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Hollywood Royalty in Beverly Hills: The Paul Gregory-Janet Gaynor Collection at Heritage Auctions

BEVERLY HILLS, CA.- The eclectic, far-reaching Collection of Paul Gregory and Janet Gaynor – Gregory was a powerful producer in Golden Age Hollywood and 1950s Broadway, and Gaynor, Hollywood’s top female star of the 1920s and 30s and winner of the first Best Actress Oscar in 1928 – two of classic Hollywood’s most enduring and well-loved names, will form the centerpiece of Heritage Auctions’ March 20 Signature® Decorative Arts Auction in Beverly Hills, the first Heritage Decorative Arts event to be held in this location.

The collection is a richly varied selection of Fine and Decorative Arts drawn from many cultures and periods as well as Entertainment memorabilia from names such as fashion designer Adrian, Katharine Hepburn, Raymond Massey, Claudette Colbert, producer Arthur Jacobs, J. Watson Webb, Marion Davies, Joan Crawford, sportswear designer Jo Lathwood, Fleur Cowles, Mary Pickford and other fascinating friends of the power couple.

Highlights include three Al Hirschfeld illustrations, referencing Gregory’s work as a producer as well as his association with the iconic actor Charles Laughton – with Charles Laughton in "Hobson's Choice," 1954, estimated at $5,000+, leading the trio. An original George Washington signed certificate with a hand-colored engraving (estimate: $8,000+) is one of the rarer lots among historical items and illustrated books. From the Gregory- Gaynor collection of antique furniture is a handsome 18th-19th C. Italian carved Walnut Cassone, which Doris Day, an avid furniture collector herself, once arranged to be photographed with, because she so admired it, estimated at $1,500+.

“When it comes to Hollywood power couples, few have achieved legendary status and lasting influence like Paul Gregory and Janet Gaynor,” said Marianne Berardi Senior Fine Arts Specialist at Heritage. “They were superb artists, perfectionists at their craft. They demanded even more of themselves than the business did—which is saying a mouthful! While there is a great variety of material from Modern European prints to Native American art to fine silver and glass, at the heart of the collection are several love stories, of both a professional and personal variety. These tie the collection together in host of ways.”

Within the Gregory-Gaynor collection is an important core of African and Asian art, historical manuscripts and books, a magnificent collection of rare and exotic butterflies, and drawings and paintings of Africa and Brazil by famous costume and fashion designer Adrian, Gaynor’s first husband, all of which come from his personal collection, inherited by Gaynor when he died prematurely in 1959.

Featured pieces from Adrian’s collection include one of his own Art Deco design paintings, African Jungle with Figures(estimate: $3,000+), a Neo-classical style mixed wood pier mirror, c. 1930, the very mirror Adrian used for a decade in his Beverly Hills dress boutique (estimate: $800+), as well as Adrian’s extensive butterfly collection in Riker Mounts (estimate: $1,000+), which is of particular interest given that Adrian was noted for using butterflies in his couture designs. The collection also features several pieces from Adrian’s African art collection, including a trio of Mangbetu wood and steel knives from the early 20th Century (estimate: $500+) and a sub-Saharan African carved ebonized wood Prestige Staff with figural fertility finials, likely of Senufo origin (estimate: $300+).

A monumental African Ivory Coast Senufo bird sculpture (estimate: $2,500+) from Gregory’s collection is of particular note for its expert craftsmanship, as well as the fact that it was Adrian that first interested Gregory in African art.

“Rounding out the collection are several fine examples of Janet Gaynor’s still life painting, for which she became quite well known as a talented visual artist apart from her cinema work,” said Berardi, “which she gave to her husband Paul as examples of her best work.”

Chief among these is Gaynor’s sublime My Love to You, Paul (White Petunias), circa 1977-78 (estimate: $4,000+), which the couple prominently displayed at their ranch, in the spot once occupied by a Grandma Moses painting.

Gregory and Gaynor’s 20-year marriage was a true love affair built upon an enduring friendship. Before Gregory, Gaynor was married to Adrian (1903-1959), one of Hollywood’s most talented costume designers, best remembered for the magical garments he conceived for The Wizard of Oz (1939) – the munchkin clothes, the ruby slippers, and Dorothy’s gingham dress were all his – and for dressing Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford (for whom he created the padded shoulder look). Paul and Adrian had been close friends as well, and Adrian’s premature death from complications stemming from an insect bite at his ranch in Brazil was also a huge blow to Paul. Through Adrian, an omnivorous collector with a tremendous eye, Paul first became interested in collecting African art.

“One thing I want to be clear about,” says Paul, now 91, “I never bought something thinking it was ever going to be of value. I bought it because I loved the color, I loved the design; it had to be dynamic for me.”

Paul Gregory (born 1920) is a celebrated theater and film producer whose uncanny ear for the spoken word led to a body of landmark achievements including the films Night of the Hunter (1955) and The Naked and the Dead (1958), and his famed, big-themed theater productions Don Juan in Hell, John Brown’s Body and The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Janet Gaynor (1906- 1984) won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1928, and was one of the very few actors to have made a successful transition from the late era of silent films to “talkies.” In 1937 she delivered an unforgettable, delicately nuanced performance of Esther Blodgett in the original version of A Star Is Born based on the crisp screenplay of Dorothy Parker.

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