Janet Gaynor

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Janet Gaynor
Janet Gaynor-publicity.JPG
in Servant's Entrance (1934)
Born Laura Augusta Gainor
(1906-10-06)October 6, 1906
Germantown, Philadelphia, U.S.
Died September 14, 1984(1984-09-14) (aged 77)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Resting place
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Occupation Actress
Years active 1924–1981
Spouse(s) Jesse Lydell Peck (1929-1933)
Adrian (1939-1959; his death)
Paul Gregory (1964-1984; her death)

Janet Gaynor (October 6, 1906 – September 14, 1984) was an American actress[1] and painter.

In 1929 Gaynor became the first winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in three films: 7th Heaven (1927), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and Street Angel (1928). This was the only occasion on which an actress has won one Oscar for multiple film roles. This rule would be changed three years later by AMPAS. Her career as the primary actress of Fox Studios continued with the advent of sound film, and she achieved a notable success in the original version of A Star Is Born (1937), for which she received another Academy Award nomination.

She chose to work only occasionally after her marriage to film costume designer Adrian in 1939. She was severely injured in a 1982 vehicle collision, which contributed to her death two years later.

Early life[edit]

Born Laura Augusta Gainor in Germantown, Philadelphia, her family moved west to San Francisco during her childhood. When she graduated from high school in 1923, Gaynor decided to pursue an acting career. She moved to Los Angeles, where she supported herself working in a shoe store, receiving $18 per week (2015: $250).

Gaynor, who was 5'0" tall, 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 selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars (with Joan Crawford, Dolores del Río and others), and was cast in the lead role in The Johnstown Flood (1926). Her outstanding performance won her the attention of producers, who cast her in a series of films.

Rising career[edit]

Janet Gaynor ca. 1931

Gaynor was one of Hollywood's leading ladies within a year. Her performances in 7th Heaven (the first of twelve movies she would make with actor Charles Farrell) and both Sunrise, directed by F. W. Murnau, and Street Angel (in 1927, also with Charles Farrell) earned her the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929. At the time, the award was awarded 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 also, at 22 years old, the youngest actress to win an Academy Award for Best Actress up until 1986 where deaf actress Marlee Matlin, aged 21, won for her role in Children of a Lesser God.

1927 studio portrait

Gaynor was one of only a handful of leading ladies who made a successful transition to sound films. For a number of years, Gaynor was the Fox studios foremost actress and was given the choice of prime roles, starring in such films as Sunny Side Up (1929), Delicious (1931), Merely Mary Ann (also 1931), and Adorable (1933), as well as State Fair (1933) with Will Rogers and The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), which introduced Henry Fonda to the screen as Gaynor's leading man. 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, although she always received top billing in every movie that she made during the 1930s, including Ladies in Love (1937) with Constance Bennett, Young, and Tyrone Power. 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 with Paulette Goddard the following year, she left the film industry for nearly twenty years at the age of 32 in order to travel with her husband Adrian, returning one last time in 1957 as Pat Boone's mother in Bernadine.

Later life and death[edit]

Gaynor's gravestone

Gaynor's first marriage was to Jesse Lydell Peck from September 11, 1929 to April 7, 1933. She was married to MGM costume designer Adrian from August 14, 1939 to his death on September 13, 1959. This relationship has been called a lavender marriage, since both were primarily homosexual in orientation.[2][3] The couple had one son, Robin Gaynor Adrian, born in 1940.

She was married to producer Paul Gregory from December 24, 1964 until her death in 1984.[1] The two maintained a home in Desert Hot Springs, California.[4]

In addition to acting, Gaynor was an accomplished visual artist and her oil paintings were featured at the Wally Findlay Galleries show in New York, March 25 to April 7, 1977.

Gaynor had a long-term lesbian relationship with actress Mary Martin, with whom she frequently travelled.[3][5][6] Actor Bob Cummings once quipped: "Janet Gaynor's husband was Adrian, but her wife was Mary Martin".[7] 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.[8]

She died on September 14, 1984, at the age of 77, largely because of the aftermath of a traffic accident in San Francisco two years earlier;[9] specifically, her death resulted from complications following several operations. In the accident, a van ran a red light at the corner of California Street and Franklin and crashed into her Luxor taxicab. The 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.[9][10] The driver of the van was sentenced to a three-year prison term for drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter.

She was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California next to her second husband Adrian, but her stone reads "Janet Gaynor Gregory," her legal name after her marriage to her third husband, producer and director Paul Gregory. Her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame can be found at 6284 Hollywood Blvd.



