Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Philadelphia-born actress Janet Gaynor won the first Best Actress Academy Award.
Awards: Academy Award
American actress Janet Gaynor was born October 6, 1906 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Gaynor became a Hollywood icon in her early twenties. Breaking through the barrier of silent films she won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in three of her productions, Seventh Heaven, Sunrise—A Song of Two Humans, and Street Angel. Gaynor was married three times in her life and after her second marriage she decided to retire at the early age of 33. At this time in 1939, she was the highest paid actress ever in Hollywood. After a long retirement, Janet Gaynor passed away in 1984 from pneumonia and was survived by her third husband, Paul Gregory.
The American actress Janet Gaynor was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 1906 as Laura Augusta Gainor. Gaynor’s parents Frank D. Gainor and Laura Buhl divorced in 1914; following the divorce her mother decided to move Gaynor and her sister Helen to Chicago. While in Chicago, Gaynor experienced a severe case of influenza and ended up spending the majority of her early school years in Florida, where she stayed with her aunt in Melbourne. In 1919, Gaynor moved back with her mother and attended Lakeview High School in Chicago. In 1922, Gaynor’s mother remarried to Henry C. Jones who decided to relocate the family to San Francisco, California, where Gaynor and her sister attended the Polytechnical High School. Gaynor graduated in 1923 from Polytechnical High School with honors, and proceeded onto the Hollywood Secretarial School with her sister. Gaynor’s stepfather, Henry C. Jones influenced her to change her name to Janet Gaynor saying that it sounded more professional. Hoping to find work in films, Gaynor moved to Los Angeles, California shortly after graduation. According to YahooMovies, “Gaynor got her start in films through her sister, a secretary for Hal Roach. Her first break was a supporting role in “The Johnstown Flood” (1926), which began her long association with Fox. Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times movie reviewer explains, “Gaynor began as a true silent-film goddess, but lost part of that dazzling glow (while keeping her enormous popular appeal) when sound came in.” Just as silent films were coming to an end Gaynor hit it big; she costarred in Seventh Heaven (1927) with Charles Farrell; the two actors had amazing chemistry on screen and became “the world’s favorite sweethearts.” The duo went onto star in eleven romantic films including Street Angel (1930). In 1929, Gaynor received her first all-speaking and singing part in the musical. Following Gaynor’s spectacular performances in Seventh Heaven (1927), Sunrise—A Song of Two Humans (1928), and Street Angel (1930), she received the very first Academy Award for Best Actress in all three performances. According to the International Movie Database, “This was the first and only time an actress won the Oscar for multiple roles.” Gaynor was honored in 1929 at Grauman’s Chinese Theater 14th ceremony, where she was asked to put her hand and footprints in cement in the forecourt, Gaynor is honored by the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a star at 6284 Hollywood Blvd. After finding stardom Gaynor was fortunate enough to find love as well. In 1929 Gaynor married the film producer Lydell Peck whom she divorced four years later in 1933, only to get remarried in 1939 to a costume designer Gilbert Adrian. Gaynor and Adrian had one child, a son they named Robin. After Gaynor’s marriage to Adrian, she chose to retire in 1939 at the age of 33; at this time she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood receiving an annual salary of $252,583. After Gaynor’s retirement she did not reappear in a film until 1957’s Bernardine. Gaynor spent most of her retirement happily with her family at their ranch in Brazil where Adrian passed away in 1959. Gaynor’s married days had not yet come to a halt; in 1964 she married the producer Paul Gregory. Gaynor and Paul made their home in Palm Springs where Gaynor took up painting. Her works were recognized in 1976 and were shown in an art gallery in New York City. Gaynor performed in thirty seven major Hollywood films and according to biography.com “She gave Depression-era audiences a sympathetic and loving heroine. In later years Gaynor said, “We were essences. ... I was the essence of young first love.” In the early 1980’s Gaynor was riding in a taxi with actress Mary Martin, when a drunk driver ran into them at the intersection of Franklin and California Streets. Gaynor and Mary were seriously injured; Martin recovered but Gaynor could not overcome the accident. Janet Gaynor passed away two years later Palm Springs, on September 4, 1984; Gaynor died of pneumonia and un-recovered injuries from her accident. Gaynor was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
The Johnstown Flood. Dir. Irving Cummings. Fox Film Corporation, 1926.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Dir. F.W. Murnau. Fox Film Corporation, 1927
Street Angel. Dir. Frank Borzage. Fox Film Corporation, 1928.
Seventh Heaven. Dir. Frank Borzage. Fox Film Corporation, 1929.
Happy Days. Dir. Benjamin Stoloff. Fox Film Corporation, 1930.
State Fair. Dir. Henry King. Fox Film Corporation, 1933.
A Star is Born. Dir. William A. Wellman. Selznick International Pictures, 1937.
Bernardine. Dir. Henry Levin. Fox Film Corporation, 1957.
Bird, David. “Janet Gaynor is Dead at 77; First ‘Best Actress’ Winner.” New York Times 15 Sept. 1984: 30.