Thursday, October 6, 2011

Janet Gaynor, Carole Lombard and Bette Davis

Who was born on this date:

Actress Janet Gaynor was the first winner of the Academy Award for lead actress and the youngest ever to win the award (until Marlee Matlin in 1986). She was born Laura Gainer on October 6, 1906 in Philadelphia. Gaynor had a long career in show business with over sixty film, theater, and television credits from 1924 until 1981. She was one of Hollywood’s top stars from the late 1920’s through the 1930’s. The classic virgin-heroine type on screen, her personal life mirrored her on screen persona. A devout Quaker, Gaynor lived at home with her mother until she got married. She was one of the few actresses to successfully move from silent pictures to talkies. Gaynor’s major film credits include; High Society Blues (1930), Daddy Long Legs (1931), State Fair (1933), The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), and A Star is Born (1937).  

Gaynor won the lead actress Academy award (1927-1928) for performances in three films, Sunrise (1927), 7th Heaven (1927), and Street Angel (1928). During the first years of the Academy Awards, actors and actresses could win for multiple films. Gaynor’s award winning performances during 1927-1928, were a real challenge to box office champ, Gloria Swanson’s dominance. Gaynor was nominated for a second best actress Academy Award in 1937 in A Star is Born, but lost to Luise Rainer.                            

At the peak of her film career in 1938, Gaynor abruptly retired from films and married MGM dress designer Gilbert Adrian. Her retirement from show business lasted until 1959, when she returned to the Broadway stage in Midnight Sun. On September 5, 1982, Gaynor was seriously hurt in an automobile accident in San Francisco, which also injured fellow actress Mary Martin. Unfortunately, Gaynor never fully recovered from these injuries. Chronic illness followed the accident and on September 14, 1984, almost two years after the tragic car crash, Gaynor died from pneumonia at a Palm Springs, California area hospital. In accordance with her final wishes, there was no memorial or funeral service. Gaynor is interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery next to her first husband, Gilbert Adrian in the Garden of Legends.

Actress Carole Lombard was born on October 6, 1908 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was known as the Queen of the 1930s screwball comedies. Lombard made her film debut at the age of twelve after in A Perfect Crime (1921). In the 1920s, she worked in several low-budget productions. Lombard achieved a few minor successes in the early 1930s but was continually cast in second-rate films. It was not until 1934 that her career began to take off. That year, director Howard Hawks encountered Lombard at a party and became enamored with her saucy personality, thinking her just right for his latest project. Film credits include Bolero (1934), My Man Godfrey (19336), for which she earned a best actress Academy Award nomination, Nothing Sacred (1937), Fools for a Scandal (1938), Made for Each other (1939), Vigil in the Night (1940), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941),  and To Be or Not to Be (1942). 

In October 1930, Lombard met William Powell. They had worked together in the films Man of the World and Ladies' Man. Unlike many of Lombard's other suitors at the time, Powell was urbane and sophisticated. He also appreciated her blunt personality and bawdy sense of humor. They married on June 26, 1931.She did not believe their sixteen-year age difference would present a problem, but friends felt they were ill-suited, as Lombard had an extroverted personality while Powell was more reserved. They divorced in 1933, but remained good friends and worked together without acrimony, notably in My Man Godfrey. In 1934, following her divorce from Powell, she carried on relationships with actors Gary Cooper and George Raft. Also during 1934, Lombard met and began a serious affair with crooner Russ Columbo. Columbo reportedly proposed marriage, but was killed in a freak shooting accident at the age of 26. To reporters, Lombard said Columbo was the love of her life.

Lombard's most famous relationship came in 1936 when she became involved with actor Clark Gable. They had worked together previously in 1932, but at the time Lombard was still happily married to Powell and knew Gable to have the reputation of a roving eye. They were indifferent to each other on the set and did not keep in touch. It was not until 1936, when Gable came to the Mayfair Ball that Lombard had planned, that their romance began to take off. Gable, however, was married at the time to oil heiress Ria Langham, and the affair was kept quiet. The situation proved a major factor in Gable accepting the role of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, as MGM head Louis B. Mayer sweetened the deal for a reluctant Clark Gable by giving him enough money to settle a divorce agreement with Langham and marry Lombard. Gable divorced Langham on March 7, 1939 and proposed to Lombard in a telephone booth at the Brown Derby. On March 29, 1939, during a break in production on Gone with the Wind, Gable and Lombard drove out to Kingman, Arizona and were married in a quiet ceremony with only Gable's press agent, Otto Winkler, in attendance.

When the US entered World War II at the end of 1941, Lombard traveled to her home state of Indiana for a War bond rally with her mother, Bess Peters, and Clark Gable's press agent, Otto Winkler. After raising over $2 million in defense bonds, Lombard addressed her fans, saying: "Before I say goodbye to you all, come on and join me in a big cheer! V for Victory!" On January 16, 1942, Lombard, her mother, and Winkler boarded a a DC-3 airplane to return to California. After refueling in Las Vegas took off and 23 minutes later, crashed into "Double Up Peak" near the 8,300 ft level of Mt. Potosi, 32 statute miles southwest of Las Vegas. All 22 aboard, including 15 army servicemen, were killed instantly. Shortly after her death at the age of 33, Gable (who was inconsolable and devastated by her loss) joined the U.S. Army Air Corp. Lombard is interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. Although Gable remarried, he was interred next to her when he died in 1960.

Who died on this date: 

On October 6, 1989, actress Bette Davis died. She was known as “the First Lady of the American Screen.” Davis was born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts. An outgoing child, the young Bette Davis was destined for a career on the stage and film. She studied and excelled in acting under famed drama coach John Murray Anderson. In 1929, Davis made her successful Broadway stage debut in Broken Promises. It was in this performance that Hollywood began to take notice of the future award winning actress. In 1930, studio executives at Universal Pictures who offered her a contract and her film debut followed the next year (1931) in Bad Sister. The next few pictures that followed were less than successful for Davis and she was dropped by Universal Pictures. Fortunately, Warner Brothers gave her a second chance; she co-starred alongside Academy Award winning actor George Arliss in The Man Who Played God (1932). This began what would become a successful eighteen year association with Warner Studios. This relationship was very contentious; she often fought with studio head Jack Warner over top movie roles and even sued the studio in an attempt to break her contact. Davis’ storied film career spanned nearly six decades 1931 to 1989, and included over one hundred and twenty television and motion picture performances. Her first big smash hit came in 1934’s, Of Human Bondage, loaned out to RKO Pictures by Warner Studios; Davis cemented her place in Hollywood lore by playing the role of the sullen heroine, Mildred Rogers for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.

During her legendary film career, Davis was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won twice, her nominated films include: Of Human Bondage (1934), Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), Now, Voyager (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944), All About Eve (1950), The Star (1952) , and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962). In 1935, Davis won the first of two best actress Oscars for her portrayal of Joyce Heath in Dangerous and won a second award in 1938 in Jezebel. During the late 1930’s through the mid-1940’s, Davis’ stature in the film industry grew with every film but by the end of the decade, her career began to wane and seemed headed for oblivion. A renaissance occurred when she co-starred alongside Anne Baxter in 1950’s best picture, All About Eve. Her performance in this film is considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time. During her storied film career she reigned as one of the most successful and durable stars having clawed and scratched her way to the top the film business. The award winning actress known for her toughness, huge eyes and haute acting style died on October 6, 1989 in Neuilly, France from breast cancer. Davis’ ornate crypt is found at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills outside of the Court of Remembrance. Her epitaph reads; Bette Davis, April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989; “She did it the hard way.”

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