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Book Review: Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell by Sarah Baker

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Actress Janet Gaynor once said of her frequent co-star and one-time love interest Charles Farrell “There will never be another love couple like Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell” and after reading Lucky Stars, I am most inclined to agree.

As much of a devout lover of old Hollywood and especially movies from the 1930s as I am, I feel somewhat ashamed to admit that I have never seen a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell movie. In fact, before picking up this book, I had no idea how very popular the duo were in the late 1920s/early ’30s — a sad statement on how many of the silent screen stars and teams have largely been forgotten. I knew Ms. Gaynor from her wonderful performance in A Star is Born but have never seen her Academy Award winning performances (the first best actress winner) in Sunrise, Seventh Heaven, and Street Angel (the first ceremony in 1929 was for films from 1927 and 1928). Additionally, I knew of Mr. Farrell from his 1950s television work but have never seen one of his films when he was a matinee idol. Lucky Stars does a solid job of delving deep into both actors’ backgrounds, showcasing not only their decades-long careers and star-making roles but the (at times) flawed human sides of their personal lives.

Author Sarah Baker does a wonderful job in bringing Charlie and Janet to life, using interviews with family and friends, archives, libraries, historians and documents from Gaynor’s and Farrell’s own personal files. The result is a splendid dual biography which will leave the reader in no doubt as to why movie audiences took so strongly to Gaynor and Farrell. Ms. Baker leaves out the gossipy speculation and rumors that are found in many biographies but does address some of the speculation on sexual orientation that has dogged both Farrell and Gaynor throughout the years . She does so with straightforwardness and without an ounce of sensationalism.

I did wish that there was more on Gaynor’s marriage to designer Adrian and I would have loved to have seen pictures of their marital homes which certainly would have been a visual feast given both Adrian’s and Janet’s love of fashion and art.

In the end, you will walk away from Lucky Stars feeling as if Charlie and Janet are friends, as if you know them personally. I was left with admiration at both of their careers, as well as a sadness that their real life love story, like so many movie plotlines, was left unrequited. It is a great joy to know that Charlie and Janet are forever captured and saved on film, for many generations to enjoy and treasure. I know that Lucky Stars has given me a desire and a passion to find these films myself and, as movie audiences of the 1920s and 1930s did, fall in love with the incomparable team of Farrell and Gaynor.

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About Lori Hedgpeth