Although once labeled “The Girl With the Most Beautiful Face in Hollywood,” I never found her looks, while certainly pretty, to be especially unique. And she isn’t necessarily renowned for her acting prowess – a critic once pointed out that she “recites rather than speaks her lines.” But she had something that was riveting nonetheless. When she was on screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
I was first introduced to Anita Page in Our Blushing Brides (1930). In it, she played Connie Blair, the ill-fated friend of the film’s star, Joan Crawford. Brimming with sincerity and wide-eyed innocence, Page practically walked off with the film. And for my money, she had the same appeal in each one of her performances. Sadly, she’s all but forgotten today.
But not by me.
Page was born Anita Evelyn Pomares in Flushing, New York, on August 4, 1910, to Maude Mallane and Marino Pomares, an electrical engineer. By the tender age of five, the future star knew that she was destined to be an actress. “Don’t ask me how I knew that early,” Page told writer Michael G. Ankerich for his 1998 book The Sound of Silence. “That’s one thing I’m grateful for – I had goals.”
While a student at Washington Irving High School, Anita performed in numerous productions, and she later appeared as an extra in several pictures filmed at Paramount’s Astoria Studios in New York. In 1925, Anita made her screen debut in an unbilled bit part in A Kiss for Cinderella, which starred family friend Betty Bronson and Esther Ralston. Just a few years and a couple of films later, she was being courted by both Paramount Pictures and MGM – she wound up with the studio with “more stars than there were in the heavens.”
“I wanted to go with MGM because they were so good for female actresses,” she said. “If you ask me, MGM was THE studio.” MGM first changed her name to Ann Page, but they quickly faced a protest filed with the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences from an actress with the same name under contract to First National. MGM decided to keep the “Page,” allowed the actress to retain her given name, and Anita Page was born.
Page became a star in 1928 after appearing with Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters. In this silent feature, Page competed with Crawford for the affections of Johnny Mack Brown – with Page emerging the loser when she took a drunken tumble down a staircase to her death. In a typical review after the film’s release, Norbert Lusk wrote in Picture Play magazine that Page “runs away with the acting honors” and that she brought to her role “beauty, humor and magnetic unself-consciousness.”
After Page’s performance in Our Dancing Daughters, famed character actor Lon Chaney requested her for his next film, While the City Sleeps (1928), where she played a flapper who falls for Carroll Nye (perhaps best known as Frank Kennedy, Scarlett O’Hara’s ill-fated second husband in Gone With the Wind). “At the time I was preparing to appear in The Bellamy Trial, but they reassigned me to Lon’s film,” Page recalled. “The way I used my eyes to express emotion impressed Lon.” Page and Chaney would go on to appear in three more films together.
The following year, Page starred with handsome heartthrob Ramon Navarro in The Flying Fleet. Before filming ended, Navarro had proposed to the young actress – despite the fact that he was gay. Page said that she thought Navarro was good looking and the two were close friends but, she told silent film scholar Tony Villecco, “I couldn’t marry anyone who took longer to get ready than I did.” Page let Navarro down easy by joking that she would consider marrying him on “an off Thursday.”
Navarro’s proposal aside, 1929 turned out to be quite a year for Page: she was named a Wampas Baby Star – a group of young actresses touted annually as future stars by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers. That year’s crop included Loretta Young, Jean Arthur, Helen Twelvetrees, and Sally Blane (Loretta’s little sister). Also in 1929, Page was reteamed with Joan Crawford in Our Modern Maidens, and starred with Bessie Love in an early talkie, The Broadway Melody , billed by MGM as an “All Talking – All Singing – All Dancing” picture. Page and Love played sisters who seek fame and fortune with their vaudeville act – the tuneful film became the first sound feature to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. By now, Page was receiving upwards of 10,000 fan letters a week, many of which, reportedly, were from a dedicated devotee from Italy – Benito Mussolini.
(Speaking of The Broadway Melody, the music was written by the team of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. Five years after the release of the film, Page would elope with Brown to Tijuana, but the couple never lived together, and after eight months, Page would have the marriage annulled.)
But just as quickly as her star had risen, Page’s career began to experience a downturn. During the filming of Our Modern Maidens, while negotiating a renewal of her contract with MGM, Page’s agent demanded an increase in her salary. She got the money, Page later recalled, but the bump in salary wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
“I came to realize it wasn’t such a good idea, but it was too late; we were already in it,” Page told Michael Ankerich. “They gave me the money all right, but the thing we didn’t ask for and should have was the say-so in my parts – like Bette Davis fought for.”
During the next few years, Page’s best films were Our Blushing Brides (1930), her third feature with Joan Crawford; The Easiest Way (1931), a Constance Bennett vehicle where Page played the wife of Clark Gable; Under 18 (1931), in which Page was the long-suffering spouse of Norman Foster and offered up one of my favorite pre-Code scenes (read about it here); Night Court (1932), a rather harrowing feature where Page portrayed a young mother wrongly accused of prostitution; and Skyscraper Souls (1932), in which Page was memorable as a wisecracking, worldly wise dress model.
But MGM also started loaning Page out to other studios for films like (the little-seen) The Little Accident (1930), with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., for Universal, and Soldiers of the Storm (1933), starring Regis Toomey, for Columbia. To make matters worse, Page refused to pose for cheesecake photos and balked at showing up at events on the arms of actors chosen by the studio for the sake of publicity. By 1934, Page was being loaned to such Poverty Row studios as Monogram and Chesterfield.
“At the time, I realized what was going on,” Page said, “but there was nothing I could do about it. I just did the best I could.”
When Page’s contract with MGM expired in 1933, it wasn’t renewed. Unable to ink a deal with another studio, the actress signed with producer Billy Rose (who was married at the time to Fanny Brice) and appeared for the next seven months in Rose’s musical revue, Crazy Quilt. In 1936, she was seen in a small part in the British-made feature Hitch Hike to Heaven – it would be her last screen appearance for 60 years.
Meanwhile, in 1937, Page married Naval Lieutenant Herschel House (“The handsomest man I had ever seen,” Page said). The couple settled in Coronado, California, went on to have two daughters, Sandra and Linda in the 1940s, and remained married until House’s death in 1991. In the early 1990s, Page moved back to Los Angeles, where she experienced a resurgence in popularity, responding to letters and autograph requests from countless fans (like me!), and participating in numerous film revivals and conventions, including an Anita Page Film Festival. And after six decades, she returned to the big screen in 1996 in an independent film, Sunset After Dark, which also featured former child star Margaret O’Brien. (Unfortunately, in the next few years, she went on to appear in pictures with names like The Crawling Brain and, her final film, Frankenstein Rising.)
Anita Page died in her sleep on September 6, 2008. She was 98 years old.
If you don’t know Anita Page, wrangle a copy of Our Blushing Brides, The Easiest Way, or Under 18. Or Night Court. Or Skyscraper Souls. And see for yourself why she’s someone who should be remembered.