Recommended Reading

"Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell"

by Sarah Baker (Bear Manor Media, 2009, 320 pages)

Every once in awhile there will be a romantic cinematic pairing of two stars that seemed to have been made in heaven - for Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor it was "Seventh Heaven" (1927). "Seventh Heaven" is an icon of the silent era - and although there is so much about the film that is great as evidenced by the honors it received at the first Academy Awards - the most compelling memory one carries away after viewing the film is the "chemistry" of the Gaynor-Farrell pairing. It only seems natural then that their relationship didn't end with the wrap up of the filming. Not only did they develop a romantic relationship during the making of the movie, they continued an off-screen affair for the next two years, made 11 more films together, and, although their story doesn't end with a "fairy tale" marriage to one another, they did develop a bond that makes a book about these two stars only natural. Author Sarah Baker's impeccable research into the lives of these two "Lucky Stars" reveals a deep kinship that existed between them that weathered a declined marriage proposal, marriages to others, professional jealousy, vastly diverse approaches to their careers, different degrees of personal success, divergent interests, a period of estrangement in their friendship, and other life's challenges. Yet, Baker shows us that a kindred spirit remained between the two throughout their lives. Gaynor had an unsuccessful first marriage to San Francisco businessman Lydell Peck, fought aggressively and won with the studios for good parts and justified compensation, was nominated for a second Academy Award for her performance in "A Star is Born" (1937), had a successful marriage to designer Adrian for 20 years until his death and another successful marriage to producer and writer Paul Gregory for 20 years until her death in 1984, and enjoyed a full and active life. Farrell took his career less seriously, settled for what was offered him which often resulted in second-rate roles, distinguished himself in service during World War II, remained married to silent film actress Virginia Valli for 37 years until her death in 1968 (Baker delicately offers evidence their marriage was not a "close" one with further evidence that Farrell had a life-long weakness for "womanizing"), Farrell's and Ralph Bellamy's creation of the Raquet Club which eventually led to Palm Springs' development into a playground for the stars, his return to success as Gale Storm's father in the successful 1950's TV sitcom "My Little Margie," and his later alcoholism and reclusiveness. Of course, in reading this compelling account of the two stars' lives, one can't help but hope the next page will find the two once again romantically involved - but, alas, it was not to be. A lifelong pairing of the two very nearly happened, though, when Farrell pursued Gaynor for six months in 1929 with a marriage proposal; however, Gaynor explained in later years, "I think we loved each other more than we were 'in love'." There is much in the two stars' lives to intrigue the reader, and Baker skillfully brings it all together into very enjoyable, informative and engrossing 258 pages. Gaynor and Farrell have left a treasure of films, though, for the movie fan - and "Seventh Heaven" will always remain at the top of the list for the best of cinematic romances - most assuredly because the changes in our culture, the tastes of today's audiences and the resulting approach to moviemaking ensure that there will never be another "Seventh Heaven." Gaynor's perceptive comment during an interview in 1970 is only too true: "There can never be a Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell love team again." Readers will be grateful, though, that author Sarah Baker helps us relive that romance and how, in some indefinable way, it endured between the two for a lifetime.

SAG Review: Everyone likes a good love story, but in real life they don't always mirror the way they happen in the movies. Such is the story of Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. Author Sarah Baker has done a superb job of chronicling the lives of these two stars. She ably conveys a deeper relationship than one-time lovers. It was a love-friendship that although they took divergent paths for the most part, there, nevertheless, remained an unbreakable bond between them that lasted a lifetime. Baker gives an absorbing account of the early, pre-movie days of the stars - Farrell's somewhat privileged youth in Walpole, MA, working in the family restaurant and attending Boston College - and Gaynor's upbringing in Germantown, PA, Chicago and eventually San Francisco, the divorce of her parents, and her mother's remarriage to a man whom Baker refers to as Gaynor's "fairy godfather." Both were, for a time, struggling actors, and Baker gives us a well-documented view of these years in "B" westerns or playing second banana to Rin Tin Tin. Gaynor eventually, under the wing of producer Winfield Sheehan, began to get good roles, but nothing yet to make her a star. Farrell got the lead in Paramount's epic blockbuster "Old Ironsides" and experienced a sudden burst of fame. However, the film that has both of these stars so indelibly burned in our psyches is "Seventh Heaven," Fox's 1927 masterpiece. Baker's behind-the-scenes account makes a special film even more special as we see the relationship of these two young talents grow and realize that there is more to what we see on the screen than mere acting. And, yes, most of us are familiar with Fox's follow-ups to capitalize on the success of this film - mainly "Street Angel" (1928) or "Sunnyside Up" (1929) - but Gaynor and Farrell actually made 12 films together between 1927 and 1934. What makes Baker's book intriguing is the course their lives took - Gaynor's aggressive approach to her career and dealings with the studio while Farrell took a more passive attitude to it all - Farrell's womanizing, his obsession with polo and tennis, founding the Palm Springs Raquet Club with Ralph Bellamy and other interests that were more important to him than the movies - Gaynor, on the other hand, being focused on her career, good roles, and demanding salaries commensurate with her talent and popularity. Of course, the intriguing theme that runs throughout the book and ties these two lives together is the special relationship between them - Farrell and Gaynor's affair yet deciding to keep it a secret, the entrance of Virginia Valli into Farrell's life, the role of San Francisco lawyer Lydell Peck in Gaynor's, Farrell's rejected plea for Gaynor to marry him, the question of whether the Farrell and Gaynor affair actually rekindled in later years or was it just a close friendship, and more. Their lives ended on different notes, although both involved sadness. Baker weaves all of this into a most enjoyable read with style and impeccable research. Loaded with over 100 wonderful photographs, this book will make you happy, sad, nostalgic - and most of all, hungry for more of the incomparable Farrell-Gaynor on-screen chemistry. Highly recommended!

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