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

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 three films: Seventh Heaven (1927), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and Street Angel (1928). This was the only occasion on which an actress has won for multiple roles. This rule would be changed three years later by AMPAS. 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, the incident contributed to her death two years later.

Early life

Born Laura Augusta Gainor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 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 (2009: $230).

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 The Johnstown Flood (1926), the same year she was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars (with Joan Crawford, Dolores del Río and others). Her outstanding performance won her the attention of producers, who cast her in a series of films.

Rising career

Within a 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, directed by F. W. Murnau, and Street Angel (in 1927, also with Charles Farrell) earned her the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1928. 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 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 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 Delicious (1931), Merely Mary Ann (also 1931) and Adorable (1933). 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.

In 1939, she played Baroness Mary Vetsera in the Lux Radio Theater episode of January 1, 1939 - Mayerling.

Later life and death

Gaynor was married to producer Paul Gregory from December 24, 1964 to her death on September 14, 1984. Previous marriages were to Jesse Lydell Peck from September 11, 1929 to April 7, 1933, and to MGM costume designer Adrian from August 14, 1939 to his death on September 13, 1959. Gaynor had one son with Adrian, Robin Gaynor Adrian, born in 1940. 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 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 on September 14, 1984, at the age of 77, due largely to the aftermath of a traffic accident in San Francisco two years earlier; specifically, her death resulted from complications following several operations. 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 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. The drunk driver of the van, Robert Cato, was sentenced to a three-year prison term for drunken driving and vehicle manslaughter in the accident.

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. Her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame can be found at 6284 Hollywood Blvd.

Filmography

Features

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 lost film

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 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

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