American actress Janet Gaynor, born Laura Gainor, was a star of the late silent era and early talkies who was able to project vulnerability and naiveté in any role. She attended high school in San Francisco; hoping to find work in films, she moved to L.A. shortly after graduation, supporting herself through odd jobs while appearing as an extra. This led her to some bit roles in Hal Roach comedy shorts and a lead in a two-reel western. Signed to a contract by Fox, Gaynor had her first significant role in The Johnstown Flood (1926). She soon went on to appear in two successful films, Murnau's masterpiece Sunrise and Borzage's hit Seventh Heaven (both 1927); as a result, within a year she was Fox's biggest star.
At the very first Academy Awards ceremony Gaynor won the "Best Actress" Oscar for her work in several films in 1927-28 (the early Oscars were often given for cumulative work). Her charming, gentle voice was ideally suited to talkies, and she made the transition to the sound era with great success. Often co-starring with romantic idol Charles Farrell, their popularity as a team was at its peak in the early '30s when they were known as "America's favorite lovebirds." Gaynor was Hollywood's top box-office attraction in 1934. She retired from the screen in 1939, around the time of her marriage to Hollywood's most renowned costume designer, Gilbert Adrian, and much of her later years were spent on a Brazilian ranch. In the '50s she came back occasionally to work on radio and TV and had a role in one more film, Bernardine (1957). Widowed in 1959, she married producer Paul Gregory in 1964. She also took up painting, and in 1976 her still-lifes were exhibited in a New York gallery. In the early '80s she appeared in the Broadway show Harold and Maude.