How They Died: Best Actress Oscar Award Winners Vol. 1 by Ben Walker by Ben Walker - Read Online

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How They Died - Ben Walker

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October 6, 1906 – September 14, 1984 (77)


Janet Gaynor was born Laura Augusta Gainer in Philadelphia to Frank D. Gainer, an amateur actor and Laura Buhl, a housewife. She also had a sister, Helen. Following a divorce, the girls and their mother moved around a number of times before eventually settling in San Francisco with their mother's new husband, Harry C. Jones.

In 1923, Gaynor graduated from Polytechnic High School and later studied with Helen at a Hollywood Secretarial School, with both girls eventually becoming stenographers while also working as movie extras.

Helen who would eventually get a job as secretary to Hal Roach, used her new position to get her kid sister into the film industry. Gaynor got her start by starring in Hal Roach comedies. In 1926, at 20 years of age, she was given the role of Anna Burger in the Fox film, The Johnstown Flood. This was her first major break and her ascent into stardom began thereafter.

In December of 1932, after only 3 years of marriage, Gaynor and her husband, Lydell Peck (a screen writer) announced their separation and intent to seek divorce. They were divorced in April 1933. Gaynor then married Gilbert Adrian, an influential costume designer, in 1939 and they remained married until his death in 1959. Finally, she married her third husband, producer Paul Gregory in 1964.


Audiences were drawn to Gaynor's attractive face, smooth voice, small stature and large girly eyes. She always portrayed sweet but vulnerable women who used their resolve to win at last against all odds. These qualities which she possessed would ensure her successful transition as a Superstar from an era of silent movies into the new era of talking movies.

She starred in several films playing several roles including Diane in 7th Heavens (1927), The Wife in Sunrise (1927) and Angela in Street Angels (1928).

Gaynor won the first ever Academy Award for Best Actress in 1928 for her roles in all three aforementioned films. This was back in the day when the award was decided by cumulative performance in a number of films.


As early as Tuesday, September 7, 1982, goodwill messages from fans from across America began to pour into the San Francisco General Hospital for Janet Gaynor and her companions. Just two days earlier, Gaynor was up and about and full of life with no premonition of what was to unfortunately become the beginning of the end for her.

Around 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, she had entered a taxicab on her way to have dinner at a Chinatown restaurant. She was joined by her husband, Paul Gregory, her long time friend and fellow actress, Mary Martin (Nellie Forbush in South Pacific) and Miss Martin's Manager, Ben Washer. In all, there were 5 souls in the taxicab including Ronald Drury, the driver.

The taxicab was traveling east on California Street, approaching the intersection of California and Franklin Street. Right out of no where, a van suddenly appeared from the north side of Franklin. The van had sped through the red light and without warning rammed into the broadside of Miss Gaynor's taxi.

Upon impact, the cab spun out of control across the intersection, only stopping when it hit a tree.

Ben Washer was instantly killed. Mary Martin suffered a punctured right lung, two fractured right ribs, two pelvic fractures and a bruised kidney. Gaynor's husband, Gregory, suffered broken legs and fractured ribs but was otherwise fine. The cab driver also suffered minor injuries.

Unfortunately, amongst the survivors, Gaynor suffered the most devastating injuries. She had five broken ribs on the right side, six on the left, a right collarbone fracture, multiple pelvic fractures, a ruptured bladder and bleeding around the right