Anita Page – You were meant for me
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Anita Page, the last great silent film star from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, would have celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday. Some argue whether she was a star, an actress or leading lady — to me she was all of the above and more. Anita was the first real actress that I had a chance to know personally.
Me and Anita at USC (Michael Schwibs photo)
SOME MEMORIES AND PHOTOS
I first met Anita Page in 1993 when I was researching my biography on Ramon Novarro, whom she costarred with in the 1929 film, The Flying Fleet. Her husband had passed away two years earlier, so to keep busy she came out of retirement and began appearing at film festivals and other functions.
At the time she was living in a retirement center in Burbank. Her good friend, actor Randal Malone, set up the interview. Anita was very sweet and accommodating to my questions. She had suffered a stroke after her husbands death which affected her short term memory. Her long-term memory was still intact, however she sometimes forgot that she had told a story and would repeat it. Other than being a little frail, that was the only noticeable evidence from her stroke.
Only once during the interview did she hesitate repeating information about Novarro. It was about his height. Evidently Novarro was not tall – probably about 5’8” – so he sometimes wore lifts in his shoes depending on his costar. Novarro wanted Anita to appear in the film with him, but the studio felt she was too tall and wanted to use Josephine Dunn instead.
Novarro told the executives, “I can always wear lifts in my shoes. Besides, I did a film with Joan Crawford and she’s as tall as Miss Page.” As we know Anita got the job, however, she thought the information about his height might be embarrassing so she asked that I turn off my tape recorder before she would tell the story – which of course I did.
I became friends with Anita and Randal that day and over the ensuing years was invited to their homes and to events where Anita was appearing. I also began interviewing her over a period of a year for a proposed book on her career. Whether it was at a noisy restaurant, her home or some other venue, I showed up with a tape recorder and we talked about early Hollywood. During that time she relayed stories about her films and the famous people she worked with and knew.
I completed a rough draft of what was to be the text for a coffee table book, but sadly it never came to fruition. I did, however, donate a copy of the unedited manuscript to the Margaret Herrick Library under the title, “Anita Page: You Were Meant For Me,” so future film historians will have access to her stories. The title is from the song by Nacio Herb Brown, her short-lived husband, who wrote it for Broadway Melody (1929) and dedicated it to her.
Anita with her parents (above), Maude and Marino Pomares. Mrs. Pomares died from cancer at her Manhattan Beach home in May 1943. A few years later her father remarried and he passed away in 1951. They are buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. Anita also had a younger brother, Marino, Jr. who died in 1960 from a brain tumor. He was 36.
Anita was Clark Gable’s first leading lady in The Easiest Way (1931)
Above is a Los Angeles Examiner photo announcing Anita’s first arrival in California on December 7, 1927. She was a protégé of Harry K. Thaw who brought her and another starlet, Susan Hughes to California to make films. While Thaw’s plans failed, Anita (who was known then as Anita Rivers) decided to stay in Hollywood and try to make it on her own. Thaw returned to New York, as did Susan Hughes, who gave up show business.
Josephine Dunn, Joan Crawford and Anita Page in Our Moderm Maidens (1929)
Anita and me sitting on the steps outside her first Hollywood apartment (Randal Malone photo)
When I first interviewed Anita, she talked about her first Hollywood apartment that she shared with her mother. It intrigued me so I went about trying to find it using the phone book. Sure enough, there was a listing for Mrs. Marino Pomares in the 1928 directory – 7566 ½ De Longpre Avenue. Randal and I took Anita to the address for a photo shoot. Unfortunately the tenants were not home so we didn’t get a chance to look inside.
Actress Glenn Close as Norma Desmond and Anita Page (Michale Schwibs photo)
When Sunset Boulevard, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical came to Los Angeles, Anita received an invitation to attend. A real silent film actress meets a fictional silent film actress — what great publicity! Randal graciously asked me to attend along with his friend Michael Schwibs. The four of us had the best seats in the house – fourth row center – all compliments of the theatre. The play was breathtaking and the performances top rate. Afterward we went backstage to personally meet the star of production, Glenn Close who played Norma Desmond. Ms Close was still in costume and in character and had a brief conversation with Anita. It was a great experience and Ms Close kindly signed my program. What a night.
