Daughter of Frank De Witt Gainer and Laura J. Buhl
Wife of Jesse Lydell Peck
Wife of Adrian Adoph Greenberg
Wife of Paul Gregory
Laura Augusta Gainor was born on October 6, 1906 to her parents Frank De Witt Gainer and Laura J. Buhl. She was the second child born to Frank and Laura, and was also the last child. Her older sister, Helen, was born in 1903. Her parents had married around 1901 in Philadelphia and each of their daughters was born in the same area. Frank was a theatrical painter and paperhanger, and he taught Laura (nicknamed "Lolly") how to sing, dance, and perform acrobatics. She began acting in school plays in Philadelphia, and when her parents divorced in 1914 (she was 8 years old), her mother, her sister, and Laura moved to Chicago.
Her mother remarried to an electrician by the name of Harry C. Jones in Chicago, and sometime between 1920 and 1923 the "Jones" family moved to San Francisco. Laura graduated from high school in 1923 and vacationed in Florida where she worked on the stage. By the end of 1924, she and the "Jones" family had moved to Los Angeles, and she had secured her first acting job as an extra. And prior to 1927, she was noticed by a major studio (Fox) and they signed her to a five year contract.
She played a number of lead roles, and was generally cast as the wholesome, sweet and pure woman who was very sensitive. By 1929, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, the first one ever awarded. Her award was a one of a kind, as it was awarded for two roles - both for her role in "Street Angel" and for her role in "Sunrise". The motion picture academy would later establish a rule that would prohibit multiple role awards like that. That same year, she also married to Jesse Peck, a lawyer. Their marriage lasted 3 years and ended in separation in 1932 and divorce by 1933. The couple had no children together.
Janet chose her roles carefully, passing over those she considered too juvenile, and her popularity continued to soar. Around 1935, Twentieth Century Studios merged with Fox Studios, and her contract was up for renegotiation. Rumor had it that she was holding out for more money, and when the papers ran with that story, it appears she and the studios agreed on terms quietly and behind the scenes, and no details were ever announced.
By 1937, she had become typecast and the audience no longer believed that she was the young, wholesome little girl anymore. She considered retirement, and then a role in a new movie called "A Star is Born" gave her new life in Hollywood. The movie was a great success, and when she appeared in her next movie (The Young in Heart, 1938) and it was only a moderate success, she felt that after 17 years of acting, it was now time to retire for good.
Janet married costume designer Adrian Greenburg in 1939, and by 1940 they had a son together. The two of them appeared to flourish in her retirement years. They traveled frequently, and while she raised their son, she remained involved in both the fashion and arts communities. She came out of retirement in the 1950's, doing roles for television, but by 1957 she had tired of this as well, and retired for good.
In 1959, her husband died suddenly of a heart attack (some sources report it was a stroke), and soon after she decided to return to the stage for a play in New Haven, Connecticut. She considered the play a disaster, and her assessment must have been right, as it closed its doors not long after it started.
In 1964, she married her friend Paul Gregory and she would remain married to him until her death. Now in her 50's, they settled down and she continued to enjoy her hobbies, including oil painting as well as the obligatory social events.
In the 1980's, she once again returned to the stage - this time on Broadway. The play Harold and Maude opened and while she received good reviews for her role, the play itself did not. It closed after only 21 performances. Later that year, she also appeared in an episode of The Love Boat, which was her last appearance on television. In February 1982, she appeared in the touring production of On Golden Pond, which was her last acting appearance.
In September 1982, she and her husband, along with Mary Martin and Martin's manager Ben Washer, were all travelling together in San Francisco when a vehicle ran a red light and crashed into them. The four of them were all seriously injured from the wreck, and Janet's injuries were significant, including 11 broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, pelvic fractures, a punctured lung, and injuries to her bladder and kidney. Ben Washer died from injuries sustained from the crash. The driver was intoxicated and eventually sentenced to three years in prison for vehicular homicide among other charges.
Janet spent four months in the hospital recovering from the accident, and she was never the same after. She spent the next two years in and out of the hospital, suffering health problems later attributed to the injuries she sustained. By September 1984 and in a weakened condition already, she came down with pneumonia and died on 14 September 1984 in Desert Hospital at Palm Springs. She was nearly 78 years of age.
She was interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery next to her second husband, Adrian. Her stone reads simply "Janet Gainor Gregory 1906 - 1984".
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