Anita Page RIP

Little by little, the human connection with the original silent era slips away. Yesterday, Anita Page, who started in films in 1924 and first gained fame starring alongside Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters (1928), died aged ninety-eight. Here’s a report from Associated Press:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anita Page, an MGM actress who appeared in films with Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford and Buster Keaton during the transition from silent movies to talkies, has died. She was 98.

Page died in her sleep early Saturday morning at her home in Los Angeles, said actor Randal Malone, her longtime friend and companion.

Page’s career, which spanned 84 years, began in 1924 when she started as an extra.

Her big break came in 1928 when she won a major role — as the doomed bad girl — in “Our Dancing Daughters,” a film that featured a wild Charleston by Crawford and propelled them both to stardom. It spawned two sequels, “Our Modern Maidens” and “Our Blushing Brides.” Page and Crawford were in all three films.

Page’s daughter Linda Sterne said her mother had been good friends with Marion Davies and Jean Harlow, and for about six months in the 1930s lived as a guest in William Hearst’s massive castle on the Southern California coast.

“She was the best mother I could have,” Sterne said. “She was wonderful.”

In 1928, the New York-born Page starred opposite Chaney in “While the City Sleeps.”

The following year, she was co-star of “The Broadway Melody,” the 1929 backstage tale of two sisters who love the same man. The film made history as the first talkie to win the best-picture Oscar and was arguably the first true film musical.

In his 1995 book “A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film,” author Richard Barrios reserved much of his praise for Bessie Love, the veteran actress who played the other sister. But he called Page “intensely likable — sincere, well-meaning, endearing, in much the same fashion as Ruby Keeler several years later — and, of course, quite beautiful.”

Variety wrote in 1929 that Page “is also apt to bowl the trade over with a contribution that’s natural all the way, plus her percentage on appearance. … She can’t dance, (but) the remainder of her performance is easily sufficient to make this impediment distinctly negligible.”

Among Page’s other films were two of Keaton’s sound films, “Free and Easy” in 1930, and “Sidewalks of New York” in 1931; “Night Court,” with Walter Huston in 1932; and “The Easiest Way” in 1931, in which Clark Gable had a small role.

For a short time Page was married to composer Nacio Herb Brown, who wrote songs for “The Broadway Melody,” but the marriage was annulled within a year, Sterne said.

Page stopped acting in 1936 when she fell in love with Herschel House, a Navy aviator. The couple married six weeks later and Page happily adapted to life as an officer’s wife, hosting many parties at their home in Coronado, a city peninsula in the San Diego Bay, Sterne said.

The couple had two daughters, Linda and Sandra.

After House died in 1991, Page went on to return to films. In 1994, she appeared in the suspense thriller “Sunset After Dark.”

Most recently, she had a cameo in the horror film “Frankenstein Rising,” due out later this year.

There is an Anita Page website, The Anita Page (of course), with general biographical information, photos etc. The silent films she appeared in are A Kiss For Cinderella (1925), Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em (1926), Beach Nuts (1926), Telling The World (1928), Our Dancing Daughters (1928), While the City Sleeps (1928), Our Modern Maidens (1928), The Flying Fleet (1929) and Speedway (1929).

This article by Austin Mutti-Mewse in The Guardian on how Anita Page lived in her latter days makes for fascinating, slightly queasy reading. Benito Mussolini, it appears, was her greatest fan.

She lives the life of Norma Desmond, rising at noon, when one of her assistants gets her dressed for the day ahead. Her wardrobe largely consists of remodelled dresses she wore in the 20s, to which she will add accessories once bought by male suitors. The furs are all a little moth-eaten, her long fingernails look like scarlet talons. The remainder of the day she spends watching herself in old movies. In her own mind, there is only ever one real star. The most famous, the most sought after Anita Page.

Sic transit Anita.

Grace’s guide

W. Vinten Cinematograph Engineers, from

This is something for the specialist, but intriguing for all that. Grace’s Guide bills itself as “the most comprehensive source of information on the engineering industry in Britain between 1750 (the start of the Industrial Revolution) and the 1960s”. Put together by ‘volunteers’ in wiki form, the site (which started life in 2007) is a reference guide to personalities, products and companies in engineering, taken in the main from a wide range of original journals, directories and reference guides, as well as web resources. Entries are are in the form of bullet-point histories, with numerous links, and references assiduously cited. Though much of the site is dedicated to the motor industry, shipbuilding, aircraft and such like, but there is also some information to be found on the early cinematograph industry.

There isn’t a page dedicated to the cinema industry, nor a keyword to use so far as I can see, but enter ‘cinematograph’, ‘bioscope’ or ‘film’ in the search box, and you’ll find plenty. Some of the records are no more than company names taken from directories (particularly the 1914 Whittaker’s Red Book and a 1922 British Industries Fair listing). But a few more give much more detail, and for the film historian it is possible to find useful information on some familiar (and not so familiar) names and their careers in engineering outside film – a useful reminder that for many their professional lives were not necessarily wholly circumscribed by film. Among the people covered I’ve found Birt Acres, William Vinten, and Ernest Moy, while among the businesses there is J.A. Prestwich (rather better known for motorcycles than the cinematograph equipment that the company also produced), W. Butcher & Sons, the Williamson Kinematograph Co. and Werner Frères (another business operating on the motorcycle-motion picture interface).

There’s a huge amount that could be there that isn’t (yet), there are no illustrations, and some of the film information comes from familiar sources (Screenonline, Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema, Wikipedia), but if you know what you’re looking for, this is a resource to keep an eye on (or, indeed, to contribute to).