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.
My father was living in a retirement home in Burbank CA…and down the hall was a beige door with a gold star on it that read “Anita Page”. I remembered the name, having just spent the 4th of July at the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, where I read in a book I had purchased ….that the Del was her playground…her Shangri-la, as she called it…. after she retired from the film business at the age of 26 to marry a naval officerand live on Coronado.
I returned home to grab the book and returned to show her the story about her and her pictures….When I entered her room…it was like going back in time…not in the sense of Sunset Boulevard….but to the glamourous, innocent bygone era of the 1920’30’s. All was peachy pink…the walls that housed huge posters of her films,, silk chiffon scarves over lamps and HER.. with her golden hair, beautifuly done makeup and peach kimono showing off her beautiful gams in heeled mules. (She had legs like an older Jane Powell, with whom I had done a benefit, when offstage, kept her legs always elevated, over the seat of a chair with her back on the floor as she read magazines.)
I was so taken back by her beauty…and even more, her completely joyous nature….one not old..but youthful. She was a GIRL..without the silliness. A tiny woman of great grace…
At first she just offered to sign my book…and was so taken back that it was a gift to her….she had not seen it..and it was thrilling for her to receive it.
Her daughter was present and towered over the dimunitive Anita. They looked to have a terrific relationship.
I myself was thrilled as I left the room. (She had her meals delivered to her room and did not eat with the other elders. I had to leave her to her privacy.)
I will never forget that meeting with her. The building near St. Joseph’s Hospital has since been vacated…it was not a joyful retirement home of sorts…nor was it high end…..but inside her room was sheer lovliness and feminine beauty. How lucky I was to have met her. For she was radient.
Thank you for sharing your memories with us. It’s good to know it wasn’t really a Sunset Boulevard-type existence.