You might remember Charles Triplett from previous VintageMeld posts which showed off his own Judy Garland collection and then took us on a tour of the Ava Gardner Museum. Back when I'd first made contact with Charles I'd asked him if he had any other collectibles to show off and the response, "one of Janet Gaynor's paintings" caught my ear as perfect Meld material. A Hollywood Star takes up painting after her screen days are over and is good enough to have had multiple sold out gallery appearances? Sounds like a Melding of talents to me.
Here's what Charles has hanging in his home:
Unfortunately the fine arts are not by any means an area of personal expertise, but Charles was kind enough to supply me with the February 1982 issue of "American Artist" magazine which included the article "Janet Gaynor: A Talent for Making Pictures" by Lori Simmons Zelenko, and so that is what as used in this post when referring to Gaynor's off-screen talent and passion.
But first, just in case you've just wound up here by chance and are wondering, "Who's Janet Gaynor," well, hopefully you don't watch a lot of classic movies but if you do, shame on you! On second thought, maybe it's not your fault if you don't remember ...
For some reason Janet Gaynor seems to have fallen by the wayside when we remember classic stars of the past. Lacking the mystique of a Garbo or the sexuality of a Clara Bow, it seems that when legacies are laid down nice girls may in fact finish last.
Most astounding is that it appears there has never been a complete biography published about Janet Gaynor, though it appears Lucky Stars by Sarah Baker about both Gaynor and Charles Farrell is in the works, and hopefully coming sometime soon from BearManor Media. But how could this be? This is a major star being forgotten, our first Academy Award winner for Best Actress, who took the Award for her starring role in not one, but three classic silent films, and then after a successful transition to talkies later played Vicki Lester in the original version of the legendary "A Star Is Born".
In American Artist, when asked about the possibility of an autobiography, Gaynor said, "Oh no, I'll let somebody else do that when I'm not here" Well, Miss Gaynor will have been gone for 25 years come Tuesday the 14th (D: Sep. 14, 1984), who'd have thought no one would take her up on this after all this time?
I'm not in any way going to attempt the full Janet Gaynor biography for you in this space, but I will give you the brief basics:
Born Laura Gainor in Philadelphia, October 6, 1906, Gaynor was in Hollywood by age 18 playing bit parts in silent films. Her first lead came in The Johnstown Flood (1926), where she was successful enough to land more lead roles and soon thereafter receive the First Academy Award for Best Actress for not one performance, but three: Seventh Heaven (1927), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and Street Angel (1928). Gaynor was just 22 years old by this time. Seventh Heaven would be the first of 12 movies made with Charles Farrell, a pairing that the Lucky Stars promotional page says "created an unparalleled cinematic romance. Their partnership was so utterly complete that in the minds and hearts of their adoring public, they were as one."
After successfully making the necessary switch to talkies Gaynor would eventually receive another Academy Award nomination, this time as Vicki Lester in A Star Is Born (1937) opposite Fredric March’s Norman Maine. The following year Gaynor played the daughter in the scheming Carleton family in The Young in Heart (1938), her final big screen appearance until a single supporting return in 1957's Bernardine.
Janet Gaynor married 3 times, including spending just about 20 years each with famous costume designer Adrian (until his death in 1959) and stage and film producer Paul Gregory, a union ended by Gaynor's own passing in 1984. Gaynor was 77 at her death which tragically resulted from lingering injuries and complications from a terrible traffic accident in 1982.
According to the Zalenko article it was while she was still making movies that Gaynor began painting. More specifically it was while hanging around the studio art department that the idea struck her and soon the head of the department would give her a set of oils for Christmas. After Gaynor retired from the screen and married Adrian she took up painting on a more regular basis. The couple would spend 8 months per year in Brazil, away from the Hollywood hullabaloo, and Gaynor found herself painting the surrounding environment.
“The reason I became interested in doing vegetables is that I saw them growing in Brazil. I am not at all intrigued by the way they look in a supermarket. They’re so beautiful in the sun. Why, cabbages look just like flowers to me, especially when the wind ruffles their blue leaves.”
Charles’ “Blue Brazil” is a perfect resulting example from this back story.
At the time of the American Artist story in 1982, Janet Gaynor worked from her Palm Springs ranch where she lived with third husband Paul Gregory. Zalenko writes that garden flowers were her favorite subject at that time and that “most often, she paints ‘old-fashioned flowers like geraniums, petunias, and nasturtiums.’”
Since 1975, and at least up to the time of the article’s publication in 1982, Gaynor had had four sold-out shows at Wally Findlay Galleries, a deal which spawned from a successful show at the Beverly Hills gallery of her friend, Greg Juarez.
By this point Janet Gaynor had come to view herself as “a painter who occasionally acts.” When asked by Zalenko to compare painting to acting Gaynor replied, “Painting is a private art. Acting is outgoing.” She also mentions how movies take a good deal of time to complete, while painting offers more immediate satisfaction, and for her, an open schedule.
The article closes by noting how pleased Gaynor is to have been asked by American Artist Magazine to open the Art in Action Show in Pasadena that month. “I’ve finally been recognized as an artist,” Gaynor said.
I cannot find any examples of prices realized anywhere on Janet Gaynor's paintings, however if you are a member if AskArt.com you will be able to see what her "Floral Foliage" sold for in late 2003. Anyone clicking over can see an image of the painting itself.
For a very personal recollection of one fan's discovery of Janet Gaynor in the actresses later years please see Gina LoBiondo's Janet Gaynor piece which has been up on our sister site things-and-other-stuff.com for a few years now.
Also of interest: At Home with the Gilbert Adrian's on Emily Evans Eerdmans blog