The famous actress and one of America’s first “sweethearts,” Janet Gaynor, was born on this day in 1906! She is most well-known for being the very first winner
of the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929.
Walt Disney specifically asked his animators to model the titular princess of Snow White after Janet Gaynor (x).
Laura Augusta Gainor was born on
October 6, 1906 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest in the family
and had an older sister who nicknamed her “Lolly” as a child. Her father worked
as a theatrical painter and began encouraging Janet to sing and dance when she
was just a toddler, which led to her joining school plays as soon as she was
old enough. When her parents divorced in 1914, she, her sister, and her mother
moved to Chicago and then later to San Francisco. She graduated from San
Francisco Polytechnic High School in 1923. Soon after, the family
moved to Los Angeles so that Janet could be closer to the entertainment industry
action and could hopefully succeed in her acting career. Her first role was as
an extra in a small comedy short and she eventually worked her way up to a
supporting role in the 1926 film The
Johnstown Flood. That same year, her career really took off after she was
named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars alongside Joan Crawford and Mary Astor.
As Janet’s star grew, her image
became that of the sweet, wholesome woman in contrast to many of the famous
movie star “vamps” of the day. Her performance in 7th Heaven earned her the Best Actress award at the first ever
Academy Award Ceremony in 1929. Throughout the 1930s, she was one of the few
actresses who was able to make the leap into sound films with hits such as Daddy Long Legs (1931), A Star is Born (1937), and The Young in Heart (1938). Janet retired
from acting when she was at the top of her game in 1939.
Janet photographed enjoying a day at the pool with her fellow actress friend and close “gal pal,” Margaret Lindsay. Today, it is known that the two were actually romantically involved for a time (x).
Many have speculated about whether
Janet was a lesbian or was bisexual, but there is no denying that she had
relationships with other women. She was married to men three times throughout
her life and had a son named Robin with her second husband, Adrian. In the 2001
book Behind the Screen: How Gays and
Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910-1969, author William J. Mann asserts that
Janet was a lesbian who entered into “lavender marriages” with gay or bisexual men; it was a well-known “secret” in the theater community that her second husband Adrian Greenberg was a gay man. Janet is known to have had at least two serious relationships with women – fellow actresses Margaret
Lindsay and Mary Martin. Janet and Mary’s relationship was the longest of
the two and they often traveled to a vacation home in the Brazilian town of Goiás
together throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Actor Robert Cumming is famous for
having quipped, “Janet Gaynor’s husband was Adrian, the MGM fashion designer.
But her wife was Mary Martin.”
On September 5, 1982, Janet, her
third husband Paul, her lover Mary, and their friend Ben Washer were hit by a
drunk driver while riding in a taxi cab in San Francisco. Washer was killed,
while Janet and the other passenger sustained serious injuries. Janet would
never fully recover from her injuries and would eventually pass away on September 14, 1984. She is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery