b. Laura Gainor, 6 October 1906, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 14 September 1984, Palm Springs, California, USA. Determined on a career in films, Gaynor found work as an extra in Hollywood, played in some Hal Roach comedies, and in 1926 was signed by Fox. A WAMPAS Baby Star of 1926 (selected by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers), she made several films from 1926-29, notably Seventh Heaven and Sunrise (both 1927 and both silent) and Street Angel (1928, part-talkie). For these films collectively she was awarded the first Academy Award as Best Actress. Gaynor quickly gained in popularity, becoming Hollywood’s leading box-office favourite. Leaving Fox, she continued to be successful, making for David O. Selznick A Star Is Born (1937), the least flamboyant if non-musical version of this tale, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Also for Selznick, she made The Young In Heart (1938), another all-round success. In 1939 she married for the second time and retired from films. In the late 50s she was occasionally on radio and television and appeared in one film, Bernadine (1957), which starred Pat Boone.
Some of Gaynor’s time was spent painting and in 1976 an exhibition of her work was given in New York. In the early 50s and again in the 70s she presented Academy Awards and in 1978 was herself recipient of a special award. On Broadway in 1980 she and Keith McDermott played the co-leads in the play Harold And Maude. After 21 previews in January and early February, the play opened on 7 February, only to close two days and four performances later. In 1981 she took a role in an episode of television’s The Love Boat but otherwise lived in retirement. Her death was attributed to severe injuries sustained in a road accident two years earlier.