Reportedly, at one point, Anita received more fan mail than any other actor at MGM except for Garbo
August 4, 1910 – September 6, 2008
BORN: August 4, 1910, Flushing, New York
DIED: September 6, 2008, Van Nuys, California
CAUSE OF DEATH: Natural causes
Just a few of the stars who passed away last year that were not mentioned in last evenings Academy Award ceremony.
Lest we forget…
ANN SAVAGE (1921-2008)
EARTHA KITT (1927-2008)
SAM BOTTOMS (1955-2008)
ROBERT PROSKY (1930-2008)
BEVERLY GARLAND (1926-2008)
IRVING BRECHER (1914-2008)
YMA SUMAC (1922-2008)
EDIE ADAMS (1927-2008)
ANITA PAGE (1910 – 2008)
FRED CRANE (1918-2008)
ESTELLE GETTY (1923-2008)
GEORGE CARLIN (1937-2008)
HARVEY KORMAN (1927-2008)
Turner Classic Movies’ Ongoing Lost & Found Series Presents World Television Premiere of “The Runaway”
Long-Unreleased Family Adventure, Starring Cesar Romero, Anita Page and Roger Mobley, To Premiere Sunday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. (ET)
October 7, 2008
Film Begins Double-Feature Tribute to Cinematographer Haskell Wexler.
In the latest installment of its ongoing film series Lost & Found, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will present the world television premiere of The Runaway (1962), a family adventure starring Cesar Romero, Anita Page and Roger Mobley. The film never received theatrical release because of difficulties producer Arthur Rupe had in obtaining distribution.
The Runaway will air Sunday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. (ET) as the first part of a double-bill celebrating the work of legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). It will be followed at 9:30 p.m. by a telecast of Bound for Glory (1976), the Woody Guthrie biopic that earned Wexler the second of his two Oscars.
“The Runaway is an unfortunate victim of distribution problems that have kept it from the public eye for decades,” said Charles Tabesh, senior vice president of programming for TCM. “This is a charming family adventure, beautifully filmed by Haskell Wexler and featuring enjoyable performances by a good cast. TCM is the only network that can bring this kind of Lost and Found classic to movie lovers.”
The story of The Runaway opens with a delinquent youngster named Felipe (Mobley), who lives by his wits in a small Mexican border town while scheming to cross into California to search for his long lost father. The opportunity arrives when the boy and a greyhound he has stolen sneak aboard a truck driven by Father Dugan (Romero). Once they manage to cross the border, however, the dog falls out of the truck and is severely hurt.
Two orthopedic surgeons take on the task of repairing the dog’s injured leg using a silver staff from a statue of St. Michael. Felipe and Father Dugan decide to train the greyhound, now named St. Mike, to be a championship racer. But when St. Mike wins an important race, it catches the attention of the man from whom Felipe had stolen the dog, setting the stage for a heart-tugging finale in which Felipe must decide whether to run away again or admit to his crime and give St. Mike back to his rightful owner.
The Runaway originally began shooting under the title St. Mike. Once shooting was finished, producer Rupe took the film around to several studios to obtain distribution, but the amount of upfront money the studios were willing to put up didn’t meet with Rupe’s expectations. They were also not willing to give him full control of the negative. He eventually decided to distribute the film himself, even creating a full comic book version of the story as a promotional item. But that effort proved fruitless, as well, and the film has been languishing in storage ever since.
CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE
The yolks of 4 eggs and 1 1/3 cups sugar are beaten until they are quite light. In part of contents of 1 cup of thick sour cream placed on the fire melt 2 squares of chocolate. Allow to cool and then pour in the rest of the cream. Into 1 ½ cups flour sift 1 teaspoon soda. Add alternately with cream to yolks and sugar. Flavor, then cut and fold in whites of 3 eggs beaten stiffly. Bake in square, shallow pans. When sufficiently cool combine with icing or nut filling.
