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The Silent Collection

By Tammy Stone

Featuring:
ANITA PAGE

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1920's Anita Page 5x7 Fan Photo1934 Anita Page Salem German Tobacco CardIt’s easy to fall into clichés when writing about people we’ve never met and will never meet – so many of our silent film stars, for example, followed such a similar trajectory that it would be difficult to avoid commenting on the rags-to-riches stories, the trappings of fame, the ever-new heights of stardom reached as the movies rapidly became the most popular form of entertainment in history. But maybe the clichés can stop here, with Anita Page. She made, on average, less movies than her peers, and actually seems to have led a relatively “normal” life, away from the spotlight. Just like the rest of us? Not quite. It is a siren of the silent screen we’re talking about here.

Anita was born on August 4, 1910 in New York and began her illustrious movie career fifteen years later, in 1925. Of course, most stars have humble beginnings, and her first role was uncredited, in the film A Kiss for Cinderella, which went on to become a classic film of the silent era. Her second and last uncredited role, in Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em, was released a year later. It seems that her days as a stock player – in her case, for MGM – were coming to and end as her gorgeous blonde hair/blue-eyed looks helped her become an actress of tremendous appeal. After her lead role in the 1926 film Beach Nuts, she was a bona fide star.

It’s anyone’s guess who will catch the attention of audiences, who will enjoy months, or even years of fame. The talent of the studios of the silent era lay not so much in spotting stars, although they did this too with their many talent scouts, but in promoting the ones that had that ineffable mystique and show-stopping charisma. In other words, they helped make the famous even more famous, which helped the actor or actress in question, and obviously helped the studio itself. The primary way they did this was through offering long-term, exclusive contracts to their talent. MGM did just this with Anita in 1926.

The long-term contract worked well for some, and trapped others. Lucky Anita falls into the former camp, and she had a string of successes with MGM. Among these early hits were Telling the World (co-starring William Haines) and Navy Blues (both 1927); and  The Flying Fleet (1928). Also in 1928, she made the film that would make her an instant force to be reckoned with, and truly one of the most popular actresses of the day. She co-starred with a young Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters – the film was a smashing success, and Anita 1934 Anita Page Cavenders Tobacco Cardbecame the most talked-about starlet in town.

The reviewers loved her as much as the audience; this was clearly an all around positive film experience, with a great cast, compelling story and quality filmmaking (the film was directed by Harry Beaumont, who directed over 50 films in more than three decades of work). While Joan Crawford also received her fair attention, it was Anita the fans seemed to adore. At that time, she was receiving an astonishing 10,000+ fan letters a week, a number only topped at the time by Greta Garbo.

At this point, everyone wanted Anita, and she had the good fortune of working with some of the business’s leading talents. She starred opposite Lon Chaney in 1928’s While the City Sleeps (1928) and worked with Roman Novarro in The Flying Fleet a year later. But it was an odd time to be at the top of one’s game – as we all know by now, this was a time of flux, change and confusion, as the grandiose gestures of the silent era gave way to the speech and voice of the sound era. Studios had to be very careful about who they were going to cast in their first-ever talkie: this could set the tone for their relative success or failure as producers of talkies for years to come.

It so happened that MGM had a lot of faith in their biggest star, and Anita was chosen to appear in their first “all-talking, all-singing” musical, the now-classic The Broadway Melody on 1929. While not the first talkie musical produced, it was the first real breakaway hit, and won an Oscar for Best Picture that year. Not a bad picture for Anita to be involved with! She now even had a song: the famous tune 1929 Anita Page Movie-Land Keeno Game Card“You Were Meant for Me” was written specially for her, and was sung to her twice: in The Broadway Melody and in the Hollywood Review of 1929. Now there’s a star for you: the song, like the actress herself, became a long-standing hit.

As we also know, once the talkies hit, there was no going back, and Anita managed to stay at the top of her game as the talkies became more assured and accomplished. She also continued to work with the best of best, making, for example, two films with Buster Keaton: Free and Easy (1930) and Sidewalks of New York (1931). In between both films, she worked hard, making Caught Short with Marie Dressler, Our Blushing Brides with Joan Crawford, Little Accident with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., War Nurse with Robert Montgomery, and Great Day with Joan Crawford (all 1930). Other successes following her second Buster Keaton film include Gentlemen’s Fate, co-starring John Gilbert, The Easiest Way (for which she was Clark Gable’s first ever leading lady) (both 1931) and Night Court (1932) with Walter Huston.

By 1933, after a tremendously successful run with MGM, her contract was up, and she had worked with nearly all the best talent in Hollywood. She was more than at the top of her game, and audiences wanted more. It was therefore a surprise to all1931 Anita Page de Beukelaer Trading Card when she announced that she had decided to retire from acting. The title of her last film with MGM before she made her announcement perhaps encapsulates her reasoning best: I Have Lived (1933). (Or maybe that’s stretching things a bit).

In any case, her decision was made, and Anita left the business she moved to Coronado, California (the location of her film The Flying Fleet), where she lived with her husband, Admiral Hershel A. House for more than 40 years, until his death in 1991. Amazingly, her career in the movies wasn’t over. After more than 50 years of not making movies, she was still a sought after actress, and she moved back to Los Angeles to make such films as Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood (2000), The Crawling Brain (2002) and Mumsie (2003). She was also the recipient of the Women's International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award in 1997.

Anita page was loved, admired and was a true talent of the silent screen. Her name may not be as familiar to people today as those of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Crawford, but in her day, she was the actress everyone wanted to work with. Her fans were legion – it is even reported that she was offered a marriage proposal by one her greatest fans and most frequent fan letter writers, Benito Mussolini! Lucky for us, she’s still creating work, so not only can you seek out some of her classic films of the silent era, but you can still watch this great talent at work today. Enjoy!
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Tammy Stone is a freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. Watch for her regular column on the greats of the Silent Screen in each issue of The Movie Profiles and Premiums Newsletter. Tammy invites you to write her at stonetamar@hotmail.com with any questions or comments on her column.