Year Title Role Notes
1924 Cupid's Rustler Uncredited
1924 Young Ideas Uncredited
1925 Dangerous Innocence Uncredited
1925 The Burning Trail Uncredited
1925 The Teaser Uncredited
1925 The Plastic Age Uncredited
1926 A Punch in the Nose Bathing Beauty Uncredited
1926 The Beautiful Cheat Uncredited
1926 The Johnstown Flood Anna Burger
1926 Oh What a Nurse! Uncredited
1926 Skinner's Dress Suit Uncredited
1926 The Shamrock Handicap Lady Sheila O'Hara
1926 The Galloping Cowboy Uncredited
1926 The Man in the Saddle Uncredited
1926 The Blue Eagle Rose Kelly
1926 The Midnight Kiss Mildred Hastings
1926 The Return of Peter Grimm Catherine
1926 Lazy Lightning Uncredited
1926 The Stolen Ranch Uncredited
1927 Two Girls Wanted Marianna Wright
1927 7th Heaven Diane Academy Award for Best Actress
1927 Sunrise The Wife - Indre
1928 Street Angel Angela
1928 4 Devils Marion Lost film
1929 Lucky Star Mary Tucker
1929 Happy Days Herself
1929 Christina Christina
1929 Sunny Side Up Mary Carr
1930 High Society Blues Eleanor Divine
1931 The Man Who Came Back Angie Randolph
1931 Daddy Long Legs Judy Abbott
1931 Merely Mary Ann Mary Ann
1931 Delicious Heather Gordon
1932 The First Year Grace Livingston
1932 Tess of the Storm Country Tess Howland
1933 State Fair Margy Frake
1933 Adorable Princess Marie Christine, aka Mitzi
1933 Paddy the Next Best Thing Paddy Adair
1934 Carolina Joanna Tate
1934 The Cardboard City Herself Cameo
1934 Change of Heart Catherine Furness
1934 Servants' Entrance Hedda Nilsson aka Helga Brand
1935 One More Spring Elizabeth Cheney
1935 The Farmer Takes a Wife Molly Larkins
1936 Small Town Girl Katherine 'Kay' Brannan
1936 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
1938 The Young in Heart George-Anne Carleton
1957 Bernardine Mrs. Ruth Wilson

Short subjects[edit]

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


  1. ^ a b "Gaynor, Janet (1906–1984)." Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages. Gale. 2007. Retrieved January 7, 2013 from HighBeam Research
  2. ^ Lyttle, John (29 August 1995). "The bride and groom wore lavender". The Independent. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons (2006). Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. NY: Basic Books. ISBN 046502288X. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Wallace, David (2008). A City Comes Out. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade. p. 123. ISBN 978-1569803493. LCCN 2008022210. OCLC 209646547. 
  5. ^ McCroy, Winnie. "Hollywood Celesbians :: Then and Now". The Edge. Edge Media Network. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  6. ^ Secrest, Meryle (2002). Somewhere for Me: A Biography of Richard Rodgers. NY: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. p. 292. ISBN 1557835810. 
  7. ^ Fleming, E.J. (2004). The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. p. 206. ISBN 0786420278. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  8. ^ Glamour americano decorou o cerrado Correio Braziliense. 8 April 2003.
  9. ^ a b "Janet Gaynor, Oscar Winning Star". Philadelphia Inquirer. September 15, 1984. Janet Gaynor, 77, the first actress to win an Academy Award, died yesterday at Desert Hospital in Palm Springs, Calif. Her physician, Bart Apfelbaum, said that injuries she suffered in a September 1982 traffic accident in San Francisco had caused her death. The actress had sustained 11 broken ribs, a severely fractured pelvis and extensive abdominal injuries. Miss Gaynor, who specialized in sentimental portrayals of vulnerable women, met with almost instant success in Hollywood. 
  10. ^ "Hospitalized". Time (magazine). September 20, 1982. Retrieved 2008-06-25. Janet Gaynor, 73, winner of the first Oscar for Best Actress (1929), in serious condition with eleven broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, pelvic fractures, an injured bladder and a damaged kidney; and Mary Martin, 68, star of Broadway's original South Pacific and TV's first Peter Pan, in good condition with two fractured ribs, a fractured pelvis and a punctured lung; after a vehicular accident; in San Francisco. Gaynor and her husband Paul Gregory, 61, and Martin and her press agent, Ben Washer, 76, were riding in a taxi when they were struck broadside by a van. Washer was killed. Gregory is in good condition. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Baker, Sarah J. (2009). Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. Anders, Allison (foreword). Albany, GA: Bean Manor Media. p. 299. ISBN 978-1593934682. OCLC 503442323. 
  • 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.

External links[edit]