— Anita Page
George Clooney pays tribute to silent movie star Anita Page following her death over the weekend.
The veteran actress passed away in her sleep at her Los Angeles home on Saturday morning. And the Ocean’s Eleven star remembers the Hollywood legend as resembling a character from Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations and Norma Desmond from 1950 movie Sunset Boulevard. He says, “She looked like a cross between Miss Havisham and Norma Desmond. She had the oomph of a star who believed herself to still be big. She could walk into any party and the whole room would spin round. She’d talk about old movies and stars like Rudolph Valentino and Greta Garbo and weekends with Randolph Hearst.”
NEW YORK TIMES
Anita Page, Silent-Film Siren, Dies at 98
By ROBERT BERKVIST
Anita Page, one of the last surviving stars of the silent screen and a popular Hollywood siren before her surprisingly early — and seemingly permanent — retirement in the 1930s, died on Saturday. She was 98.
Randal Malone, her friend and longtime companion, told The Associated Press that she died at her home in Los Angeles.
Ms. Page was still a teenager when she left New York for California. She appeared in small, uncredited roles in several silent films, making her screen debut as an extra in A Kiss for Cinderella (1925), based on the fairy tale. Soon she was offered a contract by MGM. A petite, sexy blonde, Ms. Page was the ideal love interest, whether playing the girl next door or a flirtatious flapper out to conquer the opposite sex.
She became a star when she appeared with Joan Crawford in the Jazz Age silent drama Our Dancing Daughters (1928), in which they competed for the love of a millionaire (Johnny Mack Brown). Ms. Crawford was the loser until the film’s melodramatic end, when a drunken Ms. Page tumbled down a stairway to her death.
The film was a smash hit, and Ms. Page began receiving sacks of fan mail, including, she said, a spate of marriage proposals from none other than Mussolini.
Ms. Page made two more movies with Ms. Crawford, Our Modern Maidens (1929) and Our Blushing Brides (1930), neither of which matched the success of their first. She also appeared opposite Lon Chaney in While the City Sleeps (1928) and Ramon Novarro in The Flying Fleet (1929).
By then the age of silent films was at an end, and Ms. Page, along with other stars of the silent era, faced the challenge of making a successful transition to the talkies. Her chance came with The Broadway Melody (1929), which MGM billed as an “All-Talking, All-Singing, All-Dancing” picture. Ms. Page and her co-star Bessie Love played sisters with a vaudeville act who leave the Midwest with hopes of success on Broadway.
The film won the Academy Award for best picture, the first talkie to achieve that honor.
Ms. Page was born Anita Pomares on Aug. 4, 1910, in Flushing, Queens, one of two children of an electrical engineer and a homemaker. She broke into films after graduating from Washington Irving High School, taking small parts in independent films in New York before heading to Hollywood and signing with MGM. (“She is that rarest and most interesting type of beauty,” a studio publicity release said in 1932. “A Spanish blonde.”)
In 1934 she married the composer Nacio Herb Brown, whose tune “You Were Meant for Me,” from The Broadway Melody, had become Ms. Page’s signature song. The marriage ended in divorce a year later.
In 1937 she married Herschel A. House, who died in 1991. They had two daughters, Sandra and Linda.
In the early 1930s Ms. Page found an unlikely co-star in Buster Keaton and appeared opposite that deadpan clown in Free and Easy (1930) and Sidewalks of New York (1931). That same year she played the wife of a struggling laundryman (Clark Gable) in The Easiest Way.
When her contract expired in 1933, Ms. Page was feeling pressured by MGM. Denied a pay raise, she promptly announced her retirement. She was 23.
After one more appearance, in the British-made Hitch Hike to Heaven (1936), about the struggles of a touring repertory company, she took a 60-year vacation from moviemaking.
