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Silent film actress Janet Gaynor won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929, for her role in the movie Seventh Heaven.
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During the transition from silent to talking films, Gaynor appeared in three part-talkies: Four Devils (1928, partial dialogue added in a 1929 rerelease); Christina (1929) and Lucky Star (1929). She passed the voice test for the 1929 musical Sunny Side Up, her first all-speaking and singing part. Not pleased with her performance, she took voice lessons,
but the studio persuaded her to be herself.
In September 1929 Gaynor married Lydell Peck. She appeared in several mediocre musicals with Farrell in 1930. Gaynor, upset with the repetitive ingenue roles assigned her, left for Hawaii and promised to return only when given meatier parts. After holding out for seven months, she resumed the same roles that had made her famous. In 1931 and 1932 she acted in the remake of Daddy Long Legs (1931); in The Man Who Came Back (1931), with Farrell; and in four other films.
From 1933 to 1938, more naive-young-girl-makes-good roles followed, but three movies stood out: the original nonmusical State Fair (1933), with Gaynor playing Will Rogers's daughter; The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), as novice actor Henry Fonda's wife; and the original classic A Star Is Born (1937). In the last of these, Gaynor gave her most notable performance as rising star Esther Blodgett. For her performance, she received an Academy Award nomination. Afterward, she acted in Three Loves Has Nancy (1938) and The Young in Heart (1938).
At the age of 33, Gaynor retired from acting in 1939 as Hollywood's highest-paid actress, earning an annual salary of $252,583. After devoting seventeen years to the screen, she wanted to experience another life, fall in love, and have a child, her childless marriage to Peck having ended in divorce in 1935. Her popularity was also waning. Prewar viewers, wanting bolder and more sophisticated heroines, had begun to tire of the typical Gaynor film. In August 1939, Gaynor married Gilbert Adrian. Gaynor and Adrian had one son, Robin, born in 1940. For the next twelve years, Gaynor traveled extensively with Adrian, assisting him with his fashion and furniture business. In 1952 they bought a ranch in Brazil, where for the next seven years they spent most of their time, with visits to their ranch in Palm Springs and a house in Hawaii.
Gaynor made a few professional appearances during World War II, participating in Victory Book Rallies in 1941 and 1942, a war bond tour, and a Navy Relief fund-raising tour. In 1951 she and Farrell reunited for a Lux Radio twenty-fifth anniversary production of Seventh Heaven. She made her final film appearance in 1957, playing Pat Boone's mother in Bernardine. During her later years, she attempted roles in three unsuccessful plays: The Midnight Sun (1959) and Harold and Maude (1980) on Broadway, and On Golden Pond (1981) in Chicago. She also appeared in several television productions, including The Love Boat, in 1981.
Adrian's death in 1959 left Gaynor devastated and ill.
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In the early years of motion pictures, actors were recruited from the stage, resulting in larger-than-life performances that seemed jarring when blown up to the size of a movie screen. As the years went on, actors began to understand the subtleties of the medium, and used more natural expressions to connect with their audiences. They became movie stars, known for their glamorous looks and identifiable personalities. As Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard would say, they didn't need dialogue, they had faces.
Silent Screen Stars 16 people in this group
Best Actress Oscar Winners 68 people in this group
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