A petite, wholesome screen star, Janet Gaynor hit it big just as silent films were coming to an end and continued as one of the screen's most popular stars of the 1930s. Gaynor got her start in films through her sister, a secretary for Hal Roach. In 1925-26, she appeared in a number of shorts (including several Glenn Tryon Westerns) and as an extra in features. Her first break was a supporting role in "The Johnstown Flood" (1926), which began her long association with Fox.
Gaynor appeared in such films as "The Midnight Kiss" and "The Return of Peter Grimm" (both 1926), before becoming a full-fledged star as a street urchin in "Seventh Heaven" and a threatened farm wife in "Sunrise" (both 1927). She won the Best Actress award at the first Oscar ceremony, on May 16, 1929, for her combined work on those films and "Street Angel" (1928). She finished out the silent era with "Four Devils", "Christina" and "Lucky Star" (all 1929).
When talking films became popular, Gaynor rode the crest with the musical "Sunny Side Up" (1929). With her round, girlish face and cartoon-character voice, Gaynor remained one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the early Depression years, placing near the top of an annual exhibitors' poll of top ten box-office stars for several years in a row until 1935. Gaynor made an especially popular romantic team with the similarly gentle-mannered Charles Farrell in a dozen films, including the delightful musical "Sunny Side Up", the improbable but magically romantic "Lucky Star" (both 1929), the unusual Gershwin tunefest "Delicious" (1931), and lesser but enjoyable films like "Tess of the Storm Country" (1932) and "Change of Heart" (1934).
Gaynor also did well in vehicles without Farrell, including "State Fair" (1933) and the unjustly neglected "One More Spring" (1935). Perhaps Gaynor's best-remembered starring vehicle is the first screen version of "A Star Is Born" (1937), in which she teamed with Fredric March in the classic story of two married film stars, one on the way up and the other on the way down. She retired from the screen after making the highly enjoyable "The Young in Heart" (1938) but returned to films once more to play the mother in "Bernardine" (1957). Gaynor's second husband (1939-59) was famed MGM costume designer Gilbert Adrian. In 1982, she and her longtime close friend Mary Martin were in an auto accident in San Francisco; Martin's manager was killed and Gaynor never fully recovered from her injuries. She died two years later.