Ms. Page came out of retirement to appear in a little-noticed 1996 film, Sunset After Dark, which also featured another Hollywood veteran, the former child star Margaret O’Brien. Ms. Page went on to play small roles in low-budget horror films, including The Crawling Brain (2002). It was a world — and a lifetime — away from Our Dancing Daughters.
I will be posting a personal remembrance of Anita Page on Tuesday.
HAPPY ‘BELATED’ BIRTHDAY
“I must say that I enjoyed being a movie star, but I have never had to look back. My life has been happy, rewarding and fruitful. Today I still receive fan mail and applause from fans all over the world and it gives me a warm feeling to know that I am remembered after all these years. It has been a pleasant life… what more could I ask for?”
— Anita Page, 1994
By Allan R. Ellenberger
“The King,” Clark Gable compared her to the beautiful Grace Kelly. Talk show host, Jack Paar spoke of her to his late night viewers as his “dream girl.” Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, hounded the studios for years for a photograph of her, and Prince Ferdinand of Germany would not stop until she agreed to go out on a date with him.
Anita Page, the object of desire for all these men, (and more) was a bright star in the Hollywood heavens for more than seven years. Of that, five of those years were at the legendary Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer-Studios, where she appeared in twenty-one films. With numerous public appearances, and friendships with many of Hollywood’s most celebrated people, Page secured a career that is legendary in its own right.
RECOLLECTIONS OF A PAST BIRTHDAY
Yesterday, August 4, was the 98th birthday of Anita Page. I first met Anita in 1993 while researching my book, Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol. Anita costarred with Ramon Novarro in The Flying Fleet (1929) and was one of his last living co-stars, so naturally I was thrilled when she agreed to meet with me.
That same year, on her 83rd birthday, I was invited to join her family, friends and former costars at what was then called the St. James Hotel, on the renowned Sunset Strip. Once known as the Sunset Towers, it was at one time the home to countless Hollywood stars and executives, including Anita’s first husband, composer Nacio Herb Brown, who lived in the penthouse.
The guest list that evening looked like a Hollywood Who’s Who and included Cesar Romero, Milton Berle, Hugh Heffner, Margaret O’Brien, Betty Garrett and Mel Torme, to name a few. They all came to toast one of the last remaining silent film stars from that once great studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Hugh Heffner, who is a silent film fan, recalled that Anita “fell down the stairs well,” referring to her bravura performance in the hit Our Dancing Daughters (1928), which put Anita on top.
Hefner, who has helped to preserve old films said, “Well, I think one of the things that are fascinating — because of the technology — things are being reproduced on laser and tape and there’s a kind of rediscovery. I suspect as we move into the next millennium, this last century will be seen as very special. It’s really the dividing point in which the magic of an era has been captured and saved and I suspect as we move forward, the past is going to look better and better.”
Betty Garrett, who costarred in such films as On The Town and My Sister Eileen, recalled going to the movies as a child with her mother and spoke about the way movies used to be. “I became a movie fan in those days,” Betty recalled. “I saw Anita’s films and adored her. We’re all longing for movies the way they used to be. I don’t know what there was about them that was so intriguing – maybe it was because it was a new industry. It was so exciting to see a movie in those days. It was magic.”
Cesar Romero told everyone gathered that, “Her legs are just as beautiful today as when she was a top MGM star!”
Anita’s husband of fifty-four years, Admiral Herschel House, died in 1991 but Anita told the packed room that evening that her beloved husband was there in spirit. “I thought I’d never, never get over it. And I never will,” Anita said. “But I appreciate the beautiful daughters he gave me.”
“Mother left the business for many, many years, but people didn’t forget,” her oldest daughter Sandra said. “She had a combination of sweetness and sensuality. It’s what Marilyn had and it’s what Harlow had. It seems to be quite a good combination. She has all different ages of people that love her and remember her. It’s been a complete resurgence, and she’s so happy about it.”
At that time, Anita had a resurgence of her popularity, making personal appearances at film festivals, and taking time to answer her mail from a new generation of fans. As Margaret O’Brien said that evening, “That’s the wonderful thing about Hollywood. You can always come back!”
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