Janet Gaynor was the actress whose elegantly demure movie portrayals of forlorn heroines carried her to fame in both the silent and talking-film eras — and won her the first Academy Award for lead actress.
From the silent screen to the talkies, Janet Gaynor's fame never wavered, growing role by role until, after her triumph in 1937 in the original "A Star Is Born," she simply walked away from the glamour.
Barely 5 feet tall, freckled, slender and crowned with a mop of red hair, she exuded the right combination of naivete and primness, particularly in her roles opposite Charles Farrell, her costar in a series of films.
In 1926, she was second lead in "The Johnstown Flood," a role that put her in line for the job as Diane, the Parisian waif of "Seventh Heaven."
The movie provided Gaynor with her the Academy Award—at the ripe age of 22.
Technically, she won the 1929 Oscar for work in three silent pictures—"Seventh Heaven," "Sunrise" and "Street Angel"—all done for Fox studios.
Just after receiving her Oscar, she debuted in the talkies, starring in "Sunny Side Up." Unlike most silent stars, she saw her popularity rise.
In 1935, six years after her Oscar victory, she was cast opposite another relative youngster in his first movie role. The film was "Farmer Takes a Wife" and the actor was Henry Fonda.
She quit Hollywood in 1939 to marry designer Gilbert Adrian, whose clothes draped numerous movie stars, including Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford.
Gaynor and her former costar Farrell re-created their "Seventh Heaven" roles for radio, in 1951.
In 1957, she made her one and only return to film—as "Bernardine," a film that offended her largely because her scenes were cut.
Gaynor married her third husband, Paul Gregory in 1964. They spent most of their time in Palm Springs, he raising squab on a 100-acre estate and she painting Grandma-Moses-style primitives in an open-air gazebo above the desert floor.
She made her debut on Broadway in 1980, at 74, in "Harold and Maude," playing an eccentric 80-year-old woman attracted to a 19-year-old man.
She had been in failing health the last two years of her life, after September, 1982 traffic accident in San Francisco injured her and Broadway star Mary Martin and killed Martin's manager.
|1927||Best Actress||7th Heaven / Street Angel / Sunrise||Win|
|1937||Best Actress||A Star Is Born||Nomination|