GI never managed to return to the spot where he befriended a screen goddess

VETERAN doughboy of World War Two Gus Hayman was a young and impressionable infantryman of 20 when he first clapped eyes on 38-year-old film star Janet Gaynor when she arrived at Langford Lodge to entertain the American troops far from home preparing for D-Day.

But Gus was luckier than most of his comrades - as he was given the task of driving Janet around the camp on the edge of Lough Neagh in a jeep!

And he was delighted to do so for hadn’t Miss Gaynor, Philadelphia born, won Hollywood’s first ever Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1927 for her performances in the movies Seventh Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans?

The legendary star and the homesick young soldier struck up an unlikely friendship and after the war when Gus returned home to Utah Janet got in touch with him and he became her driver for several years.

Sadly Gus died in 2009 at the age of 86 - with his dream of making a nostalgic return trip to Langford unfulfilled.

He longed to see again the base where he trained for the conflict ahead and revive memories of the time he spent with the Hollywood legend - who was one of the few to make the leap from silent movies to the ‘talkies’.

“He had a platonic working relationship as chaffeur with Miss Gaynor for a few years and always intended to go back to where they met,” said his son, Gus junior.

“My mother Alice, who met Miss Gaynor too, would have accompanied him, but alas ill health and old age got in the way before they could make the trip. Mum passed away in 2006 and now he is gone too.

“Like many old soldiers South Antrim and Langford Lodge were always on his mind and he really wanted to see the place again.”

But as John Lennon later noted, life is what happens when you are busy making plans for something else.

“He settled down to a happy domestic life as a mechanic after leaving Miss Gaynor’s employ. And he and mother had a great union down many years when trips to far away places were impossible.

“They were preoccupied raising their family which included my two sisters and a brother as well as myself.”

Miss Gaynor won that inaugural Academy Award at a time when several performances in different films were taken into consideration.

Among her many starring roles was in 1935’s The Farmer Takes a Wife in which Henry Fonda made his big screen debut. It was directed by Victor Fleming, who went on to shoot Gone With the Wind.

It isn’t certain which party of American stars Miss Gaynor joined to visit Northern Ireland to cheer up the weary troops.

Records no longer exist at Langford, but she could have been in South Antrim with Bing Crosby and World Heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis. Others believe it may have coincided with the swinging concert organised by band leader Glenn Miller in 1944.

Janet died in 1984 at 77, two years after a car crash in which she received horrific injuries. Her third husband, director Paul Gregory, was badly injured too.

She is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery - next to her second husband.

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