August 4, 1910– Anita Page:
Social contacts? Yes, they count a lot. If you are seen you are discussed. If you are a recluse (unless you’re Garbo) you are very apt to be forgotten.
When Gene Kelly sang You Were Meant For Me to Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ In The Rain (1952), it was not the first time that the song, composed by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, was presented on screen. In The Broadway Melody (1929) it was sung to pretty Anita Page, and she did it again later that year in Hollywood Revue Of 1929. The song and the movies became big hits, and Page and Brown were briefly married in 1934.
She appeared in small, uncredited roles in several silent films, making her screen debut as an extra in A Kiss For Cinderella (1925). She was offered a contract by MGM.
Page had successfully made the transition from silent films to talkies with The Broadway Melody, the first “100% All-Talking, All-Singing, All-Dancing” film. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the first talkie to win, and Page seemed poised for the same sort of career as fellow MGM contract player, Joan Crawford.
Page and Crawford played as jazz babies in Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Our Modern Maidens (1929) and Our Blushing Brides (1930). In all three movies, Page played a lovely, doomed young thing. In the first, she is terrific as a flapper who tricks a millionaire into marriage, begins to booze a lot, knowing he really loves Crawford, and falls down a huge flight of stairs to her death. The second film has Crawford engaged to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (at the time, her real-life husband), while Page is expecting his baby. In Our Blushing Brides, Page and Crawford are shopgirls and roommates, taking different paths in the big city. Page has an affair with the son of the department store owner, and when he dumps her, she kills herself.
No wonder she jumped at the chance to do the two comedies with Buster Keaton. In Free And Easy (1930), Keaton, in his talkie debut, is the manager of beauty contest winner Page, whom he takes to Hollywood while she ends up with heart-throb Robert Montgomery. In Sidewalks Of New York (1931) Keaton plays a rich landlord who falls for Page, one of his poor tenants.
Page was born Anita Pomares in Flushing, Queens, of Spanish ancestry. She started in films when she was just 14 years old. Page was still a teenager when she left New York for California. When she arrived in Hollywood in 1928, Page wrote:
When I got off that train I knew I was in the most gorgeous place I had ever seen. Beautiful palm trees and bright sunshine. It was all I dreamt it would be. I’d arrived in my Mecca
She moved into the Chateau Marmont Hotel, and befriended young Crawford, who introduced her to MGM. Almost immediately she was signed to star in Telling The World (1928), opposite handsome gay leading man William Haines. The film won an Oscar for the director Sam Wood, and earned Page ecstatic reviews.
A petite, sexy blonde, Page was the ideal love interest, playing the girl next door or a flirtatious flapper out to conquer the opposite sex. She made her mark as a gangster moll in While The City Sleeps (1928), with the great Lon Chaney as a detective who falls for her while she is under his protection.
By the end of 1928, Page had become one of MGM’s highest-ranking stars, second only to Greta Garbo. Crawford was number three. The studio gave her a bungalow and an office.
By 1930, Page was receiving more than 10,000 fan letters a week, including more than 100 from charismatic Italian, Benito Mussolini, who proposed marriage. Crawford became jealous of her success and went to the studio mailroom and burned thousands of Page’s fan letters. Still, as Crawford’s career really took off in the 1930s, Page had trouble getting the juicy roles.
She became good friends with Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich and Marion Davies, and for six months in 1932, she lived as a guest of William Randolph Hearst at his castle at San Simeon on the Californian coast.
MGM Production Head Irving Thalberg told her that if she slept with him he would arrange for her to star in three pictures that the MGM studio head, Louis B. Mayer, had assigned to Garbo. When Page rejected Thalberg’s advances, her star began to wane. Unflattering stories began to surface about her private life, and as the public’s appetite for her brand of racy romances and comedies diminished, MGM proposed to loan her to a smaller studio for the remainder of her contract.
Page stormed into Mayer’s office to demand a return to star billing. She fled to Hearst Castle to await a call from MGM, but none came. She spent three years making cheap, forgettable films such as Soldiers Of The Storm and Jungle Bride (both 1933).
When her MGM contract expired in 1933, she surprised Hollywood by announcing her retirement at 23 years old. She made one more movie, Hitchhike To Heaven (1936), and then she disappeared from Hollywood for 60 years. She said that Mayer had colluded with the other studio bosses to keep her from working.
Page married a Navy man Herschel House in 1937. They moved to Coronado, where she had filmed Flying Fleet (1929) with Ramon Navarro. She failed to realize Navarro was gay at the time, later writing:
He was so beautiful. I sort of dreamed he’d be the kinda guy that would take me to the altar. Then again, there were other girls who thought the same. I kinda guess we were all wrong about Ramon.
Page and House were together until his death in 1991.
At 86 years old, Page surprised films fans by returning to acting. She specialized in small roles in B-horror flicks with titles like Sunset After Dark (1996) and Witchcraft XI (2000). In The Crawling Brain (2002), she plays Granny Kroger, who keeps the mutated brain of her lover, a former Nazi scientist, alive for more than 60 years. In her final film she plays Elizabeth Frankenstein in Frankenstein Rising (2010).
Page was described as both a ”Blonde, Blue-Eyed Latin” and ”The Most Beautiful Girl In Hollywood”. Few other Latin females, including Dolores Del Río, Lupe Vélez, María Montez, in the 1920s and 1930s, achieved movie star status without caricaturing their Latin essence.
When her final credits rolled in September 2008, she was 98 years old and among the last to have acted as an adult in silent films to live into the 21st century. In her final years, she was cared for by funny gay actor, Randal Malone. She was also the last living attendee of the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.