JANET GAYNOR (born Laura Augusta Gainor) was born on this date; (d: 1984) Gaynor was an American film, stage, and television actress and painter. She began her career as an extra in shorts and silent films. After signing with Fox Film Corporation (later 20th Century-Fox) in 1926, she rose to fame and became one of the biggest box office draws of the era. In 1929, she was 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. Gaynor’s career success continued into the sound film era, and she achieved a notable success in the original version of A Star Is Born, for which she received a second Best Actress Academy Award nomination.
Gaynor was also a gifted painter, doing mostly pictures of florals. She had several solo shows of her work at galleries in Palm Springs, Chicago and New York City.
Gaynor was married three times and had one child. Her first marriage was to lawyer Jesse Lydell Peck, whom she married in September1929. Gaynor’s attorney announced the couple’s separation in late December 1932. She was granted a divorce in April 1933. In August 1939, she married MGM costume designer Adrian in Yuma, Arizona. This relationship has been called a lavender marriage because Adrian was openly gay within the film community. They neglect to mention that so was Gaynor. That notwithstanding, the couple had one son, Robin Gaynor Adrian, born in 1940. Gaynor and Adrian remained married until Adrian’s death from a stroke on September 13, 1959. All three of Gaynor’s husbands were gay.
William Mann’s terrific, juicy, meticulously researched book Behind The Screen: How Gays And Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910-1969 (2001) says that Gaynor wasn’t bisexual at all, but a real lifelong, softball-playing lesbian, seriously involved with at least two other stars, fellow silent film actor Margaret Lindsay and Peter Pan herself, Mary Martin. Actor Robert Cummings once quipped, “Janet Gaynor’s husband was Adrian, the MGM fashion designer. But her wife was Mary Martin.”
On the evening of September 5, 1982, Gaynor, her husband Paul Gregory, actress Mary Martin, and Martin’s manager Ben Washer were involved in a serious car wreck in San Francisco. A van ran a red light at the corner of California and Franklin Streets and crashed into the Luxor taxicab in which the group was riding, knocking it into a tree. Ben Washer was killed, Mary Martin sustained two broken ribs and a broken pelvis, and Gaynor’s husband suffered two broken legs. Gaynor sustained several serious injuries, including 11 broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, pelvic fractures, a punctured lung, and injuries to her bladder and kidney.
As a result of her injuries, Gaynor was hospitalized for four months and underwent two surgeries to repair a perforated bladder and internal bleeding. She recovered sufficiently to return to her home in Desert Hot Springs, but continued to experience health issues due to the injuries and required frequent hospitalizations. Shortly before her death, she was hospitalized for pneumonia and other ailments. On September 14, 1984, Gaynor died at Desert Hospital in Palm Springs at the age of 77. Her doctor, Bart Apfelbaum, attributed her death to the 1982 car wreck and stated that Gaynor “never recovered” from her injuries.