Birthday: October 6, 1906
Died At Age: 77
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Laura Augusta Gainor
Born in: Germantown, Philadelphia, U.S.
Famous as: Actress
Spouse/Ex-: Adrian (m. 1939; d. 1959), Jesse Lydell Peck (m. 1929; div. 1933), Paul Gregory (m. 1964)
father: Frank De Witt Gainor
Died on: September 14, 1984
place of death: Palm Springs, California, U.S.
U.S. State: Pennsylvania
Janet Gaynor was an American film, stage and television actress who won the first ever Academy Award for Best Actress. Beginning her career as an extra in shorts and silent films, she soon rose to fame to become one of the most popular female stars of her era. Unlike many of her contemporaries who were unable to make a successful transition to talkies with the advent of sound in films, Janet Gaynor effortlessly transitioned to talkies and enjoyed great success. The daughter of a theatrical painter, she was taught to sing and dance when she was just a toddler. Blessed with an inherent love for acting, she started performing in school plays as a child. As a teenager she became serious about an acting career and made her first film appearance in the bathing-beauty two-reeler ‘All Wet.’ Soon she started appearing as extras in films and caught Hollywood’s fancy with her innocent looks and wide eyes. Once she started getting lead roles in feature films, there was no looking back. The audience loved her child-like appeal which led her to be typecast as a sweet child-woman. When the silent films gave way to talkies, she easily made the transition and continued to be one of the most sought-after female stars of her era. Post her retirement from the silver screen, she became an accomplished oil painter.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as Laura Augusta Gainor on October 6, 1906, to Laura (Buhl) and Frank De Witt Gainor, as one of their two daughters. Her father, a theatrical painter and paperhanger, began teaching her how to sing, dance, and perform acrobatics when she was a toddler.
Performing on stage came naturally to her and as a child she often acted in her school plays. Her parents divorced in 1914 and her mother remarried Harry C. Jones.
She attended the San Francisco Polytechnic High School from where she graduated in 1923. During this time, she contemplated a career in acting but was not much confident. Her mother and stepfather supported her and encouraged her to try her hand at acting.
She went to the Hollywood Secretarial School and also did odd jobs to earn some money. By now she was also making rounds to the studios in search for an acting part.
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She began her career as an extra in shorts and silent films. On the advice of her stepfather, she adopted the screen name of Janet Gaynor. Following a string of appearances in short films, she began receiving feature film roles. She played the supporting role of Anna in the drama film ‘The Johnstown Flood’ (1926) for which she received much praise.
Petite, wide-eyed and charming, she exuded a child-like innocence that made her instantly popular with the audiences. She appeared in several other films like ‘The Shamrock Handicap’, ‘The Blue Eagle’, ‘The Midnight Kiss’ and ‘The Return of Peter Grimm’ soon after the success of ‘The Johnstown Flood’ in 1926.
Janet Gaynor was a rising star by 1927. That year, she paired up for the first time with Charles Farrell in ‘7th Heaven’, marking the beginning of a long-term successful collaboration between the two. The duo became a very popular onscreen couple and would appear together in 11 more films.
The late 1920s marked the advent of sound in feature films. Most of the silent era stars struggled to maintain their successful careers in the changed situation but Gaynor was able to easily make the transition to the talkies. During this time she appeared in three part-talkies:‘Four Devils’ (1928), ‘Christina’ (1929) and ‘Lucky Star’ (1929).
A very prominent leading lady in the early 1930s, she was one of Hollywood's biggest box office draws. Often compared to Mary Pickford due to her sweet, wholesome image, she appeared in remakes of two Pickford films, ‘Daddy Long Legs’ (1931) and ‘Tess of the Storm Country’ (1932).
Even though she was an immensely successful actress, she somewhat got tired of being typecast as a sweet young woman with a wholesome image. She portrayed similar roles in the movies ‘State Fair’ (1933), ‘The Farmer Takes a Wife’ (1935), and ‘A Star Is Born’ (1937). She retired from acting in 1939, on top of her career.
During her later life she became an accomplished oil painter and achieved much popularity with her vegetable and flower paintings. She held four shows under the Wally Findlay Galleries banner in New York, Chicago, and Palm Beach from 1975 to February 1982. She also sold over 200 paintings.
In the romantic drama film ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans,’ Gaynor gave one of her finest performances as the wife of a philandering man who plans to kill her. The movie, directed by German director F. W. Murnau, was both a commercial and critical success.
In the film ‘Street Angel’, Janet Gaynor portrayed Angela, a spirited young woman who resorts to illegal ways to earn money to help pay for her ill mother’s treatment. It was one of the three movies for which she received an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929; the others being ‘Sunrise’ and ‘7th Heaven.’
Awards & Achievements
She became the first winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929, winning the award for her performances in three films: ‘7th Heaven’ (1927), ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ (1927), and ‘Street Angel’ (1928).
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6284 Hollywood Blvd.
In 1979, Gaynor was awarded the Order of the Southern Cross for her cultural contributions to Brazil.
Personal Life & Legacy
Janet Gaynor was thrice married. Her first marriage to lawyer Jesse Lydell Peck in 1929 was short-lived and ended in divorce in 1933.
She married MGM costume designer Adrian in 1939 and had a son with him. Adrian died in 1959.
She tied the knot with her longtime friend, stage producer Paul Gregory, in 1964 and remained married to him until her death.
In 1982, Gaynor, her husband Paul Gregory, actress Mary Martin, and Martin's manager Ben Washer were involved in a serious car accident. She sustained several serious injuries and never fully recovered. Her health worsened in the months following the accident and she died on September 14, 1984 after being hospitalized for pneumonia.