The very first Oscar for Best Actress went to Janet Gaynor, for three films (they used to nominate by the body of work that year):
For those of you who love Janet Gaynor — and I have no doubt you are out there — please don’t take the following personally.
Here is what I had to say about her in the first volume of WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: 1927-1943:
“As for Janet Gaynor, her turn in Seventh Heaven finds her doing her best Lillian Gish imitation. The actress has always struck me as more than a little annoying, but playing a prostitute with a heart of gold, she clearly went over well back then…Sunrise shows Gaynor in a somewhat better light, although as in Seventh Heaven, she relies upon almost comatose responses to trauma to get across to the audience (and in Sunrise, there’s a moment where she’s channeling Lillian Gish…again). Once more, she is playing a character who becomes almost unbelievably good, to the point of cloying stickiness. Gaynor was, like many stars, creating a screen persona – and the screen persona either works for you or it doesn’t. I just couldn’t bear to be in her presence for very long. Put yourself in her shoes: your husband has been cheating on you, he’s just barely kept himself from killing you, you run away while he follows you…and then, he buys you some bread, some flowers, and goes into a church with you where a wedding is taking place…and you forgive him. The man just came within an inch of drowning you…and you forgive him. Some women do this, but we usually call them victims. Sunrise, and Gaynor, want the audience to see her as sympathetically heroic, the ideal wife and mother. In the twenty-first century, that kind of behavior just doesn’t appeal to most of us (or shouldn’t). The last film for which she was cited doesn’t make things much better. Street Angel marked her third nominated performance. Once again, she is teamed with Charles Farrell from Seventh Heaven. And yes, once again, she is playing a good girl forced to flirt with prostitution, this time due to a sick mother needing medicine they can’t afford. Gaynor is more natural and lively in this film than in her previous Frank Borzage film, Seventh Heaven. Borzage clearly had paid attention to F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise before he made this film (down to several plot elements, as well as cinematography choices). But what is it with killing your woman and Janet Gaynor?!? Once more in Street Angel, she is playing a woman who is almost murdered by her man, this time her fiancée. Yet again, we get this overwhelmingly corny salvation, with the same heavy-handed reliance on redemption and Godly lessons learned. Ultimately, whenever I see Janet Gaynor, the words simpering and whining come to mind, and whatever charm she has drains away, particularly since I don’t find love and violence to be complementary. The not so subtle sadomasochism of Gaynor’s three films is disturbing, not as sadomasochism, but that it is counterbalanced by these sappy happy endings. Actors can make this stuff work, and apparently, Gaynor did for her generation – but I just find myself wincing, then looking for an insulin shot. She should have never won an Oscar, nor been nominated, for any of these performances.”
The now forgotten Louise Dressler got the second nomination, for A Ship Comes In:
A Ship Comes In is one of those movies I’ve never been able to see — have you? Well, now we both can, as I just found a multi-part version is available on Youtube! I’d love to hear what you think — and I will post my own thoughts here as soon as I can!
Here is the first section:
Finally, the third official nominee is Gloria Swanson, for the original version of Sadie Thompson:
Who else might be available for nominating? This girl:
Who made these four movies in the time period in question:
Body of work, indeed…
Here’s one of the more famous bodies in silent cinema, Brigitte Helm as the robot from Metropolis:
If you would like to make other suggestions, please do so below in the comments!
As always, I have much more to say in my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0
And now please vote!