Honeymoon uncredited
The Crook Buster uncredited
1926 WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1926 Herself
Ridin' for Love uncredited
Fade Away Foster uncredited
The Fire Barrier uncredited
Don't Shoot uncredited
Pep of the Lazy J June Adams uncredited
Martin of the Mounted uncredited
45 Minutes from Hollywood uncredited
1927 The Horse Trader uncredited
1941 Meet the Stars #2: Baby Stars Herself

References

Further reading

  • Menefee, David W. The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era. Connecticut: Praeger, 2004. ISBN 0-275-98259-9.
  • Martin, Mary. My Heart Belongs. New York: Quill, 1984.

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