Author Allan Ellenberger, currently working on a biography of Miriam Hopkins (Best Actress Academy Award nominee for Becky Sharp), pays tribute to Anita Page, The Last Surviving Silent Film Star. Page, among whose leading men were William Haines, Ramon Novarro, John Gilbert, Buster Keaton, and Lon Chaney, turned 98 two days ago, August 4, 2008. (Image: Anita Page ca. 1930.)
Anita Page is also historically important for being one of the stars – alongside Bessie Love and Charles King – of the first talkie to win a Best Picture Academy Award: Harry Beaumont's 1929 MGM musical The Broadway Melody, billed as an all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing event.
In Allan's article, which includes quotes from those present at Anita Page's 83rd birthday bash, he talks about being “invited to join her family, friends and former co-stars 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 included the likes of Cesar Romero, Milton Berle, Hugh Hefner, Margaret O'Brien, Betty Garrett, and Mel Torme.
Anita Page movies
Though creaky and cliched, The Broadway Melody remains the only “prestige” Anita Page movie. Her other films were “programmers” – neither A nor B films that studios regularly cranked out so as to keep their contract players busy.
The most important of those are the trio of movies in which Anita Page was featured opposite Joan Crawford: Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Our Modern Maidens (1929), and Our Blushing Brides (1930). As a result of the success of the first entry, Crawford became a top MGM star; Anita Page, however, remained stuck in “leading lady” roles – in her particular case, innocuous parts that allowed her to look pretty while taking a back seat to her leading men.
Here are a few titles: While the City Sleeps (1928), with Lon Chaney; The Flying Fleet (1929), with Ramon Novarro; Speedway (1929) and Navy Blues (1929), with William Haines; Free and Easy (1930), with Buster Keaton; Gentleman's Fate (1931), with John Gilbert; the Constance Bennett star vehicle The Easiest Way (1931), in which Page, by then reduced to secondary roles, is featured opposite newcomer Clark Gable; and, once again in a supporting part, the popular low-brow comedy Reducing (1931), starring Marie Dressler and Polly Moran.
Anita Page publicity shot: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.