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.
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.
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.
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.
|The Burning Trail||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|
|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|
|1929||Lucky Star||Mary Tucker|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|