Anita Page, 98; Hollywood Star at End of Silent Movie Era
Monday, September 8, 2008
Anita Page, 98, one of Hollywood's last silent-era screen stars and a leading lady in one of the first sound musicals, "The Broadway Melody," died in her sleep Sept. 6 at her home in Los Angeles. No cause of death was given.
Ms. Page was once promoted as "the girl with the most beautiful face in Hollywood," and the vivacious, golden-haired actress claimed at the peak of her fame in the late 1920s to have received marriage proposals by mail from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
She began film work at 15 and played opposite some of the leading male actors of the silent period, including Lon Chaney, William Haines and Ramon Novarro.
In one of her best parts, she played a ribald flapper who rivals Joan Crawford for the attentions of Johnny Mack Brown in "Our Dancing Daughters" (1928).
In the film, Ms. Page perished by tumbling down a set of stairs in a drunken rage, a scene she said was hard to act because she was 17 and "had never had a drink in my life."
Her career peaked in 1929 as Bessie Love's co-star in the prestigious Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production "The Broadway Melody." Ms. Page played the more-competitive half of a sister-dance team with Broadway aspirations.
The film won an Academy Award for best picture, but reviewers found Ms. Page less than compelling. Critic Mordaunt Hall wrote in the New York Times that Ms. Page, though beautiful to look at, "fails to give one an impression of spontaneity, for she recites rather than speaks her lines."
A limited emotional range on-screen and lousy film roles ("War Nurse," "Jungle Bride") diminished her career during the next few years. However, Ms. Page always attributed her lack of work to poorly timed salary requests and her refusal to sleep with top executives at her home studio.
Of MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer, she once said: "He told me, 'I can make you the biggest star in the world in three pictures,' and he snapped his fingers like that. 'I could also kill Garbo in three pictures,' and he snapped his fingers.
"But I said, 'Mr. Mayer, I am already a star.' He said, 'I could make you bigger, we could handle things discreetly,' but I told him I didn't play that way."
Anita Evelyn Pomares was born Aug. 4, 1910, in Queens, N.Y., and raised mostly in the Astoria neighborhood, where the Paramount film company had studios. She lived near the family of screen star Betty Bronson, who helped her get into the industry.
After some minor experience, she was chosen for a leading role in an independent film production in New York. The movie's producer was Harry K. Thaw, a Pittsburgh millionaire at the center of a notorious 1906 murder case. Thaw had married model Evelyn Nesbit and shot her lover, the celebrity architect Stanford White.